Coming Home & Coming Out (part 1 of 2)

by susan on January 18, 2016

This Sunday and next, we are exploring a passage that describes Jesus’ return to his hometown. Anyone who has ever left home knows the return can be challenging. Take comfort: Jesus knew this struggle, too.

Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. 15He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.
16 When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
18 ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’
20And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’
– Mark 4:14-21, NRSV

Story after story has convinced me that coming out as a gay man or woman must be one of the most difficult steps in life.

One friend was becoming a priest when he finally came out. He was quickly dismissed from pursuing his calling. He was shunned by his family. He spent the next 20 years swearing off church & swearing off God. He is a grandparent now and he is finally beginning to find his place.

I’ve heard so many similar stories involving shame, exclusion, discrimination, addiction & even suicide.

Coming out can be a very painful experience.

I want to make a very bold claim (and I say this with great sensitivity to those whose stories I have heard and those whose stories are represented within The Well):
There is a sense in which we all know, even if only in a disproportionately small way, how difficult it can be to publicly declare “This is who I am and this is what God has created me to do!”

Even Jesus knew this struggle.

From the beginning of his good news, the writer of Luke goes to great pains to out Jesus. He tells us all of the details surrounding his miraculous birth. He tells us about Jesus’ baptism and about how the heavens opened up and God spoke. He tells us about his family lineage which goes all the way back to Adam. Luke identifies Jesus as the promised Messiah, the Savior of the world.

But to the people of Nazareth, Jesus’ hometown, he was none of these things. He was a boy who grew up in their poor, obscure Jewish neighborhood. He was a carpenter who worked his father’s trade. He was part of a community of farmers who worked land and raised animals.

They also know him as the devout Jewish boy who shared their belief that a future day was coming when God would send a Messiah to rescue them from Roman oppression. He was learning to teach this message and to do it quite well.

The people of Jesus’ hometown were likely beaming with pride and anticipation as Jesus, after being away for awhile comes home and enters the synagogue to preach.

His childhood friends are there.
His family is there.
Those who taught him
and took care of him are all there.

He stands and receives the scroll. He unrolls it and chooses to read parts of passages from the prophet Isaiah:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

And, then he rolls the scroll up, hands it back to the attendant, sits down (as was the custom of teachers in this day) and with all eyes on him says these very definitive, jaw-dropping words to his family and friends:

Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.

To a group of religious family and friends fixed on a day in the future when God would set things right, Jesus declares:
It’s happening now.
It’s happening through me.
This is who I am and this is what God has brought me here to do.

Scholars tell us this was the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. He would spend the rest of his life teaching, preaching, healing and liberating all kinds of captives – even confronting some who wanted nothing to do with this Jesus-way-of-liberation.

A few weeks ago in one of our small group conversations, someone wondered out loud: why did it take Jesus SO long to begin his public ministry?

Maybe a more urgent question is:
What do you think gave Jesus the push he needed to step forward?
What gives us the courage to step out and declare who we are and who God is calling us to be?

I’m finishing Eugene Peterson’s memoir about his life as a pastor and in it, he describes his descent into what he calls the “badlands”. The “badlands” were the place where he felt he was done:
No more energy,
no more enthusiasm for his work,
nothing left to give.

Have you ever felt this way?

I have.

He had planted a church that had seemingly hit a plateau and was experiencing doubt, frustration and fatigue. The badlands were his wilderness.

The time in the badlands was not wasted time though. They had been shaping him in a way that success and hype could not. He finally emerged from this season with a greater sense of who he was & a greater sense of God’s mission.  He was able to say with renewed confidence, “I now knew I was in this for the long haul.” It took the badlands to get him there.

Before Jesus stood up to proclaim his identity to his hometown religious community, he too was in the badlands. He was in the wilderness. He spent 40 days and nights there: tempted to abandon his calling, tempted to take a more convenient route, tempted to deny who he really was in order to avoid the pain of rejection.

The wilderness is where he disconnected from his desires and reconnected with God’s desires. He returned filled with the Spirit and focused on God’s mission to deliver:
good news for the poor,
release to captives,
sight for the blind and
freedom from oppression.

This is not a story about how Jesus became successful or how he found personal fulfillment. This is the story of how Jesus came out as being faithful to who God had created him to be.

It was time for Jesus to declare this and it is time for us to accept our limitations and our strengths and the places and people with whom we find ourselves and declare who we are.

The world needs this from us. There are still too many wounded and held-captive people, too many people who are told they cannot be who God created them to be. The time to begin is not tomorrow or ten years from now. The time is today.

So, how do you need to experience this metaphorical coming out?
Where do you need to be more honest about who you are and more honestly engaged in God’s mission?
What might this metaphorical coming out look like for you and for our community?

These closing, very powerful words are commonly misattributed to Nelson Mandela’s 1994 Inaugural Address (probably because he was someone able to emerge from a wilderness confident he was called to liberate an entire country). They actually come from Marianne Williamson’s book, A Return to Love. May they serve as constant challenge to our reluctance to come home and to come out:

“…Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small does not serve the world.
There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.
We are all meant to shine, as children do.
We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.
It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”


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