February 3, 2019 — Rev. Paula Norbert
Last week, I spent some time speaking about prophets in our midst as we remembered the legacy of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. Today, we find Jesus back in his hometown after he had been speaking in his synagogue to a crowd that had gathered that day. He had earlier been quoting from a passage from Isaiah on the year of the Lord’s favor, the Jubilee Year. This was the idea that every fifty years, the wealth and land would be redistributed among the people and debts forgiven so that it could bring a more equitable social connection among the people. It was meant to be challenging, but for some, it was clearly a message of hope. At the conclusion of the reading, he tells them that this passage has been fulfilled in their midst. We might imagine that the folks who had gathered to hear him speak had come with a sense of great expectation, among them many who likely knew him as he was growing up in that town, but sadly it doesn’t take very long until they turn against him…for whatever reasons they might have had, and he has to leave that town and share his message with others. Let us pray, O God of all the prophets, you knew us and chose us before you formed us in the womb. Fill us with faith that speaks your word, hope that does not disappoint, and love that bears all things for your sake. Amen.
A few weeks ago, we began a new year, but we brought along many of the old fears and insecurities with us into a ‘new’ day. We all carry the experiences we have had from our own childhood, from how we were treated in our own families, as well as the perceptions and expectations people in our neighborhoods or communities may have had of us as we were growing up. Some of this has perhaps brought us confidence and other experiences may have been stumbling blocks along the course of our journeys.
And here we see Jesus, showing up for his first public appearance, at least from what we hear in Luke, and he chooses to speak in his own hometown, perhaps imagining that he’d get a better reception there. And what happens? Instead of being warmly received, the crowd actually turns against him. Jesus may have wanted to just pack it in and go back home and not embark on this public ministry that was calling to him. He probably felt immensely under appreciated or undervalued. He likely thought that people would at least take something from his message, but instead, he probably was up there thinking, “Wow, they don’t see me for who I am, now, I grew up here. They’re not listening to me; they’re not paying attention. They don’t get it.” His confidence was likely faltering at this point as he is forced to leave that community.
I’m sure that we have all felt undervalued at some point in our lives, taken for granted, underappreciated. And it hurts a lot when you feel that you have put in a lot of time and effort and people don’t value it. As I get older, and as a parent, I have certainly come to a far greater appreciation for all the things my own parents taught me, all the sacrifices they made, all the values and lessons they shared.
One of the important things about this story is that Jesus doesn’t give up. He must have been pretty discouraged. He had been reminding them of a beloved passage from Isaiah, one that they should have been familiar..a passage of hope and inspiration, but no, they can’t hear it from him. Jesus leaves and goes to another place, and yet some follow him and actually threaten him. It seems like a clear foreshadowing of what is going to happen if he keeps going out and sharing a message that will threaten the social order of his day. His words, his actions will become a threat to the religious and political leaders of his day and they will want to get rid of him. So he shows a great deal of courage to get back out there and return to the ministry to which he’s been called.
In our own lives, the feeling of being undervalued, unappreciated can really eat away at us and we may resent that others don’t notice the fullness of who we are, how hard we are working, or how many hours we’ve put in. That can lead us to revisit all the times of woundedness from our own lives, the hole that we all carry within us, the shadow side. This is where the love of our God for us, in the fullness of who we are is really important. It’s something we are called to remember throughout our lives, that we have value, that we’re all called to something great, that we are loved just for who we are. We are loved far beyond our imagining, despite our shortcomings, despite our failures.
And one of the places that can help remind us our connection to this larger purpose is our church community; hopefully it is a place where we may feel accepted for the fullness of who we are as we stand side by side with others who are also trying to connect to the larger story of hope and of love. We do need to stay connected to God, to be reminded of the message of Jesus, that we are all connected to something far greater than ourselves, much as Jesus had to do when he felt chased out of town.
Even when times are difficult, our faith community can be a bridge to hope, a reminder that we are on a journey for goodness and truth and right relationships and while we may not always do it perfectly, we all have something to contribute. The writer Ann Svennugsen describes how God continues to reach out in a desire to connect with us, to be in relationship with us as individuals and as a community. She writes, “God is not interested in faces; God is interested in hearts, not pure hearts, not perfect hearts, but hearts that know they need God.” We all need to remind ourselves of our connection to the transcendent, our connection to building the kingdom, even when it is not easy, even when we feel like most people around us just don’t get it. We all have bad days, days when we may want to just go home and get back into bed, but we can dig down deep and remember we are valued in ways that are far beyond our imaginings.