Jesus went home for a visit and it didn’t go so well. He brought his loyal followers with him to meet his family, friends and fellow Nazarenes. He went to synagogue and preached the same message that he had been delivering all over the country. He demonstrated the wisdom and insight he had gained from the trials of the desert and the years of study, prayer and reflection. And the people were astounded at what they heard.
But they couldn’t get past their recognition that this was Jesus, who was familiar to them and yet so changed. They remembered the carpenter, the boy who played with his siblings, the child of Mary. It didn’t matter what he said; they heard it but refused to receive it. And the man whose teaching and presence transformed lives was amazed at their unwillingness to believe and receive what he had to offer. They couldn’t hear him and he couldn’t help them.
If that had been me, I would have been devastated. It hurts so much when the people you are most familiar with don’t get you, when the people you love and care for cannot or will not listen to your truth and affirm your deeply held convictions. And when the rejection is public and in front of your new friends, then the pain is accompanied by shame and impotence. When we go home, we want to bring all the good things we have learned and experienced to share with the people we care about, to offer them something that has benefited us. We can help others, why can’t we help those we are supposed to be closest to?
Jesus failed in Nazareth. He could do no deeds of power in that place. He converted no one and cured only a few. He left surprised and bewildered by their dismissal and lack of faith.
It can be hard to go home. Home is the source of our hardwiring. These are the people who formed us. We are shaped by their values, customs, habits, beliefs and prejudices. And even when we are hurt or angry at one another, these are the ones we so desperately want to love and understand us. We crave approval and affirmation. We want a chance to give back to them in gratitude for what they did for us. We want home to feel like home forever.
Sometimes that is just not possible. As far as we know, Jesus never returned home again. He famously said, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.”
And yet, this trip home with his disciples is a turning point in the direction of his ministry. Out of failure and rejection there is a new beginning. From this point forward, the disciples graduate to a new level. Right after they witness the dismissal of Jesus by his hometown, they are sent out into all the villages around to be his witnesses. They are under no illusion that they will be universally well received. They have just seen how Jesus was run out of town. They know that many will refuse to listen to the message of the Kingdom of God. It has probably occurred to them that their testimony could get them in trouble.
And yet they go. They go with the authority and blessing of Jesus. They go, not in their own strength but with the power of the Spirit. They take nothing with them, no props, no resources, no wealth or weapons. They go without the promise of success and with the certainty of danger. They go forth in vulnerability and weakness, following the example of their Lord and teacher.
This is the secret of the Kingdom of God. It is not in strength or power that the love and grace and mercy of God is found. It is rather in our weakness that God’s power is demonstrated. It is in our failures that God’s grace triumphs. It is in our sin that forgiveness is released. And it is in dying that we are reborn.
The Apostle Paul had every reason to boast in his own pedigree, his education, his intelligence, righteousness and influence. He could have been insufferable in his arrogance and privilege (and sometimes he was!) But he knew failure and rejection as well as deep shame and remorse. His testimony and ministry come not from his own strength and power but rather from the place of his wounds and weaknesses, his “thorn in the flesh.” He is able to testify, “So I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.”
Think of that. I don’t want to be weak. I’d like to be successful and strong and smart and in control. I’d like to have it all together and to be admired and accepted and popular. I mean, isn’t that the image of ourselves we’d prefer to project? It’s so much more fun to be successful than to fail. It’s wonderful to be accepted and loved, rather than rejected and misunderstood. I’d be quite happy to be admired and respected by all.
This past week, I’ve been listening to some really amazing and wonderful sermons by the top preachers in the country. The great news is that one of them is an Episcopalian and the other’s a Lutheran! Last week was the national Youth Gathering for the Lutherans and Nadia Bolz Weber preached a fabulous sermon that had the whole stadium shouting at the end. Not only that, she looked totally cool with a sleeveless clergy top that showed off her very buff, very tattooed arms. She was phenomenal.
And then there is Bishop Michael Curry, our own Presiding Bishop, the bishop who preached at the royal wedding. The Episcopal Church’s General Convention is being held in Austin for two weeks and they are live-streaming the worship. Bishop Curry is on fire. The Episcopal Church hosted a revival meeting and he preached a “Come to Jesus” sermon that knocked my socks off.
But here’s the deal. Both of these preachers have been rejected and despised. Both have been mocked and protested and hated. And that’s mostly by fellow Christians. You see, they don’t fit the image of a Christian preacher in some people’s minds. Nadia is too edgy, too honest about her former substance abuse and sexual immorality. She cusses too frequently and doesn’t look decent and appropriate. She couldn’t be ordained in the denomination she grew up in because she’s a woman.
Bishop Curry had protesters outside the venue where he was preaching. They object to his and the Episcopal Church’s full inclusion of LGBTQ folks. They don’t like his style. You could see some people smirking when he preached at Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding. And though most won’t say so openly, they don’t like that he is an African American man leading one of the major Christian denominations.
I imagine that both of these followers of Jesus have been discouraged, rejected and doubting. I know that they have risked everything for the gospel and that they have been afraid for themselves and those they care about. They have failed and floundered. Nadia’s marriage ended. Bishop Curry’s health has suffered.
And yet, they continue to testify to the message they have received, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” God’s power is made perfect in our weakness. God sends us out into this world, not in our own strength but in the grace of God, the love of Jesus and the companionship of the Holy Spirit. That grace is sufficient for you and for me.
Does your family misunderstand you? Are they unable to accept you for who you truly are? Is it a challenge or even impossible to return home? God says, “My grace is sufficient for you.” You are loved exactly how you are.
Is your work life a challenge? Is the pressure to do well overwhelming? Are you unsure that you are doing the right thing? Do you experience failure or unrealized expectations? God says, “My grace is sufficient for you.” You are worthy.
Are you demeaned for who you are? Do you experience prejudice because of your gender, skin color, age or identity? God says, “You are beautiful. You are loved and valued. My grace is sufficient for you.”
If you are holding a secret sense of inadequacy or shame, if you are feeling imperfect or unforgiven, if you wonder whether you matter or your life has meaning, God assures, “My grace is sufficient for you.”
God’s grace is sufficient for every one of us. God’s power is made perfect in weakness and failure. Jesus was not diminished by the rejection he experienced in his hometown. He was not defeated by the cross. In what seemed to be ultimate human weakness and powerlessness, God demonstrated God’s love and power to save.
My dear sisters and brothers. God’s grace is sufficient for you and for everyone you know. You are sent forth from this place to testify to that message of faith, hope and love to a world that is desperate to hear it.
Proper 9, Year B
2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10
2 Corinthians 12:2-10