by Ellen Sims
Text: Luke 4:21-30
Today we offered a brief reflection on the day’s Gospel lection, not a sermon. The following reflection prepared us for a new liturgy that celebrated a name change marking the gender transition of a member of our community.
Of all the four Gospels, the Gospel of Luke best depicts a Jesus who grows and changes. It is in Luke’s Gospel that we read a well-developed narrative about the night of Jesus’s birth, which makes sure we appreciate his human infancy. Only Luke includes Jesus’s dedication in the Temple when he was a baby and the visit to the Temple twelve years later that ends with the statement that Jesus “continued to grow in wisdom, stature, and in favor with God and Man.” Luke also emphasizes the way other characters change and grow—like the prodigal son in a parable found only in Luke. And only Luke includes today’s story about how Jesus launched his mission in the hometown of Nazareth, where he was first praised by former neighbors, friends, and family. But then someone in the crowd, maybe someone whose own son hadn’t done so well, asks, “Isn’t this our homeboy, Jesus, son of Joseph?”—maybe implying “Why all the fuss? What authorizes him, after all, to teach us?”
Luke’s Gospel exposes a sad truth: the hometown folks don’t want to feel we’ve outgrown them. Jesus makes them even angrier by comparing their situation to stories in the Bible in which God chose to help outsiders and foreigners when the hometown crowd was unloving. Ouch. In a flash, the worshipers in the Temple became an angry mob outside the Temple—intent on driving Jesus not just out of town but off a cliff. Somehow, so the story goes, Jesus vanished in their midst.
I want to imagine that Jesus was saved from the mob because some of his old buddies came to their senses and circled Jesus to defend him, or one lone friend placed his own cloak around Jesus to disguise him in the confusion and walk him away from the danger. Or maybe at the last minute Jesus found words to stay their anger—but so as not to lose face, the instigators later spread a more mysterious explanation for why they didn’t follow through on their threats of violence. Because bullies depend on mean reputations to keep their power.
But the Bible just says Jesus vanished. He cooled their anger or escaped it. What’s more interesting is not how he escaped their anger, but how he provoked it.
Here’s one theory: it bothered Jesus’s acquaintances and it bothers us when other people change. When someone finally finds sobriety, his drinking buddies worry their friendship just won’t be the same again. When someone becomes the only person in her family to receive a college degree, her relatives may be both proud—and a little less at ease around her. Change is especially difficult for individuals in very traditional cultures.
It’s hard for all of us to watch friends and family members grow and evolve and make new choices. Even parents who delight in seeing their children mature nevertheless struggle at times to adjust to their children’s new abilities and independence.
But change is life’s imperative. If you’re not growing into something new, you’re dying.
Try to recall now a time when a change in your life–a new relationship, a move to a new city, a change of mind about a decision or a shift in perspective–was hard on OTHERS to accept? I’ll invite you to share some of these stories later over our lunch together.
We usually don’t say the following statements aloud to others, but we sometimes react to changes in other people with thoughts like these:
You’re not the person we had come to expect, you’re not the one whose actions we could predict, you’re not the child we once knew, you’re not as you were; Your politics, your appearance, your friends, your job, your neighborhood, your clothes, your schedule, your contact information, your car, your activities, your gender . . . this about you has changed.
How inconvenient for US, we think.
How necessary for YOU, we should realize.
Today we are honored to mark the courageous gender transition our friend has made with a sacred re-naming liturgy.
(The liturgy we used was slightly adapted from a liturgy written by Rev. Karen Oliveto, published in Transgendering Faith: Identity, Sexuality, and Spirituality: Stories and Worship Resources, Leanne McCall and Maren C. Tirabassi, eds. Pilgrim Press, 2004. Printed in our worship bulletin with written permission of Maren C. Tirabassi.)
PRAYER: God, give us the courage to grow more fully into our authentic selves and the grace to welcome healthy and healing change in others.
A LITURGY OF RE-NAMING . . . .