Today we conveniently have two scriptures in one: a Gospel passage that includes a quotation from the Old Testament prophet Isaiah. After Jesus was baptized, and went into the desert for 40 days, he returns to Galilee, where people are amazed at his teaching.
Then he comes home to Nazareth…and that was his first mistake! He goes to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and is given the scroll of Isaiah to read. He searches until he finds a certain passage, and then reads it:
‘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.’
The he sat down to teach, as was the custom, and said, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
Now, we might think everyone would be glad to hear this news: poor people will get good news! Captives will be released! Blind people will see anew! The Lord’s favor, not condemnation! These are the marks of Jesus’ teaching and healing. The people of Nazareth were mostly poor, oppressed by Roman occupation and taxation. They would rejoice, right? Don’t we all want these things?
Our own society today shows us that no, we don’t all want these things.
Jesus was rejected by his own folk, the people who knew him. Why? Likely it is because they thought they knew who he was: Joseph’s son - not bad with a hammer and saw, a kid who would follow the expected path. But Jesus didn’t do that. He followed his own path. He didn’t marry and settle down. He spoke up! So they quickly became angry with him. Luke’s Gospel tells us they became so enraged that they tried to take Jesus to a nearby cliff and throw him over!
Human beings, human societies are all too good at turning their ire on anybody who steps out of the expected path. Today, we celebrate Pride Sunday, to show our solidarity with folks who have done just that: stepped out of the conventional path in order to live and love differently to be true to themselves – gay, lesbian, and bisexual people, those who change genders, and people who may not identify with either sex. Much progress has been made toward acceptance and embrace of this amazing diversity among human beings. But the long history of oppression and rejection is not over. There is still work to be done.
By invoking Isaiah’s words, Jesus does not magically end all oppression and blindness and ignorance. Jesus is not a magician. He is a healer. He works with people to bring change, release, healing – often in very mysterious ways. He gets up close and personal with people whom others shun – lepers, demon-possessed ones, notorious sinners. It is through his presence, his openness, his desire to touch and heal, that many were freed from their afflictions – set free, in a very real sense. People could walk tall, with dignity, because Jesus treated them with dignity. Many could see truth more clearly, because Jesus brought truth, with love. With Jesus by their side…with Jesus on their side…countless folks shook free of their shackles and were able to live new lives.
Today, it is up to us to continue Jesus’ ministry of presence, openness, touch, and healing. One important way we do this is by becoming allies – allies of people who are on the outside, the edge; people who have been shunned and degraded. An ally draws near and walks with you, visibly affirms you, and argues your case when you are challenged. It’s not a passive benevolence; it’s an active role to play, to lift up another human being, defend him when he is attacked, and challenge the prejudices that persist insidiously in our society.
I haven’t always been an ally of LGBTQ people, I’m sad to say. It’s been a journey, helped along by several dear friends who helped me understand that we are all created by God, but we are not all created the same. I’m grateful for my gay friends who have stuck with me and helped me grow. Now I want to be an ally to them. I don’t stand by when people are ridiculed, when nasty jokes are told. I don’t attempt to keep the peace by staying silent.
This Pride Sunday is meant to lift up LGBTQ people in our society. But its deeper meaning comes right out of our baptismal covenant: we promise to respect the dignity of every human being. More and more, I think that is the heart of living in a Christlike way. And there are so many people who need that respect and that dignity: countless people ground down by poverty in our rich country, immigrants whose families are being torn apart by our nation’s policies in what appears to be malicious ways, and of course the original sin of racism that dogs our country and destroys so many lives. If only we could all respect the dignity of every human being!
Jesus came among us and did just that. And for his trouble, his own neighbors in Nazareth tried to throw him over a cliff. It’s time we all take Jesus as our example, and honor his message of liberation and healing in our own lives, as allies of all who need a friend, a defender, a champion. Jesus expects no less of us. AMEN.