room to grow

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In Robert Frost’s poem “Death of the Hired Man,” one of the characters says,

Home is the place where, when you have to go there,
They have to take you in.

That line came to mind as I read about Jesus’ return to Nazareth, his hometown, and left me wondering how we make room for one another to grow and change.

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One of the things in my life with which I have a mixed relationship is the autocorrect on my phone and my computer. Maybe this happens to you as well. I send a text message only to find out—after I sent it—that what I thought I typed and what the computer predicted I really wanted to say weren’t the same thing. Sometimes it’s a funny mistake, sometimes it might be a little embarrassing, and most of the time it doesn’t make sense.

The technology is designed to recognize patterns in my words. It thinks it knows what I want to say and doesn’t make room for me to say something different. That’s not always helpful, but it does offer a good metaphor as we look at the scene from Jesus’ life that we just read together.

On the heels of healing the woman who had hemorrhaged for twelve years and raising a twelve-year-old girl from the dead, Jesus went back to his hometown of Nazareth, where he spoke in the synagogue. We don’t know how fast news travelled back then or what folks had heard, but it doesn’t appear that a big crowd had followed Jesus home. Just his disciples.

Mark, Matthew, and Luke all offer different accounts of Jesus’ return home. In Luke, it happened immediately after Jesus was tempted in the wilderness. Matthew describes the scene happening after Jesus had told several parables. Mark places it after Jesus had raised the little girl. What the three accounts share is that the people in Nazareth responded in two ways: first, they were powerfully struck by what (and who) they were hearing, and then they fell back into their preconceived notions of who Jesus was: “Isn’t he the carpenter’s boy? When did he get to be a big shot? We know his family.”

(Mark also gives us a brief glimpse of Jesus’ family. He identifies four brothers and then says he had sisters, so Jesus was the oldest of at least seven. They don’t show up anywhere else.)

Mark’s order of events is interesting because Jesus had just come from giving two people new leases on life, offering them the chance to see possibilities, only to have the people in Nazareth confine him with their assumptions about who he had become because of their memory of who he was.

They couldn’t let Jesus grow up, or. perhaps, they wouldn’t. As a result, Mark says, Jesus couldn’t do much. The gospel says he was amazed at their lack of trust.

The whole scene creates a picture kind of like going back to a high school or college reunion where who we were then is not who we are now. Maybe we heard an old nickname that we were happy to discard or were reminded of things we did that we have outgrown.

Or maybe it brings to mind a situation where we felt trapped in a job or a responsibility because people put us where they thought we belonged rather than asking, or we were never considered for the promotion because “we were so good right where we were.”

Maybe it’s not quite that dramatic, but we wish people would look beyond the person they think they know and give us a chance to paint a fuller picture of ourselves. You might be surprised to know, for example, I am an award-winning dancer.

(I’ll be you didn’t see that coming.)

A few years back, Ginger and I were asked to be a part of a Gala of Stars: Dancing for a Cause for Raise the Roof, a nonprofit on the Shoreline that raises money for New Haven Habitat for Humanity. We won the fundraising award and placed second in dancing; we lost by a point. Therefore, I am an award-winning dancer.

One of the reasons I love coffee hour is we get to hear each other’s stories; we have a chance to be amazed by each other as we learn things we didn’t know. The people in Nazareth asked lousy questions in response to being struck by Jesus’ sermon. Rather than asking, “Isn’t that the carpenter’s kid?” they would have done better to wonder what had happened to him since they had seen him last—and not just because he might have been able to do miracles, but also because they could have helped him feel at home.

When I was teaching high school English in Winchester, Massachusetts there was a boy who sat on the back row and never said a word. He did his work, and he didn’t cause trouble, but he seemed disengaged. I tried several things to connect, but they were my ideas; I didn’t ask him much of anything. One of his classmates invited me to watch the lacrosse team play and it was there I learned he played also—and he played well. He was a leader on the field, vocal and passionate. When the game was over, I went up to him and said, “I don’t know who the guy is that sits in the back of the room, but I would love for you to come to class. You’re amazing.”

And he did.

When I was willing to see him differently, I gave him a chance to be different.

I realize that story makes it sound as though I have had more training and teachers who helped me evolve more than the people of Nazareth, but that is not my point. I also have stories of situations where I was not quite as aware, and they remind me that, though Mark’s account makes them easy to criticize, we might do better to ask ourselves what we share in common with them and how we can grow.

How are we making room for one another to show sides of ourselves no one is expecting? Are we creating a community that gives people a safe place to be themselves? Since many of you have known each other a long time, those might sound like odd questions, but sometimes those with whom we are most familiar are the hardest ones to see with fresh eyes. We tend to autocorrect each other if we are not intentional about how we listen to and learn about how we are all growing and changing.

One of the roles rituals play is to remind us that we are still growing. Think of the shared meals at this Communion table like pencil marks on the doorframes of our lives, as we come each month to re-member ourselves in Jesus name. Who were we when we last gathered? What has happened? What new sorrows have shaped us? What new joys have found us? What has changed our view of the world and who we are called to be in it? How are we going to go from this place to help each other grow in love in the days to come? How will we grow in our trust in God and in one another?

Let us hold these questions as we keep the feast. Amen.

Peace,
Milton

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