Sermon - 3rd February 2013
Good news to the poor
Scripture - Luke 4:14-21
Rev Andy Braunston
[An audio version of this sermon is available. Please go to Spirituality > Audio and Video.]
Introduction – Coming Out, Taking a Risk
In the late 1980s I came out. Or, perhaps I should say, I began a process of coming out that was pretty explosive at first and continues, in much less dramatic form, to the present day.
I decided, for a range of reasons, to tell the world that, in the words of the Jimmy Somerville song, that there was more to love than boy meets girl. I needed to tell others, what I then considered to be, THE truth about myself and the results were, pretty mixed. Some friends were great, many were concerned – I was, after all, at a University studying theology with a lot of evangelical Christians! The news got round very quickly, I caused huge issues in the Christian Union the leader of whom wanted to come and see me to explain what St Paul wrote in Romans and I caused something of a stir. This was nothing, however, to my mother’s reaction. Mum is a bit of a snob so I thought I’d tell her over a meal thinking she wouldn’t cause a scene in public. I was wrong. Very wrong.
In coming out I took a risk. I risked friendships, a future career (I was hoping to be a priest) and my family. I had to tell others who I was as it seemed dishonest not to. I preferred to risk being hated for who I was rather than loved for who I wasn’t. It was a very risky time for me.
Years later I still find that I am involved in this coming out thing. Every time I meet someone for the first time there comes a point when I have to come out. I think I have more finesse than in the late 1980s. I don’t do the “my name is Andy and I’m gay” thing that I’m sure was part and parcel of meeting me back then. People will ask about my work and that quickly gets to the nub of the issue, or they will ask if I’m married or in a relationship. Now, thankfully, the reaction is normally very matter of fact and much less risky than in the late 1980s.
Jesus reveals the truth of Himself
In our Gospel reading today Jesus is also revealing the truth of himself to others and does so in a very public way. He has returned to his home village of Nazareth – he has some fame as he has been preaching all over the place but this is the first sermon that St Luke records, and is his first public event after his baptism. So it’s fitting that this sermon, in his home synagogue, is what St Luke records first about his adult ministry. It’s Jesus’ own declaration of the truth about himself.
Jesus tells the truth about himself, about God, by reading from Isaiah and, through reflecting on the passage which announces that the writer was anointed by the Lord to preach good news to the poor, freedom to prisoners, sight to the blind and release to the oppressed, makes the startling claim that today, in their presence, this passage was fulfilled. He is claiming to be this anointed person.
In proclaiming the truth about himself he proclaims the truth about God. This was risky – indeed as the passage continues past today’s reading the congregation turn against him and try to kill him – quite a strong reaction for telling the truth.
This shouldn’t surprise us really – people are killed all over the world for telling the truth about themselves when others can’t bear to hear that truth. The powers-that-be in our world still are threatened by the truth when it is told. In Uganda, Iran and in so many other countries the death penalty is provided for those who are lesbian and gay. In many other countries people who tell the truth about their sexuality or gender are subject to the mob whilst the authorities won’t protect them. The reaction of the crowd at that synagogue was horror as the grasped the truth about Jesus.
Yet, the truth about Jesus includes more than they grasped. Yes he claimed to be anointed by God but he was also the kid they’d seen grow up, he was Mary and Joseph’s child, he was a carpenter, he was a fellow Jew. But the truth of his mission trumped all the others.
Again, this shouldn’t surprise us. I realise now, some 26 years after I first came out that the truth about me is more than my sexuality.
- I’m a partner
- I’m a Christian
- I’m left handed,
- I’m overweight,
- I’m a socialist,
- I’m a priest,
- I’m middle aged,
- I’m an uncle,
- I’m a daddy to two dogs,
- I’m a trustee of a couple of charities,
- I’m a son,
- I’m a friend,
- and so much more.
The truth is more complex and involved than the single statement “I’m gay”. Some of the truth is more important than others, all describe my identity.
Over the last few months I have done more funerals than ever before. When I go to speak to the family I am always interested in their memories and recollections of the person who has died – they are, always, personal and always partial. If I am fortunate, I can speak to a number of different people which gives me a more holistic view of the person; I discover more of the truth of them.
Jesus was so much more than the truth encapsulated in that passage from Isaiah but that passage was central to our understanding of who Jesus was and who God is.
God’s concern with the outsider, the lowly, those on the edge
The key truth of Jesus, in whom God dwelt, was his mission. The first words St Luke records Jesus saying in his adult ministry were about the poor, the oppressed, the blind and the prisoners. Jesus shows that God’s concern is with the most lowly of His people, those whom society has forgotten about or discarded or despises. These are central to God’s truth, to God’s concerns. Of course they aren’t the entirety of the truth about God, but they are key. My sexuality isn’t the entire truth about me but its key. Perhaps minorities in any society are more defined by the thing that makes them a minority than would otherwise be the case. If our world was fair to the poor and the outsider perhaps God’s concerns would rest elsewhere.
We know little of Jesus’ upbringing but he was clearly taught his faith, he could read the Hebrew of the Scrolls and he understood the Jewish Bible well. His mother – who herself sang for the poor – passed on her understanding of God’s truth to him – a truth that he espoused and proclaimed as in today’s reading.
What are our values
So, I wonder, what is the truth about us? What is the truth about our church and our ministry. What is the truth about each of us here. Can that truth be easily summed up in a few sentences or is it more complex. Others may define us – as a “gay church” or as a “liberal church” or as part of an “American church” yet those things aren’t the full truth about us – but they reflect something of the truth. We have a reputation for working with asylum seekers – but that isn’t the entirety of the truth about us. We have a reputation for welcoming transgender folks – yet that isn’t the entirety of our truth either.
Just as Jesus’ identity was bound up in his understanding of God’s mission, care and concern for our world – as shown in today’s reading, so our understanding of who we are as a church is bound up with our understanding of the call God has given us. That call is the same as the call identified by Jesus in his first sermon at Nazareth all those years ago:
- God has anointed us and has called us to preach good news to the poor,
- to proclaim freedom to prisoners – especially those imprisoned by fear of themselves,
- to recover sight to the blind – especially those blind to the beauty of their God-given selves,
- and to release the oppressed.
Our calling is bound up with that of Jesus’ own calling as we are His Church and we are called to follow him.