Psalm 84 and Luke 4:14-30
“My soul longs, indeed it faints for the courts of the LORD. My heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God. Even the sparrow finds a home and the swallow a nest… where she can lay her young at your altars, O LORD of hosts, my King and my God” (Psalm 84:2-3).
This comes from our Psalm of the Day, the song of praise for the house of God. It’s one thing to sing this Psalm from inside the sanctuary; which is what we’ll be doing in a few minutes. It’s another thing to hear this as a song for the pilgrimage on the way to the Temple. It’s one thing to sing, “Praise God, we have made it home!” It’s another thing to sing, “O God our home is in you. We are longing to get there. One day, O God, but see, we are still longing…”
If you have ever been homesick before, then you know this longing. Home is where you know who you are. On the best days, you can hear the deep round ringing of belonging. Home is where you’re meant to be. Maybe your family is here; you have a place at the table and your own bed to sleep in. At home, you know what to expect.
When you’re not home and you wish you were, it’s like a whimpering ache has come to occupy your being until your prayer joins the common prayer of humanity: Please. Just let us go home.
This year during Lent, our church is learning about homelessness. On Wednesday evenings, we’ll hear from community leaders working to respond to homelessness in the Quad Cities, and on Sundays we’ll explore some spiritual and theological dimensions of homelessness. So first, let me be clear. Feeling homesick is not the same thing as being homeless. Not even close. What’s at stake is not the same; the risk is not the same.
A child who’s homesick at camp might have trouble falling asleep on the first night. A child who is homeless might not have a safe place to sleep.
These experiences are not the same, but they do have something in common. This means, if we can remember what it is to be homesick, then we have some small inkling of what someone who is homeless might also be feeling. This inkling can become our portal for empathy. Maybe for many of us, we can only imagine what it’s like to be homeless, but that’s just it, we can imagine it and we need to. There is something common, and human, and holy about our deep longing to be home.
In the Psalm, the singer yearns to be in the Temple of the LORD; she fixes her gaze on this dream. In the scripture we hear from the Gospel of Luke, Jesus is moved by this same yearning. He just spent forty days and forty nights in the wilderness being tempted by the devil. He has just begun his ministry when he returns to his hometown. So he does what he always used to do —he goes to synagogue and reads the scripture. This time it comes from Isaiah.
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,” says Jesus, “because God 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, and to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Then he rolled up the scroll, handed it back, dropped the mic, and sat down. But they were still looking at him waiting for him to speak, so he cleared his throat: There you have it! Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.
And his hometown synagogue was delighted! He was one of their own, now look, he had gone and gotten a reputation as a preacher and a healer. He had come back home and given them this word of good news According to the Bible:“All were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, ‘Isn’t this Joseph’s son?’” (Like they were surprised! Like Joseph would never say such gracious words!)
Jesus took in their response; then something in him turned. It’s like he looked at these people who have known him since he used to run the halls with the other boys, and he realized. They did not get the scripture he just read. And now this means, they don’t get him. Not anymore.
You see, when Jesus read the words of the prophet, what the people heard was: “Oh this is for us! We are hungry for this promise of healing and liberation.” And look, it’s not that the people are wrong. Of course, God’s promise is for them. But this is true in the same way it’s true to say All Lives Matter. Yes, sure they do, but saying this misses the point.
The scripture Jesus quoted is challenging the conventional wisdom. It’s not merely hope for everyone; it’s good news even for the poor, and release to the prisoners. It’s vision for those who cannot see and relief for those who are oppressed. Naming the groups who usually get left out proves the brazen inclusiveness of the Gospel. Even these people are part of God’s promise!
But as you can imagine, this did not go over well with the synagogue families of Nazareth. You know some of them were thinking, if he’s up there declaring hope for them, then what about me?
So Jesus begins to preach. He tells the crowd, You’re not going to like what I have to say. But there were many widows in Israel during the famine in the time of Elijah, and Elijah was sent to one, and she was from Sidon. There were many lepers in Israel during the time of Elisha, and Elisha was sent to one, and he was from Syria.
Jesus told the synagogue that God’s promise is not just for them but for those who were more hated and more hurt. Even though he might have been saying: God’s promise is not just for you, what they heard was: God’s promise is not for you. So something in the people turned.
The people got up and drove Jesus out of the synagogue, all the way to the edge of town. They tried to hurl him off a cliff, but he passed through their midst and kept going on his way.
And so it is that Jesus got rejected from his home synagogue; the people rose up and tried to kill him. At the same time, his home synagogue felt rejected by the Word of God himself. And what I’m wondering is whether there is any way that we can relate…
There is something in rejection that cuts us to the quick. It reverberates through our most primal human fear. And yet, there is no way to live our lives in this world and not experience rejection. Even here. Even when churches issue their welcome statements in the broadest terms or in the most specific terms. You know it is entirely possible to come to church and feel like the message is meant for someone else and not for you.
You may have come here desperate for the right word or for the warmth of human touch, and for whatever reason, it’s not happening. Maybe the Spirit has gone silent (or maybe she hasn’t and she’s convicting you!). Maybe it’s just an off day. Or maybe it’s much worse…
The Psalmist proclaims, Even the sparrow can find a home for herself in the house of God. Even the swallow is at home here. So good for them! What if I’m not? And if you’ve ever wondered this, you are not alone. This is one reason why people leave their churches, and who can blame them?
But what if it’s the case that feeling rejected is not our own deep failing. What if this could become our power to help?
If you know what it is to feel left out, you are precisely the person who could help a church become more sensitive and deliberate in the work of welcoming others. If you know what it is to walk through the door carrying scars of rejection edged with the worry that it will happen again, then you are exactly equipped to help, and we need your help! The Spirit of the Lord is upon you because God has anointed you to bring good news to the poor. The Spirit is turning in us, so instead of answering rejection with rejection, the hurt we have felt can become our power for welcoming others. We learn this from Jesus.
Now of course, feeling homesick is not the same thing as being homeless. Feeling left out at church —this is not the same as being turned away from a shelter, or denied benefits, or having no place to sleep when all you can do is hope Dora is working at the hotel because she’ll let you stay in the lounge and have coffee.1 At the Wednesday program, Dora mentioned that homeless families come to the hotel where she works when they can’t get into the shelters. She lets them stay in the lounge and gets them coffee. These experiences are not the same; the stakes are not the same. But it is our own feelings and experiences that make possible our empathy.
So why should we care about people in the community who are homeless? God knows we have enough pain of our own! But this is exactly why. We care about those who are most vulnerable because we can only imagine what they’re going through. Because we can imagine what they are going through and we need to, so now we can do something.
Whoever you are and wherever you are on life’s journey, we’re all still longing for God. We’re still following Jesus who passes through the midst of the riot and keeps going —all of us, our hearts breaking for home.
|↑1||At the Wednesday program, Dora mentioned that homeless families come to the hotel where she works when they can’t get into the shelters. She lets them stay in the lounge and gets them coffee.|