Turning Unbelief Into Belief

“And he was amazed at their unbelief.”

I speak to you in the name of one God, Creator, Christ, and Holy Spirit. Amen +

This morning, we hear about Jesus returning home after some time away—and not just any normal time, but time in which he has been transformed into more of who God made him to be…someone who can change the world and make life better for everyone, especially the marginalized—and the people of Nazareth are having none of it! “Jesus! The son of a carpenter is trying to teach us something new?! What makes him think he’s so special? Like he’s got all the answers?! Trying to expand our minds to hold more than we already know and accept?! We don’t so, Jesus…”

As a closeted effeminate gay boy from rural, conservative West Virginia who moved away to figure out how to love and see myself as God sees me and not how my hometown sees me—to grow into my calling—I can relate to Jesus’ experience of rejection when coming home for a visit.  And I know I’m not alone.

I’ve lived in Los Angeles, Washington D.C., and now Chicago, and I have found it is rare to meet people who are actually born and raised in these cities—people who consider these cities their hometown. Most people move to places like Chicago so they can spread their wings, gain perspective, expand their world view, listen to others, and grow into something more than if they stayed in their hometowns…Because, hometowns have a way of knowing and accepting only part of who you are—for example, if you grow up in the poor part of town, you will always be poor and dumb to your peers—if you are the star of the football team, you can’t also be creative and sensitive—if you’ve made a mistake, then those in your hometown have decided you will never be a success. Hometowns are insular and dominated by societal norms—people are expected to fit in the nice, neat box society has deemed they are to be in, and if you don’t, probably fueled by fear and uncertainty, the hometown’s default is to judge and mock.

Nazareth was a very small town, and like most small towns everyone knew everyone. Each person had their role to play in accordance with their societal box. Spiritual leaders and landowners who grew crops were highly regarded, while support services, like carpentry, lowered your social standing and you were expected to stay there. When Jesus came home and decided to live as his newfound self—the self that could change everything—the people of Nazareth did not accept Jesus’ truth. They questioned him, they rejected him, and as we heard read, “Jesus was amazed at their unbelief.”

Because of what happens next in the narrative, Jesus preparing the 12 to go out and spread the Good News, many preachers focus on Jesus’ preparation for the disciples to be rejected just as he had been rejected moments before—preaching that Jesus would never ask his followers to do something that he himself isn’t willing to do—but this morning, I’m still stuck on the first half of the story, when we hear that, “he was amazed at their unbelief,” and it has left me wondering…what if the people of Nazareth had accepted Jesus? What if they accepted the help of someone who was shaped and transformed by God, and wanted to transform them, as well? What would have happened? Well, maybe the impossible could have been made possible—love and compassion might have overthrown fear—and there might have been hope for something better. And then I thought, while this this might be hard for society as a whole, at the very least, this is what the Church is called to do…especially a Church who has fallen short in representing the love and compassion found in Jesus over and over in its lifetime.

What would it look like if the Church was able to put aside its judgement and societal influences and instead, be a place where seekers are amazed at our belief in them, and not our unbelief?”

We might not be able to be accepted by our hometown, but what I think Jesus is saying this morning is that our church home, our church family should not and will not reject us. The Church, this church, our spiritual home, is not a place of unbelief. We are a place of radical welcome—where instead of people who have been transformed to be more of who God created them to be are amazed at their homes’ unbelief of who they have become, we are the spiritual home where they are amazed by our belief in them.

This place—we—represent the living Christ of today, and we are called to believe those who find us and want to be their transformed selves with us—to share their truth of who God has made them to be. All Saints’ has a rich history of swinging the doors wide open to those who have been rejected elsewhere, but as our community continues to change, I wonder who else has yet to find us—to share who they are with us—and then use their best God-filled self to continue to transform this place for the better. This place wouldn’t be the same without you, so imagine what this place can be with them in it, whoever they are…

The Church, our church, should always be willing to transcend societal norms and expectations and never be comfortable placing anyone in a box. Jesus desperately wants us to know that the more we can push judgement aside—the more we accept the truth of the person standing in front of us—the more the community will experience the transforming acts of God.

No matter who you have been in the past, no matter what pain or rejection or unbelief you’ve experienced in your previous hometowns…not only are you accepted here, but you are also needed here in order for us to be more of who God wants us to be. Amen.