Homesickness, Mobility and Rootedness (Luke 4:16-30)

Ohio Maple Tree
“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.” Read the rest of the Luke 4 here

A 2012 NY Times article by Kaye Blegvad discusses what she calls the new homesickness. A recent Gallup World Poll found that:

One-quarter of the earth’s adults (1.1 billion in all) want to move temporarily to another country in the hope of finding more profitable work. An additional 630 million people would like to move abroad permanently.

There are many reasons why there is an increased desire for mobility: some of it is because of poverty or war. But the article suggests another big part of modern mobility results from the:

conviction that such mobility is possible. People who embrace this cosmopolitan outlook assume that individuals can and should be at home anywhere in the world, that they need not be tied to any particular place.

And this is something that should hit close to “home” for many of us, myself included. In 2003, Emily and I decided to take a chance and move 2,359 miles away. I left Canton, where  I was born in 1978, and where both of my parents were born in the 50s. Emily left the Cleveland area where both of her families and grandparents have lived.

When we left home we believed we would return five years later, with a Masters of Theology and (maybe) PhD in hand. I was guilty of having an unhealthy level of optimism

And what we learned, or at least part of it, was that we could be home anywhere. Now it wasn’t the same as Home but we learned to not just value, but feel at home with different cultures, people, ideas and geography our new homes have represented. Our mobility gave us new eyes to see the world with.

But there is a cost involved in this new mobility as well. Blegvad suggests that while we’d like to think that mobility is easy, fun, and a new acceptable way to live a cosmopolitan life, we should not be so quick to believe it.

Research has found high psychological costs to this new-found mobility.

The author writes:

I’ve discovered that many people who leave home in search of better prospects end up feeling displaced and depressed. Few speak openly of the substantial pain of leaving home.

When Emily and I go home every year we like to visit our favorite places all over Canton: Taggarts Ice-Cream Parlor, Malone College, the neighborhood by the college where the streets are paved with red bricks. It feels good to be in a familiar place. If feels good to have a little remedy for homesickness. But it is also hard, hard because we miss being in those familiar places. We miss home. It reminds us that we do in fact have roots and a history, we come from some place.

These are all things that a society that privileges mobility over home can obscure.

There is something about the myth of individual progress and prosperity in our society that downplays home and our past connections. Just think of the saying “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps.” That’s a saying for someone who believes he has no family, no community, no history – he is a self-made man and for him home is no place. On the other hand, home can become an obstacle as well as we will soon see.

Jesus’ Incites a Riot

I’d like to bring the themes and tension between mobility and home into our reading of Luke chapter 4.

We pick up the story just after Jesus’s time away when he was baptized in the muddy river Jordan and then “was led by the Spirit in the wilderness.” It was there that he got his seminary education in only 40 days of fasting and refusing the Devil’s crafty temptations. After his graduation from the wilderness he goes home to celebrate and start his ministry off right.

Except it doesn’t go all that well. Which is too often the case for us ministry-types. It didn’t help that Jesus wasn’t all that tactful in his first sermon in the synagogue.

Jesus’ own mobility prior to our passage and throughout the rest of the Gospel shows that mobility is not always a bad thing and is sometimes necessary to bring a new sense of God at work. But whether one has to return home – literally or even just figuratively – the must be some connection and reconciling with our past if we are to move forward.

We could say that Jesus goes home two least two ways.

First, Nazareth as home. Jesus goes to his literal home. He shows up in Nazareth. He goes and participates with his people in worship, and announces the good news in that place. He gives his inaugural sermon there.

The second, Torah as home. The scriptures are a more metaphorical home for Jesus. He remains connected to home by drawing on Isaiah 61. Scripture for Jesus and for Christians ever since represents a kind of home, tradition, or base-narrative connecting us to a bigger community, a deeper history, and a powerful set of practices that – when we are faithful to them – can shape and transform our world.

Jesus does this by drawing on Isa 61: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.” By placing this at the opening of his ministry he recognizes the particular prophetic tradition he stands in and which will guide his ministry throughout his very short-career.

The he sits down. Says these things are fulfilled. And people begin to talk. “Wait, Isn’t this Joseph’s son…?”

Then conflict breaks out. It is fun to wonder what a preacher would have to do or say to get this kind of reaction. Jesus was good at it, and early Quakers like George Fox were no strangers to being violently thrown out of church services.

Here is why I think Jesus’ neighbors aren’t happy about his message. I don’t he it is just because he applied Isa 61. to himself – although that surely peaked interest – I think it’s more about how he went on to apply Isaiah in a new direction.

When he tells the story of Elijah and the widow at Zarephath and Elisha and the Leper, both stories about how prophets of God went outside of Israel to help non-Jews in a time of need, what Jesus is saying is that the good news for the poor, the release of the captives and the freedom of Jubilee is going to be for everyone and not just Israel anymore.

Or as bible scholar NT Wright puts it, “Israel’s God [is] rescuing the wrong people.”

Wright suggest that we read the passage like this:

‘[the people] were astonished that he was speaking about God’s grace – grace for everybody, including the nations – instead of grace for Israel and fierce judgment for everyone else.”

By taking Isa 61, applying it to himself, and then extending it to “everybody else,” Jesus not only incites a riot with his first sermon, he shows that the “servant-messiah was not coming to inflict judgement and punishment, but to bring God’s love and mercy to them” (Wright 48).

And that’s the good news.

Before we move on, let me tie this back to our themes. Jesus holds in tension both a mobility and a rootedness in home. He understands the importance of place, and draws on Scripture as a source of life and guidance. His mobility is one that is able to be home in anyplace, and to bring to the teachings of his tradition fresh eyes and ears, and new ways of applying it. While, on the other hand, his neighbors are shown to be too entrenched, too tied down to an idea of home that makes them unable extend hospitality to strangers or witness new ways of God at work in the world.

A Rootedness that Extends Out into the World

I like the way Richard Rohr talks about how our attachment to “home” can be too strong. He puts it like this:

The people there were tied to home – they had not yet let go, and thus were unable to relinquish the bonds that held them to certain loyalties, interpretations, etc.

I wonder where “home” is for us today? And whether we have a healthy relationship to the past, one that can draw on the experiences and build from it? Or is it one that we are tied too  – either because we refuse to return there and do the work needed to gain peace, or because we cannot let go of some such strong emotional attachments.

And in a similar way, I wonder what our relationship to mobility is? We can be far too mobile and have no roots, no history, no desire for deep commitment or connection with others. Mobility can be used as avoidance tactics.

It is the easy path to have relationships that are a mile wide and an inch deep, and unfortunately this mentality carries over far too often in our practice of spirituality. We would rather have a little of this and a little of that, coupled with very little connection or commitment than go deep in any one home.

May we like an old Ohio Maple, which is deeply grounded and is therefore able to extend out into the world offering a place of safety to God’s creatures.

May we make time to going deeper so that we can extend the love of God’s mercy to outwardly.

May we find a depth of connection to Jesus, who is our true home in God, so that we can be home wherever we may go.