“When Jesus came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: “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.” And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’” And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.” -Luke 4:16-30
I have read this passage from Luke several times in my life; however, one reading in particular will always stick out to me. It was this time two years ago, and I was essentially deciding to leave my ordination process through the United Methodist Church. I went back to this passage and Luke and examined the journey that Jesus takes. This passage is understood to be when Jesus is called to ministry and makes it public, similar to that of an ordination. The writer of Luke structures his telling of the story strategically, and places events in a particular order to communicate a point. Just before this passage is when Jesus is baptized in the river Jordan and the Holy Spirit descends like a dove. In the text there is then a naming of Jesus’s ancestors and those who prepared him for ministry, linking him to God. The next event is when the Spirit leads Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted with easy ways out—turning stones into bread, glory, authority. Jesus keeps faith in God’s providence and guidance. Then, Jesus returns to his hometown of Nazareth, where our passage picks up. He reads of how the Spirit of the Lord is upon him to preach good news to the poor. His faith community doesn’t accept or believe him because he doesn’t live up to their standards—isn’t that Mary’s boy? Isn’t that the carpenter’s son? He’s not much of a prophet—we helped raise him. Jesus essentially replies that God dwells in those you would least recognize, God chooses to dwell among those you would rather cast out. Of course, this radical language incites a riot, and Jesus slips out of the crowd that is trying to THROW HIM OFF A CLIFF and goes on his merry, trouble-making way. He doesn’t dwell on their disapproval—he knows the Spirit is upon him and there is no time to waste. The following events of Luke have Jesus casting out demons, preaching, making disciples, healing, and teaching.
Many of you already know my story. We are here today, in part, because the denomination I have been a member of for seven years, the United Methodist Church, refuses to recognize or legitimize the calling on my life. The church offered me my own share of temptations—full-ride scholarships to Methodist seminaries, ecclesial authority, earthly respect—if only I would hide who I am. I wrestled with these temptations, trying to figure out how I could best fulfill my call to be in ministry with all people, and in particular, people who live lives on the streets. When I read this passage from Luke two years ago, I saw myself in the text. Jesus didn’t wait for his home synagogue to accept him or his call to ministry. Instead, he shook the dust from his feet and went on his way to serve and love others.
I am very grateful that God has put in my path my friends from Amos House. They have supported and cultivated my call from the very beginning. They were the first ones I told that I wanted to be ordained. They celebrated with me as I began my ordination process, and cried with me as I decided to leave it. They supported me when I felt that I could no longer wait for the UMC to change, and that I could no longer subject myself to its abuse. They said “Yes” to me when I asked if they would recognize my ordination.
As a result, I don’t want today to be about what one church wouldn’t do, and instead let it be a celebration about what this church IS doing. The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because God has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. God 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. To proclaim that liberation and resurrection is a present thing.
I wanted to have my ordination here on Legislative Plaza, because of all the places in this city, I continually see a glimpse of the Kingdom of God here. I started to spend a lot of time on this Plaza when I participated in Occupy Nashville, at the same time that I was realizing I was called to ordination. It was here that I was baptized into this calling; it was here that I slept on the marble to bring attention to the criminalization of our friends experiencing homelessness; it was here that I was first arrested for justice; it was here that I received Ashes on Ash Wednesday, where I walked the Stations of the Cross with Amos House, where we celebrated the Eucharist. It was here where we washed feet. It was here where we had press releases for the Homeless Bill of Rights. It was here where we read scriptures. It was here where we held vigils. It was here.
It was here when I started to awaken to what it meant to be a deacon. To be a bridge between the church and the world. When I found myself on the front lines of activist movements and in community organizing meetings, I was surprised at the lack of people of faith present. When I found myself in church, I grew disgruntled at the common silence around justice matters, issues of race, gender, sexuality, housing, mass incarceration, extrajudicial killings. I learned of the Order of the Deacon, a type of minister that expressly ordained to do service in the world, to connect the church to the world. My college chaplain, Laura, a Methodist deacon, had this quote taped to her office door that I have held in my heart:
“How will we know when we have enough deacons? ….
When all the needs of the marginalized and vulnerable are met.
When to gather the gifts of the church and take them to the world, and to gather the needs of the world and bring them to the church, has become a habit.
When… “deacons, going back and forth, have worn down the boundary lines that we use to keep church and world separated.”
When deacons, leading the baptized in and out, have beaten a path between the altar and the gutter so that everyone will see the link between the blood in our chalices and the blood in our streets.
When all people respond to the challenge to LIVE, not in the love of power, but in the power of love.” -Rev. Irma Wyman
And so, it is my joy that you are all gathered here today to extend your love in support as you confirm this calling in me. It has been a long journey, it feels, one marked with anxiety, pain, rejection, courage, resistance, relief, and love. It only makes sense to me that this journey returns to where it began, on this plaza, with Amos House. Thank you for loving me and for joining me on this journey.