This coming Sunday, we will meet in Town Hall to discuss Congregational Healing. Cynthia Gustavson, whom many of you will remember from the days she held a Clinic Office here in our building, will be joining us to lead this session.
I know that some folks have objected to this meeting. I’ve heard you say, “I think we need to stop talking about The Conflict and move on.” I can appreciate that. This congregation has been through a lot of pain and trauma, and it makes sense that you would want to say, “enough!” On the other hand, even though I’d agree that things have gotten better in the last little while, the pain that the congregation AS A WHOLE still undergoes is evident in a number of ways. People are STILL reticent to step into leadership positions. People STILL tend to focus on personalities from the past – personalities of people who aren’t even here anymore. It’s clear that, while some individuals may feel that they have moved past the trauma, the congregation has not.
I’m reminded of a wise saying: Hurt People hurt people; Loved People love people. And I’d add to that: Healed People heal people.
Last Sunday we had the reading from Mark’s Gospel – the story of Jesus returning to his hometown of Nazareth, only to find that his townspeople rejected him. As a result, he was unable to do any great works of power there. He had to shake the dust of Nazareth off his sandals and move on; and he sent the disciples out ahead to go and do likewise.
What resonates with this story especially well for me in light of this idea of Healed People healing people is the way the narrative moves.
Jesus comes into his hometown and teaches in the synagogue. The people hear his teaching and they are “astounded.” They’re also amazed at his deeds of power and healing. But they’re torn: On the one hand, here’s Jesus, the hometown-boy-who-hit-the-bigtime. On the other hand, here’s “this man” with his novel teachings and fancy miracles. The people ask, “Where did he get this?” It’s not a question bred from curiosity. It’s more sinister than that. It’s more like, “Who does he think he is? He used to be one of us; now he’s something Other.”
The text says that the crowd was scandalized by Jesus, and they sought to expel him. It’s even more heightened in Luke’s Gospel, where the crowd tries to shove Jesus off a cliff after his first hometown sermon. While Mark doesn’t go there, his Gospel still contains the Passion story in which people attempt to drive God in Jesus out of the world by hanging him on a cross.
It’s a profound story of human Truth – a painful truth about us as a species. We have a strong tendency to “Other” people – to turn people into an “Other.” This is especially true in times of great stress or anxiety. Jesus heightened the anxiety of his hometown fellows with his teaching about the nearness of the Kingdom of God. His teaching was novel. It challenged peoples’ notions of what was true, and as a result, he went in this story from hometown kid of whom the people are proud to “this man” with “these teachings.” Jesus’ teachings scandalized the people and they turned on him.
Jesus, we know from this side of history, was innocent of wrongdoing. His teachings about the Kingdom of God were correct, and so his expulsion by the crowd was unjust. But sometimes we humans expel people who are less innocent than Jesus. Sometimes they even seem to “deserve it.” Maybe they hurt us. Maybe we hurt them and the expulsion was mutual. Maybe it escalated. The point is: Hurt People hurt people.
Our congregation is a Hurt Congregation. You all have suffered pain and loss. We have a tendency to refer to a recent time of pain and loss as “The Crisis.” The fact is, we’re still in a crisis of loss. We’re no longer the large, program-based congregation we once were. Our neighborhood looks different than it did in the past, and so the way we exist as church isn’t nearly as “relevant” (though I hate to use that buzzword) to our neighbors as maybe we once were. We have financial struggles that we either didn’t have several years ago or that we didn’t know about several years ago. We have a lot of other things going on that we might justifiably perceive as loss, that we might experience as painful, that might cause us anxiety. When we are hurt or threatened, we tend to pay the hurt or the threat forward. We tend to cast about for someone to blame. This is not healthy, and it does nothing to forward the Kingdom of God.
In our Gospel story, Jesus was outright rejected by his hometown. He didn’t cast blame. Though he was unable to do great works of power because of the crowd’s rejection, he dusted the town’s sand off his feet and moved on. Those were also the instructions he gave to his disciples when he sent them on to the neighboring villages in his stead: “Go, heal people. Cast out demons. If you’re welcomed, stay there and work. If you’re rejected, recognize it. Name it and move on. You’ve got stuff to do.”
We, too, have hurt. We, too, may feel rejected. We need to name it rather than hide from it. We need to face it, so that we may cast out the “demon” of pain and rejection … in order that we may move on, cuz we have stuff to do. There’s no time for us to blame so-and-so for killing Program X, or to blame Tom, Dick, and Harry for not doing Program Y or to blame Suzie Q for not bringing in a new members. You may feel the pain of the loss of those programs or the lack of members, but paying your pain forward helps no one. Hurt People hurt people. Loved People love people. Healed People heal people. Let us be healed.
Please come to the Town Hall meeting this Sunday following worship. Let’s name our pain. Let’s be healed of it. Let’s shake the dust of our disappointments from our sandals and move on. There’s a lot of Kingdom stuff we have to do.