No Jesus Allowed in Church!

Luke 4:21-30

In Jesus of Nazareth’s time and culture, favors for your hometown, your family, and your closest friends were commonplace. I don’t think it’s far-fetched for you or me to understand or resonate with this in 2016, wherever you are.

Have you ever moved away from where you were raised?
Did you ever return?
What was it like?

I don’t know what your personal experience with this has been like, but I have heard about the experiences of many others, and when I reflect on my own life, something stands out:

It’s not easy to go back. Sometimes returning to your old social circles, hangouts, and interacting once again with people who knew you as a kid can be difficult and stressful. Why? Because your family and your old friends have expectations. They remember you in a certain way and expect you to behave in a certain way. And, let me add that if you have distanced yourself from where you grew up, and have experienced the world and expanded your perspective, it can be even more difficult to return.


And if you have experienced success or made a name for yourself elsewhere, well, things can get tricky.

I’m sure you’ve heard stories about professional athletes running into trouble when they go back home. All of a sudden, people are appearing out of nowhere, asking for money or for autographs or tickets or favors. There’s a reason why some people who have successful and lucrative careers don’t even tell many people in their family or social circles that they have such success. They are afraid that it will negatively impact their relationships. People will treat them differently. They will expect things.


Pretty sure Manny Pacquiao knows about it.

Well, this is what happened to Jesus of Nazareth. It was inevitable, really. Nazareth boy makes it big. He was becoming a celebrity. And now, returning to the place where he was raised, people of the town wanted something in return. Shouldn’t some of that blessing that others were receiving outside of Nazareth now come to them? Shouldn’t “their” Jesus do some favors, sign some autographs, hook them up with front row tix, or share some of his prosperity and fame? Didn’t he owe that to Nazareth?

And this is why there is no Jesus allowed in church.

Okay, What????????????

Yeah. No Jesus in church. The Nazareth man canNOT stay there or even return there.

Because the institutional church, created after Jesus was long gone from this earth, is in no way shape or form the kind of beloved community that Jesus sought to create and sustain. The institutional church has expectations for Jesus and wants favors from God. In return for services rendered, the church waits for Jesus to deliver on his promises. The institution uses symbols like the cross, sacrament rituals, and doctrines to claim superiority over those who are not part of the church. The church even believes that it is chosen, somehow better than others, and therefore the blessings of God better rain down…or else.

coolJesus And sadly, this is why the institutional church often resorts to some of the junk that we see today—demonizing certain types of people like Muslims, gay or lesbian people, transgender people, black or brown people, women, poor people, or immigrants, etc. It’s so much easier for the institution to be “high and mighty” and entitled if it criticizes others and makes them lesser. It’s classic bullying on a larger scale.

And this is why Jesus doesn’t belong in the institutional church. Because he hung out with outsiders and he taught others to do the same. Jesus wasn’t part of a good old boys network, nor did he indicate that certain communities were more deserving of blessings or prosperity.

Jesus wouldn’t be a Christian if he lived in this society.

The Gospels speak to this. In Luke’s Gospel story, Jesus is a prophet. Prophets, in Jesus’ case, come to the aid of the widow, the poor, and the marginalized. Prophets don’t favor the rich, the religious, or the elites. The prophet Jesus doesn’t even favor his hometown family and friends. No special treatment. There’s no loyalty involved.

And so you can see why this ticked off people in the town synagogue. Luke’s story gets harsh, as the people want to throw Jesus off a cliff! But I don’t think it is hyperbole. They were full of wrath because they wanted favors and blessings and Jesus basically told them that they weren’t special. Their Jesus from Nazareth was now a celebrity and they wanted their piece of the pie. But Jesus wasn’t having it. Now that isn’t to say that these local folks held no importance, but instead, they were part of a greater whole, a larger world, a planet with lots of other people, animals, plants, and living things. To assume that they deserved more or were entitled to blessings was contrary to how Jesus was trying to build community.

This really makes me think. As it is getting ever closer to a Presidential election in the U.S., there is so much noise about who deserves what and why. Even politicians themselves feel entitled to hold a certain position or to make decisions that can affect so many people. Also, at the heart of modern-day politics is lobbying by various groups and organizations for their cause—in exchange, of course, for campaign contributions and votes. It’s an obviously-skewed and imperfect system, because even if a candidate promises to help a certain demographic of people and then accepts campaign donations and gets their votes—he/she may or may not follow through on the promises made. Political TV dramas like House of Cards illustrate this flawed way of relating to each other, based on favors and expectations, showing the emptiness of it all.

houseofcards.jpgSo I wonder how our individual lives would change [and then eventually our communities and the people around us] if we didn’t seek after favors and blessings and felt that we were NOT entitled?

What if our spiritual practices were not about getting something, but instead about being something?

What if we looked around us and cared more about the people who are left out, pushed aside, left empty, and bullied?

If we committed ourselves to being this way in our everyday lives, we would positively impact those around us. If we committed ourselves to being this way in our faith communities, we would be relevant, purposeful, and thriving.

So may your spiritual practices help you be a whole, grateful, and loved person.

May that being spill out into your workplace and your school; may it overflow into your relationships with family, friends, and strangers.

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Josh grew up in the Midwest before completing a B.A. in Theatre at Northwestern College [IA] and a Masters of Divinity [M.Div.] at Princeton Theological Seminary [NJ]. An ordained minister in the United Church of Christ [UCC], Josh has lived and worked in the Midwest, East Coast, Hawai’i, and Mexico. He is the co-founder and Executive Director of The Welcome Project PA, host of the Bucks-Mont PRIDE Festival, and he is Pastor of Love In Action UCC, an open and affirming congregation featured in a Vox Media episode of Divided States of Women with Liz Plank and in the Philadelphia Inquirer. Josh has 20+ years of nonprofit experience, including leading workshops and training in corporate, medical, and academic settings, focused on diversity & inclusion, grant writing, fund raising, and program management. Josh is a fellow of Interfaith Philadelphia, and designs and coordinates HS and University student groups for interfaith immersion service-learning weeks. Josh also co-facilitates Ally trainings for LGBTQIA+ inclusion and interfaith cooperation. He is a founding member of The Society for Faith & Justice, and a Collaborator for Nurturing Justice, and a member of the Driving PA Forward team via New Sanctuary Movement. He also performs regularly with the dinner theatre company, Without a Cue Productions, and has developed theatre arts curriculum for use in religious and secular settings. Josh also enjoys running, singing, traveling, learning languages, or making strange and funny faces. He lives in Center City Philly.

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