St. Philip Lutheran Church
30 January 2022 + Lect. 4c (Epiphany 4)
Rev. Josh Evans
Just in case you haven’t picked up on my obsession with Encanto over the past week, including references in Bible Study and in GLOW Exploration – and of course the children’s message just moments ago…
Let’s talk about Bruno.
Outcast, shamed, and cut off. The Family Madrigal doesn’t talk about Bruno – the only son and youngest of Abuela Alma and Abuelo Pedro’s three triplet children, now grown adults by the time the movie opens.
After fleeing violence and unrest in their home village in Colombia many years before, and Pedro’s martyr-like death so Alma and the kids could escape to safety, the Family Madrigal becomes the recipient of an unexpected “miracle” – symbolized by a candle that burns brightly in a window sill in Casita, their magical new home.
The miracle gives each Madrigal family member a unique and supernatural “gift” – including superhuman strength (like Luisa), shapeshifting (like Camilo), controlling the weather based on one’s mood (like Pepa), and cooking up simple recipes with the power to cure anyone of anything (like Julieta). The gifts of the Madrigals help both those within their family and also in the surrounding community.
Not all gifts are appreciated and celebrated though – namely, Bruno’s ability to see into the future. Because Bruno’s gift shows the good and the not-so-good future, at some point before the main plot of the film begins, Bruno has gone into hiding, an outcast in his own family and community.
For fear of Bruno’s truth-telling and the things he might see – often beyond his control – no one talks about Bruno … except to make it clear: We don’t talk about Bruno.
Now on the one hand, unlike Bruno, I think Jesus knew exactly what he was preaching and teaching in his hometown synagogue in Nazareth. But the reaction of the crowd elicits a similar response. What happened in the course of just eight verses that turned the synagogue assembly who initially “spoke well of him and were amazed” by his words into the enraged, angry mob that wants to throw him off a cliff?
Then again, like Bruno, Jesus told the truth about the future – a future that was breaking into their midst: “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” And it was a future of good news, release for the captives, freedom for the oppressed, the jubilee year of God’s favor. Jesus had been enacting this good news all throughout the surrounding villages – and now he had come back to Nazareth.
This good news was, in theory, for everyone, but now this good news had come home, specifically to Jesus’s own people. A sort of insider perk from their hometown hero.
But as soon as Jesus starts talking about the extent of that good news – that it wasn’t just for them and that it couldn’t be contained – the crowd gets antsy. He’s going to go widows and lepers outside the geographic and ethnic boundaries of Israel, like Elijah and Elisha before him. And it makes them angry to think anyone might get a chance to cut in line before them.
The idea that God’s message of good news and liberation is not exclusive to one group in particular but for all people – beyond the narrow confines of their synagogue, their town, even their religion and ethnicity – wasn’t what the “insiders” wanted to hear.
So they try to hurl the hometown hero they lauded only moments before off a cliff. If he’s not going to tell us what we want to hear, well then… we won’t talk about Jesus.
What is it that we don’t talk about?
Today, on Reconciling in Christ Sunday, we celebrate five years of being a congregation that welcomes and affirms our siblings of different gender identities and expressions and sexual orientations.
We talk about these things today because for too long the church hasn’t talked about them. And when they have, it’s more often than not been from a place of harm – shaming and cutting off already marginalized groups for who they are or who they love.
Today is a day of talking about what needs to be talked about – of celebrating and affirming those in our pews who haven’t always been welcomed in the fullness of who God created them to be.
When Bruno’s visions – which he was always asked to share – showed a future the others didn’t want to see, he earned the reputation of making “bad things” happen. Instead of making his family proud, Bruno was often looked down upon.
After one vision showing potential harm to his own family, Bruno decided to stop his visions entirely and go into hiding – a kind of self-isolation brought upon by the shame experienced from his own family who, at best, didn’t appreciate his gift and, at worst, thought he was trying to hurt them with it. Like Jesus, Bruno is a prophet not welcome in his own home.
And yet, as the movie later reveals, Bruno never wanted to hurt his family, but in reality, he actually loves them and deeply cares about them – leaving not for selfish reasons but quite the opposite, in order to protect them.
Jesus didn’t come into the synagogue in Nazareth to cause trouble or hurt anyone. His proclamation was and is good news. And it’s precisely because of his deep love and care for them that he proclaims the message he does: that God’s good news is too big to be contained to any one synagogue or village or church or community.
God’s good news is for all people made in God’s image – even, and perhaps especially, for those who look or love or speak or believe differently than we do.
We need to talk about Bruno.
We need to talk about Jesus.
We need to talk about the kind of deep love they embody for the people they care about – a kind of love that is so deep and so wide it might border on offensive to us because of whom it includes.
We need to talk about who has not always been welcomed here so that we can welcome them for the bearers of God’s image that they are.
RIC Sunday is a starting place. “All Are Welcome” is a starting place. Our St. Philip welcome statement is a starting place.
But it’s not the destination. The work of reconciliation – of declaring God’s love for all people and actually living like we mean it – is an ongoing journey.
We need to talk about what the church says we don’t or shouldn’t talk about. We need to talk about these things because there are still people who need to hear that God loves them unconditionally.
We need to talk about these things because there are still too many places in the church that don’t talk about them – or worse, that continue to inflict harm on our LGBTQIA+ siblings by the things they do talk about.
This isn’t “us versus them” or “right versus wrong.” Talking about these things is proclaiming the gospel, pure and simple.
God’s message of good news that Jesus proclaims is for all people. God’s love cannot and will not be contained or owned by any one group of people.
And that is a kind of good news and love worth sharing.