When I went to Divinity school and started pastoring my first little church, Brother Ed was an older pastor of a little country church down the road. He was well beyond retirement age and yet he loved the work of the church and caring for God’s children and so he continued to embrace the pastoral life. I remember Bro. Ed to this day for two reasons. First, I remember him as a warning of how mean we can be to one another as people of faith. Eventually some in his church decided Bro. Ed was too old, no longer hip enough to attract young adults and so they got rid of him and thus ended a long, faithful career on a very sour and sad note.
At the same time, I also remember Bro. Ed as this character who saw the good and hopeful in the most mundane of moments. I came to this conclusion through a role the Bro. Ed fulfilled. You see, every month the ministers in our little area got together for breakfast, fellowship and a chance to learn together. Ed was our group’s secretary and thus he took minutes at the meeting. If it happened, Ed wrote it down all the way from exactly what we had for breakfast to a word for word recording of the closing prayer. Bro. Ed’s minutes were the stuff of legend and could be five pages long and take ten minutes to read at the next meeting. Yet, no matter how bland the breakfast, how boring the guest speaker or how trivial the bulk of the gathering from the previous month, it all came alive in the eyes of Ed and how he chose to record what had happened. What he saw and remembered always provided an accurate description. But, Bro. Ed’s minutes were far more than that. They were also, at the same time, a monthly lesson in seeing the blessings and goodness in those occasions that could often and easily be overlooked.
Our passage for today also provides a lesson in regard to how we choose to see things. I will be honest with you. This is one of my favorite stories in the entire New Testament. I say that not because it is heartwarming or up lifting. I say that because it is so true to real life. And, because it is such a good reminder of one of the great challenges we face which is our tendency to miss the good in our midst because of our attitude. It is also a beautifully hopeful story in that it teaches us that so often there are blessings to receive right in front of us if we can just get over ourselves and our pettiness in order to embrace them.
The story of course is of Jesus back home in Nazareth among his old neighbors and friends. It is the Sabbath. They are in the synagogue and Jesus has the opportunity to speak and to share. Yet, the people by and large can’t hear what he is saying because they can’t get beyond their perspective that this is simply Joseph the lowly carpenter’s boy. They also struggle with the attitude that they know his mother and the gossip about her and his birth. Likewise, they know his siblings and there is apparently nothing special about them either. So, they draw some conclusions.
Now, let’s be honest. They were not wrong. Joseph was a common carpenter. In fact, as you have heard me say before, there were two Greek words for carpenter, tekton and architekton. Tekton was more the simplistic form of carpentry such as making wooden tools and household objects. An archetecton was a master builder, someone who built structures. Joseph is always referred to as a tekton, again the more simple type of carpenter.
Further, Mary likely did have a reputation connected to Jesus’ birth. People probably had heard about the mysterious nature and seedy side of her pregnancy.
Both Matthew and Mark, the two places where we find this story, emphasize both parents by name as if to say that both of them and their backgrounds were troubling.
Finally, as far as we know, even though Jesus’ brother James would be a leader in the early church, his siblings were never rich or famous.
So, to say that Jesus had a common dad, a mom with a reputation and siblings who as far as we know were pretty average is accurate. Yet, Jesus was also the Son of God standing in their midst.
Here is the thing I want all of us to see. Both assessments, the ordinariness and questionable aspects and Jesus as the Son of God, were true. The question was, in the midst of both truths, which set of lenses would the people present on that day choose to use in that moment? Well, we know the answer don’t we? And, it is a sad note of Jesus’ story and theirs. God was in their midst and yet their attitude about a local boy and his family kept them from seeing it or hearing what he had to say.
The thing that really gets me about this story is the ending which says that Jesus could only do a few miracles in their midst because of their unbelief. That has always struck me as a strange statement. But, if you think about it. It is true. With the attitude the people brought to the table, even if Jesus performed a miracle in their midst, they would find a reason to dismiss it, a way to discredit it or something to complain about because of it.
As the text clearly says, they simply “refused to believe him”. (vs. 57a)
If we are being honest about this text, let’s be honest about our lives too. So much of life is just less than ideal right now. None of us like the way we have to go to the grocery, that church is outside or hot, that our favorite restaurant isn’t open for inside dining or that USC and Clemson are not going to play football this Fall. Are there truths in our complaints and frustrations? Of course, many of our complaints have some degree of merit. Yet, what will make or break our lives right now is our ability to choose to see with a different attitude. Maybe, if we choose to be happy that the grocery store is even open and that we have money to buy groceries or to embrace that our favorite restaurant is offering takeout, or that church isn’t about a building or that at least Clemson and Carolina are going to play football at all, maybe just maybe we will see things differently.
As it relates to our faith, I believe if we come expecting to meet God in less than perfect situations then we will find God’s presence in all sorts of unexpected places. But, if our attitude is focused on what we don’t like, even if God performs a miracle right in front our faces, we won’t see it.
This is an act of spiritual maturity and life maturity. But, the hopeful word is that when we have the eyes to see, we might just be amazed at what is staring back at us.
For many years, Ann Turnage was a leader in the movement to provide quality, faith based care for cancer patients. One of her most famous lines provides a good way of wrapping up today. Ann Turnage said this, “Attitude is our paintbrush. It colors our world.” (Attitude is Your Paintbrush, Jame. Moore, pg. 7-8)
Attitude can just be the difference between a common man not worth listening to and the Son of God to behold, celebrate and embrace in our midst. Amen.