I bought a new plant the other day. It was a hibiscus, but it didn’t have a tag as to its specific variety, so the lady at the nursery gave me 25% off on it. It was like a mystery hibiscus. None of its buds were open, clenched instead like a toddler’s fist, but the outside of the buds was yellow, and it was sitting with other yellow hibiscus, so I assumed it would be… yellow.
Surprise! It was not yellow. All the assumptions I made about it besides that it was indeed a hibiscus were incorrect. I thought it would be lovely, but it totally defied all my expectations.
It seems like the last few weeks, we have been hearing about miracles in our worship. Today, we get an interesting side discussion about the power of expectations. Jesus returns to his hometown in our gospel today, and his former neighbors, rather than embracing him, react with disbelief to his ministry. When they look at Jesus, all they can see is “the carpenter’s son,” or “the brother of James.” They have him pegged in a certain way, and they are unwilling to consider that Jesus could be anyone other than who they understand him to be. It is often said that “you can’t go home again.” The problem is that often, home is not as you remembered it, and that’s further complicated by the fact that YOU are not as your neighbors and family remember you, either.
In our parish, we have been following the story of David in track one of the lectionary, and this Sunday’s reading has the people of the northern kingdom coming to David and asking him to rule them as well as the tribes of Judah he has been leading for seven years. David also has been a person who has defied expectations. When first introduced, he was just a young sheep-herder, who surprisingly became a great warrior. It took years for him to be accepted as a great leader, even with the favor of God resting upon him. In Jesus’s case, he had spent years there in Galilee, and his neighbors expect him to be a simple carpenter still, as he was before he left them. They expect him to be living a simple life like his brothers and sisters– and his sisters, like so many women in scripture, are considered so nondescript that they don’t even get names. Those expectations of anonymity get confounded, however, the second Jesus opens his mouth and rolls up his sleeves. And the crowd does not like it.
The assumption is that Jesus has changed. Suddenly Jesus is preaching with authority. Suddenly he has a reputation as a healer and miracle worker. The problem is that Jesus was no longer rooted to that one particular place and that one particular identity, and that unsettles those who not only think they know him, but think they have Jesus pegged and filed away neatly under the “unexceptional” category.
Jesus was able to perform no deeds of power in the presence of his own kith and kin, because they did not have faith—in him, in his ministry, or even in themselves. They were meant to be simple rural folk—who was this stranger who appeared among them full of startling wisdom? Worse, they not only did not believe in him, they “took offense at him.” You can almost hear it now: “Just who does he think he is?” And behind that question is always this question: “Does he think he’s better than us?” Due to his own people’s lack of faith in him, the one who could calm storms and cast out demons and bring little girls back to life could do only heal a few people in his own country. Those who are incapable of faith in something often also have a hard time allowing themselves to hope, much less allow miracles to spring up right in front of them.
Many of us are like Jesus in that respect- we are electrified and transformed by the faith of others, which often strengthens our faith in ourselves. Just under a month ago here in St. Louis, the doors to our own Magdalene House, inspired by the original founded in Nashville by the Rev. Becca Stevens, opened its doors to its first residents. Hopefully many of us got to hear the magnificent sermon by this visionary woman during the General Convention Eucharist on July 1.
Framing this as a new venture in St. Louis would overlook the years and countless hours of work done by hundreds of supporters and volunteers and executive staff to get to this point. The goal of this organization is to support women escaping life on the streets, addiction, prostitution, and abuse. It is to show these women that others have faith in them and to have faith in themselves, so that they can have the power within themselves unleashed. They are given the space and the time to bloom where they are planted.
Perhaps a definition of a miracle is an event that not just defies but shatters expectations. Last week our gospel told the story of a woman who was healed of a terrible illness through the faith to just brush her fingers along the tassel of the robe of a healer. These women will be lifted up by hundreds of hands of people who believe in their power and strength, and together that faith can work miracles. Faith breeds hope, and hope breeds love, and love heals. And that, my friends, is a miracle.
Leslie Scoopmire is a retired teacher and postulant for the priesthood in the Diocese of Missouri. She attends Eden Theological Seminary in Webster Groves, MO. She is a member of and musician at the Church of the Holy Communion in University City, Missouri, in the Diocese of Missouri, and tweets daily prayers and news of note @HolyCommUCity. Her blog is Abiding in Hope.
Image: by Leslie Scoopmire