When I was growing up, this (early July), as I remember, was usually the time that all the Vacation Bible Schools started up for the summer. My friends and I went to VBS at Asbury United Methodist Church, which was close to where we lived. VBS is just a hazy memory now, but I’m reminded of it every time I see an Asbury United Methodist Church, and there are a ton of Asbury Methodist churches. Francis Asbury was a Methodist circuit rider, a preacher who was assigned an area, like a regional salesman. Asbury was actually the founding bishop of American Methodism and a circuit rider himself. While supervising his clergy and parishes, Asbury rode his horse more than 270,000 miles and preached more than 16,000 sermons. These Methodist preachers were everywhere. There is the amusing story of the Rev. Nolley. “Nolley was in a remote part of Mississippi when he (came upon) a settler was still unloading his wagon. Nolley introduced himself to the settler and was greeted with tremendous disgust as the settler burst out, “Another Methodist preacher! I left Virginia for Georgia to get clear of them. There they got my wife and daughter. So I come here, and here is one before I can get my wagon unloaded!” Nolley drolly replied, “My friend, if you go to Heaven you’ll find Methodist preachers there; if you go to Hell, I’m afraid you’ll find some there, and you see how it is on earth, so you had better make terms with us and be at peace.”1
Jesus knew the trials of being a circuit rider, because for a short while, He was a circuit rider. Jesus didn’t have Francis Asbury breathing down His neck, but He did, as the New King James Bible puts it, go “about the villages in a circuit, teaching.” Not unlike the Rev. Nolley and those Methodist circuit riders, Jesus didn’t always receive a hero’s welcome everywhere He went. At some point on His route, Jesus circled back to His hometown, and when it came time for adult education at the synagogue, Jesus got up to teach. St. Mark tells us that the people who heard Jesus were astonished: “Where did this man get all this? What is the wisdom given to him? What mighty works are wrought by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” They took offense at Him, what with His teaching and nice robe and His miracles. Who the heck does He think He is, anyway?
Mark tells us that Jesus marveled at their unbelief, He was surprised at the ability of His own people to turn His ministry into a scandal, to turn His wisdom and works against Him. Jesus was surely upset about all of this; Mark tells us that Jesus didn’t perform any major miracles in His hometown “except that he laid his hands upon a few sick people and healed them,” which I’m sure counted as major miracles to the people that He healed. But the joke, as we might say, was not on Jesus but rather on the people who rejected Him. In that strange economy of intimacy, it was the people who already knew Jesus, who knew Him best, the people who watched Him grow up riding His big wheel around Joseph’s workshop, who brought food to His house when Joseph died, it was those people who couldn’t or wouldn’t hear His voice, who missed out on the wonder and the grace, who, having seen Jesus their whole lives, somehow couldn’t see Him for who He really was.
I think the same can be said for us, at least for those of us who grew up in the Church. Because of my collar, when I meet people, the first thing they usually tell me is either where they go to church or why it is they don’t go to church; the most common excuse is that they went to 12 years of Catholic school and they don’t need any more churching. Their problem, and sometimes ours, is the same problem those folks in Nazareth had: we’ve seen Jesus our whole lives; in a way, we’ve grown up with Him, and so we’ve grown wary of the stories or worse, we’ve grown accustomed to the wonder and grace of God.
That’s happened to me and it happens to me, and it most likely has happened to you at some point. I won’t go as far as to say it’s OK, but it does happen, and so I encourage you, wherever you are in your faith, to this summer hear the Word of the Lord with fresh ears, to look at Jesus with clear eyes. Pick up the Bible, try out a new ministry here at church, talk with your fellow Christians about what God has done in their lives. Who the heck is this Jesus guy with His wisdom and His miracles? He’s the Son of the living God, whose wisdom and miracles, His wonder and His grace, is given for you. This summer, let’s take a fresh look at Him together.
1. Rita Juanita Mock, Nothing But Crows and Methodist Preachers, http://www.angelfire.com/fl4/HisBeauty/pages/circuitriders.html