back to list

Aren't You Little Steve Graham?


Passage: Luke 4:21-30

Speaker: Rev. Dr. Stephen Graham

Prior to his rejection by the hometown crowd, Jesus had been welcomed by the people bubbling with excitement like a seven-up. Luke tells us there was a general stir of admiration. They were surprised that words of such grace should fall from his lips, that is, until their enthusiasm went flat, and they began to wonder, “Is not this Joseph’s boy? Why, you are only a boy, and a boy that we know at that!”

I rushed into the hospital elevator searching for an appropriate calm over my anxiety for this visit with a patient in ICU, the unit of hushed conversations and loud monitors. As the door closed, a voice behind me said, “Aren’t you little Stevie Graham?” Before looking around I answered to myself, “I’m afraid you’ve got me!” Was this an endearing or chiding question? I turned to see who held this power over my past, bringing my nickname, my birth order, and my humble origins all into play. I took pause and began disqualifying myself for the act of ministry I was about to extend. “Truly, I do not know how to speak for I am only a boy!”

If he were Joseph’s boy, what did that mean? Are any one of us defined solely by our heritage? Are we the sum of who are mother and father, grandmothers and grandfathers are or were? If this were Joseph’s boy, that would confirm their suspicions and give them a dismissive story to dramatize the way they saw him and the way they saw themselves. Were they saying something about themselves when they said nothing good could come from Nazareth?

Remember Groucho Marx turning down an invitation to an exclusive club because he would not join a club that would accept a person like himself.

Asking if he were Joseph’s child, is remembering overtime. There are stories that are held onto long after it is time to encourage the opportunity for other stories to surface. I remember telling a story about my older sister, Kay Ann; a fun story I loved to tell, even though it was dated, and it was told at her expense. As she listened, I sensed something in her that was ready for a different story to be told; a new updated, more current story about who she was and more importantly about who she hopes to be. She is, when it is all said and done, a brilliant, capable, and impressive soul, devoted to life-long learning.

Instead of seeing Jesus as just Joseph’s boy, what if they had seen him as one who had grown in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man. We tell a story to make a point. They had a story on him that was derogatory in its nature: “He is just a poor boy from Nazareth.” Enough said.

Jesus acknowledged their narrow perspective. “You will quote the proverb to me, ‘Physician heal yourself. Do here in your hometown what we have heard you have been doing in other towns.’ No prophet is accepted in his own country. A prophet is never welcomed in his own hometown.”

Jesus then told a story to make a point, to illustrate the power of God’s transforming love when it is received: “In the days of Elijah, it is true there were many widows in Israel and there was no rain for three and a half years. A severe famine prevailed throughout the country. Yet Elijah was not sent to one of them, only to a widow in Sidon, and there were many lepers in Israel and not one of them was made clean except a Syrian named Naaman.” Elijah was sent to a widow in Sidon, and she believed. A leper named Naaman was made clean and believed” (Luke 4:25-27). And now, Jesus came unto his own, though his own received him not (John 1:11). They could not believe.

Sara Little, in her book, To Set One’s Heart shares this understanding of belief: “Unless individuals are ‘believed in,’ unless they can ‘believe in’ others, the possibility of becoming persons is limited.”

Finding our belief in this one humbly born from Nazareth is transforming; without which the possibility of becoming persons is limited.

We believe Christ’s love is transformational in us as persons and in us as a people.

A congregation must believe in itself. It is important for us to hear this word during this time of transition from James Hopewell, in his book Congregations: Stories and Structures writes: “The local church suffers when it does not take its idiom seriously. If the congregation views itself as merely the repository of meanings better expressed elsewhere, it fails to appreciate its genius, its microcosmic capacity to reflect in uniquely lived form the sociality of humankind, when a congregation considers its own language neither interesting nor important it devalues its identity and thus its names for and before God.” (Hopewell, p.9).

W.H. Auden’s assertion is correct that one day’s events in the life of an average person could fill a novel. If so, then, an account of the activity of a congregation might occupy several shelves of novels. (Hopewell, p.154).

There is part of me that is little Stevie Graham. There are stories that can be told about that precocious, wide-eyed, and hopeful child with a burr haircut that have a great amount in common with the very person I am today. I am that no doubt, but I yearn to be that and much more.

I learned this week that they called Harry, “Little Harry,” because his father was Harry, Sr. We know him as that, and we also know him to be a gifted and capable and compassionate leader.

I wonder what they called you. Stand and share? We need ten!

We are those childhood names, truth be told, and we are so much more. We are those who have encountered the living Christ and whose lives are being transformed. We offer our humble lives in service. We have not come to this point from out of a vacuum, but from a story with a date and an address, and we are here, now, altogether, somewhere along the continuum of the story of God’s unfolding grace.

In The Learning Congregation, Thomas Hawkins reminds us that congregations sometimes treat people as a utilitarian resource whose time and abilities exist to help the congregation grow and develop a wider range and base for its ministry. Learning congregations invert this formula. They make a primary shift from using people to create a better congregation to using the congregation to nurture better people (Hawkins, p.26). In the past, church leaders were recognized for their ability to grow churches. In today’s world, the ability to “grow”” is the key characteristic of effective and faithful leaders (Hawkins, p.11).

Our goal is to cultivate a learning environment where we discover all that we can about Joseph’s boy, the one who transformed everyday experiences. Our goal is to cultivate an environment where we realize our calling is to be a loving congregation. When all God’s children believe in all God’s children, miracles happen.

“Where there is great love there are always miracles.” (Willa Carter). Miracles occur when through love we gain the finer sense of things. This finer sense of things calls us to sacrifice.

God has a place for our gifts in service and calls forth our faithfulness. God uses whom we are in all our humanity to bear the Word (Paul Wilson).

So, fine people of Royal Lane, to be or not to be! We cannot be other than we are, but God would not have it any other way. We are called to let God be the author our stories. Therefore, let us bring to God all that we are and all that we long to be.

I close with a line from Wendell Berry: “...and we are here as we have never been before, sighted as not before, our place Holy, although we knew it not.”