Rev. Dr. Joel Mitchell, Pastor
11024 S. Bell Avenue
Chicago, IL 60643
Reflection February 17, 2019
"Jesus, the Country Bumpkin" - by Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth
This past Sunday (February 10, 2019), I preached on how Jesus was a country bumpkin. I’ll place most of that sermon in this week’s “The Advance.” The entire sermon is posted on my Facebook page and on the church Facebook page.
When Philip tries to tell Nathanael about Jesus (John 1:43), Nathanael replies: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” In other words, how could anything worthwhile come from such a Podunk place? What kind of wisdom could come from a hayseed?
I’m an urban child, a denizen of the city of Chicago. Yet my mother was a country bumpkin. My father was a country bumpkin. I was frankly horrified when I visited (at the tender age of 5), my father’s farm in the barren hills of County Kerry, Ireland.
I was even more horrified when I went there at 11, just after my father had died. My Uncle Jim wanted to keep me there and raise me as his own. He has lost his only son in a swollen river.
I begged my mother not to leave me in that godforsaken rocky place! “Take my twin brother if you must but not me!” (I may be kidding here, I’m not sure!) Needless to say, my mother kept me even though it seemed like touch and go for a time! I might well have grown up to become an Irish country bumpkin!
In many ways, we are a State divided between rural and urban. We are a nation divided between rural and urban. We are a world divided between rural and urban. Rural areas are mostly red. Urban areas are mostly blue.
I admit that as an urban child, I felt myself superior to those from the sticks. Why? Power and prestige are to be mostly found in the cities. Cities attract our young with the promise of jobs. Rural areas can’t hold onto their children because of a lack of job opportunities. Cities have bright lights and exciting things to do. Rural areas are quiet and dullish.
My country bumpkin mother never liked living in Chicago. She came from a village where everyone knew everyone. Everyone helped out when possible. Chicago, to my mother, was cold and cruel as cities often are. The move from rural to urban is a difficult and dangerous move.
We Christians profess to follow a country bumpkin. Can anything good come out of Nazareth? “Come and see” is the answer given to Nathanael.
I’ve seen bumper stickers proclaiming My boss is a Jewish carpenter. But, as we learned at our last Bible Study, it’s probably a mistake to call either Joseph or Jesus a carpenter. The Greek word is tekton, which is best translated as someone who works with his hands, a day laborer. Palestine had little wood so our understanding of Joseph and Jesus as carpenters needs re-thinking. I’d be happy with a bumper sticker that read My boss is a Jewish country bumpkin who was a day laborer!
I brought this up to the church on Sunday because in the Gospels we hear people asking out loud: “Where did this country bumpkin, this hayseed country boy, this day laborer, get this knowledge, this wisdom?
In the not-distant past rural folks didn’t get much education. My mother and my father never went beyond grade school. They had to work to help their large families. Do we imagine Jesus had a high school diploma? Not at all! He was relatively uneducated, a bumpkin!
Of course we can argue that being divine trumps a high school diploma any day and this would be true. But we must remember a very vital theological truth, proclaimed in Philippians 2:5-11, that Christ, in becoming the human Jesus, emptied himself of his divinity, his glory, taking on the form of a slave.
So where did this country bumpkin get all his wisdom? We can well argue that Jesus’ wisdom arose from his incredible ability to pay attention, to be one with everything around him, to be deeply in touch with nature, with the birds of the air, with all creation.
We urban dwellers have, by and large, lost a deeper connection to nature. We may well have pets. We may on occasion go to parks and forest preserves. But by and large we have lost a vital connection with nature. This may well be why our precious planet is being plunged into environmental chaos. We’ve come unhinged from Mother Earth to our great peril!
We can all learn from Jesus, our beloved country bumpkin, our beloved down-home country boy. “Look at the birds of the air … Consider the lilies of the field.” (Matthew 6:26-29) Jesus calls us to look and learn.
I ended my sermon with a quotation from the writer Diane Ackerman from A Slender Thread: Rediscovering Hope at the Heart of Crisis. In this book she chronicles her time as a crisis counselor. I, myself, have worked on a crisis hot line, when I was a deacon in Ashland, Wisconsin and during my training in counseling psychology at Louisiana Tech University. What Ackerman points out is worth our attention:
Animals are always busy living. It’s only humans who wander the world like outcasts, feeling lonely much of the time, wondering what they’re here for. Part of our sense of isolation and emotional hunger comes from having exiled ourselves from nature. We evolved to live in extended families, cued to season time, part of a living fabric. We evolved to play meaningful roles in a social group. Much of that impetus we have lost, and the absence disturbs us. Something unnamable is missing from our lives. There is a hollowness at the center of our society. We search for meaning, purpose, a sense of belonging. We battle boredom and loneliness. We evolved to fit intricately into nature and family. Alas, we also evolved to be violent and territorial. This combination produces a terrible sense of alienation, people at war with themselves, at war with the world.
Let us learn from our beloved country bumpkin! What good can come out of Nazareth? Come and see!