Overcoming your circumstances

January 6th, 2015

Mark 1:9-15

This scripture reveals that God can make something out of nothing. Those of us who grew up in rural Alabama always joked, “Thank God for Mississippi,” because we laughed that there would be one state below us on any social measurement. Most of us might consider growing up in Yazoo City, Mississippi, as a disadvantage, but not Zig Ziglar, the popular author. He grew up in Yazoo City. As he often said: “You can go anywhere in the world from Yazoo City, Mississippi.”

Jesus was not from Yazoo City, but he was from Nazareth. Nazareth received the same kind of respect from the rest of Israel that any small rural town yet receives from the big cities. Nathaniel, one of the future disciples of Jesus, even asked when Philip told him about Jesus: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

Jesus proved that an individual can go anywhere from Nazareth. The message of the first chapter of Mark tells us clearly that when you know yourself to be a child of God, you can overcome your circumstances.

Let us recognize that life is difficult, for many of us come from “Nowhere, U.S.A.” Let us also recognize that many have overcome their circumstances and so can you. And third, know that God is saying to you as God said to Jesus: “You are my child, whom I love, with you I am well pleased.”

Fred Dawson in the book “When Black Folks Was Colored” tells of the 1906 hurricane that all but leveled the city of Pensacola, Florida. At the time, he and his family were living in a south Alabama community raising cotton and nearly starving to death. Most of the other black families were packing up and moving north. Dawson’s family packed up and moved south to Pensacola to help rebuild the city after that major hurricane. They became significant landowners. Fred Dawson learned early on that it is not so important where you come from, but who you are that makes the difference.

Years ago when I was in college I drove to a community just south of Monroeville, Alabama, to preach every other weekend at the Bermuda Methodist Church. I had a friend who now lives in Monroeville who recently told me an amazing story:

He and his sister grew up in a shack of a house in Bermuda, Alabama. His father was a two-mule farmer, his mother a part-time beautician. The children would walk out of their house to catch the school bus for the eight-mile trip to school. While they waited for the bus, sometimes on a cold day they would see black children walking on the road to their rundown black school about four miles away. What they didn’t know was that some of those black kids had already been walking for thirty minutes in the rain and cold and would still be walking long after the school bus would pull up to the white school. One day his sister asked, “Why can’t they ride the bus with us?” And no one ever came up with an answer that would make sense back in the 1940s.

My friend, now in his 70s, has moved to Monroeville and recently met a very impressive lady, Mrs. Jones (not her real name), when she joined the local Kiwanis Club. It is new territory for a woman to be a member of the formerly all-male club, but what is even more unusual is that Mrs. Jones, the retired librarian at a junior college, is black. She has three children— one a medical doctor at a state university, another a college professor in California, and a daughter who is the senior editor of the editorial page of a prestigious national newspaper. What is even more amazing is that Mrs. Jones was one of those black children who sixty years ago walked past my friend’s house to her black school. It is not so important where you come from, but who you are and where you are going that makes a difference.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was a middle-class, black, Baptist preacher, but his message of Christian love and nonviolent social change saved this nation from a revolution in the 1960s. I heard him preach one time and I was stirred deep within. But when I was in college, there was so much negative press about him that I just didn’t know what to believe about him. None of us knew who he really was. Now we realize from a perspective of history that it is not so important the color of your skin, but the character of your soul, that makes a difference.

When the world asks, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” the stories of the Lord of the church and of God’s people of all the years answer back: “You can overcome the circumstances of your birth.” The heavens opened when Jesus was baptized with God’s affirmation. Some people couldn’t see it while Jesus was here on earth, and some still can’t. But eyes of faith see wondrous things happen all the time. Believe and you will begin to see things happen in your life. Listen and you will hear: “You are my child, whom I love, and with you I am well pleased.”

Yes, we may start off in a place called Yazoo City, Mississippi, or a place called Nazareth, but hear this: It doesn’t matter where you start out and it doesn’t matter what obstacles you have to overcome. You can become a winner, a hero, a Christian, God’s special child, by listening today to the mystery beyond us. Listen and you will hear: “You are my child, whom I love, and with you I am well pleased.”

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