Nothing Much To Look At

Heritage Presbyterian Church

2nd Sunday after Epiphany
Sunday, January 15, 2023

Scripture: John 1:35-51

She was nothing much to look at.  When I first got to know her, she was 95 years old and living in a retirement home in Lockhart, Texas.  During her long life, she had been a schoolteacher in a small town, gone to church on Sunday, been a good friend to all who knew her – but nothing really remarkable.  She married a good man, was a good wife, had a son who was a good doctor.  She was known as a good mother, a good neighbor, and a good Christian.  She lived a good life – but one that was not unlike the lives of hundreds of other women in central Texas.  I had met her once or twice when I was a little kid, but I barely remembered her.

When she and I became reacquainted when I was in college, her husband had been dead for seven years.  Her beloved son had died of cancer years earlier.

At first glance, she seemed like many other elderly people living in that retirement home.

But…as I got to know her better, I found that she worked HARD at that retirement home.  She trotted everywhere she went because she had so much to do every day: she read to the blind – usually from the Bible (her favorite book!).  She wrote letters for the residents who could not write because of arthritis.  She sewed dresses for her great, great-granddaughters.  When state nursing home inspectors came around, she scampered from room to room telling the residents to hide their aspirin and their hair spray because these things are not allowed in nursing homes.  A few of the residents were even former students of hers, but they couldn’t get out of bed.  

She also put the American flag up every day, rain or shine, and she had a running joke with the nursing home’s director that it wasn’t too hard for her to climb the pole to do it.

A few years before she died, she had a vision that troubled her greatly.  She called my grandparents and asked if they could come and see her right way, which they quickly did.

Then she explained that Jesus had come into her room, sat down in a rocking chair, and told her to get her affairs in order – she didn’t have much time.

So, she picked up the phone and immediately called her daughter-in-law from whom she had been estranged for several years.  Even though she had done nothing wrong, she apologized to her daughter-in-law and asked for her forgiveness for any pain she may have caused.  A happy reconciliation occurred, and this dear old woman was better cared for the last few years of her life.  She prayed for me to meet someone special like my wife, whom she loved dearly.  Before she died, she held a baby – her great-great-great nephew, thus spanning five generations.  Until the last six months of her life, she proudly had all her marbles.  She served the Lord and revealed his face to many until she no longer could.  Then this small woman was finally called home at the age of 101 and a half.  

She was my great-great Aunt Bettie Waller from Fentress, Texas.  

And she herself would tell you: she was nothing much to look at.  

But oh my!  Was she ever something to see!

He was nothing much to look at either.  He was a salesman for the John Deere Tractor Company, and he was living and working in Iowa.  He was married and had two very small children.  His lovely wife was a nurse, and together they lived a good life – but a life that was nothing special, nothing fancy, nothing much to look at.  

Then one day they were in their front yard watching their children play when a couple they didn’t know walked up their driveway.  The couple introduced themselves and then with a smile they said, “We are from the neighborhood Presbyterian church, and we’re having a family night supper tomorrow night.  Would you like to come?”  Before the tractor salesman could respond with an excuse, his lovely wife smiled and said, “We would just LOVE to come!”  The salesman later reported to me that he “could have killed her.”  

But the young couple and their children went to the neighborhood Presbyterian church for the family night supper.  They were greeted warmly and made to feel welcome.  After this, they were so taken with the experience that they decided to try attending the church.  Then they became involved in the activities.  Then God began whispering in their ears that they were called to more than they were doing.

So, the young tractor salesman and his family moved to Austin, Texas, and this tractor salesman enrolled at Austin Seminary.  Three long years later, he graduated and was called to his first church, St. Giles Presbyterian Church in Houston, where he stayed for 15 years.  Then he decided that he wanted to do even more with his life.  So, he and his still-lovely wife moved to Austin, where he became the pastor of a dying church in the downtown area.  If you read the Austin paper, you’ll see his name from time to time – whenever there is an article about the homeless in Austin because that is the focus of this church’s mission and ministry.  And so, even into his 60’s, this former tractor salesman made a difference in the lives of many that society would turn away from because he knows that Jesus would not, could not turn away from people such as these.  The now-thriving church’s motto is “deliberately inclusive.” 

But the Reverend Greg McDonnell was not much to look at – but my oh my…was he ever something to see!

It is nothing much to look at either.  It is a Baptist church in Houston’s historic Fourth Ward.  The faithful are mostly African American, and most are poor.  It is not the largest black church in Houston, but it is a good one.  It has a choir, a preacher or two, elders who teach Sunday school.  They probably have bake sales, meetings, Sunday night and Wednesday night suppers, activities for members – that sort of thing.  It’s a good church, a faithful church, doing a good job of spreading the Good News throughout their community and beyond.  It’s like many other churches across the country – nothing special, just doing a good job serving the Lord and preaching the Word, in other words, nothing much to look at.  

But one Sunday, as church was letting out and the members were gathered outside greeting one another and talking – like most churches do, like this church does – a woman was murdered right across the street at a run-down apartment complex, a result of some kind of drug deal gone sour.  

I don’t know if the members rushed to her aid.  

I don’t know if the murderer was caught. 

But I do know that a few days later, the members of the church met and formed a plan of action.  They bought the run-down apartment complex, which had been a haven for drug activity and God knows what else, and they did it with their own money.  They renovated the building themselves and turned part of it into new Sunday school classrooms.  The other part of the building was converted into a drug and alcohol treatment center; many of the people treated there were former occupants of the formerly run-down apartment complex.  

So, this church, this house of God, changed the neighborhood for the better and to this day continue to change the lives of recovering addicts, and they did it by taking the Word of God into the street to people who really needed it.  

Yes, the Holman Street Baptist Church is really nothing much to look at…but my oh my, is it ever something to see!

Again and again and again in the Bible, we are treated to stories of seemingly unremarkable people – people who are nothing much to look at, people who are called by God for some special purpose; people like Moses, the Hebrew baby put in a basket and set afloat in the Nile River; Moses, who became the prince of Egypt but when he killed an overseer became a disgraced prince of Egypt; Moses, who practically begged God to send someone else to deliver the Hebrews from bondage; Moses, who told God that he had always been slow of speech and tongue (you can forget about Charlton Heston when you consider Moses!).  Moses was almost begging God to see that he was nothing much to look at.

Take a hard look at the Apostles – now there’s a group that was nothing much to look at:

  • Andrew and Simon Peter…a couple of fishermen.
  • Matthew, the tax collector…a Jew who was working for the Romans and against his own people;
  • Thomas, who refused to believe that Jesus had risen from the dead and became known as “doubting Thomas” for all eternity;
  • Judas Iscariot, the member of Jesus’ inner circle who sold him out for 30 pieces of silver;
  • James and John, who actually had an argument over who would sit at Jesus’ left side in heaven and who would sit on his right – and then actually had the nerve to ask Jesus if he would settle the argument.  Seriously??

Peter has always been my favorite Apostle because he was the one who changed the most; he’s the one who denied Christ and then went on to set up Christ’s church;

Peter, who when he realized who Jesus was, went to him and fell on his knees in front of Jesus and said, “Get away from me for I am a sinful man!”

Why is it that God seems to pick these people who are nothing much to look at?  Maybe it’s because these common people, these regular folks, have nothing much going for them.  They do not have gold or power or influential friends in Congress.  They have to rely on two things: themselves and God. They are used to doing this because that is how they operate their lives.  It is probably easier for God to work with them – they are used to listening to Him.  They also have faith: the kind of faith that can belong to anyone; the kind of faith that moves mountains; they have THAT kind of faith;

The same faith that Aunt Bettie had for 101 years;

The same faith that Greg McDonnell still has;

The same faith that the Holman Street Baptist Church has.

Is that same faith here in the Presbyterian Church (USA)?  Is it in the Presbytery of the New Covenant in Houston, Texas?  Is it here at Heritage Presbyterian Church?  At first glance, some might say it is nothing much to look at, but what would they see if they took a good, long, hard look?  Would they see people caring for each other?  Would they see faithful service to God and His community?  Would they see leaders who truly love the people?

Nothing much to look at?  Or something to see?

But I know what many of you are thinking: what can one person do, especially one who is nothing much to look at; one who doesn’t have this faith yet or is unsure, perhaps with faith the size of a mustard seed? Look at yourself for a minute…what has God given you?

  • Are your hands strong?  Then you can make things or build things.  
  • If your hands are not strong, how about your feet?  You can walk with others when they feel alone or stand beside them when they feel overwhelmed.  
  • How about your voice?  You can sing, talk, call others on the phone, debate and discuss. 
  • How about your ears?  You can listen and make others feel that what they have to say is important.
  • How about your mind?  What ideas can you come up with that will truly serve God and your fellow humans?  
  • If your heart is good, then love and be an example to others. 

And if you can’t do any of those things, then you can pray.  That may be the most powerful thing of all!

So now, I take a long look at myself.  I am not tall, and I am not handsome.  My nose and my ears seem to be getting longer as I get older.  I am beginning to fight the battle of my waistline, and the waistline is winning.  I am not a president, or a director, or a leading author, or a captain of industry.  I have not saved any lives, built any shelters, led any nations, defeated any evil foes, or converted masses to the Lord.  I have not traveled abroad on mission trips.  I am not Martin Luther King or Mahatma Ghandi or Mother Theresa or Jim Henson or Walt Disney or Mitt Romney or Barack Obama or Rick Perry or even George W. Bush.

In short, I am nothing much to look at!  And that suits me just fine.  I figure…I’m in good company, the company of saints.  And maybe someday when the Lord takes a good look at me, maybe I’ll be something to see!

Come Holy Spirit, heavenly dove, with all your quickening power!  Amen!