21st Sunday after Pentecost / LWML Sunday
October 9, 2016
“Come and See!”
Grace, mercy, and peace be and abide with you all in the name of our living Savior Jesus. The basis for the sermon is the lesson read earlier from John chapter 1.
My dear friends,
So…we all good in the wake of Hurricane Matthew? Everyone’s family okay? Hurricanes are not like tornadoes, which is what I grew up with. Hurricanes give you LOTS of advance warnings; tornadoes, not so much. Tornadoes are unpleasant surprises. Surprises can be unpleasant like the phone call I received in December 2006 that my father had died. Ever get one of those calls? That being said, some surprises can be quite pleasant. Example: the phone call I received in July 2014 to come be the Pastor at GSLCS. That was a pleasant surprise and the rest, as we say, is history.
Surprises are not just a matter of pleasant vs. unpleasant. People can have vastly different reactions to the same surprise. The result of the upcoming presidential election is sure to have mixed responses. Some will celebrate; others will lament. Think of movie or restaurant reviews on the Internet. One person’s favorite film or café is another’s worst entertainment or dining venue. A night of great entertainment vs. a nightmare. Same surprise. Different responses. This dynamic is exactly what we encounter when Philip and Nathaniel see and hear of Jesus for the first time. We have two entirely different reactions to this news.
After calling Andrew and his brother, Simon Peter, Jesus found Philip and called him to be His disciple too. “Follow me!” After spending time with Jesus, Philip learned the basics about this man from Galilee and shared the good news about Him with Nathanael. We sense excitement in Philip’s words: “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph!” Philip speaks as if he had found an invaluable treasure and he must tell everyone about it. Philip has seen Jesus with eyes of the faith; he has literally seen the Light!
What about Nathanael? Through the mouth of Philip, Nathanael hears of Jesus for the first time. But his reaction is entirely different from Philip’s. We see no excitement upon Nathanael’s hearing of the good news, but rather a sense of suspicion about the Galilean Jesus: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Nathanael’s is not a joyful attitude. Unlike Philip, Nathanael sees Jesus through the eyes of the flesh, somewhere in that spectrum between disbelief and unbelief. In John 1 (1:4), we learn that in Christ was life and that life is light to humanity. Phillip saw the light…Nathanael is still in the dark!
The question remains: Can anything good come out of Nazareth in Galilee? To us it’s a non-question; we’ve grown up knowing only 1 answer…yes! But in Nathaniel’s day? Well, the odds seemed to be against Galilee. The northern province of Galilee is a land too close to unclean Gentiles and too far from holy Jerusalem in the southern province of Judea. No self-respecting Judean Israelite would look for the Son of God, the King of Israel, in Galilee of the Gentiles. Why look for God’s power, wisdom, and might in Galilee? It makes no sense! It would be like taking a foreigner to Podunk, TN to see US government in action instead of Washington D.C. Jerusalem, on Mt. Zion, was the epicenter of power and wisdom. God’s holy temple and priests were in the holy city. Are not the learned Pharisees and scribes there, too? In short, are not the clean, pure, and righteous Israelites to be found in Jerusalem? Can God truly work out His salvation from an unlikely place such as Nazareth in Galilee, and among such unlikely people as Galileans? Yup!
What can I say? God surprises us. As sinners we too often look for power, might, and wisdom in the wrong place, in the best we humans have to offer, in our holiness, purity, piety, and righteousness and either (1) we fail to find those traits, or (2) those we do find let us down through their transgressions.
Yet, to those in disbelief or doubt and seeking answers, Jesus appears and invites them to fellowship with Him: “Come and you will see.” Nathaniel did. The light of Christ overcame the darkness of Nathanael’s heart. Nathanael had now seen the Light. Nathanael’s infamous words are now replaced by his confession of faith: “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Good things do come out Nazareth in Galilee. Unlikely places…unlikely people. Come and see them in action.
What do people think about us? Do they think anything good can come from Good Shepherd Lutheran Church and School? Who are the Galileans of our day? Who are the people in our neighborhoods who look and speak differently from us, whose cultural ways confound us? Who are those strange folks, or children of folks, from different tribes, languages, and nations in our midst? How can we reach out to people in times of catastrophes and invite them amid the destruction to still come and see God’s love in Christ?
You see, we too can be like Nathanael, doubtful about what God can do on behalf of and with neighbors in marginal areas like Galilee (downtown Sarasota), cautiously optimistic about strangers coming into and serving in our churches; it causes quivers in our Lutheran livers. When we think in these ways, we are in the dark. We only see with the eyes of the flesh, and we close our hearts to the surprisingly gracious ways in which God reveals His great love for new neighbors near and far through His Son, working through surprisingly unlikely people like us.
Yet God is merciful, and He surprises us again and again, inviting us to see with the eyes of the Holy Spirit what mighty deeds He can do in the most unlikely places and among the most unlikely characters. He calls us once again to come and see the Light, wherever He shines, even in Galilee and among Galileans!
On LWML Sunday, we rejoice in Jesus’ calling and invitation to come and see once again what He has graciously done in our lives, His great deeds of salvation on behalf of Galileans like us. Today, we also receive with great thanksgiving and awesome wonder Jesus’ surprising invitation to come and see what He can do not just in bread and wine but is indeed doing even among strange Galilean neighbors in our midst to extend His kingdom throughout the world. We also ask the Lord Jesus to open our eyes to His surprising opportunities for partnership with brothers and sisters in Christ from different ethnic and language groups in the United States and abroad, so that together we might invite even more neighbors to come and see…to meet Jesus, the man from Galilee, our Light and Life forever and ever.