“come and see"
The Sanctuary Sermon for 1/17/21
The Sanctuary Sermon for 1/17/21
“Come and See” John 1:43-51
43 The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, “Follow me.”
44 Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida. 45 Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”
46 “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked.
“Come and see,” said Philip.
47 When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.”
48 “How do you know me?” Nathanael asked.
Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.”
49 Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.”
50 Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.” 51 He then added, “Very truly I tell you, you will see ‘heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”
So, what do you think? “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Let’s face it. Nazareth was a South Amherst of it’s day. A one traffic light town filled with quarry rats and when the hard scrabble quarries closed, all the rats jumped ship. Nothing was notable or attractive about it. It was a synonym of failure. Apparently, Nathanael has some opinions, some assumptions about Nazareth.
You ever make any assumptions?
Like, “I’ve seen his type before; he’ll never change.” “She’s always so negative; I know what she will say.” “He won’t understand; he never does.” “It’s always been like that; it will never get any better.” “Nothing good can come out of this situation.”
People are the worst. People like Nathanael, people like you and me, make these and all sorts of assumptions every day. Sometimes our assumptions are about others; how they’ll behave, what they will say, what we can expect, what they think or believe. Other times we look at situations; our relationships, the state of the country or the church, a teenager trying to grow up—and we declare it all hopeless.
Then there are those times we look at ourselves or a part of our life. Maybe it’s a secret that’s been carried for years, the Covid scare we face each day, a hidden addiction, the hurts we have or have caused others, the loneliness and lostness of grief, and we say it will never get any better. How can anything good come out of this? We may or may not speak our assumptions out loud, but they rattle through our heads and influence what we do.
You know what happens we when we assume, right? The old saying has some truth to it but I’m thinking of something else. We think we know more than we really do. Assumptions act as limitations and narrow our vision. They deny the possibility of reconciliation, of healing, a different way of being, or a new life. Ultimately, they impoverish our faith and proclaim there is no room for God to show up and act.
It’s no coincidence that Nathanael is sitting under the fig tree when he makes his comment. It’s the fig tree that gave Adam and Eve the leaves behind which they hid from God and themselves. It’s the fig tree that Jesus will later curse for producing no fruit, no signs of life. Assumptions become our hiding places. They are not fruitful. They keep us from engaging life, ourselves, each other, and God at a deeper level.
Nathanael doesn’t doubt that God will fulfill the Old Testament promises. He isn’t surprised by and doesn’t even question that Philip could have found the one about, “whom Moses in the law and the prophets wrote about.” His shock and disbelief are that this could come out of Nazareth. Nathanael has as much faith as the next guy, but Nazareth? No way. Not there. Can anything good come out of Nazareth?
We all have our Nazareths. We think they are about other people or life’s circumstances. Mostly, though, our assumptions are about us—our fears, our prejudices, our guilt, our losses, our wounds. We take our past experiences, real or imagined, and project them onto another person or situation. Assumptions keep life shallow and superficial. If we assume, then we don’t have to risk a deeper knowing and being known.
At the deepest level, our Nazareths are about our understanding of God. We cannot believe that God could be present, active, and revealed in Nazareth whether it be another person, or situation, or our own life. It’s so hard to see life in the midst of death, hope in places of despair, and the good and beautiful in what looks like the bad and ugly. It’s always easier to assume. For us Nazareth is a blind spot. For God, however, Nazareth is the place of God’s revelation.
It just seems so ungod-like to show up in Nazareth. Whether it’s the location, a person, or a situation, Nazareth is too common and ordinary, even mundane. Shouldn’t the person or place of God’s coming be more deserving, special, acceptable, holy, better behaved, likable, more regular at church, someone who prays more, gives more or who is better dressed? The Nathanael in us has a particular set of conditions or prerequisites that must be met before God will appear and act. Believe you me, that says more about us than it does about God.
Get this. God doesn’t allow himself to be limited by our assumptions. For every Nazareth there is an invitation to “come and see.” For every assumption we make there is a deeper truth to be discovered and a new life to be lived. Our Nazareths become the place of God’s epiphany.
If you’ll indulge me, let’s go back to the beginning of the witty exchange between Jesus and Nathanael. If you’re truly overhearing this conversation, you’ll realize there’s a double meaning here. Jesus’ calling Nathanael an “Israelite” also brings echoes of the Jacob story into the conversation. Jacob of the First Testament. Jacob, the deceiver who would be known as Israel.
But Nathanael is an Israelite without deceit.
Well played, Sir. Score in this conversational sparring about hometowns: one apiece.
An unlikely beginning for a relationship. Nathanael’s smiling, but his mind is racing.
Jesus wasn’t present for the Nazareth comment. How did Jesus know what he had said? But even more—Nathanael presses further: How did he know me?
Jesus says he saw Nathanael sitting under that fig tree, but it had to be a spiritual seeing.
So, Philip was right after all. Now Nathanael is convinced. The traditional phrases come pouring out of Nathanael’s mouth. You are the Son of God. You are the King of Israel.
Jesus confirms it with yet another Jacob reference, this time to Jacob’s ladder. He says, “The angels will go up and down on the son of man.” That is, upon himself.
He’s talking now about Jacob’s experience at Bethel in Genesis 28 where heaven approached so close to earth that the inhabitants of the two realms could meet. Now in Jesus, not just in one geographical place—in Jesus, the realm of God would come that near to us.
It was an unlikely beginning to Nathanael’s walk with Jesus, but why not? What is more unlikely than heaven touching earth?
Heaven is where love reigns. Where there is room for all of God’s children at the table. Where it is said that nothing’s broken and no one’s missing.
Not at all what earth is like. We know what earth is like. A glance at daily headlines shows us a world that couldn’t be more different than God’s realm of love. Can anything good come out of Washington? And yet, in Jesus, the unexpected happens. And Nathanael sees it. Heaven gets a foothold on earth.
Over and over Jesus shows up from the Nazareths of our life and calls us out from under the fig tree. Whenever we leave the fig tree, we open ourselves to see God present and at work in the most unexpected places and people. As the assumptions fall, a new life and a new world open up. God’s kingdom comes. The last place we would have thought that possible is the first place God chooses. Come and see. Our salvation and healing happen where we thought nothing good could happen. The seemingly hopeless situations of life begin to bear fruit. Words of forgiveness and compassion are spoken by people we were sure could never say such things. God puts lives back together in Nazareth.
There is more happening in Nazareth than we ever thought possible. You see, not just “anything good” comes out of Nazareth. The One who is Good comes out of Nazareth.
The call of Nathanael reminds us that when we walk with Jesus, we walk in those unlikely places where heaven and earth come near. In this fragmented world and fractured nation, we represent God’s reign gaining a foothold here and our lives need to hold that ground. Let’s put our assumptions about life aside and come and see. Let’s embrace the unexpected—where the reign of God comes near in Jesus, where we catch a glimpse of a time and place where nothing’s broken, where no one’s missing and a table is spread for all of God’s children.
May it be so.
This is the Word of the Lord for the day.