Can Anything Good 1-18-15

This sermon is based on John 1:43-51, the story of Jesus calling Philip and Nathanael to be his disciples. Nathanael’s response is pretty blunt, but that’s not really a bad thing.

You can listen to the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/can-anything-good-1-18-15

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen
Have you ever said something off the cuff…without really thinking about it before you say it…and then almost immediately you regret saying it? (pause) Been there done that.
I’m guessing many of you have likely noticed by now that I have the tendency…at least at times…to speak faster than my brain is moving…to think it and have it come spilling out immediately. When I get in this mode…the natural filter that lies between an individual’s brain and mouth is completely bypassed…and sometimes…not all the time mind you…but sometimes…something kinda stupid comes out. (pause) And I…am most certainly guilty of this.
Just last week…a mere 7 days ago…I was downstairs with the confirmation and adult forum class…and we were discussing the massive crowds that followed Jesus during his ministry…and we talked a little bit about just why that is…and a lot of it has to do with the region where he had grown up and where he was at for much of his ministry…and that is the region of Galilee.
If you are unfamiliar…Galilee lies in the northern section of what we call Israel…it was considered to be a very backwater, out of the way region…quite a ways away from anything of major significance in that part of the world.
And as I was trying to explain all this to the class…I had one of those “foot in the mouth” situations. And I said…imagine yourselves in a really remote…backwater type of a place where there isn’t much excitement going on…like say you are from…(hold the pause)…and immediately I was scanning my mind for local communities in this area…especially one that might seem particularly “backwater” and the only town I could come up with…literally the first town that popped into my mind was…Minden. And immediately…about 4 different people in the class were like “Hey!!!”
Allow me to offer my apologies to the good people of Minden…it is a fine town…it was simply the first one that came to mind. Had we been up in my neck of the woods, I could have named off a dozen different towns that would have fit the bill just fine…something that harkens all the way back to my youth…when we had nicknames for every neighboring town…and in particular the ones that we would meet up with for school sporting events.
An example…every time we’d be playing Armstrong/Ringsted…the talk around school was how we were going to hammer Armpit/Ringworm. (pause) And isn’t that really the case where ever we go? There is always a town, or a state, or a college, or something that we pick on. Not that we really have any actual distaste for it…but its just what we do. Around here we make fun of Omaha, just like they call this side of the river Council Tucky…Up north we hammer on Minnesota…and likewise they pick on Iowa. We all do it…and we see another example of this in today’s story…as Nathanael let’s us in on a little hint of the distaste that he seems to have for Nazareth.
We find ourselves today in the midst of John’s account of Jesus’ first disciples. Directly before today’s story Andrew starts following Jesus and brings along his brother Peter…and today as we pick up…Jesus has wandered into Galilee from the Jordan river…which really isn’t that far…and he happens upon Philip…now Philip likely knows Peter and Andrew as they’re all from the same town…and so maybe, just maybe he’s got some idea just who this Jesus guy is…but regardless, Jesus spots Philip…tells him very simply “Follow me” and Philip is off and running on the disciple train…and what’s the very first thing that we see Philip do? (pause)
He runs off to find his buddy Nathanael. (pause) Now Nathanael is an interesting character…admittedly we don’t know a whole lot about him…he’s only found here in John’s gospel and even then only a couple of times…right here and then at the seashore along with some of the other disciples following the resurrection of Jesus…Some scholars speculate that maybe Nathanael also goes by the name Bartholamew, who’s partnered up with Philip in the list of the 12 disciples in the other gospels…but we don’t really know. (pause)
Long story short…he’s a bit of a mystery…BUT…he makes no mystery of one thing…Nathanael lacks a filter. (pause) Because when Philip finds him…clearly excited beyond belief…he shares his joy by exclaiming “WE have found him about whom Moses and the prophets spoke.” Now in the Jewish culture, this would clearly be talking about the long awaited Messiah…something that everyone would have been excited about. And I imagine that Nathanael’s face must have lit up at the prospect of meeting the messiah as well…until…Philip finishes his statement.
It is Jesus, son of Joseph of Nazareth….(mimic excitement draining BIG TIME…and lay on the snark) Nazareth….REALLY? (pause) Can ANYTHING good come out of Nazareth? (pause) Clearly Nazareth is a little lacking in terms of Nathanael’s opinions. Granted…we don’t know just what it is about Nazareth that Nathanael has an issue with, but he certainly would have been familiar with it. Nathanael was from Cana…just a handful of miles away from Nazareth…and just as I used to take issue with the neighboring towns when I was a kid…he apparently does the very same thing. (pause)
And how does that come across? Most often when I read this passage, I think Nathanael is pretty blunt…sometimes he strikes me as rude…and if I’m feeling particularly sensitive then his comment makes him seem like a total jerk….but here’s the funny thing…Jesus doesn’t seem to care…in fact…Jesus applauds the bluntness of Nathanael’s question. (pause)
Granted, it sort of raises the question of just how Jesus even knew about it…as they hadn’t been introduced yet…but as Nathanael walks up to Jesus along with Philip Jesus’ first words to him are “Here is truly and Israelite in whom there is no deceit.” (pause) To put it in today’s terms “here’s a guy that doesn’t sugar coat it.” Or “he’s a straight shooter” or maybe “now this guy cuts the crap.” (pause)
Now the exchange between Jesus and Nathanael goes on from there…and Nathanael not only becomes a follower of Christ…but he is told about the wondrous things that he will see as a disciple. (pause)
Truly, this is a strange look at this random disciple…a man who only pops up twice in the entire Bible…and yet this is precisely the one that Jesus affirms. (pause) And why is that? Why would Jesus be so impressed by a guy who insults his hometown? (pause) You would think that Jesus would just ignore him…there’s no way he should make him a disciple…and yet that’s exactly what Jesus does.
And so this raises the question today of just what we can learn from the example of Nathanael. (pause) That rudeness is rewarded? That our prejudices against other placed is justified? (Pause) Well probably not…but maybe what we can learn from Nathanael is that doubts and questions are okay.
Isn’t that exactly what he does when Philip says the Messiah is from Nazareth…Nathanael voices his question and his concern…and his doubt…and isn’t that what it truly means to be a disciple…and to learn from someone else…to share the questions and the doubts…to bring them to someone that can shed some light on those things that confuse us about the situation…and in this case the ultimate situation…a life of faith.
Jesus doesn’t tell us that to follow him…to abide with him…to live our lives with him is going to result in every single question being answered before we ask it…or every doubt to disappear or every fear to vanish…quite the opposite actually…but when Nathanael is bold enough…or perhaps just blunt enough to share his concerns…Jesus not only welcomes the question…but he welcomes the man…and Nathanael is invited into that life of discipleship. (pause)
Now its interesting to think about all the things that Jesus tells him he will witness. Admittedly it makes me kinda jealous…I would have loved to have seen the ministry of Jesus first hand…but as we know…that distinction belongs to a rather limited number of people…but Jesus was well aware of this…and towards the end of John’s gospel he tells his disciples “you have believed because of what you have seen…but blessed are those who have not seen and have come to believe.” (pause) Jesus was talking about the spread of the gospel…about the growth of his church which began with these few disciples…and over the course of 2000 years has grown exponentially…and it has grown when someone has the gumption to share their experience…and then to invite the next person to come and see.
What we will witness in our lives of faith is often amazing…but it is also often confusing…and life is hard…and the questions and the doubts and the concerns do happen…but praise be to God that we have a savior who not only welcomes the questions and the doubts…but he praises us for asking them.
My friends, we have nothing to fear in this life…and yet how often do we find ourselves paralyzed by fear or doubt or questions…how often do we let them waylay us from doing the important work of sharing the gospel…how often do we find ourselves falling into the trap of “I can’t do that…what if they ask me something I can’t answer?” (pause) Ever been there? (pause) I know I have and certainly that’s an uncomfortable place to be…to be faced with legitimate questions that we feel ill prepared to answer. But the wonderful thing about all this is that within the body of Christ…within the relationships that we have with one another we are able…and encouraged to share our struggles…to voice our doubts…and within them to build one another up…just as Christ builds us up…and just as Christ recognized the truth within Nathanael. (pause)
Nathanael was blunt…and Jesus knew that…in fact Jesus knew Nathanael even before meeting him…just as Jesus knows each and every one of us…with all of our imperfections…and all our doubts…and all our fears…and he loves us anyway…and he calls us blessed.
Praise be to God that we don’t have to be perfect people in order to follow him…we simply need to be honest…honest with others and honest with ourselves…recognizing that we don’t have all the answers…and that we don’t have to…because Jesus still gives each of us the same invitation…Come Follow Me…Amen.

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