Posts Tagged ‘Nathanael’

May We Be Changed 1-14-18

In this sermon, based on John 1:43-51, I explore the initial encounter between Jesus and the disciple Nathanael. While Nathanael’s initial reaction doesn’t seem great, the encounter brings a change upon him.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

You can also follow along with the the text of the sermon here:

Grace and peace to you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

If someone ever got the idea to write a book about me, especially around my time here in Underwood…I’m pretty sure that I know 2 stories that will be included…both of which involve me effectively demonstrating foot-in-mouth syndrome.

One story centers around the first time I presided at a baptism…and the fact that, during the sermon, I REPEATEDLY, called the child by the wrong name…and only realized my folly when one of the confirmation students at that time called out “Wrong name pastor.” (pause)
Now the second story happened downstairs during education one day…it was early in my tenure, I’d been here less than a year at this point…and I was leading a discussion that centered around Jesus coming out of Nazareth and the idea that his home town was considered…backwater…and in the moment, I was wracking my brain to name a town that would serve as a good example…and since I was new to the area…the first community I came up with was Minden…and I no more than said it when I heard about 4 different people, all of whom live in Minden respond with a cynical “Hey.” (pause)
Now needless to say, this was innocent humor at work…but as I think back to that moment, I’m also reminded of the very same tendency from my youth.  It probably goes without saying that most communities or schools have a rival…and that disparaging remarks probably get made about those rivals on a pretty common basis…now in my hometown of Graettinger, the easiest target of this type of thing was a neighboring school district made up of the combined communities of Armstrong and Ringstead…we thought we were hilarious when we referred to “Armpit-ringworm.”

Again…innocent humor…no real animosity behind it…if nothing else…probably just evidence of the ignorance of youth at play…but…also reminiscent of something we find in today’s gospel lesson. (Pause)

Here in the season of Epiphany, we continue to focus in on Gospel stories that feature Jesus being revealed to the world in different ways…and in this case…we hear of his encounter with two of the earliest disciples…Philip and Nathanael.

Now here in John’s gospel, we find a strong theme of invitation at work when it comes to encounters with Jesus.  He is revealed, either through his own invitation to individuals, or through them following his example and extending an invitation of their own.  First John the Baptist points out Jesus to Andrew…he encounters the Lord, and then he goes to find Peter.  And now, we see the same sort of thing repeated…as Jesus encounters Philip…gives the invitation to “Follow me”…and as a result Philip goes out to extend the very same invitation as he finds his friend Nathanael. (pause)

Admittedly, we don’t know much about Nathanael…and about all that’s revealed here is a cynical view about the likelihood that the Messiah has actually shown up…and a pretty darn lousy view of the neighboring town of Nazareth. “Nathanael, we have found the one that Moses and the Prophets have written about…its Jesus, son of Joseph of Nazareth.”

Now keep in mind Nathanael is from Cana, another town in Galilee…and Galilee as a whole wasn’t very big…and it stands to reason that there would be a little bit of angst between the communities…just like me calling the neighboring school a lousy nickname, Nathanael seems to do the same as we hear “Nazareth, can ANYTHING GOOD come out of NAZARETH?” Sorta makes you wonder what other lousy remarks he might have made that aren’t recorded here. (pause)
But…despite this reaction, Philip does share the invitation to Come and See…come and experience him for yourself…almost like he’s telling Nathanael to reserve judgement until he actually meets the guy…and together they head off towards Jesus.

Now here’s the crazy part…Jesus sees them coming, and before he even meets Nathanael…before they’re even introduced Jesus shares this little ditty…Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is…no…deceit.” Sometimes we hear it “No Guile.” We might call him a straight shooter…or someone who says what he thinks…or he tells it like it is. (pause)

It never ceases to amaze me that Jesus has this response to a guy who has just insulted his hometown…this random guy who had the gall to insult an entire community without any basis whatsoever…in fact I hear this statement from Nathanael and tend to think he’s a judgmental jerk that deserves a verbal smack down from Jesus rather than apparent praise for his “honest lack of BS.”

I can’t help but think that this sounds familiar to recent news doesn’t it? Offhanded, unwarranted comments at the expense of another place…and I don’t know about you, but my immediate response to that news…just like my response to this comment from Nathanael is outrage and disgust and disappointment. (pause)
But then I stop and think back to my days as an immature high schooler…and then I start to feel convicted…and I realize that despite the lack of animosity…the lack of meaning behind my off-handed jokes…I was doing the exact same thing…degrading someone simply because of where they are from.

That’s the funny thing about sin…about the brokenness of the world…that we can see it in others…and then in an instant it starts to hold up the mirror to us as individuals and we find the exact same brokenness…the exact same sin lying within our lives…within our hearts and minds…within our thoughts and actions.

And I don’t know about you but when I think back to the stupid stuff that I have said and done in the ignorance of my younger years all I can think of is a line from the 25th Psalm….Lord, remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions. (pause) And not only that but I also realize that the very same brokenness that existed within me back then is still present now…it may manifest itself in different ways…but its still there…and I am every bit as capable of snap-judgments about other people or situations…because I am…human…just like everyone else.

Now this is perhaps, a bit of downer…this recognition of the flaws that exist within each of us as individuals as well as within all of us as humanity…but it is in recognizing and admitting to our brokenness that we open ourselves up to the glory and the gift of God’s grace for all of us.

You see that’s really what we find in the story of Nathanael today…because Jesus encounters Nathanael…the guy who has just talked smack about his hometown…the guy who has rather bluntly expressed doubt about the possibility that Jesus is in fact the Messiah…but then Nathanael encounters Christ…He encounters God in human form…the word made flesh…and somehow, someway through this personal encounter…Nathanael is…changed.

I wish I was a fly on the wall to have witnessed the full conversation…the full encounter that occurred between them that day…but unfortunately that’s the not case…and all we have to go on is the brief back and forth recorded here in John’s gospel…but whatever it was that went on between these two…whatever happened…it was utterly life altering.

And this is the amazing thing about the Gospel of Jesus Christ…first of all that the creator of the entire universe and everything in it would care enough about us, broken though we are, to enter into our reality as one of us…and then that the personal encounter between an individual and God, whether Christ in the flesh or the presence of the Holy Spirit within us…that individual is changed.

Nathanael goes from utter doubt and disbelief to the faithful expression of Jesus as the Son of God…and not only that…but Jesus promises that he will be a witness to amazing things. This is the life altering reality of the Good News…That God loves each of us so much that he meets us in our brokenness to make us into something new…and then he invites us to join together with him in the same work of invitation so that one day, all may encounter this same life-altering God.

The message is the same for me. It is the same for you. For Christ has said I am making all thing new. May we hear this good news today and like Nathanael, may we be changed by our encounter with the living Lord so that we might also go out into the world to share that same message of love and invitation with everyone in it. For truly all the world has been made by the loving hand of the father and everyone has been made bearing the divine image. And Christ has come to make that connection between heaven and earth a reality. To create the bridge that spans the separation. To make it possible for everyone to come and see. To experience connection and relationship with the God who has made them and who loves them just as they are. Amen

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:

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.