Sunday, January 14, 2018

Can Anything Good Come From There?

When I used to read stories to our girls when they were little, as the story would progress, and we would be turning the page, someone would say “and then what?” “And then what?” What’s next?
Last week we heard in the Gospel of John that Jesus came and was baptized in the river Jordan by John. And then what?
The very first act of Jesus’ ministry after his baptism, was to begin to form community.
He finds Andrew and Simon and tells them to follow him.
And then, what?
“The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, “Follow me.”
And then what?
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.”
If the gospel stopped there it would seem like things are on a roll and the enthusiasm is mounting.
It’s like watching a balloon fill up with each breath. Except that just when we, if we didn’t know the story, would be ready for the next “and then what?”
This is how Nathanael responds to Phillip’s excited invitation:

 “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?”

It’s like letting go of the full balloon and watching it sputter to the ground.
Can anything good come from Nazareth?!
The notion that some places or people are just not worthy is not new. Nazareth was a little town in a backwater province. Where they quite literally threw the waste into the street because where else would it go. Jesus is from Nazareth. Having already survived being born homeless, and then later a refugee as his family fled persecution by Herod and ran to Egypt, where they lived there until it was safe to go home. And they end up not in a great place everyone wants to live. They live in Nazareth.
The Son of God who will save the world lives this life.
Can anything good from Nazareth? Or Haiti? Or Africa? Or El Salvador?
Let’s bring it closer to home. To the one I hear the most:
Can anything good come from Hazleton?
How will we respond to the invitation when
Jesus says, “COME AND SEE.”
How would we respond if he came from Hazleton?
Nathanael’s mindset needed to be transformed.
It’s the same with each of us.

In Jesus we see that God re-draws the center of the world. Wherever Jesus is found is the center of God’s heart.
As God’s Beloved forms community. We as the church have been formed to be Beloved Community.
And to expand who knows what it means to be claimed Beloved, fearfully and wonderful made, and seen as worthy by God.
And it means more than just being nice to a few little people.
Or saying that having met someone we might not get, that upon  finding we could like them, it shows that some of “them” are OK.
Following Jesus means that we allow God to redraw the map we use to travel in this world.
And to adjust how we see our world to align with God’s vision of humanity. And to expand just like that balloon.
Bigger and bigger. Not smaller and smaller.

Last week, I shared our 200th anniversary Scripture passage: “Built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.”
This verse should be paired with the one before it, because together they make a sentence. The whole sentence is :
“Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with Godʼs people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.”
In the 200 years of the history of this congregation how many foreigners and strangers were not wanted at some point? The Irish, the Eastern Europeans, The Japanese in World War II. The Chinese, the Jews, the Catholics, the Italians, the Hispanics. Every one could be the person from Nazareth.

Yet, God says, “you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens.” God’s people. Together.
And the basis for our being so is not human successes, or being born or living in the right places.
It’s Community built upon God’s word that every single person is created in the image of God, fearfully and wonderfully, and is beloved and worthy to come and see. And God’s goodness is in every one.

In Jesus, God chooses to live where no one expects good and to call those no one is looking for.
We the baptized, who have been called beloved and worthy, share in the ministry Christ began.
Whenever we baptize, we call the whole community to five things:
To live among God’s faithful people
To hear God’s word and share in the Lord’s supper
To proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ in word and deed
To serve all people, following the example of Jesus
To strive for justice and peace in all the earth.
This is Christ centered community.

And we will not always get it right.
But as followers of Christ we cannot simply turn away when anyone questions the humanity and worthiness of others.
We cannot accept that Beloved Community is not for everyone, no matter how much it challenges us.
In the story of life in which we find ourselves when faced with such moments and when the question is asked, “And then what?”
Our answer cannot be “I don’t know.”
Look at Samuel in our Old Testament reading.
Young Samuel was called by God to tell Eli that he was in the wrong.
A difficult task, one that probably made him stay awake all night wondering how it would play out. And yet he said, “Speak Lord for your servant is listening” and “Here I am.”
We who are called to follow Jesus’ example of forming Beloved Community are called to not only speak the word “grace” but to enact it.

For all of us, grace says that we are not defined by our failures
Grace says we are not defined by “nothing good can come from him, or her, or there, or that.”
And when we hear “nothing good” talk to be bold and say NO!
“Everyone is created in the image of God, and is beloved and worthy in God’s eyes. Come and see our God.”

And we cannot put our heads in the sand.
Because when we do, people will ask another question-
Can anything good come from the church?
This is the very challenge today- especially as I hear it from young adults- that for whatever reason, no one expects anything good from church when human dignity is at stake.
Because we can be silent.

I know that the story of this place is one of great love in many ways. I am privileged to preach in this pulpit and to see those stories told out in your lives.
But I also know that how we tell the story can fall into telling of ourselves. Pastors are no exception. When we get together we talk about how many members we have. How much people give.
Our dinners, our facilities, our programs, who are our members.
These are wonderful manifestations of our deeds and our experience of community.
The bigger story is always how are people being the witness of Christ and where he is found and the salvation God brings.
Nathanael was a holy man, but at this moment in the gospel, his words were not in sync. It can be that way with us too.
Then he had an encounter with Christ and was transformed.

We too are invited to meet Christ and are called to be transformed in how we see and respond in the world.
Being a Christian is hard. But when we are silent in the face of words that do not reflect the Christ we follow-words that deny that all are created in God’s image, and that do not reflect God’s love-we are saying these words are OK.
Each week, Jesus invites us to grow in what it means to be a child of God and to live in this world as a Christian.
To say, “ Speak Lord for your servant is listening”
And “Here I am.” To expect to see good in all people.
To follow Jesus by living out our calling with integrity.
Sometimes it means calling out that which must be seen anew.

And always it is telling the story of a God of grace- loving Creator, a Saving Christ, creative Spirit who makes us diverse and beautiful.
We are invited to see God’s goodness, and to work for It to be revealed in the world. This is how Christ’s church has always grown.
People who felt unworthy heard good news, and then what?
They shared God’s gracious invitation to come and see.
And when someone said, “Can anything good come?” They pointed to Christ who says, “Yes! Let’s see it together.” AMEN.

Today’s sermon hymn was “Listen, God is Calling” sung here in Swahili and English by our Lutheran sisters and brothers. Thanks be to God for them. 

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