The Sermon for the Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost / Rally Day Sunday, August 29, 2021
Exodus 19:1-6, 1 Corinthians 12:27-31a, John 1:43-51
“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” That’s quite a question for Nathanael to be asking this morning, isn’t it? If you were from Nazareth, you might hear that as quite an insult. Just imagine someone you just met asking where you were from, and you say you’re from Houston, and they respond by saying “Can anything good come out of Houston?” You’d probably be offended by that comment, wouldn’t you?
Well, let me ask that question a little bit differently. Can anything good come out of being a Christian? People might not ask you that question directly, but sometimes, when you invite someone to come to church with you, do you ever get the feeling that is what they are thinking? Or maybe you’re wondering “can anything good come out of me being at church?’ This morning, through the Gospel reading, we’re going to hear the answer to Nathanael’s question, and how the answer to that question affects the way we respond to the needs of the world.
As our reading starts out, it’s early in Jesus’ public ministry. Fresh off his baptism in the Jordan and his temptation in the wilderness, Jesus is now starting to call disciples. In the verses that precede this chapter, Jesus has already called two of John the Baptist’s former followers to become his disciples, and now he is continuing in our reading for today by calling Phillip and Nathanael. Jesus is on his way to Galilee, and he comes across Phillip. Phillip is from the same city, Bethsadia, as Jesus current followers, Andrew and Peter.
To Phillip, Jesus simply says “follow me.”
Notice this: Phillip wasn’t out looking for Jesus, Jesus found him. It’s the same way that Jesus comes to us. I often hear people who are brought to faith in Christ sometimes say “I found Jesus!” but this chapter tells us that it’s actually the other way around, that Jesus finds us. Jesus comes to us and finds us in the darkness of
our sins, calling us to follow him and His light, which is His Gospel, the good news that He has suffered and died to take the punishment our sins rightly deserved. That’s what He did for Phillip, and that’s what He did for all of us.
So, Phillip is found by Jesus, Jesus calls Phillip to follow him, and what’s the first thing that Phillip does after Jesus issues the call to follow? Does Phillip throw a big party for himself, because he’s finally found the way, truth, and life? Does he keep it to himself? No, the first thing Phillip does once He has been found by Jesus, is he goes out to find someone he could share his joy with. He tells Nathanael “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law and also whom the prophets also wrote…” (v. 45)
So Phillip tells Nathanael that he has met Jesus, the long promised Savior, but did you notice Nathanael’s response? He asks the question: Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Interesting response, isn’t it? Well, there may have been several reasons for Nathanael to make that comment. For one, Nazareth is not mentioned at all in the Old Testament, so if Nathanael was well versed in his Scriptures, he probably knew that there was no specific reference to the Savior being from there. Not only that, but Nazareth also wasn’t exactly the most glamorous place to be from in those days. Nazareth was insignificant in the grand scheme of things in those days, it didn’t have a lot of political respect or influence. It was kind of out there in the middle of nowhere. For me this feels like when you hear a famous athlete or actor comes from a small town, i.e. for me it’s like discovering Nolan Ryan was from Refugio, Texas. What’s so special about that place that a person this good could come from there?” In a way, Nathanael is asking the very same question about Nazareth. “The Messiah is supposed to do some pretty unbelievable things. So, he must be from a place with some prestige, not some backwoods town like Nazareth. Nothing good ever comes out of that place!”
As you go about the tasks in your daily lives, you might encounter the same skeptical thoughts. You may have people look to the Church, and say, “Can anything good come from the Christian faith?” These modern-day Nathanael’s may have plenty of reasons for saying that. Maybe they have some preconceived notions about the Christian faith. Maybe they’re uncomfortable with “organized religion.” Maybe life is so busy that faith life is something that is not important right now with the busy schedules. Some of you sitting in the pews this morning
might even be thinking that very thing. ““Can anything good come from Christian faith?”
When Nathanael responded with his question of doubt, did you notice what Phillip said? He didn’t come up with some doctoral dissertation on the merits of following Jesus. He didn’t argue with Nathanael until he was blue in the face, he simply invited Nathanael to “come and see.” Come and see Jesus for yourself. Come listen to him. Come into His presence. And Nathanael did exactly that. It’s the same thing with us. When we realize that our time together in worship, in fellowship, and in service isn’t about what we are doing to appease God, but it is about what God is doing for us and through us. That Jesus is coming to be present with us through His Word and His Sacrament to announce to us that our sins are forgiven, we, too can respond to our neighbors, family, and friends to “come and see.” Come and see Jesus for yourself. Come and see him through the scripture readings, hymns, prayers, and the sacraments. Come and see him through service and care in the community. Come and see him even through tiring zoom bible studies and small group gatherings.
So, after a pleasant persistence and a clear invitation to come and see, Nathanael does exactly that, he comes to see Jesus with Phillip. Jesus sees Nathanael approaching him and says “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” It’s clear Jesus knows something about Nathanael. Nathanael asks how Jesus knows this, and Jesus shows Nathanael a hint of who he is by saying “Before Phillip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” This tidbit of divine knowledge sparks faith in Nathanael’s heart, allowing Nathanael, the one time skeptic, to say “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” To which Jesus replies “Because I said to you, I saw you under the fig tree, do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” Jesus is telling Nathanael that if he thinks that’s something, just keep following Him. We follow Jesus through our readings in scripture. We hear about the miracles He performed, the teachings He spoke, those are some of the great things that Nathanael saw by following Jesus, and they are things we with the eyes of faith see our Lord continue to do in our world.
Jesus also says “Very Truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” This is a reference to the story of Jacob’s ladder in Genesis 28. There, Jacob has a dream about a ladder running between heaven and earth, and on this ladder angels were ascending and
descending on the earth. When Jacob awoke, he called that place Beth-el, meaning “The House of God.” Or “The Gate of Heaven.” With Jesus, that ladder will only have one rung. That ladder will be the cross. His cross is our Jacob’s ladder. By Jesus’ death on the cross, He bridges that gap between us and God. Christ came down from heaven with one ultimate destination, the cross, where he was to suffer and die to save us. When He is lifted on that cross, he raises us up out of the muck and mire of our sin and death, and by His resurrection, we too will be lifted from death and into eternal life in the presence of God.
So today, we Rally together to continue in the mission that we share together, to be “A Healing Place” for the world. Nathanael’s final question to Jesus continues to resonate with me, “Where did you get to know me?” This question makes me, and I hope you wonder, “Where do you know me?” As people of faith, we are called to proclaim the good news of God through word and deed, to serve all people and to strive for justice and peace for the world. It is from these actions people will know us and our faith that we practice. As we heard in the second letter to Corinth, we are the Body of Christ, and we all have different gifts: to guide those that are lost, to teach about God’s unboundless love for all people, to assist those in greatest need, care for the sick and lonely, and to pray for both our friends and enemies. Let us continue in this great work together. May God, who created us all, open our hearts and minds to the invitation to, “Come and see.” Amen.