Old Testament Lesson Isaiah 66:15-24
Second Lesson Revelation 7:9-14
Gospel Lesson John 1:43-49
Grace, mercy, and peace form God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. The text for our meditation this day is the Gospel lesson just read. [John 1:43-49]
Do you like surprises? I guess it might depend on the kind of surprise it is, huh? Surprises can be nice, pleasant. Like a man getting down on one knee, totally unexpectedly, pulling out a beautiful ring, and asking his sweetheart, “Will you marry me?” Or, a young wife eagerly shares the big news with her unsuspecting husband: “We’re having a baby!” But, surprises can also be unpleasant. Like the unexpected rain shower that ruins your much anticipated wedding day. Or the letter of rejection received by an optimistic job seeker after a seemingly great job interview. Or even worse, news of the sudden death of a loved one that crushes us.
All surprises are, by definition, unexpected. But not all surprises are received in the same way. People can have vastly different reactions to the same surprise. Just wait until the results are in for the presidential election this year. Some will be celebrating. Others mourning. Think of the restaurant reviews on Yelp. One woman’s favorite café is another woman’s worst dining nightmare.
This is what we encounter when Philip, and later, Nathanael see and hear of Jesus for the first time. Through His only Son, God revealed His greatest surprise to a world in darkness: Jesus Christ, the Light of the World, who came from heaven to dispel the darkness. And yet Philip and Nathanael had two entirely different reactions to this amazing, surprising news.
After calling Andrew and his brother, Peter, Jesus found Philip and called him to be His disciple too. And after spending time with Jesus, Philip knew he had to tell the good news to his friend Nathanael. Led by the Holy Spirit he told Nathanael “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph!”
But what about Nathanael? His reaction is entirely different from Philip’s. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Nathanael’s not joyful at all. He’s cautious at best, and doubtful at worst. Unlike Philip, Nathanael sees Jesus through the eyes of the flesh, somewhere in that spectrum between disbelief and unbelief. For Nathanael, the Light has yet to overcome the darkness.
The question remains: Can anything good come out of Nazareth? Out in the boonies in Galilee, Nazareth is too close to unclean Gentiles and too far from holy Jerusalem. No self-respecting Judean Israelite would look for the Son of God, the King of Israel, in such an unsuspecting place. Galilean Jews spoke with strange accents and had a spotty record when it came to following prescribed Jewish laws. Why would anyone look for God’s power and wisdom in Nazareth? It made no sense!
Jerusalem was the real center of kingly power and rabbinic wisdom. God’s holy temple and priests were in the holy city. The learned Pharisees and scribes were there too. Let’s face it, the clean, pure, and righteous Israelites were found in Jerusalem. Would God truly work out His salvation from an unlikely place such as Nazareth, and among such unlikely folks as Galileans?
Does this line of thinking sound familiar? That is the way we see things isn’t it? We look for power and wisdom in the best we humans have to offer, in our holiness, purity, and righteousness. But we look in the wrong places. It’s in Jesus of Nazareth, the unassuming man from Galilee, that we’re called to see the power and wisdom of God at work in our lives. We’re called to fix our eyes on Jesus, not on ourselves. Not on our holiness, but on Jesus’ holiness. We’re not the light. Jesus is the Light of the World.
Don’t be surprised and perplexed anymore. Don’t be cautious and guarded, or disbelieving or doubting. Jesus invites you into fellowship. He says to you “Come and you will see.” Come and see Jesus. Andrew had been a disciple of John the Baptist, but when Jesus asked him, “What are you seeking?” Andrew responded: “Rabbi…where are you staying?” and Jesus’ responded, to him and to you and me: “Come and you will see!”
Through Philip, Jesus extended the same invitation to Nathanael. And when Philip heard Nathanael’s infamous words, “Can anything good come out Nazareth?” he responded: “Come and see!” Any lingering questions and doubts Nathanael may have had about Jesus of Nazareth came to an end when Jesus Himself appeared to him and, to Nathanael’s surprise, told him exactly where he was before Philip called him. Suddenly, the light came on for Nathanael! The light of Christ overcame the darkness of Nathanael’s heart. Nathanael had now seen the Light. Nathanael’s infamous words were now replaced by his confession of faith: “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Good things do come out Nazareth in Galilee.
Out of Galilee, through the man from Galilee, God reveals the Light of the World. God chooses to bring the light of His Son to the most unlikely folks—to Galileans themselves—and through them invites others to partake of the fullness of life in His kingdom. Andrew, Peter, and Philip are from Bethsaida in Galilee. Nathanael is from Cana in Galilee. And the list goes on. A Galilean Savior with His Galilean disciples. How shocking! How surprising! A people too close to the Gentiles. A people with too strange an accent. A people cut with a different cultural cloth than their southern counterparts. Yet it’s out of odd and lowly Galilee that the risen Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, sends out His Galilean disciples to bring the world into the Light, to bring a wayward, erring, and dying world to the One who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
Who’re the Galileans of our day? Who’re the people in our neighborhoods who look and speak differently from us, whose cultural ways confound us? Who’re those strange folks, or children of folks, from different tribes, languages, and nations in our midst? You see, we can be like Nathanael too; doubtful about what God can do on behalf of and with those people we see as marginal in our neighborhoods, in areas like Galilee. We too can be cautiously optimistic about strangers coming into and serving in our churches, guarded about inviting modern-day Galileans to be disciples of Jesus with us. When we think in these ways, we’re seeing with eyes of the flesh, and we close our hearts to the surprisingly gracious ways in which God reveals His great love for our neighbors, near and far, through His Son.
Yet God is merciful, and He surprises us again and again, inviting us to see with the eyes of the Holy Spirit what mighty deeds He can do in the most unlikely places and among the most unlikely characters. He calls us once again to see the Light, wherever He shines, even in Galilee and among Galileans! Where we ask ourselves, like Nathanael, “Can anything good come out of Gorst?” Can anything good come out of Union Hill or Charleston in west Bremerton? Jesus speaks to us through Philip who invites us to “come and see.”
What is the church but a beautiful fellowship of Galileans? A marginal people called out of darkness into the light of the Son. A people once dead raised to new life through faith in God’s Son. Through strangers in our midst, God reminds us that the church is a bunch of strangers in a foreign land. We’re in the world, but not of the world. We’re complete strangers to the world; speaking with a strange accent and with a spotty record of meeting their expectations. We speak the ancient language of Holy Scripture. We initiate people into the church by sprinkling them with water at our fonts. We eat the body and drink the blood of God’s Son at our altars. Our pastors forgive us our sins. We even love our enemies. And we sing and dance to the tune of strange-sounding hymns, canticles, and songs to worship our Galilean Lord and God. How odd! How surprising! How Galilean!
On this LWML Sunday, we rejoice in Jesus’ invitation to, once again, ‘come and see’ what He has graciously done in our lives. Today, with great thanksgiving and awesome wonder, we receive Jesus’ surprising invitation to come and see what He can do and is doing even among our strange Galilean-like neighbors. And we ask our Lord and Savior to open our eyes to His surprising opportunities for partnership with brothers and sisters in Christ from every nation, tribe, people and language that together we might invite even more neighbors to come and see Jesus, the Light of the World. Amen.
In Christ’s service,