"Nothing Good?" - Epiphany 2B
Delivered By
Pr. David Fleener
Delivered On
January 14, 2018 at 10:45 AM
Central Passage
John 1:43-51

Pr. David Fleener

Sermon: January 14, 2017 – Epiphany 2B

John 1:43-51


Nothing Good?


            “So, where are you all from?” our new neighbor asked, as we unloaded the last of our belongings into our new home.

            “We’re from Missouri. A little town on the river, not far from Columbia. You know, the University of Missouri? Go Tigers?”

            Blank stare. “Missouri, huh?” A couple seconds pass. A light gleams in his eyes, “Hey, have you ever been to Branson? We love going to Branson! Been there, oh, about two years ago!” The neighbor then proceeds to talk about all the old country music stars they saw.

            “No, we never went to Branson.”

            “Oh, that’s too bad. Well, see you later!”


            Such was the extent of our new neighbor’s knowledge about Missouri when we moved to Iowa in the early 90s. The only thing they knew about our state of origin was its biggest tourist trap! And I suppose I couldn’t blame him. After all, he had lived in Northeast Iowa his entire life. He didn’t travel except with those tour bus groups. At least, being so far away, it was difficult for him to judge us based on where we were from.


            Which is usually an easy thing to do, isn’t it? It’s easy to judge someone based on where they’re from. And it doesn’t matter where you’re from or where you are. When I lived in Chicago, it took two seconds to form an opinion about someone based on which neighborhood or suburb they lived in! Naperville? That’s where all the yuppies live! Lincoln Park? That’s where all the rich white kids whose parents live in Naperville live! Kenwood or Hyde Park? The place where white and black unite to oppress the poor! And we’re no less immune to it in small towns. Think of all the judgments that Hartford City folk pass on Montpelier folk, and vice versa. Or Trenton, or Roll, or any number of small towns. Think of the judgments that we pass on people based on their national origin. It seems that we often begin to size up a person by judging the place they’ve come from or their family of origin.


            It isn’t a new problem, of course. It’s as old as history. And in fact, self-judgment can be just as big a problem as judgment of others. When God chooses Gideon to be Israel’s deliverer in Judges 6, Gideon protests that his family is “the weakest in the clan of Manasseh”. When Saul is anointed king in 1 Samuel 9, he protests that he “is only a Benjaminite, from the least of the tribes of Israel”. On the contrary, though, Scripture repeatedly testifies that God has an affinity for little towns and little people, for out-of-the way places and forgettable folk. God loves everybody, but God has a special love for “the least of these”, whether they are places or people.


            Nazareth certainly would have been an out-of-the-way, forgettable place. It is not mentioned in the Old Testament, the writings of Josephus (a Jewish historian in 1st-century Palestine), or in early Jewish literature. The name does not appear in any literature outside the Bible until the 3rd-century AD. When Nathanael asks, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” his question probably reflected the opinion of the day. Nazareth was a hole of a town, a dump, a nowhere village of negative significance.


            And yet, the Son of God chose to make his home there. And it wasn’t because of the inherent worthiness or the faithfulness of the people who lived there. In the Synoptic Gospels – Matthew, Mark, and Luke – the people of Nazareth react with disbelief and contempt to the newfound power and wisdom of their native son. The Son of God makes his home in Nazareth because of God’s special love for forgotten places and people. Jesus lives there out of pure grace, just as Jesus comes to live among all of us out of pure grace.


            Philip, to his credit, does not upbraid Nathanael when he asks that insulting question. He doesn’t try to correct him. He simply says, “Come and see.” Come see for yourself, Nathanael, whether anything good can come out of Nazareth or not. Come and see. Leave your prejudices behind for a second and meet this man who carries the hope of not just Israel, but all of humanity. Come and see and meet him.


            Nathanael does come and see. And, ironically, Jesus’ judgment of him is precisely the opposite of what Nathanael’s was of Jesus (at first)! “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” That’s quite an audacious thing to say. So Nathanael asks what any of us would ask, “Uh, how do you know me?” Jesus responds with what sounds like the equivalent of, “I saw you at the grocery store, picking up some beer and pretzels.” “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Strange that Jesus could guess Nathanael’s character from just seeing him once before, but something about that statement convinces Nathanael of Jesus’ identity, deep in his soul. “You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”


            Something good does come out of Nazareth – Jesus. And something good comes out of Hartford City, and Montpelier, and Roll, and Trenton, and Shamrock Lakes, and Millgrove, and Renner, and Dunkirk, and the Blackford County countryside. You, who are the Body of Christ in the world, are that good thing. And because we are that good thing – the Body of Christ in the world – we can see the image of God in someone else, no matter where they’re from or who their family is. Jesus gives us that power.


            I finish with a last story. Peter Claver was a sixteenth-century Jesuit missionary, who ministered to slaves who had just arrived in Cartagena, Colombia. You can imagine what the ship would smell like after long days at sea, with human beings chained like animals below deck. Peter would bring them food and drink, would wash their wounds, and carry those too weak to walk. He ministered to the dying. He baptized them, administered Communion, heard their confessions. He even lived among them, giving up his quarters to ill slaves. In other words, he treated them like the human beings they were. That was a man who saw Christ in people and places that the world couldn’t care less about. He embodied God’s special love for forgotten people.


            God help us to continue to be the good thing – Christ’s Body in the world – and see the good thing – the image of God – in others, no matter who they are or where they come from. Amen.


© 2018, David M. Fleener. Permission granted to copy and adapt original material herein for non-commercial purposes with appropriate credit given.