(listen along for a more enhanced sermon experience!)
43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” 46 Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47 When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” 48 Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” 49 Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50 Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” 51 And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”
Good morning, Our Redeemer’s!
On this weekend as we celebrate the amazing life of Dr. King, I’d like to share a passage from his book, Stride Toward Freedom:
I was ready to give up. With my cup of coffee sitting untouched before me, I tried to think of a way to move out of the picture without appearing a coward. In this state of exhaustion, when my courage had all but gone, I decided to take my problem to God. With my head in my hands, I bowed over the kitchen table and prayed aloud.
The words I spoke to God that midnight are still vivid in my memory. “I am here taking a stand for what I believe is right. But now I am afraid. The people are looking to me for leadership, and if I stand before them without strength and courage, they too will falter. I am at the end of my powers. I have nothing left. I’ve come to the point where I can’t face it alone.
At that moment, I experienced the presence of the Divine as I had never experienced God before. It seemed as though I could hear the quiet assurance of an inner voice saying: “Stand up for justice, stand up for truth; and God will be at your side forever.” Almost at once my fears began to go. My uncertainty disappeared. I was ready to face anything.
Dr. King, at his kitchen room table, had an epiphany. Usually, when I think of an epiphany, I think of something gradually becoming clear – like a sunrise in the morning, in a kind of “ooohhhhh… I get it!” kind of way. But sometimes, an epiphany can be a sudden shift in understanding – a change happens immediately, and drastically. Throughout his career, Dr. King would refer back to this incident as his “vision in the kitchen.” A touch-point where things became clear and vital.
In our Gospel reading today, Jesus has just finished calling the very first disciples, Andrew and Peter. Heading down to Galilee Jesus then runs into Phillip, to whom he says, “Follow me.” Phillip doesn’t say anything about this, except to take off and go find his friend Nathanael. Phillip proceeds to tell Nathanael, “Dude. I found him.” “Found who?” “The one that’s in the book man! The Messiah! The one that the prophet wrote about, He’s here! And get this – he’s from Nazareth! Joseph’s boy – the carpenter.”
Nathanael raises an eyebrow. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth? Why would we want to hang out with anybody from that craphole little town? I would think they were sending someone from Oslo or Bergen.” Luckily, Phillip is not easily dissuaded. “Why don’t you come and see?” [By the way – these are the same exact words that Jesus used when talking to Andrew and Peter. Come and see.] Nathanael says, “Fine. I’ll go. But if this is some kind of a dog and pony show, you’re buying lunch!” As they walk through town, Jesus spies them coming from a distance. “Nathanael! You’re here! I love your honesty. Thank you for being a straight up person.” Nathanael dishes back, “Yeah well. What do you know about it?” “Well, weren’t you just under the fig tree?” “Yes. YES. How did you know that? What are you, the Son of God or something? WAIT. You …are the Son of God! You are amazing! This is amazing!” And they all lived happily ever after.
You may have noticed that in this story, Nathanael is full of the side eye! What good can come out of Nazareth? Where did you get to know me, Jesus? It’s what happens next tho, between verse 48 and 49? How does Nathanael go from cynical skeptic to “You are the Son of God!”? What was he doing under that fig tree anyway? This, my friends is what an epiphany can be like. It’s going from closed to open. From sealed shut to fully revealed like THAT(snap.) Flipping on the lights in the middle of the night. Nathanael’s strangely quick conversion is the blazing kind of epiphany.
Let’s look at our other text for a just a minute. I love the story of the call of Samuel. I love the boy taking care of the old priest, Eli. Do you think it was his choice, or do you think his parents sent him? Hard to say. I love the immediacy that he has getting out of bed thinking that Eli needed him, only to find that Eli hadn’t called. I love that God chooses the young boy to deliver the news and the message, and had the old man was the one that could see God despite his blindness, and guide him into accepting God’s call and being a prophet. I love that first Eli has the epiphany – IT’S GOD! God is the one calling you, Sam! And then Sam got the message.
Jesus knows Nathanael. He sees him truly.
Jesus knows Samuel. He knows his gifts, and calls him clearly.
Jesus knows Dr. King. A man with vision, and passion.
Moreover, Jesus knows us. We may be skeptical, and pretty darned sure we don’t want Jesus in our business. We may be young and dumb and pretty sure we have no idea what’s going on. We may be tired and fairly certain God must be calling someone else, because we think we have nothing left to offer. Despite ourselves, we are being called. And whether it’s a slow reveal, or ripping off the Band-Aid, an epiphany is here. Jesus is shining the light and calling our names, saying “Follow me! Come and see!”
Okay here’s the real talk. It seems to me that our culture and our country is fast leaning away from these simple words of Jesus to “Come and see.” To be inviting, welcoming, hospitable – open to those who seek shelter, safety, life, and love. It doesn’t seem like a stretch that lady liberty would have her head in her hands, mourning the racist words of our Commander in Chief from the past week, worrying for the young people protected by DACA, as she remembers the millions of huddled masses that have come from all corners of the globe seeking refuge in this bountiful land. In times like these, we need to reflect God’s light all the brighter. God is calling us. Clearly. We need to listen for that call in the night, at the kitchen table, in our place of work – the call for justice, for tending to the suffering, for singing songs of joy and resisting the shadows, and beyond that, we need to answer the call.
Don’t be overwhelmed. Don’t wonder if it’s real. Remember these words from Dr. King that I quoted at the beginning? “At that moment, I experienced the presence of the Divine as I had never experienced God before. It seemed as though I could hear the quiet assurance of an inner voice saying: “Stand up for justice, stand up for truth; and God will be at your side forever.” Almost at once my fears began to go. My uncertainty disappeared. I was ready to face anything.”
I want to leave you with this poetic Epiphany blessing from Jan Richardson.
Known – A Blessing
by: Jan Richardson
we will need grace.
we will need courage.
we will need
We will need
to die a little
to what we have
what we have allowed
ourselves to see
what we have built
our beliefs upon.
We will need this
we will need
to let it all go
to leave room enough
for the astonishment
that will come
should we be given
of what the Holy One sees
in seeing us,
in knowing us,
no part of us
no piece of us
fashioned from other
all our days.