Come and See
January 14, 2018
by Rev. Melanie Homan
View, print, or save PDF: Sermon.01.14.18.Come And See
“Come and See”
January 14, 2018
Rev. Melanie Homan
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,[m] you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”
Philip is excited. He has found “The One” that Moses and the prophets wrote about and the people have been waiting centuries for. This is a big deal! So, he goes to his friend and says, “Nathanael, Nathanael! We’ve found him! We’ve found The One!!! It’s JESUS!!! Son of Joseph! From NAZARETH!!!”
And Nathanael? Well, Nathanael – if I give him the benefit of the doubt, then he’s just cynical by nature and can’t help it. Or, maybe he has let his prejudice against a particular place and a particular people cloud his ability to see anything other than what he expects to see. He responds to Philips excitement with the question – “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” “Nazareth. Ugh.”
Philip is hopeful, and Nathanael – not so much. He’s cynical. Critical. The first thing Nathanael thinks to say is – Can anything good come from Nazareth? In his question, he lets us know that he believes the answer is NO. Nothing good can come from that place.
What was that place? What was it about Nazareth that caused this sort of reaction, from a man who was otherwise considered to be honest and upright? We don’t know much about Nazareth from historical writings, because it was not an “important” place. It wasn’t a big urban area like Jerusalem or Rome. It wasn’t a quaint town. Before Jesus, nothing notable ever happened in Nazareth. Archeologists estimate Nazareth was a town of about 150 people, which means the entire town would be about the size of our worship service this morning. It didn’t have anything going for it – and it had a reputation of being “proverbially wicked”[i] (Barnes Notes on the Bible).
Nazareth was this “miserable” little place in the region of Galilee. Even Galilee was looked down on by the Roman empire for all of its Israelites, but what made Nazareth unique was that the rest of Galilee looked down on them. The neighboring towns and villages had the same opinion of Nazareth. “We might not be great like Jerusalem, but at least we aren’t Nazareth.” It was plagued with filth and poverty, and after Jesus’ time, zealots and radicals would find their home in this practically forgotten region. They would try to violently overturn the Roman empire and they would fail, ultimately leading to the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. Obviously, nothing good can come from a place like that. Or, so Nathanael thinks.
Whether cynical or prejudiced, Nathanael’s response isn’t unique. It is echoed throughout history. Can anything good come out of Haiti? Look at that mess of a place. 316,000 people died there eight years ago this week, when a devastating earthquake destroyed their fragile infrastructure.
Can anything good come out of Liberia? Nigeria? South Africa? Can anything good come out of North Korea? Afghanistan? Can anything good come out of Mexico? Some people would have us believe that all “those people” have AIDS or are rapists and drug traffickers who want to kill us or take our jobs. We have become so prejudiced against certain “places” that like Nathanael, we can be honest and upright and also unable to see people for who they truly are.
Can anything good come out of St. Paul? Why would anyone want to cross over the river to that dull city? Can anything good come out of North Minneapolis? No hope over there. We know where the “good” comes from. Places like our neighborhood. Places like Edina, just down the block. Places like Southwest Minneapolis. Our places. Our places are great places. They are the most amazing places. Ever. We need more places like our places.
So, how is one supposed to respond to Nathanael? What could be said? Philip – there are so many things he could have done. He could have said, “Nathanael, stop raining on my parade! I’m excited! I’ve found THE ONE. Knock it off!” He could have argued with him and told him all of the reasons that Nazareth wasn’t so bad. He could have provided data and statistics to show that it wasn’t the worst place in the world. He could have gotten into an argument and told him what a close-minded person he was. Philip could have informed Nathanael how his prejudice was keeping him from seeing the good that was right in front of him and that stereotypes hold only an illusion of truth. Philip could have said – “I’m not going to be friends with you anymore. I’m sick and tired of your cynicism and arrogance. Enjoy your time sitting all alone under this fig tree while I go follow Jesus, because I’m done with you.”
But, Philip didn’t do any of those things. He didn’t debate. He didn’t argue. He didn’t give up and walk away. He said three words. “Come and see”. You ask, “Can anything good come from this place?” I say, “Come and see”. Come and see what can come from a place like Nazareth. Jesus. Son of God. God chose to become human and where did God go? It wasn’t to a palace in Rome where Jesus ate from silver spoons.[ii] Jesus didn’t live a solitary life all alone in a desert where he didn’t have to interact with humanity and creation. God chose to grow up in a community that suffered and struggled and had an awful reputation. Can anything good come out of Nazareth? Yes. Our salvation can come out of Nazareth…just like it continues to come from places we least expect.
I am tired…of arguing, and of listening to other people argue. So, maybe we take our cue from Philip. He didn’t argue with his friend. He just said, “Come and see”. Come and see for yourself because, if you do, you will see that all your preconceived notions are misplaced, and the scales will fall from your eyes. And Nathanael? I give him credit. He went with Philip. He followed. And by coming and seeing, he believed. “Rabbi, you are the Son of God!”.
Come and see. That’s Philip’s invitation to each of us, to see beyond our stereotypes and prejudices. If we look at the places that we might think “no good thing can come from there…” – that’s where we will find God. Nathanael learned that lesson from Jesus under the fig tree.
We need to learn the same lesson. I can’t help but think of Karissa Ouren, from our congregation. She had her “come and see” moment in Haiti, where in the midst of suffering and devastation, she found God and God’s call on her life. Not under a fig tree, but rather a palm tree, she had a vision for what God desired for her – to use her skills and gifts in teaching, to help train teachers in Haiti. She heard God’s call, and she answered it. Year in and year out, more and more teachers are trained, and more and more of the children of God are impacted by this ministry. If we answer the call to “come and see”, we know that it never just ends with “seeing”. When we truly “see”, then we do something more. We follow. We follow the call God puts on us to love and serve our neighbors, however we can. On Friday, Pope Francis tweeted, “If we fail to suffer with those who suffer, even those of different religions, languages, or cultures, we need to question our own humanity.”
On occasion, our Council of Bishops – the leaders of the United Methodist Church – make statements about what is going on in the world. Our church is a global church, and these words come from our leaders that represent every continent and country where the United Methodist Church resides – over 42,000 churches in over 120 countries. Come and see – come and listen to what our global leaders have to say.
As United Methodists, we cherish our brothers and sisters from all parts of the world and we believe that God loves all creation regardless of where they live or where they come from. As leaders of our global United Methodist Church, we are sickened by such uncouth language from the leader of a nation that was founded by immigrants and serves as a beacon to the world’s “huddled masses longing to be free.”
Thousands of OUR clergy, laity and other highly skilled, productive citizens are from places President Trump has defamed with his comments. The fact that he also insists the United States should consider more immigrants from Europe and Asia demonstrates the racist character of his comments. This is a direct contradiction of God’s love for all people. Further, these comments on the eve of celebrating Martin Luther King Day belies Dr. King’s witness and the United States’ on-going battle against racism.
We just celebrated the birth of Jesus Christ, whose parents during his infancy, had to flee to Africa to escape from the wrath of King Herod. Millions of immigrants across the globe are running away from such despicable and life-threatening events. Hence, we have the Christian duty to be supportive of them as they flee political, cultural and social dangers in their native homes.
We will not stand by and allow our brothers and sisters to be maligned in such a crude manner. We call on all United Methodists, all people of faith, and the political leadership of the United States to speak up and speak against such demeaning and racist comments.
Christ reminds us that it is by love that they will know that we are Christians. Let’s demonstrate that love for all of God’s people by saying no to racism; no to discrimination and no to bigotry.
Bishop Bruce R. Ough President – Council of Bishops
Can anything good come from Nazareth? Yes, yes, yes. The answer is always yes. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable to God, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
[i] Barnes Notes on the Bible.