Monday, January 19, 2009

Second Sunday in Epiphany

Second Sunday in Epiphany
John 1:43-51
Bror Erickson

[45] Philip found Nathanael and said to him, "We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph." [46] Nathanael said to him, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" Philip said to him, "Come and see." [47] Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, "Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!" [48] Nathanael said to him, "How do you know me?" Jesus answered him, "Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you." [49] Nathanael answered him, "Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!" John 1:45-49 (ESV)

“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Nathanael asks. And Philip answers come and see. Nathanael is a little skeptical when his brother said he had found the Messiah, and that He is from Nazareth. Don’t know why Nazareth has such a bad reputation. Perhaps it was because of Sepphoris the large gentile city down the street, where many of the Nazarenes found work. Perhaps it was just a small hick town that wasn’t expected to be great. In any case it doesn’t fit in Nathanael’s preconceived notions of the Messiah that He would come from Nazareth. Phillip only answers come and see.
Oh Nathanael wants the Messiah. He isn’t a pillar of doubt and skepticism. He is more or less a believer. We know this because he is praying. That is what it means that he was under the fig tree. It was a common phrase meaning in prayer. Rabbis often admonished their students to pray under their own fig tree, and their own vine, in other words, in private, on your own. It is a good admonition for us to heed. Pray in your own chamber if you will. Prayer is invaluable to the shaping of a Christian life. It doesn’t need to be much, just a little time where you can consistently find it and set it aside. Enough time, if nothing else, to confess the apostles creed, say the Lord ’s Prayer, and meditate on the Ten Commandments. Perhaps read a Bible passage and the portals of prayer. Take a little time out to listen to God, and lay your petitions on him. As an aside, the pew Bibles I have been handing out have wonderful little forms for prayer at morning, noon, evening and night. They are useful and good. Prayer is always good for the believer. This is how we know Nathanael was a believer, he prayed. And it is not unlikely that he prayed for the coming Messiah. Maranatha, Come Lord.
But he was skeptical. Jesus didn’t fit. It was not what he expected. “Come and see,” Philip answers. It is possibly the best answer one can have. Come and see. It won’t hurt. It isn’t that painful. Come and see. It is an hour on Sunday morning; you might miss half a football game. Come and see what it is all about. Come and see. Too often though, it will probably not be met with Nathanael’s willingness.
Many have doubts today. Many have been burned by one church or another. They are once bitten twice shy. Many have doubts reinforced by a materialistic culture. And by that I do not mean one that buys, buys, buys, and doesn’t know how to pinch a penny. I mean a culture that dogmatically holds to the notion that if you can’t see it even through a microscope, it does not exist. Many have eyes and yet are unable to see. Oh there were these types in Nathanael’s day. The Sadducees overwhelmed with Greek Philosophy, found Judaism to be full of nice traditions, but they didn’t believe much of it. Angels and so on were as believable to them as the boogey man. Nathanael wasn’t hardened like that. He belonged to those that believed in God, but wanted God on his own terms.
You know the type. He wasn’t even agnostic. He believed in God. His hang-up was a town! How is it possible the Messiah, the one spoken of by Moses and the prophets would come from there? There are plenty like that, even today. They have notions of who Jesus must have been, what He was really like, what He is like. “Jesus loved everyone and that means He tolerated everyone, and condoned their sin.” “Jesus wouldn’t condone war.” “Jesus would drive a smart car because it is eco friendly.” “Jesus despised the rich, and only liked the poor. Jesus was a teetotaler, who would disapprove of wine.” It is funny to me. Jesus can’t be pigeon holed like that. All of these notions shatter against the picture of Jesus found in the New Testament. So people write Him off. Or pick and choose, try to force Jesus into their mold. Well, come and see.
No, we can’t walk with Jesus these days. Not like Nathanael. But we can open our Bible, read and pray under our fig tree, or in our secret chamber. We can go to church and hear. And there in His word Jesus reaches out to us, grabs hold of us, and shows us who He is. He shows us who he is in the confession of Nathanael: “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” King of Israel, King of the Jews. Yes, He is. He is our King. Pilate made that clear. He posted it above his head. That is where we really find Jesus, that is where we really see Him for who He is, on the cross. For it was on the cross that He did what He came to do, contrary to all expectations. It was on the cross that he died for you and me. It was on the cross that He established His kingdom of grace, the forgiveness of sins in which we live and for which we pray thy kingdom come. It is there that we are confronted with His gospel, the good news of forgiveness for you and me.
He isn’t what we expect when we think of God. A disinterested transcendent being, or an easily manipulated spirit who does our bidding if we only believe hard enough. HE isn’t a harsh task master that does nothing, but torture us with rules for living we can’t possibly live up to. He isn’t a kill joy constantly nagging. Nor is He milquetoast that doesn’t care what we do. What He is, is God who is love. He is love, the creator of this world that died for you and me so that we might live despite our sins. And that is how He reveals Himself to us, on the cross. There on the cross, the all powerful God answers our prayers for salvation, and brings His kingdom, not with force, but with a humble death accomplishing our salvation as king of Israel, our king.
Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord Amen.

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