A Sermon for the Second Sunday after the Epiphany + January 14, 2018

St. Catherine’s Episcopal Church
Chelsea, Alabama
Sunday, January 14, 2018

The Second Sunday after the Epiphany
First Lesson: I Samuel 3:1-20
Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17
Second Lesson: I Corinthians 6:12-20
Gospel: John 1:43-51

Now, O Lord, take my lips and speak with them. Take our minds and think through them. Take our hearts and set them on fire for your Gospel. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

26943567_1605250556232861_988909064_n“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.’ Nathanael said to him, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ Philip said to him, ‘Come and see.’”

“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” I love this question that Nathanael asks Philip in today’s Gospel lesson soon after Philip tells him that he’s discovered the Messiah. To me, there’s something so human about it, something so relatable. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” This question makes me ponder the number of times in my life when I probably asked a similar question, a question based on my own skepticism or prejudice toward a particular person, place, or group of people before actually taking the time to get to know them. I think this is something that most of us wrestle with pretty frequently. We have preconceived notions about people that we don’t know and places that we’ve never been, and to our detriment, we let those preconceived ideas cloud our judgments and opinions. We let fear of the unknown control our thoughts and actions, and we let it get in the way of our ability to trust others and to love as Christ has called us to love.

As Christians, we all know that Nazareth is a pretty important place, don’t we? It’s where Mary and Joseph lived. It’s where the angel, Gabriel, came to announce to Mary that she would conceive and give birth to the Son of God. Unfortunately, we don’t know much about Jesus’ life in Nazareth, but we do know that it’s where he grew up and learned about his faith and likely the place where he also discovered who he was and what he was meant to do during his earthly ministry. Yes, Nazareth is an important part of our story, as Christians, but in the time of Jesus, it was considered to be this small, insignificant village in Galilee- a place where nothing exciting ever happened, a place that some people from that region probably didn’t even know existed. The people who were from there were likely regarded in the same way- small, insignificant, and expendable. So, it’s easy to understand why Nathanael, who was from the fishing village of Bethsaida, would ask the question, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” It would be like someone from Birmingham asking, “Can anything good come out of Opp?” Or, “Can anything good come out of Red Level?” Opp and Red Level, by the way, are actual towns in southeast Alabama. I didn’t just make those names up. They actually exist, but you might not have ever heard of them. They’re very small towns, and no one goes there unless they have a specific reason or unless they’re on their way to somewhere else.

It’s easy to draw conclusions about places like this and the people who live there, isn’t it? Small, rural towns with not much going on. Words like “backwoods,” “redneck,” “country,” “simple-minded,” and “uneducated” come to mind, and unless you actually visit these places and meet the people who live there, that’s all they will ever be- a list of stereotypes and preconceived ideas. Of course, it’s easy to draw conclusions about other places and groups of people as well- people who speak different languages, people who come from other countries and different walks of life, people who practice different forms of religion.

When Chelsea and I moved our family to Virginia to begin seminary five years ago, we moved into a small, two-bedroom apartment off campus. At the time, the seminary only offered on-campus housing for single students, which made it rather difficult for off-campus students and their families to feel like part of the community. So, we decided early on that it was important for us to meet other families who lived off campus so that we could make new friends and build relationships with people who were experiencing the same joys and frustrations that we were as a seminary family. One of those families was the Beniste Family- Jean, Monica, and their two daughters, Solange and Annelise.

During our three years in Virginia, we grew to know and love the Beniste Family. We shared meals together. They came over to our apartment one year for Thanksgiving dinner. Our children played together and attended the same preschool. Jean was the one who told me which clergy shirts that I should order before I was ordained, and he and I shared a love and passion for liturgy and beautiful worship. But, I have to admit that, when I first met Jean, I was skeptical that we could be friends. You see, Jean was originally from Haiti, and he spoke with a heavy accent that made it very difficult for me to understand him. At the time, I had never met anyone from Haiti, and I knew that, in order for us to be friends and to get to know each other, I would have to look past our differences and commit to spending time with him, despite the language and cultural barriers that existed between us. I’m so glad that I did. It wasn’t always easy, but by working through it, we grew to be friends and developed a relationship that might not have ever happened if I had let my initial doubts get in the way. By working through my own skepticism and fear, I discovered this loving and compassionate person, a man who was completely devoted, not only to his call as an Episcopal priest but also his call as a husband and father.

I think this is why Philip’s response to Nathanael’s question in our Gospel lesson is so important, especially to those of us who have committed our lives to serving Christ. When Nathanael doubts Philip’s claim and asks him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip responds, “Come and see.” “Come and see.” It’s such a simple invitation, yet one that is so central to who we are as Christians. It’s an invitation for us to look past our own doubts and fears, to open our hearts and minds, in order to discover the fullness of God’s love and mercy. “Come and see” is an invitation for us to follow Jesus, the one from Nazareth who calls us to love and serve all people, not just those who look like us or sound like us or believe like us. So, let us be swift to respond to God’s invitation. Let us work to cast away the doubts and fears that threaten to divide us and keep us apart. Let us “come and see.” Amen.

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