The Good that Came out of Nazareth

“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

“Rabble Rousers! Criminals! Those Nazarenes will bring about the ruin of all that we hold dear!”

The more things change, the more people react the same. Sometimes it seems as if the gospel were written specifically for us now—in this place and time.

Though, admittedly, thankfully the gospel writers were a bit more refined in the language that they used to express feelings than we are nowadays. Clearly, Nathaniel had as little respect for Nazareth as some people in this country have for our brothers and sisters in nations that are less privileged than our own.

And Nathaniel’s scorn, probably based in fear, and his disparagement of the Nazarenes, causes him to pose what, may well be the best example of dramatic irony ever. What Good can come out of Nazareth?  Oh, only the greatest good since—maybe, say–Creation.

The shocking impact of Nathaniel’s question on us comes from our position in time which gives us 20/20 hindsight.

We know exactly how much good has come out of Nazareth.  We know how humankind was redeemed by the good that came out of Nazareth.

And so, we–the audience to this scene between Nathaniel, Philip and Jesus–feel the full impact of its dramatic irony—But it’s important to remind ourselves of the darkness in which Nathaniel and the rest of Jesus’ contemporary followers were living.

As Mother Dawn so aptly pointed out last week, “We, all of us, live in the dark where we cannot see what is coming.”

And yet even in the darkness, there is miracle: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough can you see the stars.”

Isn’t it in that very darkness, where faith proves strongest?

Faith, so often, is not based on anything that can be scientifically ascertained—or even intellectually understood.

The mystery of faith is often based on the unseen, the unprovable—a conviction that our –common sense –tells us is silly, absurd. And yet that conviction is there—that nagging voice that persists—that small voice that insists—”I am a part of something bigger than I can understand.”

In today’s lesson from Samuel, we receive great words of wisdom for the predicament of our inability to grasp the vast mystery of God—The prophet Eli is growing old, his eyesight is growing dim.  And yet even though he is lying in utter darkness—or perhaps because he is lying in utter darkness—it is Eli who understands that God is calling the boy, Samuel.  And his sage advice the boy is to offer this response to God, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”

Too many times my own conversations with God are way too one-sided.  I am so busy handing God my to do list, that I fail to allow myself to open up and receive what God has to offer me. This is one of the things that I appreciate about my time with the Restoration Discipleship group here at St. James.  While much of our bi-weekly hour is focused on working towards a discipline of life – A discipline based on the twelve steps of humility outlined by St. Benedict, the first thing we do at each meeting is spend five minutes in complete silence—emptying ourselves and minds from external distractions.  No words. No thoughts.

Everything slows.  Our breathing becomes deeper.  Everything that was tense, anxious, hurried flows out of me.  And a sense of peace and God’s presence are all that remain.

In those moments, everything seems so much simpler, so much clearer—I do not feel as crowded by things that had previously seemed to demand my attention.

I feel better able to listen to and receive God.

And—I would not be in that group, I would not have that opportunity, if I had not responded to an invitation to “Come, and see” what the group had to offer.

In today’s gospel lesson, the reason Nathaniel has come to meet Christ isn’t because Philip or Jesus berate him or ridicule him for disparaging Nazareth.  Nathaniel rather is responding to Philip’s invitation– to “Come, and see.”

Faith is nurtured through relationship.  Just as relationship can nurture Faith.

When we welcome new members into the church at times of baptism we are asked: Will you do all in your power to support this person in his or her life in Christ?

We automatically respond, “We will.” But do we really?  How will we support newcomers in their life in Christ?  How active are we, truly, in reaching out to support one another’s life in Christ?

We have our preferred support groups where we feel comfortable.  But to what extent–do we reach outside of those groups to connect with others?

And then there is that whole world beyond these walls.

How can we truly love our brothers and sisters, if we do not get to know them?

If we do not attempt to meet them where they are, how will our capacity for compassion and understanding grow?

And that is one of the greatest gifts we have received—the capacity to continue growing in our knowledge and love of God, through our knowledge and love of one another.

Tomorrow, we celebrate the life and work of a man who devoted his life to building bonds of understanding.  In his work he brought together men and women who might never have even said “hello” to one another before.

On the eve of his assassination, Martin Luther King Jr. addressed the death threats that had been pouring into Memphis as he prepared to lead a march—a march to support the garbage collectors of that city.  That’s right, the men and women who spent their days and nights collecting and hauling off the—excrement—of our making—but who could not afford to feed their children because their wages were so low.  On the eve of that march, Dr. King did seem to see into the dark.  He said, “Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now.  I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised Land. I may not get there with you, but I want you to know that we, as a people, will get to the promised land.”

That dream has not died.  It never will.  As long human beings draw a breath on this earth, the struggle will go on.

What good can possibly come out of that other person that you or I encounter?  Especially the ones we do not know, the ones who do not look like us, the ones who may not be from places we have ever seen.

I think the challenge that God poses to us each and every day is to be apostles, small bits of life—God is calling us to be–the sort of people who seek to invite and draw out the very best, not only in ourselves—but in every person whose life we touch.