January 17, 2021

John 1:43-51

Sermon: “Can Anything Good Come from Me?”

Jesus finds Philip and then says to him: “Follow me.”  After this, Phillip runs to tell his friend Nathanael, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”  At this, Phillip scoffs and says, “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?”

Nathanael isn’t buying it, is he?  After all, “can anything good come from Nazareth?  Can anything worthwhile come out of that place?”

I think we ask the same question in a lot of ways, often about ourselves…  “Can anything good come from my life?”  “Can anything good come out of my family situation?”  “Can anything good come from someone with my personality?”  “Can anything good come from someone who looks like me?”  “Can anything good come from someone who struggles with the things I do?”

“Can anything good come from someone my age?”  “Can anything good come from someone who’s failed and made mistakes like I have?”  I’ve wondered about these kinds of things many times.  How about you?

Let me ask those in attendance and everyone watching, “How are you feeling this morning?”

What motivated you to come to this morning’s service or to this Facebook page and watch this Worship Service?  Are you feeling good?  Has it been an inspiring week?  Or has it been awful?  Do you feel like you are at the end of your rope?  Do you feel as if you are not good enough?  Do you wonder how or if God loves you?  Perhaps this is how Nathanael was feeling as he sat under the fig tree the day, he met Jesus.  Perhaps he was simply projecting his own feelings about himself onto Nazareth…that little backward town where no one famous has ever come from before…when Phillip told him that he had found “the one Moses wrote about…Jesus of Nazareth…”  Maybe Nathanael had been feeling small.  Perhaps he had been struggling with some sin.  Maybe he was feeling bad about himself.  And so, instead of kicking the dog, he kicks Nazareth—“Can anything good come from there?”…But what he’s really thinking is, “Nathanael! Can anything good come from me?”

There are times when we look at ourselves or a part of our life; maybe it’s a secret we have carried for years, the illness we face every day, the addiction we hide, the hurts we have caused, the loneliness and lostness of grief, and we say it will never get any better.

I think that is where Nathanael was when Philip found him with the news about Jesus.  And Jesus’ reply to Nathanael is brilliant.  Jesus says to him: “Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false.”  In other words, “I see you Nathanael; I know what you are like.  I’ve got you all figured out.”  And Nathanael is shocked.  “How do you know me?” Nathanael asks.

“I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you,” is Jesus’ answer.

In Bible times, if you told someone you saw them sitting under a fig tree, you’re really saying two things.  First, you’re telling them that you know them inside out.  It’s another way of saying, “I’ve known you since the cradle.  I know you better than you know yourself.”

And second, you’re telling them that they are part of God’s purpose in bringing God’s Kingdom to earth.

You know, when someone sees you and accepts you as you are and believes in you, it’s a powerful thing, is it not?  It is a freeing thing.  It is a life-giving thing and a transformative thing.  Jesus knows us completely.  He sees us like He saw Nathanael.  He sees all our misgivings and questions.  He understands our faults, failures, and insecurities.  He knows the things we’ve dared not tell anyone.  He knows what makes us laugh and what makes us cry.

He sees the ways we have been misjudged and misunderstood.  He sees the hurts and the scars we carry.  He knows our secret dreams and our wildest hopes.  He understands what happened in our past and what we long for in the future.  Jesus isn’t shocked by anything about us.

Jesus loves us no matter what and He died to set us free from our fears, our torment, our self-doubt our sin.  He has great plans for us.  There is never “no future” with Christ.  When Nathanael realizes how much Jesus knows him…how well Jesus knows him…Nathanael recognizes Jesus as God’s Son.  And Jesus says to Nathanael, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree.  You shall see greater things than that…I tell you the truth, you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

It seems like a strange thing for Jesus to say, doesn’t it?  But Jesus is referring back to a story in Genesis, where Jacob, one of the great fathers of the faith, has a dream about a ladder that connects heaven and earth, with angels going up and down it.  We can paraphrase what Jesus is saying this way: “If you follow me, you’ll be watching what it looks like when heaven and earth are open to each other.”  Jesus is the ladder between heaven and earth.  He is, quite literally, the Stairway to Heaven.  And so, when we follow Jesus, we are not only known and understood and accepted in such a way that we come to love God and ourselves, but we are invited into a whole new way of seeing everybody and everything.

As one person has written, “We are invited to glimpse through the holes in the fabric of the universe to the REALITY that lies beyond.  We are invited to see people, places, and things in a new way.  We’re invited to watch and wait with expectancy, to see how God is at work, to see what happens when the curtain is pulled back and ‘righteousness and peace kiss each other,’ as the Psalmist puts it.”

You know, now, perhaps more than any other period in my lifetime people are angry…I mean, really, really angry.  Although, I’m not quite sure what people are so angry about – but I have to admit, there are days I’m right there with them.  I wonder if they know. There is a craziness to our existence.

Between the Pandemic, racial upheaval and political unrest people are feeling angry, scared, and unsure of what the future holds.  It’s as if fear has us in a headlock.  And one thing I think is going on is that we are looking for a savior in all the wrong places.  I mean, I have never seen people so politicized as I do now.  The political parties have practically become a new religion.

Politicians are taking the place of god.  We are betting our salvation on worldly things.  And this frustrates us and makes us angry because there is no salvation in worldly things.  It also causes us to fear.  We fear other people.  We fear what the future holds.  We fear that what we once had will be taken away from us.  But in God there is no fear.  We belong to another Kingdom and let us not allow the stumbling blocks of hatred, prejudice, and self-doubt block the entrance to heaven.  Jesus Christ has overcome this world.  This stuff that surrounds us, that we hear about on the news and on the internet…this garbage that everyone is shouting and fighting about—this stuff is fading away.  The only thing that is forever is God.  The only thing that truly matters is Jesus Christ.

“Can anything good come out of Nazareth,” Nathanael asks.  People are often judged by where they come from, by the way they speak, by the political party they belong to, by the color of their skin and their status in society.  Not so, in God’s Kingdom.  In God’s Kingdom everyone is welcome.  Everyone is accepted.  Everyone is loved just the way they are.  “For God so loved the world…”  Jesus saw something in Nathanael that surprised him.  Instead of seeing a rotten, no good sinner…instead of seeing a failure, someone out of whom nothing good can come…

Jesus saw a person created in the image of God.  He saw someone with a great future.  He saw, “a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false.”  Jesus had seen Nathanael while he was still sitting under the fig tree…He knew everything about him and loved him anyway.  And if Nathanael were to follow Jesus, Nathanael would come to know the Truth, the Way, the Life…for no one comes to the Father except through Jesus Christ.  He would see “heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”  And when you see this, nothing can tear you down.  When you see this, you can never be the same again.  When you see this, you can never look at yourself, God nor others the same way again.  When you see this, there is no more reason to be filled with anger and rage.  There is no more reason to scoff and say, “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?”

You know it’s interesting.  When Nathanael doubts and makes fun of Philip for what he tells him, Philip doesn’t judge Nathanael.  He doesn’t get angry at him.  He simply says, “Come and see.”  Come and see if anything good can come out of a dump like Nazareth.  Come and see for yourself.  And what Nathanael finds is that God brings life out of people and places that have none.  God gives meaning to people who otherwise lacked meaning.  God instills love and salvation into people who were at the end of their rope, had hit rock bottom and didn’t think there was a reason to go on.  “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?”  You bet!  The King of Glory comes from there.  And when we open ourselves up to Him, the King of Glory comes from us as well…shining out into a dark and terribly sad world.  May it be so. Praise God.  Amen.