January 14, 2018 – Epiphany 2 B
43The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45Philip 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.” 46Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” 48Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” 49Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” 51And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”
I love this gospel reading for a few different reasons. Number one, I love how impressed Nathanael is by Jesus knowing where he was just a little bit ago. These days, we go pretty far out of our way to make sure people don’t know where we are every second of the day. A whole industry around cyber security has sprung up so that you can have privacy. If this scenario were to happen today, I’m sure it would look quite different. Maybe Nathanael would have looked up into the sky for drones or made some comment about Jesus being Big Brother. Maybe Nathanael would have just shrugged as he pointed to his smartphone, where he had just updated his status to something like, “I love sitting under this fig tree!” with a selfie of himself sitting under the fig tree. Perhaps instead of being surprised and impressed that Jesus knew, he’d be checking to see if he had gained any more followers that day. Lucky for us (and for Nathanael) he is impressed, so impressed that he chooses to follow Jesus.
The second big reason I love this set of is that I always laugh when Nathanael asks “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Nothing like bad mouthing the teacher when they are standing right behind you. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” In his defense, it’s a pretty good question. Nazareth was not a highly regarded town – it was a small, poor village nestled in the midst of the mountains of northern Israel. It had not great prophecies, no great resources, and no reason to expect that people from Nazareth would account for anything of lasting value. Jerusalem was the city to keep an eye on, not Nazareth. Bethel and Dan were the worship centers of northern Israel, not Nazareth, so could anything good come out of Nazareth? And did you notice how he did not get his answer? Philip doesn’t pull out a scroll and try to point to Jesus being the fulfillment of scripture. He doesn’t get huffy and stomp off. He simply says, “Come and see.” He is soon astounded that Jesus knew he was under the fig treat and decides to follow this rabbi from Nazareth. Nathanael, as Jesus points out, would see a lot in the next few years. He would see Jesus preach good news to the outcast. He would see Jesus perform miracles and healings. He we would see Jesus debate and challenge the social and religious leaders. He would see Jesus killed and rise again. But for him, that’s all far away. All he has is a question and an invitation. “How can anything good come of Nazareth?” “Come and see.” Nathanael has been called.
I wonder if Samuel had a different reaction to hearing God’s call. The Bible is more concerned, it seems, with what people did instead of what people felt or thought. Samuel hears a voice in the night and his mentor, Eli, eventually tired of being woken in the middle of night, says, “If he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” Samuel must have been confused, maybe even a little annoyed, that this voice was calling him. But whatever he was feeling, he decided to follow it. At the very least, the voice didn’t seem to be stopping.
I would say, in my experience, I react to God’s call more like Nathanael than Samuel. Maybe you do, too. Except, perhaps, our question is different. Instead of asking “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”, I would guess that more often our response is, “Can anything good come out of me?” I remember the first time I felt a call to ministry and I thought, “Thanks God, but no thanks. I like what I’m doing and I don’t know that I could do what you’re calling me to do.” But the voice persists. God continues to call me, just as God continues to call you, into the world. You may not be called to professional ministry (but, then again, maybe you are). Instead, you may be called to follow God and serve in different ways – farming, nursing, teaching, parenting, cooking, listening, walking, and speaking. I don’t know what you’re called to, but I know what you’re called. I know that you’re called “beloved”, just as Jesus was after his baptism. I know that you’re called “child” and “adopted” and “good”. And that’s hard to believe, sometimes. That’s hard to believe because we each know that we are not perfect. We each know that we make mistakes, we hurt others, and we look out for ourselves more than others. We each know this, sometimes forgetting that God’s call is not a call to perfection, but to trust God can use us, even us, to participate in the building of God’s kingdom.
Can anything good come from you? Yes. Yes. Yes. When God created the cosmos, to each and every single thing, God saw that it was good. Our Psalm for today (Psalm 139) lays out beautiful poetry that tell us the you are made in God’s image, you are loved, you were created, and you are known and God stands back, see you, and think, “Yes. This is good.” And that goodness is part of you. God’s goodness is part of you. And each of us, receivers of love and forgiveness, is called to live generously and uniquely.
That call, the call to use the gifts you’ve been given, takes a lot of trust. It takes a lot of trust that God will guide you, that God will strengthen you, and that God will lift you up when you fall. Because, despite all the superheroes you may see on the movies, a calling does not mean that everything is perfect from here on out. Following a call is hard, even to the point of seeming impossible and hopeless at times, but you are not called to do this alone. You are not called as a superhero, but rather are united with a host of people, each valued, loved, and created in God’s image. Together, we answer God’s call and go out to answer the cries of the world. Through you, through us, through answered calls, God is lifting the fallen, healing the ill, and feeding the hungry. And we are all united in that call by the waters of baptism, which we share with Christ, and the bread and wine of communion, which we share with all the forgiven and freed people of God. God has called you – I’m not sure what God has called you to do, but I know what God calls you; beloved, good, child.
Can anything good come out of Nazareth? Well, yes, it turns out that good can come out of Nazareth. Can anything good come out of you? Of me? Of us? Yes. Absolutely yes. You are God’s hands and feet and voice. You are called to God and you are called to the world. Thanks be to God. Amen.