Sunday's Sermon Notes
Sermon notes are available for you to use in your weekly personal or group study as you walk with God.
January 26, 2020
(Can You See It? Week #4)
John 1:43-51 (NRSV)
43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45 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.” 46 Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47 When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” 48 Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” 49 Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50 Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” 51 And 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 apologize that there is no graphic in this! I did not have access to the image prior to Sunday!—Pastor Daniel
Reflection on the Word:
1. How would you characterize Nathanael’s reaction to Philip?
2. What role does Nazareth play in this scene?
3. Why does it matter that Jesus appears to know and understand Nathanael so well?
4. When Nathanael proclaims Jesus the King of Israel, Jesus corrects him. Is that significant? Why?
Family Time or Small Group (Better Together) Discussion:
1. Have you experienced something good coming from an unexpected place? When? What happened?
2. What, or whom, is your Nazareth?
3. When has God shown you something that changed your expectations of what God was doing?
4. How can you “Say Yes” to Jesus in 2020?
5. How can we pray for you?
Series Progression: “It Takes a Spark” based on John 1:35-42 by Rev. Daniel Guenther
I want to start this sermon by asking you guys a question. No, I’m not kidding. Where did you see God this week? There’s no wrong answer here; hit me with your best thoughts.
So for me, this question has a lot of history. I first heard it asked about seven years ago, when I was working as a camp counselor. The camp I worked at was a sleepaway camp up in the mountainous areas south and west of Arlington, my hometown. From Sunday night to Friday afternoon, I’d spend time with kids and teach them what (little) I (thought I) knew about God. And on Friday afternoons, just before we sent the kids home for the weekend, we’d gather together, and all of us, kids and staff, would answer the question “Where did you see God this week?” And when it became my turn to answer the question, I always had a lot of good material to choose from. I loved being a camp counselor. I loved being outside. I loved the trees and the streams and the little critters we found out there. I got to be pretty good at catching crawfish by hand and building fires and killing spiders, stuff like that. And it was great. It was absolutely fantastic.
But each week, once it was time for me to share where I had seen God that week, I went in basically the same direction. I would tell everyone that I saw God in the kids under my charge. I saw God in their joy, in their love for each other, and the love they showed me. I saw God when they would ask me hard questions I had neither the knowledge nor the maturity to answer, and when they would slide up next to me and hold my hand because they were worried about what second grade would be like. Sometimes, life can make God very hard to see. But when I worked at that camp, it felt like God was painting a self-portrait in the eyes of every kid I met.
And in case you’re wondering, I haven’t stopped seeing God since I stopped working at that camp. In fact, I’ve seen God a few times since I came to Chesapeake. Can you believe that? I’ve seen God in the big heart of my relatively hairless colleague in pastoral ministry. I’ve seen God in our children’s director Cheryl, who brought me soup when I was sick a few weeks ago, and in our youth director, who loves his kids and his friends and his wife in a way that inspires me. I’ve seen God through you all too. In the way you pray for each other. In the way you held those candles and glow sticks up on Christmas Eve. In the way you all welcomed me wayyy back in June and keep asking me questions like “So, are you settling in okay?” And believe it or not, I’ve seen God outside of the church building too. I’ve seen God when I go to visit someone in the hospital, and am immediately told that “Oh, so and so from church was just here.” I’ve seen God in the looks I get when I see one of you at Walmart or at the YMCA, which almost always go from confusion to a smile and almost always come just before you look at me and you say “So, you don’t wear your alb the other six days of the week?” Let this set the record straight--I do, in fact, own normal person clothes.
I share all this with you not simply to make you feel good--although, for the record, I hope it does. I share it with you because I think we should all be able to answer the question “Where did you see God?” with one word: “people.” After all, isn’t at least part of the magic of Jesus that he came down to be one of us? That for all God’s power and glory, God wanted to be met by us as a person? When I was a teenager, I got chewed out by my dad for going to an interview for a summer job wearing a polo, khakis, and sneakers. It turns out, I should’ve had at least a button down and some black dress shoes to go with the khakis, because as I was dressed, I would NOT make a good first impression on an employer. What kind of first impression do you think God was trying to make on us that God would come to us as a human being?
Well, I obviously can’t speak for God, but I suspect God met us as a person because God wanted us to know that God’s greatest power isn’t the ability to spin planets into being and knit galaxies together, but the ability to really, deeply, fully know us and be known by us. After all, Andrew, one of John’s disciples, sees Jesus, walks after him, and spends the rest of the day, the rest of the day with Jesus. That’s a concerted effort to get to know someone, for all three of them. You can see them can’t you? Andrew, John’s other disciple, and Jesus, sitting in a circle around a pot of coffee, talking into the late hours of the night. Jesus, listening while Andrew shares his life with him. Andrew, growing to appreciate more and more that he wasn’t in the presence of some ordinary person, but an extraordinary man whose presence in this world would ensure that, eventually, everything would change. To the point that, the next day, Andrew goes off to find his brother and says “Come with me...You’ve gotta meet this guy!”
Now, what to me is most crazy about the moment that’s captured here is that these two meetings are when Christianity becomes a thing. Before this point, it’s just Jesus. He hasn’t even started his ministry yet. Because of these innocuous conversations, Jesus gains his first followers. Because of this moment, Jesus has disciples to send out and share a revolutionary message about love and forgiveness that upended the ancient world. Because of this moment, Peter and Paul and the first disciples can collaborate to found the first early churches. Because of this moment, a religion that at one point had just a handful of followers can move north to a place called England and warm the heart of a man named John Wesley. Because of this moment, a group of people will one day gather together to worship, and they will call themselves members of Great Bridge United Methodist Church.
So, if our story for today, the story of a conversation between Jesus and a pair of unremarkable fisherman, seems random, or strange, or if it caused you to scratch your head and say “What’s happening here?” then understand that this passage is a powerful reminder for us today. It’s a reminder that God is always looking to meet us where we are, listen to us, and shape us into the people we are called to be. Andrew didn’t become a disciple because Jesus used some divine power to shock him into faithfulness. Andrew became a disciple because Jesus was willing to spend time with him. And when Andrew brought Peter to meet Jesus, the movement that grew up out of this would’ve counted for very little in history had Jesus put all his power and might on display but forgotten to love us first. Jesus’ ministry started out small, but with care and attention, he turned it from a tiny spark into a blaze that set the world on fire.
Today, we carry that fire just like Peter and Andrew did. We get to be the people through whom God speaks. We get to have others see God in us and through us and, sometimes, in spite of us. We get to be the sometimes feeble and imperfect instruments by which a perfect and powerful God pulls creation back from the brink and into everlasting arms. And if all that’s true, then we should have all the permission, the authority, and the sense of urgency we need, here at GBUMC, to get up, go out, and get to work as Andrew, Peter, and the rest of the disciples did. Because after all, we live in a world not all that different from the one Peter and Andrew were born into. These days, the world seems to always be full of division and anger and alienation. There is madness on the news, in our neighborhoods, sometimes in our homes. And if our passage for today is proof of anything, it’s proof that, when, just for a second, God is able to break through all this noise, these moments are the times God uses to remind us that great plans are still unfolding, and that we are called to participate in them. That just as something earth shattering came out of what seems like a chance meeting in a podunk province of the Roman Empire, so God can start something in a place like Great Bridge United Methodist Church. All it takes is a spark. Amen.
Who here remembers the first time they rode a bike without training wheels? It’s a pretty big moment in the life of a kid, when you finally get that bike moving and you realize that, even though your feed aren’t on the ground, this contraption you’re sitting on is starting to get going, to pick up speed, to actually move forward. For me, that was such an exciting moment. And if my experience is any indication, that first exciting moment comes after a lot of anxious ones. As a kid, I was pretty risk averse. I was very hesitant to do anything that might even have a hint of danger. So my bike and I had a “will they won’t they?” relationship for the first few months I owned it. There was a lot of hesitation, a lot of “I’m going to try to ride it today,” followed by a lot of “Dad, can you put the training wheels back on?”
Bike riding was hard for me. It was hard for me because I was used to relying on my own two feet for balance, and once I pushed off, once I took my feet off the ground and put them on the pedals, I could no longer count on my feet to hold me up. What my bike asked of me was to have blind faith that, if I pedalled hard right away, I would move forward and not fall over and skin my knees. And in thinking back on it, the weird thing about this was that, the first time I actually started to ride my bike, I had nothing whatsoever but faith to go off of. I had never ridden a bike before. I had no grasp of the physics of pedals, bike wheels, and human legs. I just trusted what my parents were saying--that this bike would not, in fact, kill me.
How often is the Christian life like riding a bike? Trusting in the existence of a God we cannot see, at least with our eyes. Trusting this God loves us, and that this God came to save us from ourselves through a random carpenter from Bethlehem really is who he told us he is. All of these things take a little bit of blind faith, don’t they? A realization that, no, we don’t always have hard evidence for the things we believe, but we trust our hearts when they say to us, again and again, that Jesus Christ is Lord.
Of course, the difference between the Christian life and learning how to ride a bike is that, whereas once you learn how to ride a bike that’s it, that’s all there is, as a Christian we are continuously shooting at a moving target. We, as Christians, aren’t called to learn one thing, one rule of life, one pattern to follow. We’re called to “Come and see” what God is doing in each moment, in each place, at each time, and find a way to join in. And it is so easy, isn’t it, to ignore this call. To be like Nathanael and say “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” before we’ve even taken the trouble to look. Do you have a Nazareth? Is there somewhere, something, someone, out of which, in your mind, nothing good could come?
I don’t want to speak for y’all today. But I’m fairly confident that you have at least one Nazareth out there. That there is at least one possibility you are closed off to because somehow, it seems too preposterous to be true. If we’re Nathanael, then these days, our Nazareth probably isn’t really a specific place as much as it is a change in our way of life. Can anything good come from Nazareth? How about “Can anything good come from taking a risk? Of being open and vulnerable with someone else about the things I am struggling with?” Or how about “Can anything good come from me befriending, actually befriending, a homeless person through NEST and CAST?” Or perhaps “Can anything good come from me seeking a relationship with someone who I don’t know, who is older than me, younger than me, dresses differently from me, thinks differently from me, acts differently from me, lives differently from me?”
All these questions though, can really be boiled down to one--“Can anything good come from me daring to plant love, to sow the seeds of love, in a world where showing love can often feel hard and stressful and even dangerous?” And friends, don’t make any mistake about it, love is dangerous. Love is risky. Love is hard. Love has always involved a bit of risk taking, of extending a hand to help pick someone else up and hoping that the other person either won’t reject it, or take it and drag you down with them. In the summer of 2017, I was interning for an organization in downtown Atlanta. Every once in a while, I would go out to eat lunch at the Subway a few blocks away. Now, in case you didn’t know this about Atlanta, that city has a huge homelessness problem, and that part of the city in particular was full of homeless men and women sitting under store awnings trying to avoid the summer heat.
I remember how it felt to walk past them. I remember how each time I did so, little flares of discomfort would rise up in my chest, and my steps would quicken just a little bit. I was in slacks and a button down and they were in tattered rags. I was healthy and clean, and they looked exhausted and sickly. I remember how uncomfortable that made me. I also remember that each time I did this, I felt God nudging me, poking me on the shoulder, telling me “Don’t just walk past! Go talk to them. Hold their hands. Pray with them. Be with them. Love them.”
Believe it or not, although the particular form of this challenge will change in different times and places, the basics will remain the same. There will always be someone whom we will be tempted to walk quickly by. To offer a curt nod or a quick half-smile to and nothing more. Maybe that someone is someone you don’t like. Maybe that someone is someone you don’t even know. Maybe that someone is older than you. Maybe that someone is younger than you. Maybe that someone worships in a different service than you do. Maybe that someone has different political views from you. Maybe that someone has different views about the future of the United Methodist Church from you. Maybe that someone is just different from you. There will always be moments when we will be confronted by someone in our lives and chose to keep walking. And, friends, I can say with confidence that in each of those moments, God will be whispering in our ears “Don’t just walk past. Go love them. Love them as I love them. Remember, something good can always come from Nazareth.”
Nazareth...We know something about that town don’t we? We know that town as Jesus’ childhood home. We know this as the place where God made flesh grew into the man we know. Into the man who taught us about God’s love. Into the man who healed the sick. Who dined with tax collectors and sinners. Into the man who suffered and died, and into the man who rose again, establishing forever that nothing, not one single thing, could ever separate us from our God. Nathanael was a skeptic. What he got was a shocking, challenging, trajectory-changing, life-altering awakening. Something good could come out of Nazareth. Indeed, goodness, mercy, love itself, God made flesh, could come out of Nazareth. Who was he to be doubter?
And friends, I have to tell you, I love Jesus’ response to Nathanael. Nathanael’s statement, his proclamation that now, here and now, he gets it, that he understands who Jesus is. And Jesus basically says “Not quite. You still don’t. Because I am the One to whom the angels attend. I am the One for whom heaven opens. I am the One who has come not simply to be a king of Israel, but to pull creation from the grip of death and despair and into salvation. I am the One in whom you will be restored to God. Something good can come out of Nazareth, and that something is better than anything you can imagine.”
And friends, the crazy thing for us is that, though we live 2,000 years later and are separated by an ocean, something good is still coming out of Nazareth. Jesus is alive. Jesus is moving. And Jesus is here. In His Church. With His people. How do I know this? Well, remember friends, I see God all the time. I see Jesus sweeping through with a message of love and grace every day. In our world. In our city. In our church. Can you see it? Can you see that something good is coming from Nazareth? Can you see that God is still moving, God is still acting, and that, even in these difficult times, something new and beautiful will doubtlessly break through?
I hope you can. I hope you don’t lose hope. But I also hope you understand that you, too, have a part to play in this. I hope you know that what remains for you to do isn’t to go off and save the world by yourself, but that you can be the instrument through which Jesus moves and acts in our world. I hope you remember that wherever, whatever, and whomever your Nazareth might be, that you entertain the possibility that something totally new, totally different, totally holy, and totally beautiful might be coming to you. And I hope, and I pray, that, in 2020, we Say Yes to Jesus. Because when we Say Yes to Jesus, what we are doing is saying Jesus to each other, trusting that the man from Nazareth is not on a cross, but is risen, and lives in the eyes, in the minds and in the hearts of each of us. Amen.
Thought for the Week Ahead:
“It looks like our mission statement is getting ready to come out of the frame and onto the streets!”