Who Are you Going to Invite?

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John 1:43-51

“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

Nathaniel might as well have said that Nazareth is a decrepit village. Honestly, you cannot make this stuff up. Our lectionary, created over thirty years ago, once again speaks to the world around us.

You would think that our gospel lesson this morning was chosen to speak to disparaging comments that were made earlier this week. I cannot gloss over that fact and not look towards a gospel of hope in the midst of all of the hatred and fear that is visible in our world.

Jesus begins his ministry after baptism by inviting people to follow him. People just like you and me. People that are working to support their families and are coping with their own struggles and challenges. Jesus first calls Andrew to come and see. Andrew invites his brother, Simon Peter to come and see the Messiah that he has found. Following this, we hear from John the invitation of Jesus for Philip to follow him.

Once again, Philip follows Jesus’ example and finds Nathaniel and invites him to come and see the Son of Joseph from Nazareth. “He is the one that Moses spoke of in the law and also the prophets wrote about,” Philip tells him. It is here that we get our first dose of skepticism. You could even say that Nathaniel’s response to Philip hinges on sarcasm.

Nathaniel simply says, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Nazareth, a village of maybe 400 people at the most. It is not the capital of anything and is not even a village of great importance. Can anything good come out of such a town Nathaniel quips. This sarcasm could make us laugh, if we today did not hear similar remarks being uttered today.

At one time in our lives, I am sure that we have at least thought this about another place. This does not justify our own thoughts, or an elected leader saying it, nor is it following in the way of Jesus Christ.

I grew up in Charlotte. Not a large town in itself, however, it is a little larger than Richmond. We always complained that we would get overlooked by the local newspapers and news stations out of Lansing. We in turn would look towards our neighbors in Nashville, Vermontville, or Potterville and make fun of them and wonder ourselves, what good could come out of such little towns as those. They barely have any stop lights.

We could easily do the same thing around here with Memphis. This is where a lot of trouble starts. We think that everything on our side of the fence, or our side of the tracks is the best. We are skeptical of others that we do not know and fail to listen when it is necessary. We think we always have the right answers and everyone else is most likely wrong. We can mirror that same skepticism that Nathaniel modeled for us in the gospel lesson.

Our skepticism can even stretch to God. We each have our own preconceived notions of what God is and how God even acts in the world. These notions are based upon our upbringing and the families that we were raised. These notions leave little room for the mystery.

While Nathaniel was skeptical, he was still willing to listen. By reading our lesson, we know that he accepted Philip’s invitation to come and see. To at least come and see what Philip was talking about and to meet the guy named Jesus that claimed to be the Messiah.

Despite his sarcasm and skepticism, Jesus welcomes Nathaniel. Jesus speaks the truth to Nathaniel, just as Nathaniel speaks the truth in his own life. He is open to sharing of himself and his opinion. Jesus welcomes this openness and honesty, in the midst of skepticism. Jesus reveals that he had seen Nathaniel sitting under the fig tree and it is in this revelation that Nathaniel recognizes God.

One thing that is probably true about Nathaniel, was that he was well learned. Jesus’ reference to him sitting under the fig tree was a reference to someone at that time that had the time to study and become a scholar. Perhaps it was in his knowledge that made him a skeptic. It was in Jesus’ proclamation that his skepticism was washed away. Nathaniel was hungry to learn and now God had been revealed to him in Jesus, his own Epiphany.

Nathaniel now understands that his remarks about Nazareth were wrong. Yes, something good can come out of Nazareth. There is no where that God excludes from the Word. And in this promise, God is revealed throughout the world.

Many of us could point to the times that God has been revealed to us. Whether it be in other people, in nature, or in prayer. We too have been invited to come and see at least once in our lives. In that invitation, many of us have seen what the disciples and Jesus himself are talking about. For others, you may still be waiting and in your patience, Jesus is working around and within you.

Despite any criticism and skepticism that we may have, Jesus welcomes us into the fold, just as he has Nathaniel. The invitation to come and see is one that is open ended. Jesus does not tell us that we have to do this or do that. There are no mandates that we must follow. Just a simple invitation. An invitation to come and see.

Come and see God revealed in the ordinary.

Come and see love that is spread out for all, without exclusion.

Come and see a community that is built up to support and care for one another.

Come and see the saving grace and love that is poured out for all through Jesus’ death and the hope found in the resurrection.

We still have a lot to learn from Jesus Christ. The invitation that he places in front of us is not one that excludes. The invitation goes out to everyone, everywhere. To those living in Asia, Africa, South America, Haiti, or even right next door. If we could only be so bold to be as welcoming as Jesus. To show a love that knows no ends.

Who are you going to invite to come and see?

Let us pray, Jesus, we come to you this morning and pray for the revelation of your loved poured out for us in the invitation to come and see. A love that is for all people in all times and all places. A love that reveals a grace that forgives. Guide us in this time to open our hearts and minds to the possibility of inviting others to come and see. Amen.

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This Calling is Dirty!

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Mark 1:4-11

It is a rarity today for a person to start a career and stay employed with the same employer for their entire working life. I am a testament to that. Prior to my calling to become a pastor, I worked for four different companies. Throughout seminary, I had the opportunity to get experience working in different churches and hospitals. I know that it is true for me, but I am sure it is for you as well, when I say that there are days you wonder what you have gotten yourself into.

I recall a day while working as a chaplain that nothing seemed to be going right. I was assigned to the open heart surgery floor for my rotations and had already had a couple of deaths and it had been a very traumatic day in the emergency room. This was just during the day and I had the night shift as well. As I was settling down later in the evening to eat dinner, I received a page that a patient would like to see a chaplain. I placed my food back in the refrigerator in the sleep room and went to visit the patient. When I arrived on the floor I talked to the evening nursing staff and then went to visit the patient. I knocked on the door with no response. I said hello and as I walked in found the patient standing with their back to the door with not one piece of clothing or hospital gown covering them. Needless to say, I exited that room fairly quickly. After a day of wondering what I had got myself into, there are the lighthearted moments that allow you to laugh. I visited the same patient the next morning and had a wonderful discussion.

I have come to find out over the years that ministry is dirty. There are times when surprises come our way and times when you think that surely things could not get any worse. God is in the midst of it!

The bible, the stories of our ancestors in not neat and clean. It is real. It is earthy. It is full of muck and grime and it calls us, the people of God, to live in the midst of it. The story we hear this morning, is no different. The gospel lesson may sound familiar as we heard from part of it at the beginning of Advent as we were introduced to John the Baptist. John the Baptist, the last person we would expect to be carrying out the call to prepare the way of the Lord. Wearing camel fur, and eating locust and honey. Come to think of it, he kind of sounds like a modern day hipster!

While we heard from the gospel of Mark at the beginning of Advent, we now begin our journey with Mark for the remainder of the year, with the occasional excursion into the gospel of John. This is Mark’s introduction to Jesus. We do not get any of the birth story. We get a thirty year old Jesus that is just about to begin his ministry. Our short lesson this morning brings many questions to mind. Does Jesus need to be baptized? Does Jesus know what the journey ahead of him looks like? Is Jesus the only one that hears the voice coming from the heavens when he is baptized?

The answers to these questions are as numerous as the commentaries that are written to address them. I know one question that I have is: did the dove descend gently upon him, or did it dive bomb him? Now, I am serious about this. If you think about, there are times that we can sense that the Holy Spirit comes upon us when we are least expecting it and we are startled and our first reaction is to run for cover.

The Holy Spirit is always working in our lives, whether we are aware of it or not. Christ works within each of us, and it is up to each of us to acknowledge the movement that occurs within our lives. It may appear stronger at certain times than others. Regardless, Christ is present among and within us.

We fight it. We like to be autonomous and feel that we have complete control over everything. We are not going to let anyone or an inkling of the Holy Spirit guide us when we think we know the right direction. In this sense, we create our own muck and grime. We make things much more difficult for ourselves than what it should really be. We do it individually as well as collectively. We lose sight of the Christ that was born into our world to walk among us and to show us the way of love, and to remind us that we are loved. We look past the Christ that was baptized in the Jordan. We look past the Christ that reaches out to us that live among the messiness of the world and think that we are far better than any of it.

First, Jesus starts out with nothing. When he comes to John in the Jordan, he has no followers. He is following the calling from God to venture out from where he was. In this moment, he lets his guard down. In Mark’s gospel there is no discussion about who should be doing the baptizing. Does John even recognize Jesus right away?

Yesterday was Epiphany. It is the day that the Christ child is revealed to the Magi. Their journey led them to Emmanuel, God with us. In the Incarnation everything is revealed and they have now seen it for themselves. The God that has been revealed to the Magi in the Christ child has been around since the beginning of Creation. In Genesis we hear that the earth was a formless void and God creates out of the muck and grime. God brings the light to the world. A light that journeys with us from the very beginning. A light that brings the truth for all to see and follow. A light that is good! Very good! Jesus is that light.

It is revealed to us, the readers of Mark’s gospel, in the heavens being torn open. God is at work. The dove descending is a sign of the Holy Spirit at work with Jesus. A completion of the Holy Trinity! And Jesus is not one to sit up on a throne or position of leadership to declare himself the best and declare his sovereignty. Jesus comes down to the people. The ones that are hungry and poor. The ones that are looked down upon by those in authority. Jesus comes to bring change to a world so much in need.

The New Oxford Annotated Bible points out that: “Jesus himself is baptized into the renewal movement that began before him.” The journey of Israel and the stories in the Torah, the prophets, and even John the Baptizer all bring us to God working in our midst. Jesus is the continuation of this story. The awesome thing is, that Jesus is not contained to just this one moment. As the heavens are torn open, and God’s son revealed to us, we will again be reminded of this at his crucifixion. If you remember, the curtain is torn in two as Jesus breathes his last. A reminder of God’s love poured out for us.

As God is revealed to us in Jesus’ baptism, we can experience the same thing in ours. While, the majority of you cannot remember your baptism, we are reminded of it every time we come up for communion and dip our fingers into the baptismal font and mark the sign of the cross on ourselves. We are reminded every time we take part in the Thanksgiving for Baptism. There is power in our baptisms. God is being revealed to us. Our own little epiphanies. An epiphany that we are called to go out and share with others.

Lenny Kravitz wrote a song titled Baptized. The lyrics can speak to us

I don’t want to look around
And be turned to stone
All my darkest days awoken
I’m looking for a new way
I can’t make it on my own
Lead me to a place wide open

I need a love that takes me higher
So high I’m never coming down

I don’t want to know emptiness
Take me down to the water
want to be baptized in your love
Far away from the loneliness
Take my heart and wash away the fear
Let me be baptized in your love

In our baptisms, we are reminded that we are loved. Loved by a God that came to us in Jesus Christ to be in the same muck and grime that we find ourselves. Not a Jesus that is self-righteous, but a Jesus that is present for sinners that live in a broken world. A Jesus that embraces every little fault that exists with us and loves us regardless. In our baptisms we meet God present within us and that revelation is just the beginning. A reminder of creation from the very beginning where the light shone out of the darkness. Those words we hear proclaimed to Jesus, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased,” are also spoken to each one of us in our baptisms. You are loved! Each and everyone of you!

Let us pray. God of the waters, may you wash over us and bring us to new life through the waters of baptism. In the waters may your love be revealed for us and all of humanity. May we be bold to carry the proclamation forward this season of Epiphany as we invite others to join us in discipleship. Amen.