When in doubt…let the Gospel shout!

The following is the text from sermons that were preached at both services January 14. 

What a week this has been! Faith 5 begins with talking about our highs and lows. And my low this week is not only did the Gospel pinch me – I feel like it smacked me upside the head.

In a commentary written for WorkingPreacher.org on this passage the writer quotes from Martin Luther King Jr’s book Stride Towards Freedom where he writes about his “vision in the kitchen”

“I was ready to give up. With my cup of coffee sitting untouched before me, I tried to think of a way to move out of the picture without appearing a coward.”

I’m feeling ya, Dr. King, I’m feeling ya!  Because I am looking for the coward’s way out.

And on this weekend, when we remember Martin Luther King, Jr.

AND when comments are purportedly made by our president questioning the immigration status of some TPS countries as reported by news outlets and verified by some of those in attendance

AND when John 1:43-51 has been assigned for this day based on a lectionary that was first devised over three decades ago

AND in which Nathaniel asks, “can anything good come out of Nazareth”

It has not escaped me or about a ba-jillion of my colleagues that Haiti and African nations with TPS can easily be inserted into that question.

And I know that the opinions of those who are hear today run the entire gamut. And I know that I will upset some and make others very happy.

And I know that I’m not going to “win” this one either way – whether I say something or not. So here goes…

When in doubt OR in my case, looking for the coward’s way out, let the GOSPEL shout!

Let the Gospel shout! Throw Jesus under the bus because I’m not going to be the one getting run over.

WIGIAT! Where is God in all of this? (asking that question in adult forum).

In other words, where is faith and life intersecting?

How does an incident that was written about 2000 years ago inform us here in the 21st century?

For me, the answer begins with a question — WDJD – What did Jesus do? Or didn’t do as is sometimes the case.

So let’s back up and see how this whole thing got started 2000 years ago.

“Come and see” – three words, each one syllable, not one longer than four letters – “come and see.” It seems so simple, so easy to say: “come and see.”

I think that it is always interesting to look into what the scripture DOESN’T say – like it doesn’t say how many times Jesus gave this simple invitation to complete and total strangers.

Scripture doesn’t say if anyone ever turned him down – though there is a good chance there were people who turned him down. Don’t the experts say that it can take anywhere from 4 to 8 invitations from a friend – let alone some guy that you don’t know – 4-8 invitations before a friend will come with you to church?

And I’m sure that Jesus heard all the usual excuses – no time; conflict of interest,  kids have too many after-school activities, we have company coming over,  have too much going on at work just to drop everything and follow someone around that I don’t even know… you know – all the usual stuff!

And something else that scripture DOESN’T say – it doesn’t say that Jesus got upset at the rejection. We don’t hear him wishing for a fancy church building and 1000 at worship every Sunday spread over five services.

Jesus just keeps on going – walking from town to town – and when he notices that some of John the Witness’s disciples are following him – again he offers the invitation to “come and see.”

And they respond. One’s name is Andrew and he goes and tells his brother Peter and then brings his brother to see Jesus.

And the very next day – Jesus is moving onto Galilee – Jesus finds Phillip and says “follow me” and he does. So now Jesus has three friends – Andrew, Peter and Phillip. But Phillip, who by now is thinking something really amazing is going on here – goes and tells his best friend, Nathaniel.

And Nathaniel isn’t exactly interested. He doesn’t drop everything and say, “I’m in, let’s roll.” As a matter of fact, the only response that he DOES have is a snarky, sarcastic remark – Nazareth? Yeah, right – LOSER! Whatever!!

“Can anything good come out of Nazareth…or Haiti…or South Sudan…or…northern Virginia…or insert any place of wilderness you would like to name…

But before we get to “what did Jesus do” we have Philip.

Now, Phillip could have done all sorts of things in reaction to Nathaniel’s flip retort, “does anything GOOD come out of Nazareth?” Think for a minute how you might have reacted.

“Suit yourself…” or maybe responded with your own “whatever!” Rolled your eyes? Walk away hurt? Phillip must have known what kind of personality that Nathaniel had – they were friends. And yet, Phillip took the chance and didn’t get defensive and didn’t back down.

“Come and see.” Check it out for yourself. See what you think. Give it a chance.

This passage is about invitation. Phillip never tried to push it down Nathaniel’s throat. There was no questions, like “have you been saved?” or “have you taken Jesus as your personal lord and savior?” No getting in his face.

Just a simple, “come and see.” That is all that we are called to say and do – simply invite people to come and hear the word of God. The rest is up to the Holy Spirit – it’s his job to soften hearts and open ears – not ours. We are simply called to invite and to share the opportunity to hear a word of grace.

Come and see…

And here is where it gets really interesting…and a place from which we can take our cues…

Come and see how Jesus responds.

Jesus SEES Nathaniel… really sees Nathaniel. And doesn’t take the bait of the insult but rather calls Nathaniel “brother” and compliments him. N

ot in a superficial way but sincerely – in my brother there is no guile –he speaks his mind and shoots from the hip. No fancy word play or trickery here. You know where you stand with this one.

Jesus maintains focus on what really matters to him – pointing to God and being the best messiah that he can be. No snarky 1st century tweet to derail what is important.

Jesus SAW Nathaniel and KNEW him even before Nathaniel was cognizant of being known.

And Jesus makes him a promise: Brother, you’re going to see GREAT things: heaven opened, angels descending and ascending upon the Son of Man.

How beautifully and wondrously gracious our Lord is to Nathaniel. And Jesus doesn’t waste time on the question of whether Jesus is good or not.

Jesus doesn’t it let it to cause him to lose focus on what’s important and vital to the mission.

When Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Easton responded, I was struck that she allowed all of two sentences that addressed what President Trump did or did not say. Rather she spent loads of sentences reminding us of our focus:

“…we should be fostering a world where each of us sees every person – regardless of race, origin, ethnicity, gender or economic status – in the image of God and, therefore, worthy of dignity and respect. Our church has relationships and partnerships with Christians and others on six continents. These are our sisters and brothers. We strive to accompany them and they us, across boundaries and cognizant of our diversity, yet all seeking the common good. In working for a healed, reconciled and just world, we all should faithfully strive to participate in God’s reconciling work, which prioritizes disenfranchised, vulnerable and displaced people in our communities and the world, bearing witness – each of us – to the love of God in Jesus Christ.

“We have before us the glorious opportunity to inject a new dimension of love into the veins of our civilization” —Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

As he concluded his “vision in the kitchen” from Strive for Freedom “I experienced the Divine as I had never experienced God, “Stand up for justice, stand up for truth and God will be on your side forever.”

And our baptismal covenant calls us to strive for justice and peace in all the earth.

And we will see heaven opened. And the Gospel – the Good news of Jesus Christ – pinches us, runs us over and shouts: to God be the Glory!




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