ACCEPTING THE INVITATION
January 18, 2015 by Ken Dale
Next Sunday?s gospel reading brings us back to Mark as Jesus begins calling people to follow him. He calls Simon and Andrew who are casting their nets and well ? you know that line that says I will make you fishers of people. Per usual John?s gospel is a bit different ? Andrew is standing with John who calls Jesus ?Lamb of God? as he passes by. So Andrew follows Jesus and eventually goes to get his brother Simon and when he meets Jesus he gets his name changed to Peter. The next day they?re on their way to Galilee which is our reading this morning. As we heard, Jesus comes upon Philip and invites him to follow. Philip finds Nathanael and tells him about this Jesus of Nazareth. Nathanael?s response? ?Can anything good come out of Nazareth??
Fred Buechner captures the encounter with these words: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Nathaniel said. Or Podunk maybe? Brooklyn? Philip told him to come take a look for himself then, but Jesus got a look at Nathaniel first as he came puffing down the road toward him, nearsighted and earnest, with his yarmulke on crooked, his dog-eared Torah under his arm. “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no [deceit],” Jesus said. Nathaniel was sweating like a horse. His thick specs were all fogged up. His jaw hung open. He said, “How do you know me?” His astonishment made him stammer. “Before Philip called you,” Jesus said, “when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” It was all it took apparently. “Rabbi!” Nathaniel’s long black overcoat was too tight across the shoulders and you could hear a seam split somewhere as he made an impossible bow. “You are the Son of God,” he said. “You are the King of Israel.” “Because I said I saw you under the fig tree, do you believe?” Jesus said. There was more to it than parlor tricks. He said, “You shall see greater things than these.” But all Nathaniel could see for the moment, not daring to look up, were his own two shoes, pigeon-toed in the dust.
It seems Nathanael is the type of person who will tell you what?s on his mind but he is also quite open to having his mind changed. He quickly decides that something very good has come out of Nazareth. It?s that question of worth that we often ask, isn?t it? Nathanael begins with the question ?Can anything good come out of Nazareth?????? Nathaniel is asking ?Is he worth my time, energy, maybe commitment ? can this guy from Nazareth be worth it???? And the response from Philip is ?Come and see!?
How often it is that people are prejudged for some reason ? based on where they came from geographically as we have here. Perhaps it happens based on their family of origin and they get written off as failures before they have a chance to succeed ? perhaps because of struggles of past generations. Maybe the reason is faith-based that because they are Christian, Muslim, Jewish or whatever ? even Baptist or Congregationalist or Catholic ? we think we know all about them. Or something in their past history that we are aware of. Like Nathaniel we may find ourselves saying or thinking ?Can anything good come out that faith, that religion, that family, that state or town, or community, or nation?? Or insert any of the ?isms? — I think the point is clear.
We are living in a time when it could be too easy to think just because people are part of a certain population of people on this earth we can judge them ? make conclusions about them. What an interesting point is made with the current situation at Duke University and the dilemma around the use of the chapel there. Franklin Graham spoke against the Muslim call to prayer citing the extremist activity such as ISIS. At a rally at Duke on Friday one Christian student chose to stand with the Muslims saying one religion should not silence another. Not all Muslims choose to silence Christians ? not all Christians choose to silence Muslims. This dilemma has so many varied contexts in today?s world.
How we need to hear that voice that says ?Come and see.? How we need to be willing to take the time to know others and know them beyond their appearance, their history, their family, their ?whatever? that may keep us from really knowing them. How can we not remember Martin Luther King Jr?s hope in his I Have a Dream speech when he said: I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. It takes time to know one?s character. If we look around we see that God calls some pretty unusual people to do God?s work ? maybe even people as unusual as us.
Come and see! That?s Philip?s invitation to Nathanael. Philip doesn?t force him or threaten him ? he simply invites him. And he invites him out of his own excitement for who he has found and what he believes about who he has found. What a difference it would make if we would do that with and for each other ? what wonderful ways that would build community in any setting. And what a difference it would make if we would be that excited about our faith ? and share it. I don?t think God in Christ would have us force our faith ? our truth, on others. Nor should our faith pose any threats to others. ?Just invite them to come and see for themselves. What a difference it could make in the life of the one we invited. What a difference it might make in the life of the one extending the invitation.
I close with a favorite story that I heard many years ago that has always stuck with me in so many ways and speaks in so many ways: “Tell me the weight of a snowflake,” a coalmouse asked a wild dove. ?”Nothing more than nothing,” the dove answered. “In that case I must tell you a marvelous story,” the coalmouse said.?? “I sat on a fir branch close to the trunk when it began to snow.? Not heavily, not in a raging blizzard.? No, just like in a dream, without any violence at all.? Since I didn’t have anything better to do, I counted the snowflakes settling on the twigs and needles of my branch.? Their number was exactly 3,471,952.? When the next snowflake dropped onto the branch–nothing more than nothing–as you say–the branch broke off.” Having said that, the coalmouse ran away. The dove, since Noah’s time an authority on peace, thought about the story for a while.? Finally, she said to herself, “Perhaps there is only one person’s voice lacking for peace to come to the world.”
Perhaps our invitation to ?come and see? is all that is lacking for peace or faith to come into someone?s life ? and perhaps that one person is the one that combined with others will make the difference in a larger setting.