A Sermon for 14 January 2018
A reading from the gospel of John 1:43-51. Listen for God’s word to us.
“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.’”
This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!
I love that the first chapter of the gospel of John, unlike the other gospels, tells already of those who are curious. Curious about One being hailed by John the Baptizer as The Lamb of God! Curious about happenings that just might be, regardless of popular opinion. Curious about One who simply invites, saying: “Come and see.”
Who among us was taught at an early age to be curious? Especially about matters so momentous as encounter with the Divine. Movement of Spirit within. Beholding the Wonder of the World?!!! . . . Curiosity is the foundation of intelligence – not to mention an aspect that leads one off onto an amazing adventure through life. Consider a child who has inside the impetus to explore. Wander. Wonder. Even if that child doesn’t do as well as another who has rote memorization down pat for school tests; the curious child has a better shot in life at things like critical thinking, complex intellectual abilities, pure self-assurance deep down in their guts which leads to one being able to live their own life – not just swallow lies as fact. The curious child possesses the capacity truly to learn. To decide his or her own truth. To grow. To become.
Despite the age-old adage that curiosity killed the cat, curiosity is one of the key ingredients to the life of discipleship. Only one who is curious would be willing to heed when a man from Nazareth walks through the scene saying: “Come see.” Only one open to seek would be able to find where he was staying, as the gospel of John records in the part of the story right before Philip and Nathanael experience their own encounter. Only one wondering if there might be something more than what other outer authorities say would be able to journey with a man whose words sound strangely authentic.
The gospel of John begins with the beautiful declaration about the pre-existent Word of God – calling all things into being. Shining in the darkness. Born into the world with flesh and blood and the ability to be among men, women, and children in ways not fully beheld before. You might remember that the distinction between the Word and the man sent from God to make way for that word is woven together in the poetry of the gospel of John’s opening on the incarnation. John the Baptist’s testimony picks up next – his tangle with the Lawkeepers being outlined from the beginning. While he is surrounded by his disciples; the very next day, Jesus comes walking by. . . . Surely, the gospel of John makes a better theological claim than a geography lesson. The places named as locations on particular days hardly make much sense, unless Jesus is enlisting recruits for an Israeli power walking club. The story puts him first near Bethany outside Jerusalem. A few days later heading north to Galilee, where on the third day he attended a wedding in Cana, then head northeast to Capernaum, only to return south the hundred miles – most likely on foot – back to Jerusalem as Passover draws near. No birth narrative here. No angels announcing and dreams convincing or shepherds and Eastern magi on bended knee. No sooner does Jesus come walking by, than curious men – openminded men. Seekers, we might call them today, catch wind of this One and willingly join an adventure. They’re promised a path of witnessing. Beholding the work of God’s Lamb. Hooked, first Andrew and another inquire where he stays. Andrew grabs his brother Simon whose name right away is changed to Peter, and before all’s said and done one named Philip will find his friend Nathanael, inviting him on the uncertain voyage as well. Any perceived divide between heaven and earth is over, Jesus insists by his reference of the ladder climbed by angels from ancestor Jacob’s infamous dream. In their midst stands the full encounter with God. The Word en-fleshed to elicit response in the hearts of all who wonder. . . . Like the curious monkey named George in the children’s book series; the first few to be invited, seek. And according to the gospel of John, that curious nature is essential in disciples of Christ.
After this service of worship, Hillwood’s Renewal Team will have its first meeting. Pray for the five church members who set out today on this journey. Commissioned this fall by the session – before we got all caught up on the events of Thanksgiving and Advent and Christmas, your Renewal Team has committed to taking key learnings from the Vital Signs report of Hillwood’s Church Assessment Tool to begin forging a new trail for this church’s future. Your input on the Church Assessment Tool is telling a few of the first needed steps. When I spent some time with those again this week, it struck me that four of the five top matters connect to curiosity. They include: individuals wanting to know their particular gifts for ministry. Members accepting the responsibility of life-long spiritual formation. Helping you each know you are called to God’s ministry as you venture forth in the world. And providing a variety of experiences for you to deepen your knowledge and love of God. It’s exciting to me that these emphases touch at least three of the six factors which make for vital congregations today: life-long learning orientation, education and formation for complex lifestyles, and one that might require a little more courage for some of us: flexibility – making changes needed for the current context with as much ease as humanly possible. . . . Certainly, the curious men who first came-long with Jesus have a word for us as we undertake the process today!
In the few short weeks between now and Lent, we’re going to learn more of what they saw as they came along. We’ll hear the miraculous events they beheld. We’ll get their reactions – even be told how slow some were to accept. Our eyes remain ever on Jesus, God’s Lamb pointed out from the start by John the Baptist. But the curious ones who would follow also can capture our hearts. For if the first ones he came ‘round to invite were those open to the adventure of journey; certainly, he’s hoping for that very same curiosity in us today. Willingness to see where he’ll take us. Excitement that it’s larger than the way we already know. Wonder at what could be, despite evidence that wants to conclude otherwise. Perhaps curiosity can ignite in our spirits too. So that we keep on – or begin for the very first time – awakening to Spirit’s lead. Listening for what resonates within. Walking with eyes wide-open to behold what we’ve never seen before. With curiosity key to our being, ready to journey wherever he goes.
May it be so.
In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.
© Copyright JMN – 2018