Epiphany 2: Can anything good come out of Nazareth?

Sermon by The Reverend Christian Baron, Co-Rector, January 14, 2018, Epiphany 2, Year B, John 1:43-51

“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit

Good morning…. You probably all know this, but the readings that you hear each Sunday have been selected by a committee. The Revised Common Lectionary Committee chose the readings, on a three-year cycle a long time ago.

It was first set in 1969, updated in the seventies and eighties and the three-year cycle that we have now was set in 1994. So these readings that we just heard… including the gospel… were selected to be the readings for the 2nd Sunday after Epiphany for year B…

And that’s pretty boring…

unless you have watched the news in the past 72 hours.

Then, I think it is pretty exciting. But as you know… I’m kind of a Bible nerd. You can decide for yourself if the wisdom and intentionality of the Lectionary Committee, the global news, our local church calendar and the Spirit of God have collided in a way that is more than coincidental.

And, as I mentioned, today is the 2nd Sunday after the Epiphany. Epiphany was last Saturday, Jan 6. The readings for that day are on the three Magi… the three wise people who happened to be men, who travel from far away to pay homage to sweet baby Jesus. They follow the star and bring gifts to, whom the author of Matthew calls, Jesus, the king of the Jews.

Theologically, the Church interprets this as the Incarnation of God. The way that God has put on the flesh and bone of humanity. It’s a pretty big deal.

And then… on the first Sunday after the Epiphany… our text was from Mark on the baptism of Jesus. Jesus was at the Jordan with John and a whole bunch of Judeans… getting baptized.

Being washed and repenting.

And Jesus is picked and possessed by God. Anointed by baptism as other Kings and prophets had been throughout the holy scriptures.

This was THE moment for Jesus. This was his Epiphany.

The time where the heavens parted and he saw and heard a vision and a clear path forward.

And after church last week, one of you said this to me, “If God can choose Jesus to be picked and possessed… and if Mary can be picked and possessed… that’s terrifying… because that means he might pick and possess any one of us, at least if we are willing”

Wow! I’ve thought about that all week.

And since Jodi has been assembling all of the annual meeting things all week, I got tapped to preach again.

Which is fine. We both love preaching, and we both love tending to the administrative duties that help keep this place running, hopefully smoothly.

But for me, it was more than fine because of these texts. And on weeks that I preach, I read through the texts several times throughout the week.

I look at commentaries.

Sometimes I listen to Bible nerds talk about the texts on their podcasts. Or I call friends and we talk about Bible nerd stuff.

And when I RED the passage from First Samuel, I was so excited for two reasons:

#1. This text has always been personally very special to me. In college and before I was an Episcopalian, I found that Christianity wasn’t very useful to me. The stories were great and all, but I didn’t find the entire package very useful for me in my life. And after years of struggling with whether or not I wanted to be a part of the Church and of Christianity, I started to say this prayer to challenge God: “Speak Lord for your servant is listening.” The same prayer that Samuel prayed.

Sometimes that prayer was sincere. Other times it was meant to taunt God into action.

It was my mantra for years.
For at least 10 years, when I said prayers, this was the prayer that I prayed.

Speak Lord for your servant is listening.

#2. This passage is special to me because this was the passage that was read and preached on at my and Jodi’s ordination to the priesthood.

I listened to the sermon yesterday, delivered from our friend Jared Houze who lives in Texas. I listened to it as I was preparing for this sermon today. It was special three years ago and it was special to hear it yesterday.

And after reading the Samuel text all week… and listening to the sermon that was preached at my ordination to the priesthood, and after thinking about that conversation with one of you about being terrified of being picked and possessed…

I am blown away by Samuel’s Epiphany… About how Samuel was picked and possessed.

And if you take these few instances and place them next to each other, the Lectionary Committee, the Liturgical Seasons and the biblical passages that go along with it… it may just be a coincidence for me personally.

Maybe exciting to you… maybe not… Maybe worth preaching on… maybe not.

*** But… then I heard the comments on the news about El Salvador and Africa and Haiti.

These words shocked me.

Not because a naughty word was used. It takes a lot to make me blush.

But the more I thought about the words used and the underlying paradigm that was at the root of this fig tree, the more that I was able to have compassion… for the president and for those that his words resonated.

For people like… Nathaniel….

Can anything good come out of Nazareth?

Can anything good come out of Africa?

Can anything good come out of El Salvador?

Can anything good come out of Haiti?

And I am again, struck with the words spoken after church last week. If God can pick and possess Mary, and Jesus… then God can do that to me. God can pick and possess me. If I am willing.

Mary, Jesus, Samuel, Nathaniel. Philip. Andrew. Peter.

Christian… And, you can insert your own name to that list.

And if Nathaniel… a cynical and critical man… Who had written off a total group of people from a specific region… Nazareth… if he, through the intentioned and kind invitation of his friend Philip, St. Philip.

If he is able to have his own Epiphany and is able to have his mind totally changed… then… I have hope.

I have hope that even a multiple college-dropout… even a middle-aged priest from the region of Michigan known as Allendale… I have hope that maybe even a person like that can be picked and possessed.

Even he can be used by God to help usher in goodness and the Kingdom of God.

And if that is the case… then God can pick and possess any willing human being… elected officials included. If they are willing.
And if that wasn’t enough for us to feel like our real world has collided with the scripture chosen for today, I have one more significant incident to mention.

Today, after church, we will walk into the parish hall. We will eat and drink and laugh and look at our life together over the past year.

We will look at our family finances and report on the work that we have accomplished.

And we will choose… we will elect… we will pick… four members of our parish to be on the vestry.

To lead and guide us.

To put us in the way of the next divine collision so that we as a parish can be possessed by the God of the Universe.

And as we continue on our path as disciples of a rabbi from Nazareth… there will be no question of whether or not anything good can come from Benzie County.
Saint Philip is calling you to

“Come and See.”