Friday, February 16, 2018

Listen to the Voice

This is the sermon I preached on Sunday, 2/11/18 at St. Timothy Lutheran Church. The text is Mark 9:2-9.

The other night, Ray and I were watching the old tv show, “The Twilight Zone” on Netflix. The story was about a man from the 1800s, Wild West, who was suddenly transported to 20th century, downtown Manhattan. At night, he was surrounded by cars with horns blaring, buses, bright neon lights flashing and so on. It was more than he could stand and he nearly went out of his mind.

What if the scene were reversed? What if someone from our time found him or herself as a witness of Jesus’ transfiguration? We can explain so much in our world—from volcanoes to northern lights to germs and disease transmission. What do we do when we are confronted with something so amazing, otherworldly and unexplainable?

Three of the disciples went with Jesus to a high mountain. This tips us off that something big is going to happen. Throughout scripture important revelations happen on mountains. Moses was commissioned on Mt. Horeb and received the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai.

Moses represents the law, while Elijah represents the prophets. Both ascended to God at their deaths, as will Jesus. Their very appearance exceeds the limits of what’s usually thought of as possible.

In scripture, there are numerous signs of God’s presence. The cloud is one such mysterious sign. Additionally, the mountain, the light and the voice tell us God is there. The dazzling white clothing too signals the presence of God or God’s agent.  There are many more connections to experiences in the Hebrew Scriptures, with which the disciples would be well aware.

Transfiguration literally means to change figure or form. Jesus’ appearance was changed, but not that of Moses or Elijah. Here, the disciples, Mark’s audience and we are allowed a glimpse of the true glory of Jesus. His transfiguration anticipates his resurrection.

Peter liked what was happening and wanted the mountain-top experience to continue. His attempt to capture the moment, reduces it to a mere photo opportunity. Peter is rejecting the suffering that lies ahead, but is eager to welcome the glory.

We struggle with wanting the mountain-top experience to continue today as well. Many of us want glory without the cross, but they are inseparable. I will not name names, but there are those preachers who tell you that you can have everything now. You don’t have to suffer in this life because Jesus has already suffered for you. They claim it is your own fault if you are struggling. That is heresy! If that was true, many faithful followers of Christ throughout the centuries, including the disciples, would not have suffered so horribly for the faith. Do we think we are better and more learned than they? I have heard some preach that we have a greater revelation of God’s truth than even the Apostle Paul, which is why they say he suffered for the faith.

After this great experience of the Transfiguration, with a conference between Moses, Elijah and Jesus, Jesus will walk the way of the cross to suffer and die. We too must follow the way of the cross and not the way of glory.

As Martin Luther wrote:
           
That person does not deserve to be called a theologian who looks upon the »invisible« things of God as though they were clearly »perceptible in those things which have actually happened« (Rom. 1:20; cf. 1 Cor 1:21-25), he deserves to be called a theologian, however, who comprehends the       visible and manifest things of God seen through suffering and the cross. A theology of glory calls evil good and good evil. A theology of the cross calls the thing what it actually is. (Heidelberg Disputation)

The offer of a gospel of success is an invitation into what theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr described as “a kingdom without judgment through a Christ without a cross.”

This is where the heavenly voice comes in. 7”Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!’”  Haven’t we heard this before? Well, we nearly have. At Jesus’ baptism, the Father says Jesus is the Son, the Beloved. Then God said, “…with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11). Jesus was the One being addressed. In today’s gospel, it is the disciples who are being addressed and the heavenly Father’s voice ends with “…listen to him” (v. 7). The Greek word for “listen,” is a present tense, imperative verb, implying continuing action: “Keep on listening to him: or “Continue to listen to him.”

Peter, James and John were not with Jesus at his baptism because they had not yet become his followers. These words of the Father were new for these disciples. This moment of glory accompanied by the voice allows us to remember Jesus’ baptism and anticipate the final triumph of Christ, the glorious king.

Where do we hear the voice? We hear it in scripture. We hear it in music and preaching and our fellowship together. We may have a spiritual dream. We may hear God’s voice as we are lifted out of depression by the words of a brother or sister. And God speaks to us in unexpected ways as well, as long as we are open to listen.

We listen to him when we proclaim the gospel in word and deed by feeding the hungry, visiting the prisoners, clothing the naked, healing the sick, forgiving those who have offended us and seeking to be peacemakers in our communities. How can we be silent when we have seen the glory of Christ and are being transformed? (Rhonda Garrison Haynes).

8”Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus” (v. 8). Can you imagine that? After what has transpired, to have it all gone and there is simply Jesus.

Moses and Elijah have disappeared. Their appearance with Jesus says that he was the messiah and that the end times are fulfilled in him. The fact that they disappear, leaving Jesus alone, says that the old has ended and the new has come. Jesus incarnated the missions of Moses the law giver and Elijah, the first of the prophets.

Jesus does not escape with his heavenly visitors to glory, but remains to complete his journey to Jerusalem and the cross. He stays behind, so that he is with his disciples then and now. Jesus does not abandon them, expecting them or us to go it alone.

Initially, the disciples were told to be quiet and not let anyone know what they had seen. But that was not the end of the matter. After the resurrection, the church is let in on the secret and becomes the dwelling that Peter thought to erect. The disciples were to wait until after Jesus was raised from the dead, when they could really understand what had happened.They were then prepared to share the good news.

As we listen to the beloved Son of God, he will direct our ways so that we too may share the good news. Just as Jesus was transfigured, we are transformed so that God may use us to transform the world. But we must know what aspect of the good news one needs to hear. For the hungry, a sandwich is good news. For the drowning, a rope or life-jacket is good news. This morning, if our ears were open, we heard about the 5 & 2 Ministry, which is good news to change the lives of children in our community. God has given us this opportunity to be his hands and feet in Bemus Point and elsewhere.

If you have not checked out the information about 5 & 2, do so today. I’m sure Laurie will be around after worship and can help you to take advantage of this ongoing venture.

Listen to God’s beloved Son. Be transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit and go out from this place as those who are willing and enabled to transform our world.

Amen.

Resources

Fred B. Craddock, Preaching Through the Christian Year B
Beverly Gaventa, Texts for Preaching: A Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV-Year B
Rhonda Garrison Haynes, asmweb.org/epiphany-season-year-b#Transfiguration
Barbara Kay Lundblad, huffingtonpost.com/Barbara-Kay-lundblad/mark -9-2-9-visions-on-the-mountain_b_html
Martin Luther, The Heidelberg Disputation
Brian Stoffregen, crossmarks.com

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Astounded and Amazed

This is the sermon I preached on Sunday, 1/28 at St. Timothy Lutheran Church. The text was Mark 1:21-28


So far in Epiphany, Jesus has been revealed as the King of the Jews, the Son of God, the Lamb of God, the Messiah, a preacher and one who calls disciples. Today we have learned that he’s a teacher and exorcist and we hear a new title, the Holy One of God.

Today’s gospel takes place in Capernaum, Jesus’ base of operations. Although Nazareth was his hometown, Capernaum was his base. On the screen, you see ruins of a synagogue in Capernaum from the 4th or 5th century, A. D. It is built on the foundations of a 1st-century synagogue, likely the one from today’s gospel. It is one of the few places today in the Holy Land where you can be where Jesus had actually walked. Capernaum was also where Peter was from and there are ruins of his house there as well.

Now we need to change gears to have a better understanding of this story. Let’s talk about food!

How do we eat sandwiches? As children, we may want the crusts cut off. Very small children may pull a sandwich apart, eat the inside and then the bread. But generally, we eat a sandwich as is, all together.

Well, today’s gospel reading is a Markan sandwich…meaning that a set of verses begin and end with similar material, with something different in the middle. Just as most of us eat a sandwich, so today’s gospel reading must be understood as a whole and not just the individual parts.

Nevertheless, here are the parts:
1.    Jesus teaches with authority and the crowd is amazed (vv. 21, 22).
2.    An unclean spirit cries out and Jesus demonstrates his authority over the spirit (vv. 23-26).
3.    The crowd is amazed and comments that he teaches with authority (vv. 27, 28).

The commonality in each part of the Markan sandwich is the emphasis on Jesus’ authority, which is what must be chewed over.

As any good Jewish male would do, Jesus went to the synagogue on the sabbath. That Jesus taught in the synagogue would not have seemed odd or unusual. He took advantage of the sabbath, the day the faithful ones meet, to teach them, as a trustworthy Jew who has a word for the people.

But there was something very special about the way he spoke, “as one having authority” (v. 22). That does not mean he was simply a dynamic teacher compared with the scribes. After all, the scribes were regarded as important, knowledgeable teachers in the Jewish community. They were not mere secretaries, but official scholars of scripture and Jewish tradition. However, they also were part of the opposition to Jesus and later to the early church. The issue between Jesus and the scribes is not how they teach, but who represents the authority of God. Who is speaking for God? Full of the Holy Spirit, Jesus speaks as the king of the ages, appointed by God. This authority is a “willingness or right that has everything to do with seeing justice served” (Graves).

Now let’s go the filling of Mark’s sandwich, Jesus’ encounter with an unclean spirit. Unclean in scripture means ritually impure in comparison to the Holy Spirit. Jesus is the Holy One in contrast to the unholy spirit possessing the man. The spirit is reacting to Jesus’ teaching. It responded immediately giving voice to what may well have been the concerns of the crowd: What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?, Have you come to destroy us?, and I know who you are, the Holy One of God.

The unclean spirit demonstrates how public honor, reputation and status worked in Jesus’ day. It begins by using public information to show that it knows who Jesus is. “I know who you are (socially) Jesus of Nazareth.” But then the spirit reveals information that is not public knowledge, that which is known only in the spiritual realm. “I know who you are (spiritually)—the Holy One of God.” It is this spiritual status that is the source of Jesus’ authority. The demons had a better idea of who Jesus was than many humans.

“Have you come to destroy us?” (V. 24). Why the change from the singular to the plural? This spirit represents every manifestation of evil: sickness, sin, death and the whole kingdom of evil. Jesus is encountering the entire demonic world.The demons know they are already defeated. Jesus commands them with a simple word and they are gone. Jesus restores the man to his community. Here we see that the final victory of God over demonic evil is already present in Jesus’ ministry. And yet, there is still evil at work in the world. Read the paper. Watch or listen to the news or read it online. It is the case of experiencing the now, but not yet of the fullness of God’s kingdom

Ultimately, when Jesus speaks, evil flees. As Martin Luther wrote, “Jesus has freed us from sin, death, and the power of the devil.”

We are likely unfamiliar with the language of exorcism, but a mini-exorcism is included in our baptismal rite. We hear, “Do you renounce the devil and all the forces that defy God?” The response is, “I renounce them.” “Do you renounce the powers of this world that rebel against God.” “I renounce them.” “Do you renounce the ways of sin that draw you from God?” “I renounce them” (P. 229, ELW).

As we go to the last part of our sandwich, what is Jesus’ new teaching? “The kingdom of God is near” is reminiscent of John the Baptist’s call to repentance. It can’t be that. What is new is the authority behind Jesus’ words. Things happen when Jesus speaks and teaches. His word is powerful. In this case, Jesus’ word freed a man who had been enslaved by a demon.
That word of Jesus is novel because it produces healing. “That word liberates the earth from the forces of evil and makes our world habitable for…human being[s]…that word guides the church to create spaces of freedom and places of healing and communion” (Ofelia Ortega).

Jesus speaks truth because he is the Truth. He speaks for God because he is God. He speaks the Word of God because he is the Word of God. Jesus is the authority and so speaks with authority (Westphal). It all comes as a result of who he is.

There are powers in our world today that work to make people’s lives miserable; to rob them of the abundant life God desires for them. What forces promote hunger and poverty? What systemic issues and structures make it harder for those who suffer with addiction? What about the intoxicating power that causes the powerful to abuse others sexually?

God stands steadfastly against all forces that are keeping you, as God’s people, down as well. God is opposed to anything and everything that robs you of abundant life. God will do battle with those who seek to rob you of joy, meaning and purpose. God is committed to doing this for you and for all God’s children (Lose).

Jesus has authority over all those things. Didn’t Jesus give his disciples the same authority as they were sent out to preach and heal? And we, in baptism, as children of God, with the Holy Spirit abiding and working in and through us, don’t we have authority to speak the power of the kingdom of God against the kingdoms of this world? What do you think the Christian witness of Jesus and God’s people can bring to these and other situations?

There is an opportunity that has fallen into our laps at St. Timothy, to exercise authority over the demon of hunger for children right here in Bemus Point. I know it’s hard for some of us to believe that we have those in need in our area, but we do. St. Timothy participates with the 5 & 2 Ministry. The title refers to the feeding of the 5,000 later in Mark, where Jesus fed the multitude with 5 loaves and 2 fish and had leftovers. If you look in our front entryway, you will see a black container. That’s where specified contributions of food can be put. It is then collected and privately distributed to school children to bring food home for the weekend. You will see a pile of cards like this one. On it is the list of what foods in what amounts are needed. Please take one or more. Share them with friends and neighbors.

There is a song the praise band has sung that illustrates what God is calling us to. Think about these words this week and see how God speaks to you:

God put a million, million doors in the world
For His love to walk through
One of those doors is you
I said God put a million, million doors in the world
For His love to walk through
One of those doors is you.

We bring the kingdom come…
With every act of love
Jesus, help us carry You
Alive in us, Your light shines through
With every act of love
We bring the kingdom come (Jason Gray).

Amen.


References

M. Eugene Boring, Mark

M. Eugene Boring and Fred B. Craddock, The People’s New Testament

Fred B. Craddock, Preaching Through the Christian Year B

David Ewart, holytextures.com

Mike Graves, Ofelia Ortega, in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, 
Feasting on the Word,

Year B, Volume 1

David Lose, Epiphany 4B-Against the Robbers, davidlose.com

Martin Luther, The Small Catechism

Bruce J. Malina, Social Science Commentary on the Gospels




David Westphal, 2018 Epiphany Devotions, Saturday, January 27

Thursday, January 25, 2018

A Fishy Story

This is the sermon I preached at St. Timothy Lutheran Church on Sunday, 2/21/18. The text was Mark 1:14-20.         
                                          
Ok, I know I’m not the only one who thinks there’s something fishy about today’s gospel. Are we to really believe that these four prospective disciples would instantly drop everything and follow Jesus—and do this at night, since that’s when fishing took place to get the fish to market while they were fresh. 

Jesus came to Galilee with the message, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near” (v. 15). This does not refer to the regular tick-rock, minutes and seconds kind of time, but God’s time—the opportune, royal time of God’s action and activity. God is getting involved.

The kingdom of God language evoked Israelite memory of a time of political independence. God’s rule would usher in an age of justice and peace according to the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 52:7). According to Mark, this kingdom is “of God.” It is a realm in which life belongs to and reflects God. Jesus’ parables suggest the hidden presence of the kingdom’s beginning. Its arrival seems both inevitable and outside of human control. 

The word translated as kingdom is complex. It does not solely refer to either the church or the afterlife, but to a life wholly transformed by the death and resurrection of Jesus's Christ. It is not a place, but God’s new way of ruling a world of sinners through the Messiah/King Jesus as opposed to the old way through the law, through judging and administering justice against sinners. The bottom line is, Jesus is the king and where the king is, there is the kingdom—in heaven, in you, in me—in all of us together. 

The kingdom has come near is the refrain of Jesus—where the work of God is done among the people of God, there the kingdom of God can be found. It is the heart of Jesus’ message. This phrase located the realm of God, this defining moment and space is near. It also means that an action has now begun and is yet unfinished. Mark’s view is that the kingdom is future, but so near that it already affects the present. 

When Jesus called Simon and Andrew, they were busy fishing. They were not looking for a religious or life-altering experience. They were doing pretty well for themselves. After all, they had a good occupation, living right on the Lake of Galilee with plenty of fish to be caught. 

Then unexpectedly, there was Jesus calling to them to follow him. There was no time to think over this proposition, no invitation to take your time. Just go. This was certainly unexpected and undeserved. Here we see an epiphany that demanded an immediate response.  

They “immediately left their nets and followed [Jesus]” (v. 18). Immediately is a word Mark uses repeatedly in his gospel. It is Mark’s indication of the urgency of Christ’s call to his hearers. It appears twice in today’s reading and 27 times in Mark’s gospel, not counting all the uses of “at once.”

Now there’s a lot Mark doesn’t tell us. Were Simon and Andrew, James and John dissatisfied with their occupation?  Did they have a previous knowledge of Jesus? We don’t know the answers to these questions, but we do know that there was something compelling enough in Jesus’ voice to draw them to him immediately. 

As I noted in this week’s e-ministry, Mark’s gospel is like the hurry-up offense in football when there are only two minutes remaining in the quarter of a game. This is why we stand each week for the gospel reading—so that we are on our feet, ready to follow our Lord wherever he leads us. 

The literal meaning of the word “follow” is to “come behind.” “Come behind me” may be a way of saying, “Make Jesus the most important thing in your life.” Besides the meaning of the Greek, it has a figurative meaning of being a disciple.

Jesus tells Simon and Andrew that they will fish for people. We have in early Christian imagery baptism as water, believers as water-dwellers, the net as the gospel, and the boat as the church. There was an early Christian creed, “Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Savior.” The Greek for this presents the acronym which spells the Greek word for fish. The imagery of fish abounds in many ancient Christian icons and elsewhere. 

Mark tells us just a little more about James’ and John’s situation. They were well off enough to own a boat and have hired servants. At the word of Jesus, they left it all behind—the boat, their family, and the hired men! Most of us have not experienced this degree of changing our lives. 

Both sets of men immediately obeyed the call of Jesus. The could not pretend, ignore or avoid the moment. This was no time to procrastinate. They respond not with fear or flight, but with faith and trust. They believe this call is good news. They freely follow Jesus, confident of the future that is in the hands of the One who could be counted on no matter what. The new disciples have entered into a new reality where they can give themselves away in love to their neighbors, so they too may believe that “the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near.

As a second career pastor, I can imagine just a tiny bit of what these disciples experienced—our departure from Rhode Island to go to seminary wasn't nearly as sudden. We moved quite a bit—from Rhode Island to Gettysburg for two years, from Gettysburg to West Virginia for a year of internship, then back again to Gettysburg for my senior year of seminary. That wasn’t the end of the moves either—we moved from Gettysburg to Portville into a house for a short time, then from that house to another house. Since our time at Gettysburg, our most recent and last move, from Portville to Bemus Point, is the place we’ve been the longest—3 years. 

However, this pales in comparison to these disciples’ responses of sudden departures, leaving everything, to start a life on the road, relying only on the generosity of strangers and God’s providence. Jesus’ disciples had no salary, parsonage or pension—they just picked up and left the only life they’d ever known and followed Jesus. 

What would make you leave what you know and venture out in quest of something new? For my son, Christian, it was being pursued by a company that wanted him enough, that they made it inviting enough position-wise and financially, to pack up and move from Syracuse to Kansas City. 

When we fall in love and get married, it sometimes means a geographical move along with other changes in our lives. We may not want to leave our family and friends, but we are willing to do so to be with our beloved. 

This Sunday we have heard Jesus call his disciples to repent, believe and follow him. This is the same call for us as well. When Jesus calls us, our lives are immediately altered by the preaching of the word. We are to “repent, and believe in the good news” (v. 15). Repentance does not mean feeling bad or guilty. It does mean to turn around and change direction, to change one’s behavior. A whole range of feelings may accompany repentance from sorrow over past deeds to joy for new options, to confidence for finding firm ground. 

Believing in the good news is better translated “Trust in the good news.” It’s not a matter of having an opinion about the good news, but responding to a call for a radical, total, unqualified basing of our lives on the good news; a living into the good news. 

There are those times when your response is outside of your control. I vividly remember when I was in labor with my first child, Sarah. The closer I got to her being born, the more I thought that there is absolutely nothing I can do to stop this. I am going to be a parent and it is completely outside of my control. It is happening, no matter what. 

This is perhaps what it was like for the disciples in Mark. If the heavens are ripped apart, then you’d better get ready for a wild ride. This is “simultaneously freeing and terrifying. We are free to respond and yet terrified of how the future may unfold (Karoline Lewis). 

Have any of us ever experienced that sudden urgent need to respond to something we have a feeling God is calling us to? Have you heard that still, small voice? What did you do? Did you reason it away as merely a stray thought that ran through your mind? Did you ask others what they thought it meant? Or did you just simply respond and do what God told you to? 

What is God calling you to, as an individual and us to, as a church? Are you called to teach? There are openings for that. Are you called to sing? There is always a place for that. Is your call to be friendly and welcoming? We excel at that and yet there can never be too much welcome. I came across a statement while preparing my message that sums up what our response to Jesus should be, “Our task is to share a faith that is exciting enough to be contagious” (Hare).

After worship, we will recount the activities of 2017 here, at St. Timothy. Whether you are a member or not, we welcome you to stay. As author Fredrick Buechner wrote, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet” (Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC). You just may find that place today.  Amen.

References

Steven E. Albertin, Sabbaththeology, Now is the Time
M. Eugene Boring, Mark, A Commentary
David Ewart, holytextures.co
Douglas R. A. Hare, Matthew, Interpretation series
Steven Kuhl, Text Teaser for Mark 1:14-20, Epiphany 3, 2018
Karoline Lewis, workingpreacher.org
David Lose, workingpreacher.org
Pheme Perkins, The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume VIII, Mark
Brian Stoffregen, crossmarks.com

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Friday, January 19, 2018

Cycle of Discipleship

This is the sermon I preached at St. Timothy and St. Mark Lutheran churches on Sunday, Jan. 14. The text is John 1:43-51.

There is a cycle of discipleship that causes the church to grow: First is Jesus’ invitation to follow him, followed by the invitation to come and see. Then we are told what we will see, which is akin to receiving teaching and growing in faith. When this cycle is perpetuated and reproduced over and over in the lives of Christ’s followers, the church grows. This may sound a little crass, but it’s like the message on a bottle of shampoo: lather, rinse, repeat. In today’s gospel reading we see the lather, rinse, repeat of discipleship.

First, we have Jesus’ invitation to follow him. Jesus found Philip. Philip didn’t search high and low for Jesus. We cannot find Jesus. He isn’t lost, for one thing. Jesus finds us.

After finding Philip, Jesus says, “Follow me.” That’s good enough for Philip. “What is not obvious is the mysterious, inward, hidden work of God in creating each and every disciple, regardless of outward [means].  This first principle of discipleship is “obvious” only to those who believe—and even, then, not as something that is rationally explained, but simply confessed.” (Kuhl).

Next is Philip’s invitation to come and see. Just as Jesus found Philip, Philip found it necessary to find his friend Nathanael. The news about Jesus was something he just couldn’t keep to himself. There are two parts to Philip's witness: 1. Jesus is the fulfillment of scriptures and 2. Jesus is the son of Joseph from Nazareth. By "sight" he is the son of Joseph from Nazareth. By "faith" he is the Son who has come from God (Stoffregen).

How did Nathanael respond? “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” That seems negative, doesn’t it? The second title of Jesus, son of Joseph from Nazareth leads to Nathanael's prejudicial attitude about people from Nazareth (v. 46), which might be contrasted with Jesus' positive statement about Nathanael (v. 47) (Stoffregen).

Nazareth was a village of 200–400 people, like other villages, it was economically dependent on the city of Sepphoris, the capital of Galilee at that time. The Hebrew Scriptures never mention Nazareth, and certainly don’t associate it with messianic expectations. Nazareth, then, gave no special status to its inhabitants, so when Philip told Nathanael that Jesus was the one of whom Moses and the prophets wrote, Nathanael figured that Philip had to be mistaken, since Jesus was the “son of Joseph from Nazareth” (John 1: 45). In Nathanael’s view, Jesus could be nothing more than a simple Jew from an insignificant village in Galilee. The Messiah would certainly be of more prominent parentage and come from a more significant town (Hoppe).

Philip demonstrates a good evangelistic principle for us. Rather than getting into an argument with Nathanael about Jesus, he issues an invitation to him to “Come and see.” When Nathanael takes Philip up on his challenge, Jesus says to him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” What does that mean? To be without deceit is to be honest, especially about oneself.

Then Jesus tells Nathanael that he saw him under a fig tree. Whether Nathanael was meditating, teaching or loafing, we don’t know, but Jesus did. Jesus knew him. This was overwhelming news to Nathanael, indicating that Jesus had some supernatural knowledge.
           
At this point, for Nathanael, transformation/faith/deceitlessness happens. Nathaniel becomes what Jesus declares him to be:  without deceit.  Through Jesus, deceitful/skeptical Nathanael is transformed by God into deceit less/believing Israel.  To affirm this transformation, Nathanael makes the first clear confession of faith in the Gospel of John:  “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” (v. 49).  Discipleship (faith in Christ) and confession of Jesus as the Son of God go hand in hand.  A true Israelite is one who sees in Jesus the promised One of Scripture (cf. v. 45, 5:39, etc.). Nathanael believes and confesses his faith. He had been transformed. Nathanael had participated in a form of “show and tell.”

Jesus knows us—warts and all. He knows what we’re struggling with, what we’re joyful about. He knows us through and through and calls us beloved.

The third step in the discipleship process is, when we believe, we see greater things. In the final verse of today’s gospel reading, Jesus tells Nathanael, “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 reminiscent of Jacob’s dream in Genesis of the ladder with angels ascending and descending on it. But the place where we now meet God is not in the ladder of Jacob’s dream, but in Jesus Christ, who himself is the ladder between heaven and earth.

“Nathanael will see greater things, like Jesus putting others’ lives before himself. Jesus will be the King of Israel (“King of the Jews” in 20:19) who puts the salvation of Nathanael, and Mary, and John, and you and me, ahead of his own life. He will be the Son of God and King worth being impressed by…” (Cornell). Jesus transformed Nathanael from skepticism to confession and the possibility of even greater experiences (Stoffregen).

When we get to this last verse, the “you” is not singular, but plural. Jesus is talking to a wider audience than simply Nathanael. He is speaking to us as well.

Last Sunday we heard about Jesus’ baptism, and now we have heard about his calling of the disciples. Jesus has found us in baptism and issued us the call to follow him. This Sunday’s gospel reading calls Jesus, son of Joseph, Rabbi, Son of God, King of Israel, and Son of Man. To speak the mystery of Christ, we need many titles.

Early followers of Jesus in the first and second centuries were not rich, influential or well-educated. They were often quite the opposite. The reason the church grew exponentially was because of their witness, their sharing of their faith, even at the potential cost of their lives. The same holds true for us. We don’t have to be anyone special to share our story of faith.

Think specifically and intentionally about what in your life reflects Jesus. How can you invite people to experience Christ through you during the week? There are a number of ways to witness to God’s love. You can commit to praying with someone. You may invite a friend to join you in serving the community through volunteering at a shelter, literacy program or other organization. In the coming weeks, you will hear more about an opportunity to help school children in Bemus Point, called 5 & 2. And of course, you can always invite someone to worship.

Do you know what the main reason is that most people come to a church for the first time? It is because someone, usually a friend or relative, has invited them! This is often difficult for us as Lutherans. But when we think about the future of this congregation, we need to consider the importance of multiplying disciples.

We can learn a lesson from some of our neighboring churches. In my past life, I had a “come to Jesus” experience. Like my peers who had experienced a conversion to Christ, we couldn’t help but share what God had done in our lives. People who go to the non-denominational, charismatic and Pentecostal type churches are indoctrinated with the importance of telling others about Christ. It is presumed that if you are a Christian, you will do that. Because members do that, more people come.

However, some of us are doing all we can just to get to church! God knows that. There is a great quote of Martin Luther’s that speaks to this. “We are not yet what we shall be, but we are growing toward it. The process is not yet finished, but it is going on. This is not the end, but it is the road. All does not yet gleam in glory, but all is being purified.” This is just like the phrase, “I’m not what I’m going to be, but thank God I’m not what I used to be.”

Jesus has invited us to follow him. He has invited us to come and see what He is all about. “…when it comes to Jesus, it doesn’t stop with come and see, but always moves to the deeper invitation to come and be. Be what God has called you. Be the person the world needs Be the beloved child of God who invites others to a similarly transformative experience of relationship with Christ” (Lose).

Now it is our turn to respond to God’s call to us by inviting others to follow Jesus, to come and see what God has done in us. What might our lives and church look like if we all did this? God has so much more in store for us than we can ever ask, or think or imagine. And the best is yet to come.

Amen


References

Lori A. Cornell, Sabbatheology: 2 Epiphany, Gospel, Year B
Leslie J. Hoppe, David L. Bartlett & Barbara Brown Taylor, Editors, Feasting On the Word, Year B, Volume 1
Steven C. Kuhl, Text Teaser for John 1:43-51, Epiphany 2, 2018
David Lose, Gracious Invitation, davidlose.net
Martin Luther, Defense and Explanation of all the Articles (1521), LW vol. 39.
Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation
sundaysandseasons.com