The Holy Gospel according to John, the first chapter. Glory to you, O Lord.
43 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."
The Gospel of the Lord. Praise to you. O Christ.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
We have heard two wonderful Bible stories this morning. In our first lesson, we hear the story of the call of Samuel. We learn that God doesn't just call adults. God calls children.
God does things differently from us. God is more into "on the job training" and it seems that even children get assigned important tasks. God doesn't care how old people are or where they come from either.
I have always loved the story of Samuel, perhaps because I was blessed to know I was called to serve in the church ever since I was a little girl. At a very basic level I knew that God calls little children, because the Bible tells me so. This story has always been very affirming for me.
You remember, Samuel is the son of Hannah. She was barren for many years. The other women bullied her because she didn't have any children. Hannah promised God that if she had a son, she would give him back to God. She would bring him to the Priest to serve the LORD all his life. So that is how Samuel came to serve Eli, the priest at Shiloh.
It was bed time and Samuel thought Eli was calling him. Three times he goes into Eli and asks him what he wants before Eli finally figures out that the LORD is calling the child. Notice how persistent God is about it. When Samuel goes back to bed the LORD calls him again.
The child Samuel is entrusted with an important message from the LORD. It is a difficult message. Samuel is called to speak truth to power. The LORD tells Samuel that Samuel must tell Eli, “Your sons are corrupt and they will be punished.”
God is persistent and when God calls you, sometimes it’s because you need to speak truth to power.
In our gospel today, we hear the story of the call of Nathanael. Jesus has already called Andrew, who had been a disciple of John the Baptist. Andrew invites his brother Simon Peter to follow Jesus. The next day, Jesus finds Philip, who lived in the same town as Andrew and Peter.
Philip found his friend Nathanael and invited him to follow Jesus. Nathanael's response is interesting. He is somewhat sarcastic and asks if anything good can come out of Nazareth. It seems that the idea that, “the place I come from is better than the place you come from" goes back at least to Bible times.
If we are honest with ourselves we must admit that all of us have some level of this attitude today. The Onion News, a satirical online newspaper, offers a t-shirt for sale that says, "the sports team from my area is SUPERIOR to the sports team from your area".
Unfortunately, the attitude often goes beyond friendly sports rivalry. We are suspicious of people who aren't like us, who haven't had the same experiences growing up in the same place. We feel the need to make them prove they are good enough to associate with us or even live in our country.
This weekend we observe the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., the famous civil rights leader. This Baptist preacher knew the Bible was not just about personal individual faith. Dr. King knew following Jesus leads to public ministry. He knew that following Jesus meant very concrete things for the world, society, and government.
Dr. King knew Jesus came to call all people, no matter where they came from. Even if their ancestors came from Africa on slave ships. He knew following Jesus meant that we must work to reform our country and our communities so that all people have equal rights and opportunities, no matter who they are or where they come from.
We have made some real progress since Dr. King's death, but we still have a long way to go before all God's children are free to follow their dreams. Those of us who are white people still enjoy privileges that we take for granted.
People in our community and in our country are still being oppressed because of color, class, religion, gender identity, and sexual orientation. I even hear people categorize each other based on which Northern European country our grandparents immigrated from.
Nathanael was a man who said what he thought, even if he was being sarcastic with the remark about Jesus' hometown. Philip must have known Nathanael would say something like that. So he doesn't argue about it. He just says, "Come and see".
Maybe Philip has a good idea there. Don’t argue with people who make remarks about where others come from. Just invite them to come and see. Invite them to come and meet Jesus. Invite them to meet Jesus in the face of someone who comes from a country that they compare to an outhouse.
I have a classmate in my doctoral program named Nathaniel. Nate is an Episcopal priest in New York City. He’s preaching on this text this weekend, too. He’s proud to be a black man from Haiti. I meet Jesus in the face of my friend Nathaniel.
I served for several weeks in Tema Lutheran Parish in Tanzania. Amos is the pastor there now. Florence is an elder in that church. Woinde is the kindergarten teacher. I meet Jesus in the faces of my friends Amos and Florence and Woinde.
One of my seminary professors is Jose David. He’s originally from Puerto Rico and he teaches about World Christianity. One of my preaching professors is Eunjoo Mary who is originally from Korea. I meet Jesus in the faces of Jose David and Eunjoo Mary.
Jesus tells Nathanael he saw him under the fig tree. Rabbis sat under fig trees to study the scriptures, so Nathanael is an intellectual, a scholar. Jesus is calling a disciple who will ask hard questions and debate the scriptures.
I think perhaps, God also wants us to use our brains and study the scriptures and ask the hard questions.
God calls us no matter how old we are, no matter where we come from.
But we hear lots of voices and plenty of competing messages. How do we know which voice belongs to God?
One thing we know from Samuel is that God is persistent. Samuel went to Eli to ask about the voice he heard. Eli had been a priest for many years. It is good to ask for advice from someone older and wiser, someone who knows the scriptures.
Nathanael followed a trusted friend, but came to see for himself. He was a student of the scriptures and asked the hard questions. It is good to talk and pray with people you trust, to study the scriptures, to ask the hard questions, and come see for yourself.
God calls us no matter how old we are and no matter where we come from.
So what do you do when God calls you?
First, you listen to God because you will meet Jesus.
Then you follow Jesus and learn from him.
Dr. King followed Jesus when he worked for justice, peace, and equality for all God's children. One of the promises we make when we affirm our baptism is to work for justice and peace in all the world. We are doing this through our advocacy work with the ELCA and our contributions to Lutheran World Relief.
We work for justice and peace whenever we speak up for someone who is being bullied. We work for justice whenever we say something to someone who makes an insensitive comment about people who are different from us.
What did Andrew and Philip do when they heard Jesus calling them? One of the first things these disciples did was invite others to join them.
God is calling you. Listen to the voice. Follow Jesus.
Then invite others to come and see Jesus for themselves. Be prepared to be surprised, though.
Sometimes Jesus might look like you, because he is your brother. But sometimes Jesus might look like Nate, or Amos, or Florence, or Woinde, or Jose David, or Eunjoo Mary, or Martin Luther King, because he is their brother, too. Amen.