Scripture: John 1:43-51
Nathaniel said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him “Come and see.” – John 1:46
How many of you like icebreaker games? You know the games that are designed to get people out of their comfort zone and introduce themselves to a group of strangers. Often ice breakers can revolve around your name, or around what you’d bring to a desert island and one of the most common ones is where you are invited to think about which person from history, dead or alive, that you would like to have dinner with or meet and why. This morning as we begin to explore the Word and the theme of invitation, I want to play a little round of that today and invite you to answer – So If you could meet anyone from history, past or present, who would it be and why?
For many Christians when they are invited to play this game they invariably turn to the heroes of their faith just as we did this morning – whether it is Jesus, or Peter and Paul or one of the disciples, or a saintly figure from past or present, many of us would relish the opportunity to get in on the ground level so to speak, meet Jesus and the disciples for ourselves, hear the Sermon on the Mount with our very own ears.
I’ve often heard this wish during a Bible Study or some other function and have even harboured the desire myself. I think the motivation for our desire is often two-fold: Firstly we are genuinely curious and want to encounter Jesus and his followers who are so important to our lives. However, secondly (and this is the motivation I have heard more often) we convince ourselves that it would be easier to believe the gospel, easier to respond to God’s invitation if we could have seen the gospel events with our own eyes.
The problem with this is, I am not really convinced that it would actually make it easier to believe. In fact I think that if we actually got a chance to meet Peter or Paul, one of the saints and even Jesus it might just be a little more difficult to believe the gospel. After all the disciples were not from the upper echelons of society, they wouldn’t have been well-educated or well-dressed, they weren’t impressive in any way. They would have been dirty, missing teeth, speaking with no eloquence – they would be as common as you can imagine.
All too often the pictures we have of Jesus and the disciples in our minds come from our Sunday School classroom, or children’s bibles or from our stained glass windows where they are depicted wearing the finest garments of their day, clean and well-kempt hair and beards. But in reality they were probably far more common looking.
But I wonder if the common disciples, were really much different from ourselves. Maybe, we’re not much to look at either, but maybe just maybe that is the Good News after all.
Because it was these common ordinary folks that God invited into the deepest truth and dearest secret of the universe. It was these ordinary common folks that God invited to change the world with their lives and their witness. If you gathered all the disciples in a room, you would be truck by their ordinariness and you wouldn’t guess that they could change the world. But they did; they did change the world because Jesus invited them into his mission, invited them to share in the good news of God’s kingdom that would ultimately change the world.
That is after all why Jesus called them, he had to begin somewhere in his quest for cosmic-salvation. And if the way Jesus was going to save the world was through humility, gentleness, compassion and sacrifice then it makes sense to begin with the humble, it makes sense to begin with the ordinary, it makes sense to begin with the most common men and women of the world at the time.
Today in our Gospel passage from John this morning we get a glimpse into the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry into the calling of the first disciples.
Just prior to our passage this morning Jesus has attracted his first disciples Simon Peter and his brother Andrew (and perhaps a few more from those who were following John the Baptist) – and then he goes to Galilee and finds Philip, tells him to follow him, and he does.
Philip then immediately runs to find his friend Nathaniel, inviting him by saying that he has met the one “whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” And Nathaniel’s response is priceless and probably laced with a healthy dose of skepticism and sarcasm – “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”
Nazareth was the middle of nowhere, it was a nothing town, it was a place of no special prophetic significance, and so Nathaniel isn’t wrong to ask. Usually great teachers, kings or prophets come from important places, the great cities, the holy sites but not the middle of nowhere. There would likely have been skepticism and doubt in Nathaniel’s voice, but to his credit when Philip responds with ‘Come and see,’ Nathaniel does, he goes to this seeming nobody from Nazareth, and ultimately comes to believe.
And the way he comes to believe is pretty remarkable. When Jesus saw Nathaniel, he says “Here is truly an Israelite, in whom there is no deceit (or perhaps better put, in whom there is no guile)” and when Nathaniel asks where he got to know him, Jesus says he saw him under a fig tree before he is called. Not exactly the most amazing bit of revelation, but to Nathaniel it is remarkable, and it makes him make the starkest declaration of Jesus’ early ministry – “Rabbi – you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel.” A simple yet powerful declaration.
There is an utter simplicity and innocence to the response of both Philip and Nathaniel to Jesus, both of them jump head first into following him with very little convincing needed. If we were cynical, we might say that Nathaniel and Philip were so quickly impressed by Jesus because they were simple common folks.
There is something naïve and innocent about the way each of them come to faith – and even Jesus acknowledges this fact when he responds to Nathaniel by essentially saying “you came to faith because I told you about the fig tree? That’s nothing, just wait until you see the angels of God descending and ascending upon me, because I am the very life of God here among you, I am the new place where God and humanity meet.”
And while we might think that Jesus is criticizing Nathaniel’s faith, I actually think he is commending it. Nathaniel was someone that despite his cynicism and doubts, could believe that not just something good, but the very son of God really did come from Nazareth.
Perhaps accepting God’s invitation takes a little child-like innocence, a little naiveté. After all, in other parts of the Gospel story Jesus says we must become like children to enter into the Kingdom of God and that we must be born again. There is hope for us common people, gathered here that perhaps our faith, our choice to follow Jesus, even in our innocence and naiveté, has the ability to change the world.
Ultimately, it is God who changes the world, it is God who invites, it is God who brings people into his eternal and abundant life; but the good news is that he invites us, he welcomes us common people into this grand adventure. We might begin with a simple faith, with a naïve understanding of who God is, but Jesus promises that we will see greater things, we will witness the very life and person of God here among us.
Something that we might miss if we read this story, is Jesus’ connecting himself with one of the great stories from Israel’s past in the book of Genesis. In the last line of our passage Jesus says that Nathaniel will see the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man – and he is making explicit reference to the story of Jacob and his dream of the Ladder. And in response to his dream Jacob declares ‘surely God was here and I did not know it!’ And then Jacob builds an altar and names the place Bethel – which in Hebrew means ‘house of God’.
So here in our passage, Jesus tells Nathaniel and Philip, he tells us that he is the very house of God, he is the place where all of God’s fullness and all of God’s life lives on earth. Jesus is the new Bethel, he is the place where humans and God meet. So that if you are with Jesus you are in the very presence of God!
As we come to believe this and have faith in the God we encounter in Jesus, we just like the disciples are opened up the dearest truth of the universe: that God is reconciling the world to himself through Christ.
You are invited into that, and you are invited to be transformed by that. No matter how common or ordinary you feel, no matter if you feel underqualified, God has chosen you, he has invited, he has redeemed you, he has welcomed you into his strange eclectic family called the Church.
With membership in this family comes the responsibility to share by word and deed, the dear secret of Jesus’ love and mercy with the world – not through eloquence and miraculous acts but through our very commonness, through our very ordinariness.
When we invite others to church, or rather to ‘Come and see’ – we are extending to them God’s invitation, the invitation we received and the invitation that he holds out to all people. May you know this invitation in your life, may you know the simple and life-giving faith, and may you be encouraged to share it with others.
Let us pray.