Monday, February 26, 2024

The Crux

 

Mark 8:31-38

Lent 2 / Year B

A police officer notices a car weaving in and out of traffic.  The driver appears to be highly agitated, screaming at other cars and making crude gestures with her hands and fingers.  The office turns on his lights and pulls over the car.  Asking for title and registration he asks, “Do you know why I stopped you?”  “I have no idea,” the driver replies.  “Well,” says the officer,” I noticed your bumper sticker says ‘Jesus is my Co-Pilot’ and based on your actions and behavior, I was worried the car is stolen.”

When people learn we profess faith in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior they will have certain expectations about who we are and how you behave.  Sometimes they say more about the other person than they do about us.  If, for example, they know a lot of judgmental and hypocritical Christians, they might just assume you are the same.  If they know Christians who are kind, loving, and trustworthy, they will be stunned if you go around gossiping behind the backs of other people.

I can’t tell you how many times, upon learning what I do in life, a person, caught off guard, has said, “You’re a priest!?!”  I suppose there are a myriad of ways I don’t conform to some folk’s preconceived ideas of what an ordained person looks like and does.  At the church I served in Iowa, someone once said to me, “You aren’t like Father Greg (my predecessor).”  “How so,” I asked.  “Well, he used to mow the lawn wearing his clergy collar.” 

This morning’s reading from the Gospel of Mark draws our attention to Jesus’ identity and to our expectations of him, or at least it used to.  For reasons unknown, the assigned lectionary passage has been shorted by a few verses.  Gone are the days when we heard Jesus ask his followers, “Who do people say I am?” and “Who do you say I am?”  These are questions about identity.  Peter, this time at least, aces the test: “You are the Messiah.”

Jesus then goes on to teach the Messiah must go to Jerusalem to suffer, be rejected, and killed only to rise again on the third day.  This, in no way, conforms to Peter’s expectations.  He, and the other disciples, seem to believe the Messiah will deliver Israel from Roman occupation and then reign from the throne of King David.  They suppose they will be given positions of power and even argue about who among them will sit at his right and left hand.  This is their expectation for the Messiah, the Son of God.

We expect rock stars to trash hotel rooms, politicians to speak out of both sides of their mouth, Hollywood actors to be self-absorbed, clergy not to smoke a cigar (ask T.D. Mottley for the backstory on why I was dubbed ‘the Godman’), and we expect the Messiah to triumph over every obstacle and evil.  That this is a very tempting option for Jesus to choose is made clear in his response to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan.”

It is always tempting (a good Lenten word) to live into what other people expect of you, rather than to be who God calls you to be and to do what God calls you to do.  Now, I am not suggesting you show up to a wedding wearing pajamas because people expect you to be in a suit and tie.  I am saying you are to strive for God’s expectations of you.

Listen again to how Jesus describes it:

If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.  For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 

“Take up your cross and follow me.”  Most often we associate this phrase with some kind of sickness, sadness, or suffering we must endure cheerfully and bravely.  And, to be sure, each of us faces challenges like this and how we engage them can be a powerful witness to our faith and faithfulness.  But I think Jesus is getting at something different here when he instructs us to take up our cross and follow.

The word cross comes to us from the Latin root crux.  From this root we get such words as crucifix, crucifixion, crusade, and excruciate.  It also gives us the word crucial, the crux of the matter.  To pick up your crux and follow is to determine what is the most crucial thing you need to be about.  In its root usage, the word crux describes two things that cross, like a crossroads or the vertical and horizontal pieces of wood which make up a cross.  I think to take up your cross means to merge your God-given identity with God’s expectation of what you are to do given who you are.

Some people fast from eating meat on Fridays in Lent, and this is well and good, but is it crux?  Is it critical?  Absolutely not.  Now, it may be a helpful devotional aid as you ponder what is crux, but (like so many rituals and practices) it is a spiritual launching point and never an end unto itself.  Jesus’ call to pick up your cross and follow is an invitation to discern what is critical in your life and to pray over how you are to put it into the service of the work of the gospel.

What is your crux?  Honestly, I don’t expect you to have a coherent answer for this question.  I am not sure I do either.  However, I invite all of us to come before our Lord, Savior, and Guide seeking an answer.  The alternative, Jesus says, is to gain perhaps the whole world, but in the process forfeit your life… to live for something less… much less… than the crux.


Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Life Comes at You Fast

 

Mark 1:9-15

Lent 1 / Year B

If, upon hearing today’s gospel reading, you are feeling a sense of Déjà vu, there is good reason.  This is the third time we have read from this brief passage in the last nine weeks.  After this morning we will be free and clear of it for the next three years.  Only six verses long, it condenses a lot activity into a very tight description and it unfolds with great speed because Mark uses one of his favorite words to describe the pace: immediately…  For Mark, things happen fast and for a reason.

Think about Jesus.  He has led a quiet life since the fantastic events surrounding his birth.  Suddenly, he is baptized, blessed, possessed, tested, and comforted prior to launching into his public ministry; all unfolding in about forty days.   

The Stoic philosopher Seneca famously noted life comes at you fast.  Our days can turn from quiet to turmoil in the blinking of an eye.  One moment we are in the cool waters of the Jordon experiencing a spiritual high, the next we are in the barren wilderness being tested; seemingly with nothing and no one to support us.

In the year 1880, at the age of 22, Teddy Roosevelt married socialite Alice Hathaway Lee.  He wrote to his brother, “My happiness is so great that it makes me almost afraid.”  Having been married, written a book, attended law school, and elected to public office, Teddy wrote in his diary it was the best year of his life. 

And it only got better.  The winter of 1883 found the couple preparing for the birth of their first child.  Again he wrote in his diary,

I can imagine nothing more happy in life than an evening spent in the cozy little sitting room, before the bright fire of soft coals, my books all around me, and playing backgammon with my own dainty mistress.

On February 12, 1884, Alice gave to a birth to a beautiful, healthy baby girl.  Two days later, on Valentine’s Day, Roosevelt’s mother succumbed to Typhoid Fever and died in his home.  Stunningly, just eleven hours later, Alice died from kidney failure; an ailment which had gone on undiagnosed.  The next day Roosevelt made a large X in his diary and wrote, “The light has gone out of my life.” 

Life comes at you fast.  

This is a truth many of you have been living with recently.  Since maybe December at least nine of our members have been in the hospital and have received a troubling diagnoses.  Immediately, as Mark would say, life is changed.  These folks, and those who care about them, have been driven into the wilderness.  It is not a choice they have made.  It is a journey which has been thrust upon them.  We don’t voluntarily choose periods of trial, temptation, struggle, they happen to us.

Here is what I want you not to miss about today’s reading.  Even though Jesus is alone in the wilderness God is with him throughout his trying ordeal.  Angels minister to him.  As a priest it is such an honor and blessing to visit people during their wilderness moments, to listen, to pray, to share the sacraments, to be a visible reminder all of us are holding them in prayer.  I am always humbled by how a priest’s presence expresses the never-failing presence of God.

This is certainly one way we expect God to be with us in the wilderness, but there are also blessings we could never imagine.  In Mark’s gospel this truth is conveyed through six words: “he was with the wild beasts.”  Surely among them are lions, jackals, bears, and snakes, but far from menacing, the text suggests Jesus has tamed them.  He has restored the shalom between humans and creation which existed at the beginning in Eden.  So too, when we are in the wilderness God is at work in and around us to make peace with those things which once were frightful. 

And when we emerge from the wilderness, we find ourselves proclaiming the good news: 

·    God has been with you to see you through.

·    Family, friends, health professionals, people from everywhere have rallied round you and supported you.

·    You have felt God’s power at work in you and you have been empowered by the thoughts, prayers, and expressions of compassion so many have offered.

·    You have found an inner strength you never knew you had.

·    You have become a herald of the good news. 

Teddy Roosevelt was devastated by the deaths of his mother and wife and, grief-stricken, was rendered almost unable to function for some time.  But two years later he fell in love with Edith Kermit Carow.  They married and had five children together.  Teddy ran for mayor of New York City and lost, but continued his life as a public servant.  As a Rough Rider, he played a decisive role in Battle of Kettle Hill in Cuba in 1898.  He garnered fame and popularity from his exploits and bravery, going on to be elected Governor of New York, Vice-President under McKinley, and then President after McKinley’s assassination. 

There is something about the wilderness which makes a person more than he or she could have been without its experience.  It is certainly true for Roosevelt.  It is true for Jesus.  And it is true for you and for those you love.  God is in the business of redeeming our every hurt, loss, and struggle.  Yes, life comes at us fast, but God and those who allow God’s Spirit to work in and through them, are with us to see us through.


Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Post It Notes & Ash Wednesday

 

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

Ash Wednesday

Years ago a man working for the 3M Corporation invented a kind of sticky paste whose properties allowed one thing stick to another thing and then be peeled off without harming either thing or leaving behind any residue.  No one could think of a useful application for this paste and so it became just another idea buried in some file drawer.  3M thought so little of the invention they didn’t even bother to take out a patent on it. 

Well, one person believed the paste might be useful for office notes.  So he bought the rights to the sticky stuff for a little bit of money and began to market a product he called “Post-It Notes.”  The rest, as they say, is history.  Now we all use these little yellow pieces of paper to remind us of various things we don’t want to forget: phone numbers, appointments, grocery lists, etc.

Today, Ash Wednesday, might be called the “Post-It Note” day of the liturgical year.  We come here today/tonight because we want to remember something.  In a few moments I will take ashes, mark the sign of the Cross on your forehead, and say, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.”  Think of it as an ancient, spiritual Post-It Note with a message you should not forget.

I hear people say, “I can’t wait for Christmas,” or “I’m ready for Easter,” but I have never heard anyone say, “I am really looking forward to Lent,” or, “Gee, isn’t it wonderful Lent is finally here.  Lent, with its Post-It Note reminder we are dust and will someday return from whence we came, is about as welcome and refreshing as an ice-cold shower.  We spend our lives trying to feel good about things, trying to get as much out of the moment as possible, and trying to stay focused on the positive.  The Ash Wednesday Post-It Note runs against everything we are trying to do.  When I put the ashes on you and ask you to remember you are dust, there has got to be at least a small voice inside you whispering, “Thank you Father Keith for that piece of cheery news.”

One question we might want to ask is this: what is the danger of forgetting we are dust?  What happens if we miss the Post-It Note or simply avoid its reminder?  And what difference does it make if we are mindful of this truth and vigilant to its implications?

If we forget we run the risk of thinking time will never run out on us.  We put off until it is too late the things of ultimate concern.  If we forget we lose sight of our limitations and become frustrated with our imperfections.  If we don’t embrace we are dust we miss out on an essential connection to the world around us.  Ultimately, if we forget we do not recognize a fundamental part of our make-up.  We end up trying to be something else… something we are not.  We lose sight of our calling, our purpose, our capacities, and our limitations.

For Christians Lent begins with a disruptive and deeply disturbing message which abruptly interrupts the richness and pleasures of day-to-day living.  Lent begins with the grim reminder we are dust, but it moves forward with an invitation to a journey.  One image of Lent is that of a pilgrimage.  A pilgrimage is a journey to a holy place undertaken with a devotional manner.  For Christians the sacred journey of Lent looks like prayer and fasting, and committing oneself to acts of charity and occasions of public worship.  While the journey may not take us to a far off holy destination, it leads us on a spiritual path to the Cross and empty Tomb.

As you make your Lenten pilgrimage this year I invite you to do so with today’s Post-It Note kept squarely before you.  As with every pilgrimage, you always know where you are going… be it a holy place like Jerusalem or a holy moment like Easter Sunday.  The thing you don’t know about a pilgrimage is how it will affect you.  Even though you know your destination, you cannot predict who you will be when you get there.  The people you meet along the way, the prayers you utter, the way God’s Spirit speaks through the biblical lessons you read, the wonders you see, and the dangers you engage all work together to reshape you on your pilgrim’s way. 

Post-It Note: We are dust and to dust we will one day return.  But God is a potter who fashions and refashions our dust when we place ourselves in God’s skilled hands.  We begin our Lenten journey by remembering we are only dust.  We engage our Lenten journey by putting our dust in the hands of Master Artisan.  We trust when our pilgrimage is complete God will have shaped our dust in a way which allows us to be more like who God has created us to be. 

 

 


Monday, February 5, 2024

Jesus the Introvert

 

Mark 1:29-39

Epiphany 5 / Year B

We minister types refer to it as the “clergy coma.”  It is what happens to us on Sunday afternoons after a very full and busy morning at the church.  We go home and we collapse.  Multiple services, education programs, and people coming at us from all directions with all manner of concerns:

s  An update on a person in the hospital.

s  A question about the order of the procession.

s  Feedback on what the bishop is reported to have said or done.

s  A comment on an item for the Vestry agenda.

s  Anxiety about someone who has not been in church for a couple of weeks.

You get the idea.  And the more introverted a priest is by nature the more worn out she or he will be after all of Sunday morning’s activities are over.

If you have ever taken the Myers-Briggs personality inventory than you know the preference of introversion verses extroversion is all about energy – what drains you and what restores you.  Extroverts are energized by large crowds, speaking in front of people, and generally (from my point of view) living in the midst of chaos.  More than anything else, extroverts are exhausted by being alone.  I once worked for a priest who would do anything other than close his office door and write an article for the monthly newsletter.  That, for him, was torture.  We had three services each Sunday morning and by the time the last one ended, he had more get-up-and-go than the energizer bunny.  Me, not so much. 

Introverts tend to enjoy reading, coding, painting, and/or writing; activities one tends to do on one’s own.  We prefer to work alone rather than being a part of a group project.  You will find us hanging out in the corner at large social gatherings.  At Chanco clergy retreats the introverts gather outside out on the porch rather than in a noisy crowded room.  We tend to leave (escape) parties early, but (according to Myers-Brigs) I am off the charts extroverted in small, intimate settings and therefore tend to be the last person to leave the campfire at Clergy retreats. 

So here is a question: was Jesus an introvert?  Well, more than one introvert has said yes and written a book or an article to argue why.  You need look no farther than this morning’s gospel reading for evidence to support their thesis.  Jesus has had a hectic day.  He attends the local synagogue with his small band of followers.  He is asked to preach and teach, and what he says is well-received.  Then a man possessed by a demon becomes unhinged and Jesus confronts the situation.  Afterward he goes to Peter’s house for a Sabbath meal and learns the disciple’s mother-in-law has a fever.  Jesus takes her by the hand and lifts her up.  With this, as with the demon before, the fever leaves her.  The text then tells this:

“At sundown they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons.  And the whole city was gathered around the door.  And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons.” 

If you are an introvert by nature, this is a sure-fire recipe for a clergy coma!  Crowds.  Chaos.  No place to escape from it all.  This is not to say Jesus (or introverted clergy) don’t want to preach, teach, and heal.  He did and we do.  It is to say all of this activity leaves Jesus somewhere between drained and exhausted.  He gets some sleep and then rises while it is still ‘very dark’.  He slips away to what the text describes as a deserted place.  He is alone and wants to be alone… needs to be alone in a way extroverts don’t. 

In her book, The Powerful Purpose of Introverts, Holly Gerth explains why this is so necessary for Jesus and for those of us who are introverts:

When we turn inward, we’re not withdrawing or holding back; we’re choosing to show up in a sacred space of creativity, contemplation, and imagination.  Our inner worlds are where insights, innovations, breakthroughs, solutions, and intimate connections with God originate.

Extroverts experience the same things, they just get there in a different way.  They rely on group process and discover by talking things out.  They draw energy from communal settings because they relish being a part of the whole.  Jesus was able to minister to the whole because he made time and space to be alone… to pray.

Most Episcopal worship is an introvert’s dream, save for passing the peace.  Our liturgy invites you to go inward in order to hear God’s still, quiet voice.  We are not dancing to a praise band, clapping our hands, shouting ‘amen’, or dancing in the aisles (except when the Jazz Band is here).  Just as introverts need to be with people from time-time-time, extroverts need at least a little time to be alone with God.

There is in each of us a secret inner wisdom, a voice (if you will), which tells us things we need to hear, but never will if we don’t go from time-to-time to a deserted place.  This can be daunting and draining for extroverts, but it is work you need to do.  For us introverts, being in such a space is a natural as breathing.  At least once a day, Cindy will walk into my office, observe I am doing nothing, and ask what I am up to.  My response, “I’m thinking about Jesus!”  I encourage you to do the same.  Carve out a space – it doesn’t have to be long – where all you are doing is thinking about Jesus.  It’s good for you.


Monday, January 29, 2024

Get-Right Day

 

Mark 1:21-28

Epiphany 4 / Year B

Many of you will recall when the house behind us on Saratoga St. was used as a halfway home for some folks who, for various reasons, could not live on their own.  A few of the residents became regular clients of our food pantry and you may remember Reggie who attended Sunday services and lots of coffee, which, due to digestive issues, he was not supposed to have.

And then there was Mr. Johnson who was not permitted to leave the house, but ‘escaped’ from time to time.  One Sunday morning between services there was a wild pounding on the Parish Hall doors.  It was Mr. Johnson and he was ranting that the lady who ran the house was trying to kill him.  Well, some of you managed to get him settled down while I went across the street and fetched the supervisor.  She came over, corralled Mr. Johnson, and gave him a firm talking to as she escorted him out of our building.

Guess what happened the very next Sunday, again between services.  You got it.  There was a beating at the door and it was… Mr. Johnson complaining loudly once again the supervisor was trying to kill him.  This time I did not welcome him into the building, but started walking him through the parking lot and back to his home.  “She’s gonna kill me,” he protested.  “Oh,” I said light-heartedly, in an attempt to calm him down, “now you know she is not going to do that.”  But over and over and rather boisterously he professed an unwavering belief his life was in danger.  Finally, and fed up, I said with some force (loud enough, at least, for a person in the bank parking lot to hear), “Listen, she is not going to kill you, but if you come back over here again and pound on our door, I just might!”  I glanced over at the person at the bank and, from the expression on his face, could tell this is not something he expected to hear come out of the mouth of a person wearing a clergy collar!

This morning we read from Mark’s gospel about Jesus’ first public appearance after his baptism.  It is the Sabbath and he and his new followers go to the local Synagogue.  Just as we do here, he wanted to be a setting where he could worship, pray, read from Holy Scripture, and gather as a community in a peaceful setting.  Mark tells us on that day Jesus was asked to be what we would call the preacher.  The text does not tell us a single thing about the content of what he said, only that those present are amazed by the authority he exhibits while teaching. 

And then comes what we might call the Mr. Johnson moment.  Demons have possessed a man at the Synagogue and they cry out to Jesus: “What do you have to do with us?”  A more literal translation is “Why can’t you just let things be?” “Have you come to destroy us?”  “I know who you are.”

Why can’t Jesus let things be?  Because he is not going to allow anything to impede human flourishing.  He is going to teach God’s word so that we who listen might understand, and in understanding be empowered to think and do those things that are right.  He is going to banish anything and everything which might hold us back, drag us down, lock us up, or tie us in knots.  This is Kingdom work and, as we heard Jesus proclaim in last week’s reading, the Kingdom of God has come near.  This means every other kingdom, every other realm, every other dominion, every other power is being supplanted; now, in part, one day in full.

Suppose we were to spend some time pondering this reading and think about what it says to us and to our church.  Suppose it was the only Scripture we had to draw upon to gain a sense of identity and purpose.  Suppose from it we had to craft a mission statement.  What would it be?  I contemplated this for a while this past week and here is what I have come up with:

Come as you are,

leave as God intends for you to be.

And God intends for this particular person to be free from of all that possesses him.  With just a few words, spoken with authority, it happens: “Be silent, and come out of him.”  And with this the Mr. Johnson moment is over once and for all.  All present, who I suspect have seen the demons speak out many times before, are amazed, stunned I would say.

Word about this and other things Jesus does spreads throughout the region.  As Jesus journeys from town-to-town, locals expect it to be showtime… “Do here what you did in Capernaum.”  But for Jesus it is not showtime, it is get-right time.  He has come to help folks get right with God, with their community, with their family, and with themselves. 

You are here this morning and perhaps you sense the presence of Jesus in this place.  Perhaps you hear his message and respond in the silence of your heart, “Why can’t you just let things be?”  Jesus answers, “Because today is your get-right day!”

Come as you are,

leave as God intends for you to be.


Tuesday, January 23, 2024

When the Going Gets Tough...

 

Mark 1:14-20

Epiphany 3 / Year B

“After John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God.”

Somewhere around the turn of the last century a football coach is said to have told his team, “When the going gets tough… the tough get going.”  The first printed reference of this quote appeared in the Corpus Christi Times in 1953, again referencing a speech by a local football coach.  Since then, any number of people in any number of fields, from business leaders to motivational speakers to clergy like me, has drawn on it to inspire people facing challenging circumstances.

Now, certainly Jesus didn’t know the expression, “when the going gets tough…”, but he did have this to draw on from the Book of Proverbs:

The wicked flee when no one pursues,

  but the righteous are bold as a lion.  (28:1)

Perhaps this is why, on learning his cousin John the Baptist has been arrested, Jesus decides to return to Galilee – the very region ruled by John’s imprisoner. 

From the outset of his story, everything in Mark’s gospel happens quickly.  It begins not with a birth narrative, like Mathew and Luke, but with a title:

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

It then launches into the message John proclaims at the Jordon River.  At verse 9 Jesus appears and is baptized.  It takes Mark just five verses to tell us about this moment and how immediately afterward Jesus goes out into the wilderness to be tempted.  The comes verse 14 with the information Jesus returns to Galilee, his home, after learning of John’s arrest.

Now, we would not be surprised if Jesus went back and laid low; doing everything possible to keep his neck out of the noose.  Heck, we wouldn’t be surprised if he stayed as far away from Galilee as possible; a lesson he would have learned from his father, who upon returning from exile in Egypt and learning Herod’s son is ruling over the region of Bethlehem, takes his family to Galilee in order to be out of harm’s way.  And while we might think it unwise, we would not be completely shocked if Jesus went back home to call out the injustice of John’s arrest.  Jesus does none of these things.

Here is what he does:

“Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’”

Good news?  When John has been arrested?  When Roman soldiers brutally occupy the land?  When self-serving religious leaders fleece the flock rather than tend to it?  How can anyone talk about good news when bad news is rampant?  Well, Jesus can talk about it because he knows God is beginning to do something special.  He can feel deep in his spirit; a spirit which has been filled with the Holy Spirit.  The kingdom of God has come near, he says, and nothing can be more consequential and restorative than this.

This passage provides a wonderful lens through which we can reflect on where we are as parish at the occasion of our Annual Meeting.  Each of your wardens – Joby and Bill – present a similar theme in their reports to you.  They write about our building and attendance challenges, acknowledging the impact each has had on the Vestry’s morale.  This is the bad news.  The good news is found in eight new acolytes, an active youth group, beautiful, inspiring music from the organ and choir, enthusiastic hospitality after church, a talented and dedicated staff, faithful lay volunteers, the financial boost we receive from a well-managed, well-funded endowment, your financial generosity… I could go on and on.  This is the message I want to proclaim to you as we begin 2024 (the 382nd year of our existence): the kingdom of God is near.

Yes, it is the same message Jesus brought to Galilee.  And he knows while he may be the standard bearer of the good news, but he cannot be the only one to announce it.  He begins to gather followers who will learn to live into the good news so more and more people will be caught up in it.  We need people here to live into the good news which is God’s presence in our midst.

If truth be told, three years from now, when Jesus is crucified, by objective standards very little will have changed.  Yes, a few people will have been healed, a handful of demons will have been banished, several thousand people will have heard Jesus teach, but the bad news will still remain.  Only through the power of the Resurrection and the imparting of the Holy Spirit will a mighty movement arise which will change the world.  We pray as we remain faithful to the good news in our lives God’s Spirit will rise up and lighten this darkened world of ours. 

When the going gets tough… the tough proclaim good news!


Monday, January 15, 2024

Transforming a Worldview

 

John 1:43-51

Epiphany 2 / Year B

Today’s Gospel reading is tantalizing both for what it tells and for what it does not.  It tells us Philip links Jesus to a long expected prophetic promise, but it does not tell us how or why he makes this connection.  It just reports Jesus says ‘follow me’ and Philip follows. 

But before (or perhaps as) he follows, Philip tracks down Nathanael to let him know what is happening.  On hearing where Jesus is from, Nathanael utters his famous quip, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”  Philip replies with a less famous, but very significant response, “Come and see.” 

In Philip and Nathanael we have examples of two distinctive ways of operating in the world.  Philip is open to possibilities.  He sees people for who they are.  He is drawn to their inner qualities.  Nathanael, on the other hand, makes snap judgments about people based on old and often unfounded stereotypes.  He has an “us and them” outlook which divides people into two groups – those who are like me and those who are not.  He has a tribal mentality.

Who are you more like, Philip or Nathanael?  I am a little like both.  In my better moments I recognize the humanity of people, even if they are very different from me.  But, there are times when I look down my nose at folks who I suspect don’t measure up to my standards.

The Dalai Lama said this:

In today’s interconnected and globalized world, it is now commonplace for people of dissimilar world views, faiths and races to live side by side.  It is a matter of great urgency, therefore, that we find ways to cooperate with one another in a spirit of mutual acceptance and respect…  Whether one is rich or poor, educated or illiterate, religious or non-believing, man or woman, black, white, or brown, we are all the same.  Physically, emotionally, and mentally, we are all equal.  We all share basic needs for food, shelter, safety, and love.  We all aspire to happiness and we all shun suffering.  Each of us has hopes, worries, fears, and dreams.  Each of us wants the best for our family and loved ones.  We all experience pain when we suffer loss and joy when we achieve what we seek.  On this fundamental level, religion, ethnicity, culture, and language make no difference.

Philip, I think, gets this.  Nathanael does not… at first.  Upon meeting him, Jesus says of Nathanael, “Here is a person lacking guile.”  Asked how he knows this, Jesus relates he saw Nathanael earlier when he was sitting under a fig tree.  Well, whatever this is all about, it is all Nathanael needs to know to be convinced: “Rabbi, you are the Son of God, the King of Israel.”  It is as if his eyes are opened and all his prejudices and preconceived ideas melt away.

This exact transformation is something we must work for and pray for in today’s world.  It is no longer possible to live in a community where everyone else thinks and acts and looks like you.  Archbishop Desmond Tutu said this:

We must embrace our differences, even celebrate our diversity.  We must glory in the fact God created each of us as unique human beings.  God created us different, but God did not create us for separation.  God created us different that we might recognize our need for one another.  We must reverence our uniqueness, reverence everything that makes us what we are: our language, our culture, our religious tradition.

Philip knew this.  Upon meeting Jesus, Nathanael discovered it.

Tutu goes on:

We are made for goodness.  We are made for love.  We are made for friendliness.  We are made for togetherness.  We are made for all the beautiful things that you and I know.  We are made to tell the world there are no outsiders.  All are welcome… We all belong to this family, this human family, God’s family.

In this season of Epiphany we celebrate God’s light coming more and more into the world.  And we yearn and strain to be followers, disciples, children of the light.  And as Jesus promised Nathanael, we too, as we allow the light of God’s love dwell in us, will see angels descend and ascend on all we do.