Sermon by Reverend Mark Thompson
Preached on January 14, 2018
Central United Methodist Church, Lansing, Michigan
“Can Anything from Nazareth Be Good?”
John 1: 43-51
The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.”
Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 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.”
Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”
Philip said to him, “Come and see.” When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.”
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.”
Frankly, I am in a troublesome spot this morning.
I find myself being a United Methodist pastor called to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ of abundant life for all people, not just for some.
I find myself a citizen of the United States that has a president who is foul mouthed and reportedly used derogatory language that is certainly racist against Haiti, El Salvador and the countries of Africa.
I find myself among a denomination with over 40% of the members of The United Methodist Church live in the countries of Africa.
I find myself in a pulpit wherein some would want me to talk about the weather and not bring address the crisis of morality that our nation is in the midst of.
What is a preacher to do on a day such as today? What should she or he preach about?
I can choose to ignore that my sisters and brothers of the continent of Africa, Haiti, and El Salvador have been insulted as well as their beloved countries.
I can choose to turn my back on my calling to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.
I can turn away from the vows taken at my ordination and not teach the word of good news for all and call upon others to follow in the ways of Jesus Christ.
I can turn my back on over 40% of the members of The United Methodist Church.
I can choose to take the easy route and ignore the realities of the day, on this day wherein we take up a special offering to help out the least of these in Lansing, the USA, Haiti, El Salvador and Africa.
I can choose to speak in a token fashion about social justice and equity for all and then think about the peace and equity movement of the 1960’s on Martin Luther King, Jr day tomorrow, thereby separating my ministry from my personhood. I care deeply that people of color, other minorities, and the disenfranchised gain status of equity throughout the world.
I can make a sermon about the good news filtered through a mask of love, speaking of God’s love that is found in the Messiah named by Nathaniel of scripture and ignore the truth that prejudice, and greed are fueling the policies and laws of our land. Those same policies and laws are at work against the very foundational truths that the Messiah, Jesus preached and lived out.
I could do that, but I would then need to surrender my credentials as an Elder of The United Methodist Church of the West Michigan Conference. I would no longer be able to call myself a preacher of not only the United Methodist denomination, I would not be able to call myself a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Given that reality, let me just lay out some truths spoken by other prophetic voices that need to be heard on this very day, at this time in our nation’s history.
Let me base this on the scripture for today.
John 1: 43-51, which was read for us, is the Gospel of John’s version of the calling of the first disciples of Jesus. Here we have men who feel the tug of God on their hearts. They hear about this man, Jesus, who has a special connection with God. They hear that Jesus wants others to feel connected to God in a unique and personal way. This is profound good news!!! They wish to be a part of spreading this magnificent good news.
So, when Jesus asked Phillip to follow him, Phillip was ready. Nathaniel wasn’t quite ready to follow this guy from Nazareth. He even said, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”
There are two ways to take that question. The first is based on the ancient lore stated that the Messiah, the one sent by God to rescue Israel, was to come from Bethlehem. This Jesus grew up in Nazareth. Remember, John’s rendition of the life of Jesus didn’t state that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Hence the question, can the goodness of God known as the messiah come from Nazareth? Isn’t the messiah supposed to come from Bethlehem?
The other way to take this is that Nazareth is a small town, not the big city of Jerusalem. It is a no-name town in the north. What kind of leader could come from a small town?
Of course, there is another way to take this. It is seeing the question, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” as a derogatory one.
“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”
Yes, Nathaniel, Jesus, who knows you, accepts you, loves you, sees great potential has come from Nazareth. Nathaniel realized that reality, announced to his friends that Jesus was the Messiah, and began to follow this Jesus. Nathaniel was a changed man.
We are still asking that question today. Even though God has proven over and over again that goodness is experienced, and changes lives in Haiti, El Salvador, countries of Africa and from all corners of the world. The good news of God’s unconditional love is indeed changing lives and bringing transformation of the world to fruition.
Yet we still find people asking the question, “Can anything good come out of Haiti?”
Yes. Great good comes from Haiti. Doctors, nurses, preachers, social workers, field workers, factory workers… poor and desolate… people who Jesus knows, accepts, loves and sees great potential in. Just as Jesus, let us accept, love, and empower for greatness the people of Haiti, El Salvador, the countries of Africa and throughout the world.
That is the United Methodist way. That is who we are even if leaders of our country and other countries are not of the same mindset. We United Methodists and other followers of Jesus’s way are.
Bishop Bruce R. Ough, president of the United Methodist Council of Bishops, issued a statement today on behalf of the Council concerning remarks reported to have been made by President Donald Trump regarding immigrants. I will read some of his letter to the world on behalf of the Council of Bishops:
We are appalled by the offensive, disgusting words attributed to President Donald Trump who is said to have referred to immigrants from African countries and Haiti, and the countries themselves, in an insulting and derogative manner.
We call upon all Christians, especially United Methodists, to condemn this characterization and further call for President Trump to apologize.
As United Methodists, we cherish our brothers and sisters from all parts of the world and we believe that God loves all creation regardless of where they live or where they come from. As leaders of our global United Methodist Church, we are sickened by such uncouth language from the leader of a nation that was founded by immigrants and serves as a beacon to the world’s “huddled masses longing to be free.”
We will not stand by and allow our brothers and sisters to be maligned in such a crude manner. We call on all United Methodists, all people of faith, and the political leadership of the United States to speak up and speak against such demeaning and racist comments.
Christ reminds us that it is by love that they will know that we are Christians. Let’s demonstrate that love for all of God’s people by saying no to racism; no to discrimination and no to bigotry.
Just as Jesus, let us accept, love, and empower for greatness, the people of Haiti, El Salvador, the countries of Africa and throughout the world.
I must speak this way.
Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
Some will be uncomfortable with me. Some might be squirming in their seats right now. I call on each of us to speak out for the sake of the good news of Jesus Christ.
Let us speak out for it is Jesus who calls us forward to testify to the truth of love for all. It is Jesus who said,
I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’
Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’
Arch Bishop Desmon Tutu said, “We are each made for goodness, love and compassion. Our lives are transformed as much as the world is when we live with these truths.”
This certainly flows with what Jesus told his disciples: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. y this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13: 34-35
I didn’t read footnotes in any version of that bible. There is no side note that said people of skin color other than yours are exempt from God’s love.
Just as Jesus, let us accept, love, and empower for greatness the people of Haiti, El Salvador, the countries of Africa and throughout the world.
This is our call. This is who we are. We are made in the image of God, who is love.
Of course, to truly love one another as Jesus has commanded, we must first love ourselves. We must come to the place where we see that we are loveable. Love begets love.
Such love of self and others came from deep within the soul of Martin Luther King, Jr as he spoke, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.
There, I did it. I just preached one of the more difficult sermons of my 30 years of ministry. Some of you might be uncomfortable, others ready to say amen. Some might even state that if that is the stance of The United Methodist Church then sign me up- I want to become a member; others might be considering leaving the denomination and Central United Methodist Church.
May we who are called United Methodist feel the urge and follow the leading to speak the truth in love. Let us share from our hearts and our faith tradition so that others will know we are Christians by our love. Share it in conversations, on Facebook, on Twitter, in letters, emails and beyond. Let the voice of love and light be heard.
May we who are followers of Jesus Christ search our minds and hearts and befriend the “least of these” in meaningful life changing ways. May we who are loved with an unconditional love, love profoundly so as to transform this world.
Let us make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”