Pentecost 20/LWML Sunday – St. John 1:43-51
Philip comes and reports to Nathanael that he and Peter have found the long expected Christ, and that it is Jesus of Nazareth in Galilee.
To which Nathanael responds – Can anything good come out of Nazareth?
Our modern day ears and translations fail us in some respect whenever this reading comes up; for it is quite difficult to pick up the scorn and disdain in the voice of Nathanael when he asks if anything good can come out of Nazareth.
And this is by no means a knock against Nathanael, this is the common perception of the day. Today, pilgrims flock to Nazareth in Galilee to walk in the footsteps of Jesus, but 2000 years ago, it was a very different story. No self-respecting devout Jew wanted anything to do with Nazareth or Galilee, and they certainly would not flock there to walk in anyone’s footsteps. For Nazareth is by no means Jerusalem, let alone Rome, or any of the other big towns and cities one would expect someone as important as the Christ to come from.
Nazareth in Galilee is too close to the unclean Gentiles to the North and too far from the holy city of Jerusalem in the South. They speak with a strange dialect in Galilee, and they are well known for letting things prescribed by Jewish laws slide.
Surely the Son of God would come from Jerusalem; that is where the temple is after all; or perhaps the Scribes and Pharisees could spot Him out and train Him and mold Him into the Messiah that the people truly need.
Nathanael knows that if anything manages to come out of Nazareth in Galilee, it is for good reason, but you better not expect much at all, because you are not going to get much.
The scorn and disdain of the voice of Nathanael may not come through in our text, but it does come through in the voices of those who approach you today, of those modern day Nathanael’s, who say to you: Can anything good come out of going to church?
You know the exact tone and reverberation of this question. You know that there are many who look with disdain and shock on those who get up early on Sunday morning, put on their finest, and head to old buildings to sing obscure hymns, hear ancient texts read, and then listen to a message that may or may not be delivered in the most entertaining fashion.
And on top of that, churches are not always located in the best places; you may not be able to get to your next destination with ease; you may not be very close to home; you may have to travel a ways to get there.
People flock to the places with the best restaurants and the big stores; people want to go where they can be entertained; where they can get the most for their dollars. Churches are rarely located in places that meet that criteria.
Surely you can spend your Sunday mornings doing other things; surely you can sleep in a little more; get a little more work done; spend that money in other places. Surely God would not mind if you missed more often than not.
Modern day Nathanael’s are easy to find, and they can make some compelling arguments based on what they observe around them. Nazareth is not the first thing they want to see on a resume, and church is not the answer they want to hear when making Sunday plans.
What do you say to Nathanael? How do you retort that voice of disdain? How do you answer someone whose mind is set in its ways that nothing good can come out of Nazareth, and nothing good can come out of the church?
What arguments can you use? What talking points can best summarize the message? What combination of words will show that this is where the Savior can be found?
Philip has no words he can speak, and perhaps you know the feeling. How do you describe things that happen here? How do you convey the message of salvation to someone who has so categorically dismissed it? How do you remove the disdain and disgust and presuppositions that flow out of the mouth of another?
So instead of a long soliloquy, reciting dozens of Scripture verses, Philip instead says ‘Come and see’.
You cannot describe Jesus, words and arguments and Scripture citations can only get you so far sometimes, so for the Nathanael’s of the world, the answer is simply come and see.
Come and see a man who knows all about you, the good and the bad, and yet still loves you anyway.
Come and see a man who speaks the very words of God with authority.
Come and see a congregation of the young and the old gathered together to pray, praise and give thanks to God the Father who created us, to God the Son who redeemed us, and to God the Holy Spirit who makes us holy.
Come and see the fellowship of people from all walks of life, gathered together to confess their sins and receive the absolution.
Come and see the saints of God in this place, kneel before the altar to receive the very body and blood of Christ given and shed for the remission of sins.
Come and see ladies gather in the heat of summer and the cold of winter to tie quilts and support the work of the Church here and around the world.
Come and see men gather whenever called upon to make sure the house of God is ready for worship.
Come and see the children gather to study the Catechism, so that they too may one day pass this faith onto their children.
Come and see the body of Christ come together to rejoice with those who rejoice and to mourn with those who mourn.
Come and see the fellowship of the baptized listen to the word of God read and proclaimed into their ears, so that they might go forth and do likewise.
Come and see what happens on a Sunday morning; come and see what happens during the week; come and see that what happens here is not a secret cult nor a bunch of kool aid drinking oddballs; but rather that this is the body of Christ, gathered together here and in all corners of the world, praying, praising and giving thanks as only the people of God can.
Come and see that what we believe, teach and confess is not a fringe movement, but rather that we cling to the Lord of heaven and earth, for He is faithful and true.
Come and see that we do not just hold out some hope that we might receive eternal life, but rather we have the sure and certain knowledge that eternal life is ours, for we have been baptized into the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Come and see Nathanael, that this is indeed the Christ, and He is present in Nazareth, just as much as He is present in Jerusalem, just as much as He is present here today in this place, and in places very much like and very much unlike this place.
Can anything good come out of Nazareth? Yes indeed; Jesus, God’s greatest gift to us, has surprising come out of lowly Galilee for us and for our salvation. Good things do indeed come out of Galilee!
Can anything good come out of the Church? Yes indeed; this is where that great gift is given to you child of God: in the Word, in the water, and in the bread and wine. This is where that salvation is given to us. Come and see!