Jan. 18, 2014

Rev. Megan Huston
January 18, 2015

John 1:43-51
43The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45Philip 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.” 46Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” 48Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” 49Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” 51And 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.”

When Willie & I drove into Paris, TN for the first time, I was sort of thinking, “Can any good thing come from this town?” I looked at Willie and asked, “Who would ever live here?!”

Paris, Tennessee is totally isolated, 45 minutes from its nearest interstate. And while there are some beautiful country hills around the outskirts, and many love the Kentucky lake about 20 minutes away, we were not mesmerized by small town charm, we wanted to get out of there as soon as possible.

But when we stepped into First Christian Church, and it was like we were in the Twilight Zone. I have honestly never experienced anything like it, the church members felt like family after meeting them for the first time, and so my question on our way home was, “Willie, what just happened?”

So pretty soon, we had all of our things packed up and there we were in the middle of a town we had no interest in being a part of. But that little church who no one ever paid attention to and who our regional staff had blown off as just another dying church, they are doing some amazing things. I got an email from their current minister just a few weeks ago that said in their annual wine to water fundraiser that they had raised a record $8,000 for clean water projects in Zimbabwe.

Can any good thing come from Nazareth? Nathaniel asks… It was really a statement more than a question. Nazareth, village of 200-400 people, economically dependent on the city of Sepphoris, the capital of Galilee. The village wasn’t mentioned in Hebrew scriptures, and was certainly not associated with messianic expectations. It was a nowhere town full of people who were expected to go just about as far.

I find it fascinating how expectations shape us. Working with youth it becomes really clear when a child has been labeled as a trouble maker, it is like they make it their mission to live into their title. I think, like First Christian Paris, many small congregations have been labeled as already dead by leaders in our denomination, and so they live into that expectation. I remember, when I got to First Christian in Paris they kept telling me how the minister before me would always tell them how they needed to change. And I met him at General Assembly one year and he said, “I see that you are going on mission trips and the kids are going to camp. You know, I kept telling them that they needed to do those things but no one would listen to me.” But this minister, who was pursuing his PhD while pastoring there, I think he always had his sights on a bigger more important church. And while he was there the membership dwindled and conversations began about shutting the church down. But I feel certain it was because he did not expect them to go anywhere and they knew it and so they started living into that expectation.

Expectations and assumptions, can cause a lot of damage, which is why our Psalm for today is so powerful. It assures us that God knows us fully, God sees who we really are, and I think God expects greatness. But as I said last week, we are often more tuned in to the other voices around us, than the one that says, “You are my beloved… I formed and shaped you and you are fearfully and wonderfully made.”

Kathryn Matthews Huey says that it's easy for us, as parents, grandparents and loving friends, to see the beauty and wonder of God's handiwork when we look at a newborn baby or a child, or when we raise our eyes to the heavens and gaze at the stars, or when we walk in a garden and see the exquisite loveliness of flowers and stones side by side. What seems to be more difficult is for us to look at ourselves, all grown up and somewhat the worse for wear, and pray that same prayer with quite the same enthusiasm.

But what if we started expecting extraordinary compassion from ordinary people? What if we stopped counting our flaws and our deficits, and started focusing on the gifts we were given that could quite possible change the world?

Raymond Gant who stands over six feet tall and is about as wide as a house, was born and raised in inner-city Philadelphia. He lived a life of extremes. After serving a 12 year prison sentence for dealing drugs, Gant defied the odds and used his second chance to make a valuable contribution to the community he had wronged. In 2002, he founded the Ray of Hope project- a green nonprofit that rehabilitates the homes of low income residents using only recycled materials and a volunteer work force made up of former convicts, college students, and skilled contractors. Gant has also spearheaded a neighborhood cleanup initiative and often performs needed services for seniors, such as lawn mowing and minor home repairs. Every so often Gant returns to the prison where he once spent two years in solitary confinement to share his redemptive story with the inmates there, and let them know that it’s never too late to change the ending of your story.

Our Gospel lesson for today is a story of calling. It assures us that greatness can come from unexpected places. It asks us to believe, not only in the best in others, but to believe in the best within ourselves.

As we celebrate the great Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Junior, I am reminded of the despair our world is constantly facing and yet the capacity for change that we hold deep within ourselves. I wonder if Reverend King’s legacy is less about one man’s ability to change the world, and more about all of the ordinary people who chose to stand up for what is right. There are ordinary heroes all over the place who are using their voices, their hands, and their feet to make the world a more just place. Whether it is throwing a party to raise money for water projects in Africa, or Raymond Gant’s willingness to change not only his own story, but the stories of some of the poorest members of his community.

Our story for today assures us that it is not enough to simply believe in Jesus, but that true discipleship requires our following him. It asks us to believe the best in ourselves and choose to make a difference.

So today I wonder, what it is that God created you to do in this world. For some, it is working with the homeless, and for others it is serving the hungry. For some it is teaching and for others it is caring. But I wonder what would happen if each of us found the connection between the gifts we possess and the deep needs of the community that surrounds us.

I wonder what would happen if we believed that anything was possible… if we stopped letting the 24 hour news cycle dominate our narrative, and instead decided to come and see what can happen when we encounter Christ and march into the most hopeless places and decide to hope anyways.

I have seen it happen here through Room In the Inn and our food pantry. I have watched people’s lives change through community and worship. I know that something authentic and powerful happens when we come together to see what God can do.

And so let’s not settle on things the way they are. Let’s look back to our Psalm and discover who we really are and what we can do.

 

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