Come and See Rev. David Reynolds John 1:43-51 Tom Long tells the story of a rollicking night at the theater. A young actor named Tom Key was playing the part of Jesus in the play Cotton Patch Gospel, and he was clearly bringing the house down. The play, a romping bluegrass musical, which depicts the ministry of Jesus as if it took place in the cotton fields of the Baptist South, was in its final performance run, and Key was feeling confident and even inventive with his lines. During the scene depicting the Sermon on the Mount, Key, as Jesus, suddenly turned from the group on the stage. He turned toward the audience, pointed to the blank auditorium side wall, and said, “Look at the lilies in that field...” He stopped, almost as if he had forgotten the next line, peered around at the disciples, focused again on the audience, and repeated, “Look at the lilies in that field...” Once more he stopped and seemed to be searching for his next words. The audience began to shift uncomfortably. His hand extended yet again to the blank wall, and this time he spoke the words slowly and deliberately, “ Look... at... the...lilies... in ... that... field...” Now he turned to the disciples on stage, shrugging his shoulders, and said, “I can’t get them to look.” The room filled with laughter as it dawned on the audience that he really wanted them to look. And sure enough, when he gave one more try, “Look at the lilies in that field...” every head in the audience turned toward the side wall. For John, the gospel writer, that would have been his kind of show. He spends his whole gospel trying to get people to look, and to really “see” the deep meaning of the life and death of Jesus. It’s his gospel that is constantly using the language of light and darkness, and playing with the language of blindness and sight, of who is really “blind” and who really “sees”. That willingness, and/or the inability to look and to really see stands at the center of this story about Nathaniel. In the story, Philip has made an important discovery in Jesus and says to Nathaniel, “come and see.” Come and see. And the rest of the story, in very concise form, deals with Nathaniel’s initial inability to do that, and then the beginning of his transformation. We might even say that it deals with the beginning of his salvation which is conceived of here as the freedom from being enslaved to blindness. It’s amazing really, to look through scripture and see how much of it deals with the human inability to really “see”, to really “hear” and understand the word of life God is trying to speak. In the sixth chapter of Isaiah, a chapter which is a recounting and remembering of the prophet’s call, it’s obvious that years later in reflecting on his life’s call and how frustrating and difficult it had been to have felt so surely and strongly that he must speak this word from God, and yet to have people never really “hear” it and get it. He feels forced to conclude that that blindness and deafness must have been God’s will somehow. And so he writes that God says to the people: “Keep listening, but do not comprehend; keep looking, but do not understand. Make the mind of this people dull, and stop their ears, and shut their eyes, so that they may not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and comprehend with their minds, and turn and be healed.” And that very passage from Isaiah is quoted by Jesus in all four of the gospels! It seems to be at the heart of the problem. And this story picks up that theme again. See Nathaniel is blind and deaf, not literally, of course, but in the way that matters most in scripture. That is, he is prejudiced. And, like most prejudice and bigotry, he doesn’t realize or recognize it. See, it masquerades as knowledge. Philip has made this exciting discovery in Jesus of Nazareth, and Nathaniel replies, “I know about Nazareth.” “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” He’s unable at that point to look and really see. On the eve of Martin Luther King’s birthday celebration, it’s a good time to examine human prejudice. Because scripture would seem to say that prejudice really is the essence of our state of sin. Prejudice is in essence a misnaming of life. It is saying something is true of life that is in fact not true, taking one little piece of experience and expanding it far beyond what you really know. And so, it misnames life. And that misnaming is precisely what Scripture calls sin and idolatry, calling something that is actually death and evil, the Source of life. And, says the Gospel, we so misname God that we end up in fact, crucifying the life of God among us. And the reason why, our prejudice, remains hidden from us is in what the cross of Christ reveals to us about the nature of sin. Namely, it shows us that sin runs so deep in us that it’s woven into the very fabric of all of our societies and religions. It shows us that our ways of life depend on placing a disproportionate share of the whole community’s sin on the backs of a few, or in the case of the crucifixion, on one. And so, the height of western civilization, Roman law, and the height of western religion, Judaism, together crucified Jesus. We misname life which causes conflict and animosity and then we create scapegoats in order to resolve that conflict and not see our misnaming in order to maintain the illusion of our own innocence and superiority. That’s racism, isn’t it? You can see it certainly in slavery, and in the segregation laws that followed slavery, and you can see it still in the difference in the way punishment is meted out to those involved in the Enron scandal on the one hand, and some black or latino teen caught shoplifting video tapes from K-Mart on the other. And, you and I are involved in that, because it is woven into the fabric of our society. And to the extent that we deny that we are involved just goes back to our prejudice and sin. It might seem hopeless, and we might wonder if we personally, or societies in general can ever really be any different. Certainly the Biblical witness is that it is nearly impossible in the living of life, for us to see what we need to see about life, to really let God’s word address us. But, the operative word there is nearly ─ nearly impossible. Thank God. This story says that Jesus gives Nathaniel true sight. Jesus sees Nathaniel coming toward him, and knowing of Nathaniel’s prejudiced, knee- jerk response about anyone from Nazareth, he affirms in Nathaniel what Nathaniel values in himself, that is, that he’s a straight-shooter, he just says what he thinks. And so, says Jesus, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” That is, Jesus sees and knows Nathaniel in a way that Nathaniel feels himself deeply known and loved, even so. Jesus loves him as he is, prejudiced and bigoted though that may be. And in being unmasked and deeply loved all at the same time, Nathaniel is able to see a Savior for his life, one capable of freeing him from being enslaved to blindness. Make no mistake, it is being both unmasked and still deeply loved that frees according to John. It is not something supernatural. That’s why John has Jesus say to Nathaniel incredulously, “Do you believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree?” As if to say, don’t be fooled by what you see as supernatural stuff, look to this relationship. It’s much the same way John tells the story of the resurrection appearance to Thomas, when he has Jesus say, “Have you believed because you’ve seen me”...in this resurrected state? “Blessed are those who have not seen me (like this) and yet have come to believe.” Our faith isn’t about supernatural, “religious” stuff. It’s about a God who unmasks us in all our prejudice and bigotry and yet who loves deeply and forgives us all at the same time. And that’s the true sight Jesus promises to Nathaniel. He invokes the supernatural “vision” of Jacob at Bethel when he “saw” the ladder to heaven and angels ascending and descending, and says instead: What you’ll “see” if you journey with me is angels ascending and descending on me, that is, come and see, come and follow and in this relationship in life, you’ll know God. Friends, that’s what we hold to. Our “call” as Christians isn’t to be more “righteous” than others, or even more righteous than we thought we were before. It isn’t to be “right” in terms of doctrine, or religious experience, or whatever. It’s just to stay on this journey with Jesus. It’s to keep allowing ourselves to be unmasked, and loved deeply at the same time, and so given new sight, over and over and over again. You see, it started here with Nathaniel, just as it started with Peter and Andrew and James and John, and Matthew the tax collector. And they all deserted and denied him at the crucifixion, and so once again became part of the prejudice and blindness of their society and religion. But, he returned to unmask that, and to love and forgive them even so. And so, the journey continued. Stay on the journey. That’s all. Stay in life with Jesus of Nazareth. It’s our call.
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