Come and See

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Yesterday, I tuned on my computer and saw two words posted by my closest friend from childhood.  The words were: “Selma.  Go”  I knew that a movie had just come out with the name “Selma,” and I assumed it was related to the life and work of Martin Luther King, Jr., but I knew nothing else about it.  Those words from that friend, though, moved the film from somewhere in the middle of the stack of movies I want to eventually see to the top.  My friend Jeff left our small town after high school and majored in film production at New York University.  I’ve always assumed that he knows much more about current films than I do, and I have come to trust his judgment.  Funny how just two words of invitation can inspire action.

 

In our Gospel reading, three words were used for an even more momentous invitation:  “Come and see.”  They were spoken by Phillip, one of the first three disciples of Jesus according to John’s account.  Phillip in his excitement about meeting Jesus, found his friend Nathaniel and gave a somewhat long-winded explanation of who he understood Jesus to be.  He essentially said that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah, and that he was from the town of Nazareth.  Nathaniel’s snarky reply, “How can anything good come out of Nazareth?” sparked Phillip’s response: “Come and see.”

 

Nazareth is a bustling tourist town today.  It’s a sizeable city with lots of traffic surrounding a historic core of crusader-era walls and narrow pedestrian streets.  Nazareth is essentially a Palestinian city that majors on Christian tourism.  Suspended above the main thoroughfare is a permanent sign that proclaims in English letters, “Merry Xmas.”  Looming large above the old city on a hilltop is the Basilica of the Annunciation.  It marks the traditional location for the Catholic Church of the home of Mary and Joseph.  It is there, they believe, that Mary was visited by an angel announcing that she would have a child.  The Basilica is the largest Christian worship space in all of the Middle East, and on the lowest level you can see the ruins of a tiny home purported to be where the angel spoke to Mary and where Jesus spent his childhood.  Nazareth in the early first century of the Common Era was believed to have a population of about three hundred.  It was truly insignificant at that time, and nowhere in the Hebrew prophesies was Nazareth mentioned in connection with the Messiah.

 

So Nathaniel was a bit sarcastic.  Why bother even walking a short distance to meet another Messianic wannabe?  Such claims were common, and Nathaniel had probably heard many others touted as the fulfillment of Hebrew scripture. 

 

But Phillip was his friend, some say perhaps even his brother.  He sighed and went along and was surprised by a bizarrely off-the-wall welcome by Jesus, who said: “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.”  Maybe Nathaniel wasn’t good at accepting compliments.  More likely he was stunned that Jesus knew anything about him at all.  He asked how Jesus knew him, and Jesus said “I saw you under the fig tree.”

 

Speaking of fig trees, does anyone eat figs anymore?  According to an article yesterday in the Huffington Post, even Fig Newtons don’t exist any longer.  Now they are just called “Newtons.”  Part of the reason is that there are other Newton flavors now like strawberry.  But an analyst commenting on a Fig Newton ad from 1951 said this: “For the blissed-out, gap-toothed kid in this 1951 ad, the fig jelly that filled Fig Newtons and promised a 'Fig-jam jamboree' was just about the coolest thing ever. Can you imagine a 21st century tween getting stoked about fig paste now?”  I guess the answer is “no.”  Even back in the gospels, figs had a mixed reputation.  Jesus himself cursed and essentially killed a fig tree one day without any apparent reason. 

 

Fig trees may not have been as common as olive trees in upper Galilee, but apparently Nathaniel was hanging out beneath one of them when Philip told him about Jesus.  The implication in the story is that Nathaniel and Philip were out of sight range from Jesus when the conversation happened.  So clearly, Jesus had some sort of telepathic powers in order to see Nathaniel there.  That caused the skeptic Nathaniel to fall to his knees and shout “You are the Son of God, the King of Israel.”

 

I’m going to take a leap here and guess that the Jesus Seminar in its quest for the historical Jesus had a heyday with the content of John chapter 1, including the interaction between Nathaniel and Jesus.  Is this an historical account, or is this one of many stories intended to illustrate the emphasis on Jesus’ divinity within the community of John?  You can decide that for yourself, but it is important to note that John is dense with Messianic allusions.  This is one of many, and the tone and the content of the Gospel that follows is markedly different from the other three.  What is worth noting here is not so much the heavy Christological language, but also indications of the humanness of Jesus.  He may have been born in Bethlehem in alignment with prophesy, but he was raised by a simple, hard-working family in a backwoods town in rural Galilee.  His earthly origins were not impressive, and that became a stumbling block for people like Nathaniel who were so certain they knew the Messianic plan and would recognize God’s entrance into their world.

 

In November of 1954, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered the sermon titled “Transformed Non-conformists” at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, where he had recently been installed as pastor.  This became a standard sermon of King’s that was repeated frequently in the years to come as he led a movement of non-violent resistance.  He reminded those committed to justice that their cause was not only theirs but God’s.  He insisted that the cause and its success could not be separated from a commitment to spirituality.  Transformation of the world and its systems of power was vitally connected to inner transformation which he proclaimed to his congregation was what Jesus meant in John’s gospel by the New Birth.

 

I love that title:  Transformed Non-conformists.  Non-conformity seems to be a value in Colorado stretching back to frontier days and perhaps exemplified here in Boulder.  The United Church of Christ denomination has been a gathering place for non-conformists, going back to Pilgrims and others unwilling to be told how to believe or how to worship.  I joke that the motto of the UCC should be “You’re not the boss of me.”  We value independent thought and action, and we struggle to balance that with commitment to being in covenant with one another.  Anyway, I think the words of Martin Luther King Jr. about non-conformity for the sake of the gospel of Jesus ring true.  The Apostle Paul in one of his finer moments said, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”  That was the text for King’s sermon, and he masterfully described the influence non-conforming believers in Jesus had on the larger society to bring justice and to reduce the more barbaric aspects of life in the Roman Empire.  All of that sprang from the spiritual spark that caught fire and spread from town to town as the message of Jesus was taught and believers shared those simple words: “Come and see.”

 

Several years ago, a Buddhist friend gave me a book by Marcus Borg titled “Jesus and Buddha: The Parallel Sayings.”  Borg points out the many similarities seen in how Jesus and Buddha called and directed their disciples.  He wrote, "Jesus and the Buddha were teachers of wisdom. Wisdom is more than ethics, even though it includes ethical teaching. The 'more' consists of fundamental ways of seeing and being. Wisdom is not just about moral behavior, but about the 'center,' the place from which moral perception and moral behavior flow.

Jesus and the Buddha were teachers of a world-subverting wisdom that undermined and challenged conventional ways of seeing and being in their time and in every time. Their subversive wisdom was also an alternative wisdom: they taught a way or path of transformation.”

 

And so we see the emphasis on transformation in the words of Jesus, in Paul, in Buddha, and in Martin Luther King, Jr.  They were non-conformists in each place and in each era who were fueled by on ongoing spiritual process.

 

When I was a teenager and young adult, I took seriously the importance of spiritual development.  I frequently heard the message that Christian spirituality required a daily “Quite Time” at the start of each day for a minimum of thirty minutes.  There was a common Quiet Time formula that involved Bible reading, reflection, and prayer.  At my church-related college, students were encouraged to be accountable to one another for their spiritual life, and the admonishing question “how is your daily Quite Time” was heard frequently between classes or in line at the cafeteria.  All of that did nothing but induce guilt in me since I was too hyper to sit quietly first thing in the morning for that long.  I’d succeed for a week or so and then fail miserably.  Decades removed from that experience, I believe strongly that there is no “one size fits all” spirituality.  For me, hiking in the mountains while pondering my life and vocation and soaking up natural beauty is a spiritual exercise that invigorates and renews me.  For many in our church, meditation is a valued and helpful discipline.  I would love to learn more about your spiritual practices and how they benefit you.

 

When I was considering new ministry calls last year, one of the churches said in its profile: “We’ve got social justice down, but we need help developing a spiritual life to support it.”  They were longing for what Martin Luther King Jr. urged: to become transformed non-conformists.  The emphasis on contemplative spirituality is a strength of this church, and it is rare but wonderful to find the combination of spirituality and social action that exists here.

 

Phillip and Nathaniel were engaged in what we all do.  Discovering something new, sharing it excitedly with others, and figuring out what gives our lives a sense of direction.  They became followers of Jesus.  We are followers, too.  Perhaps with different understandings of what that means, but ready to receive wisdom so that we can be inwardly prepared for the outward work of justice we have been called to.

 

Our sermon hymn is sometimes called “The black national anthem.”  It was written in 1900 for a celebration of Abraham Lincoln’s birthday in Florida.  Booker T. Washington was the honored guest at that event.  Five hundred children at a segregated school where the composer was principal gave the first public presentation of this hymn.  #593: “Life Every Voice and Sing”.

 

Amen

         

 

 

 

 

 

 

            

Pastor Rick Danielson

 

Yesterday, I tuned on my computer and saw two words posted by my closest friend from childhood.  The words were: “Selma.  Go”  I knew that a movie had just come out with the name “Selma,” and I assumed it was related to the life and work of Martin Luther King, Jr., but I knew nothing else about it.  Those words from that friend, though, moved the film from somewhere in the middle of the stack of movies I want to eventually see to the top.  My friend Jeff left our small town after high school and majored in film production at New York University.  I’ve always assumed that he knows much more about current films than I do, and I have come to trust his judgment.  Funny how just two words of invitation can inspire action.

 

In our Gospel reading, three words were used for an even more momentous invitation:  “Come and see.”  They were spoken by Phillip, one of the first three disciples of Jesus according to John’s account.  Phillip in his excitement about meeting Jesus, found his friend Nathaniel and gave a somewhat long-winded explanation of who he understood Jesus to be.  He essentially said that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah, and that he was from the town of Nazareth.  Nathaniel’s snarky reply, “How can anything good come out of Nazareth?” sparked Phillip’s response: “Come and see.”

 

Nazareth is a bustling tourist town today.  It’s a sizeable city with lots of traffic surrounding a historic core of crusader-era walls and narrow pedestrian streets.  Nazareth is essentially a Palestinian city that majors on Christian tourism.  Suspended above the main thoroughfare is a permanent sign that proclaims in English letters, “Merry Xmas.”  Looming large above the old city on a hilltop is the Basilica of the Annunciation.  It marks the traditional location for the Catholic Church of the home of Mary and Joseph.  It is there, they believe, that Mary was visited by an angel announcing that she would have a child.  The Basilica is the largest Christian worship space in all of the Middle East, and on the lowest level you can see the ruins of a tiny home purported to be where the angel spoke to Mary and where Jesus spent his childhood.  Nazareth in the early first century of the Common Era was believed to have a population of about three hundred.  It was truly insignificant at that time, and nowhere in the Hebrew prophesies was Nazareth mentioned in connection with the Messiah.

 

So Nathaniel was a bit sarcastic.  Why bother even walking a short distance to meet another Messianic wannabe?  Such claims were common, and Nathaniel had probably heard many others touted as the fulfillment of Hebrew scripture. 

 

But Phillip was his friend, some say perhaps even his brother.  He sighed and went along and was surprised by a bizarrely off-the-wall welcome by Jesus, who said: “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.”  Maybe Nathaniel wasn’t good at accepting compliments.  More likely he was stunned that Jesus knew anything about him at all.  He asked how Jesus knew him, and Jesus said “I saw you under the fig tree.”

 

Speaking of fig trees, does anyone eat figs anymore?  According to an article yesterday in the Huffington Post, even Fig Newtons don’t exist any longer.  Now they are just called “Newtons.”  Part of the reason is that there are other Newton flavors now like strawberry.  But an analyst commenting on a Fig Newton ad from 1951 said this: “For the blissed-out, gap-toothed kid in this 1951 ad, the fig jelly that filled Fig Newtons and promised a 'Fig-jam jamboree' was just about the coolest thing ever. Can you imagine a 21st century tween getting stoked about fig paste now?”  I guess the answer is “no.”  Even back in the gospels, figs had a mixed reputation.  Jesus himself cursed and essentially killed a fig tree one day without any apparent reason. 

 

Fig trees may not have been as common as olive trees in upper Galilee, but apparently Nathaniel was hanging out beneath one of them when Philip told him about Jesus.  The implication in the story is that Nathaniel and Philip were out of sight range from Jesus when the conversation happened.  So clearly, Jesus had some sort of telepathic powers in order to see Nathaniel there.  That caused the skeptic Nathaniel to fall to his knees and shout “You are the Son of God, the King of Israel.”

 

I’m going to take a leap here and guess that the Jesus Seminar in its quest for the historical Jesus had a heyday with the content of John chapter 1, including the interaction between Nathaniel and Jesus.  Is this an historical account, or is this one of many stories intended to illustrate the emphasis on Jesus’ divinity within the community of John?  You can decide that for yourself, but it is important to note that John is dense with Messianic allusions.  This is one of many, and the tone and the content of the Gospel that follows is markedly different from the other three.  What is worth noting here is not so much the heavy Christological language, but also indications of the humanness of Jesus.  He may have been born in Bethlehem in alignment with prophesy, but he was raised by a simple, hard-working family in a backwoods town in rural Galilee.  His earthly origins were not impressive, and that became a stumbling block for people like Nathaniel who were so certain they knew the Messianic plan and would recognize God’s entrance into their world.

 

In November of 1954, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered the sermon titled “Transformed Non-conformists” at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, where he had recently been installed as pastor.  This became a standard sermon of King’s that was repeated frequently in the years to come as he led a movement of non-violent resistance.  He reminded those committed to justice that their cause was not only theirs but God’s.  He insisted that the cause and its success could not be separated from a commitment to spirituality.  Transformation of the world and its systems of power was vitally connected to inner transformation which he proclaimed to his congregation was what Jesus meant in John’s gospel by the New Birth.

 

I love that title:  Transformed Non-conformists.  Non-conformity seems to be a value in Colorado stretching back to frontier days and perhaps exemplified here in Boulder.  The United Church of Christ denomination has been a gathering place for non-conformists, going back to Pilgrims and others unwilling to be told how to believe or how to worship.  I joke that the motto of the UCC should be “You’re not the boss of me.”  We value independent thought and action, and we struggle to balance that with commitment to being in covenant with one another.  Anyway, I think the words of Martin Luther King Jr. about non-conformity for the sake of the gospel of Jesus ring true.  The Apostle Paul in one of his finer moments said, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”  That was the text for King’s sermon, and he masterfully described the influence non-conforming believers in Jesus had on the larger society to bring justice and to reduce the more barbaric aspects of life in the Roman Empire.  All of that sprang from the spiritual spark that caught fire and spread from town to town as the message of Jesus was taught and believers shared those simple words: “Come and see.”

 

Several years ago, a Buddhist friend gave me a book by Marcus Borg titled “Jesus and Buddha: The Parallel Sayings.”  Borg points out the many similarities seen in how Jesus and Buddha called and directed their disciples.  He wrote, "Jesus and the Buddha were teachers of wisdom. Wisdom is more than ethics, even though it includes ethical teaching. The 'more' consists of fundamental ways of seeing and being. Wisdom is not just about moral behavior, but about the 'center,' the place from which moral perception and moral behavior flow.

Jesus and the Buddha were teachers of a world-subverting wisdom that undermined and challenged conventional ways of seeing and being in their time and in every time. Their subversive wisdom was also an alternative wisdom: they taught a way or path of transformation.”

 

And so we see the emphasis on transformation in the words of Jesus, in Paul, in Buddha, and in Martin Luther King, Jr.  They were non-conformists in each place and in each era who were fueled by on ongoing spiritual process.

 

When I was a teenager and young adult, I took seriously the importance of spiritual development.  I frequently heard the message that Christian spirituality required a daily “Quite Time” at the start of each day for a minimum of thirty minutes.  There was a common Quiet Time formula that involved Bible reading, reflection, and prayer.  At my church-related college, students were encouraged to be accountable to one another for their spiritual life, and the admonishing question “how is your daily Quite Time” was heard frequently between classes or in line at the cafeteria.  All of that did nothing but induce guilt in me since I was too hyper to sit quietly first thing in the morning for that long.  I’d succeed for a week or so and then fail miserably.  Decades removed from that experience, I believe strongly that there is no “one size fits all” spirituality.  For me, hiking in the mountains while pondering my life and vocation and soaking up natural beauty is a spiritual exercise that invigorates and renews me.  For many in our church, meditation is a valued and helpful discipline.  I would love to learn more about your spiritual practices and how they benefit you.

 

When I was considering new ministry calls last year, one of the churches said in its profile: “We’ve got social justice down, but we need help developing a spiritual life to support it.”  They were longing for what Martin Luther King Jr. urged: to become transformed non-conformists.  The emphasis on contemplative spirituality is a strength of this church, and it is rare but wonderful to find the combination of spirituality and social action that exists here.

 

Phillip and Nathaniel were engaged in what we all do.  Discovering something new, sharing it excitedly with others, and figuring out what gives our lives a sense of direction.  They became followers of Jesus.  We are followers, too.  Perhaps with different understandings of what that means, but ready to receive wisdom so that we can be inwardly prepared for the outward work of justice we have been called to.

 

Our sermon hymn is sometimes called “The black national anthem.”  It was written in 1900 for a celebration of Abraham Lincoln’s birthday in Florida.  Booker T. Washington was the honored guest at that event.  Five hundred children at a segregated school where the composer was principal gave the first public presentation of this hymn.  #593: “Life Every Voice and Sing”.

 

Amen

         

 

 

 

 

 

 

            

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