Monday, January 15, 2018

Sermon on John 1.43-51

The Rev. Joseph Peters-Mathews
January 14, 2017
St. Joseph-St. John, Lakewood
Epiphany 2, B
John 1.43-51

I don’t know what to say this week.
The annual meeting is right after this,
            and Jesus calls to Philip
            and Nathanael and us,
                        “Follow me.”
We’ve also got Philip saying,
            “We have found him
about whom Moses in the law
and also the prophets wrote,
Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.
How does Nathanael reply?
He asks,
“Can anything good come from Nazareth?”
That sounds a lot like
            A comment the President made this week,
                        doesn’t it?

The sentiment sounds the same.
A temptation is to let the comparison  
            stand on its own.
Giving in to that temptation
            is giving in to white supremacist rhetoric.
Nathanael may have thought
            that Nazareth wasn’t anything
            but that doesn’t make it nothing
                        even if it was in the back woods.
It’s where Jesus,
            the savior of creation,
                        grew up poor.
Jesus changed the world,
            just like the people of Haiti.
I couldn’t get in this pulpit
            and not mention the analogous comparison.
But saying anything more about it
            isn't the sermon that I
am called to preach to you
And I tried to write one.

When Nathanael dismisses Jesus
            simply because he is from Nazareth
                        Philip replies to “Can anything good?”
                                    with “Come and see.”
What Nathanael finds is
            a man who essentially
has done a magic trick.
Jesus says, “I saw you sitting under the fig tree.”
Jesus knew where Nathanael was,
            and that’s all it takes to convince him
                        that Jesus is the son of God,
                                    the king of Israel.
I’m with Jesus:
            that's a pretty low bar.
Despite Nathanael’s dismissing Nazareth,
            Jesus doesn’t dismiss Nathanael.
Jesus says,
            “You will see greater things than these.”
From what we know of Nathanael,
            he does what Philip does at the beginning of this passage.
He follows Jesus.

This short passage
is part of John’s Gospel
                        where Jesus is assembling
his core group of disciples.
Some of them
were followers of John the Baptizer.
Others he recruits along the way
            and convinces to follow him by his teaching.
They seek out new people to follow Jesus
            because they are convinced
                        that Jesus is the one written about
                                    in the law and the prophets.
This is only John Chapter 1
            and Philip is evangelizing —
                        sharing the Good News with —
From John’s disciples,
            to those he invites,
                        to those they invite
and Jesus persuades,
            the number of Jesus’ followers grows.
Jesus says,
            “Follow me” then
                        “You will see greater things than these.”

Our annual meeting is today,
            and I think more clearly that ever
                        Jesus is saying,
                                    “Follow me.”
Jesus the living Christ
has made all things new.
There are some new announcements
we’ll get at the annual meeting in a bit
            including some new Bishops Committee members.
I hope.
Following Jesus who has made all things new
            requires as I talked about last week
                        dying to old habits,
                                    including habits of clinging to things.
It means trying new things
            with new people.
It means being like Philip,
            and telling those we encounter
                        the Good News of Jesus.
It means saying,
            “Come and see”
                        about how you’ve known new life in Christ
                                    at St. Joseph-St. John.

When Philip and Nathanael follow Jesus
            he promises them,
                        “You will see greater things than these”
They leave their immediate families.
They quit their jobs.
They risk their social standing and even their lives
            to follow Jesus.
“You will see greater things than these.”
This assurance of Jesus is ours too,
            but we have to take risks —
                        personally and as a body.

One risk Episcopalians are scared to take, often,
            is inviting someone to church with them.
The Season after the Epiphany,
            has historically been a season about evangelism.
This has been a few weeks of focusing
            on sharing the Good News of the incarnate Christ
                        salvation made available to all
If you have someone in mind
            to invite for next week,
                        don’t hesitate.
But if you’ve got some trouble,
            some anxiety with that risk…
                        if you’re not quite comfortable saying
                                    “Come and see” like Philip…
            spend some time in prayer and discernment.

Think about who might need to be reunited
with the church,
            with our church or any church.
Think about who might need to hear
            that their sins are forgiven.
Think about who might need to be reminded
            that they are dust, and to dust they will return.
Spend this next month
            wondering who you might invite
                        to our one Ashes to Stay service
                                    after Community Dinner on February 14.
Jesus tells Philip, “Follow me.”
Philip tells Nathanael,
            “Come and see.”
Jesus tells Nathanael and us,
            “You will see greater things than these.”
Let’s take the risks.
Let’s follow Jesus. 

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Sermon on John 1.1-18

The Rev. Joseph Peters-Mathews
31 December 207
St. Joseph-St. John, Lakewood
Christmas 1, B
John 1.1-18

“Wrap our injured flesh around You
Breathe our air and walk our sod
Rob our sins and make us holy
Perfect Son of God
Perfect Son of God.”[1] Amen.

This passage from John’s Gospel
            is always here.
It’s always the text
            for the first Sunday after Christmas.
It’s beautiful.   
John establishes that Jesus the Christ
            existed before creation,
and yet as we say in the creed,
            through him all things were made.
 “All things came into being through him,
and without him not one thing came into being. 
What has come into being in him was life,
and the life was the light of all people.”
“He was in the world,
and the world came into being through him.”
John sets up his themes of light and dark,
            light that darkness can’t defeat.
“[John the Baptizer] came as a witness
to testify to the light…
The true light,
which enlightens everyone,
was coming into the world.”

I love this passage,
            but I’ve heard so many bad sermons on it.
I’ve heard so many bad sermons
            because John is so philosophical.
John’s prologue deals with
the Greek concept of λόγος
            translated as Word.
It’s an important concept,
            but it’s so easy
to get lost in the weeds
            discussing it in a sermon.
John’s prologue is beautiful,
            and it’s philosophical,
                        and it can be so abstract!

This week in Vancouver
            Brandon and I went to an exhibit
            called “Emptiness”
                        at the Vancouver Art Gallery.
It followed two artists —
            one Canadian, one Chinese —
                        as they moved
from traditional painting styles
                        to contemporary styles
in their own countries.
For the Canadian artist,
            Emily Carr
                        this was a move from romanticism and realism
                                    to more abstract, more spiritual —
                                                more conceptual.
After being exposed to abstractionism
            and the direction visual art in Canada was going,
                        Carr said, “I was not ready for abstraction
                                    I clung to earth and her dear shapes,
                                                her density, her herbage, her juice.
                                    I wanted her volume,
and I wanted to hear her throb.”
On the first Sunday after Christmas
            when John says,
                        “In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God,”
            I don’t want abstraction.
I want to cling to the earth and her dear shapes,
            her density, her herbage, her juice.
I want to cling to Jesus
            taking our injured flesh on himself,
                        breathing our air, walking our sod —
                                    robbing our sins and making us holy.
I want the God born as an infant
            to reflexively wrap his tiny, human, Godly hand
                        around my pinky
John gives me what I want  
when he says about Jesus,
                        “And the Word became flesh
and lived among us,
and we have seen his glory,
the glory as of a father's only son,
full of grace and truth.”
The Word became flesh
            and lived among us.

I’m going to say that again.
The Word became flesh
            and lived among us.
We don’t have to dive into the abstractions,
            into John’s philosophy
about the Word, the λόγος,
            to understand God becoming human
                                    and living with, like, and as one of us.
Christmas is wonderful,
            but we are tempted
                        to make it more sweet than revolutionary.
Some of our carols don’t help.
In the busy-ness of the season
            time spent with family, closing the year,
scrambling for bills, three services in two days
            we aren’t conditioned to think about
                                    Jesus the Word becoming flesh
                                                and living among us.
The Church celebrates this joyous event
            for twelve days.
As Chrysostom says,
            “For it was to Him no lowering
to put on what He Himself had made. 
Let that handiwork be forever glorified,
which became the cloak of its own Creator.
For as in the first creation of flesh,
man could not be made
before the clay had come into His hand,
so neither could this corruptible body be glorified,
until it had first become the garment of its Maker.”

In the Word becoming flesh and living among us,
            the flesh we have has bene elevated to be like God.
All of creation has been redeemed.
I opened with lyrics
from the modern Christmas hymn
            “Welcome to Our World”:
Wrap our injured flesh around You
Breathe our air and walk our sod
Rob our sins and make us holy
Perfect Son of God.
Another verse references
a tiny heart whose blood will save us,
            which I think belies the plea to
                        “Rob our sins and make us holy.”
It skips the birth,
            the taking on flesh and living — living — among us
                        to Jesus’ death saving us.
It misses celebrating the Incarnation,
            for which I render that lyrics
                        tiny heart whose beating saves us.
To miss the celebration of the Incarnation —
            from busy-ness, or philosophy, or rushing to the crucifixion
                        misses the tangible, messy, fleshy reality
                        of Jesus the Word becoming flesh
                                    and living among us.
In Christmastide I am not ready for abstraction.
            I cling to earth and her dear shapes,
                        her density, her herbage, her juice.
I want her volume,
and I want to hear her throb.
I want to hear, to feel, the throb
            of the tiny heart whose beating saves us.

[1] “Welcome to Our World,” lyrics by Chris Rice.