Congregational Church of Grafton, January 14, 2018
1 Samuel 3:1-10 – Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening
John 1:43-46 – Can anything good come out of Nazareth?
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
Nathaniel asked, “can any good come out of Nazareth?”
Does kinda make you think there was something less than desirable about Nazareth, doesn’t it?
There’s nothing easier than blaming where someone’s from – it makes it possible to dismiss everyone who “comes from Nazareth”, but, you know, it’s just not Christian.
Jesus Christ came from Nazareth, the Haiti of his day, filled – according to his detractors – with lazy ignorant folks who weren’t ever going to be good enough to be welcome in the halls of power and government. Those folks from Nazareth had nothing to offer, no love, no mercy, no grace and certainly no power.
Jesus Christ came from Nazareth. He was poor, uneducated, didn’t wear fancy clothes, didn’t know all the current in people. And no one in the seats of power thought much of him.
Things haven’t changed much. It’s still ok to put people down because they come from whatever passes for Nazareth in our part of the world. Sometimes it’s kinda vulgar, always it completely blows off what Jesus himself had to say about who is in, and who is out, in God’s world.
While there are some people who measure whether you are a “real Christian” based on what you believe, and some who measure it by whether you belong to the “right variety of Christian church”, I’ve always felt, and our denomination has always taught, that being a Christian is about how we live. When I was a kid in Sunday school, I read that in my Bible, and it’s stuck with me: It’s in Matthew, chapter 7 – “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits…every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit.” (Mt 7:15-17)
Later on in that same chapter, Jesus says, (in the Message translation): “Knowing the correct password — saying ‘Master, Master,’ for instance — isn’t going to get you anywhere with me. What is required is serious obedience—doing what my Father wills. I can see it now — at the Final Judgment thousands strutting up to me and saying, ‘Master, we preached the Message, we bashed the demons, our God-sponsored projects had everyone talking.’ And do you know what I am going to say? ‘You missed the boat. All you did was use me to make yourselves important. You don’t impress me one bit. You’re out of here.’
What we do, how we live, matters. And when we ignore the bad, just hoping that if we keep quiet, it’ll go away, we’re actually giving the bad permission to keep right on going.
When we stand up for what is right, we are joining in the eons-long struggle to become the world God made us to be. That’s what Jesus is saying in the passage from Matthew…every good tree bears good fruit.
This isn’t just about meaningless, harmless words. When we condemn people, our condemnation is real. When we say we don’t want people from this country or that to come here, we’re saying to real people – you, you are not welcome here. Policies are never solely theoretical; they always are about individual people, real families. So, we hear that our country ought not welcome people from Haiti, and what we know, here on the ground in Grafton, is that someone thinks that Daniel Gregoire, the pastor over at the Unitarian Church is unwelcome in this country.
But it’s not just about our friends, those Haitians (or people from Nazareth) whom we know. It’s about a whole class of people, worthless because they come from a worthless place. And when we condemn a class of people, we offer permission to put those folks down, to cheat them, treat them like dirt, to lock them out of the fullness of life.
This is about life and death, and we are always, always on the side of life. That’s a call, a message, that isn’t always easy to hear, or easy to act on.
When God called Samuel, Samuel heard him, but didn’t understand him… he kept thinking that it was Eli who was calling him. At any rate, the third time Samuel came to Eli, Eli realized that God was calling Samuel, and told him to listen.
Now, Samuel didn’t like the message God gave him. Because God didn’t praise him or promise him all kind of good things in his future, but instead foretold the destruction of Eli’s family, and said it was to be Samuel’s job to tell Eli.
Samuel didn’t want to do it, saying the words was a struggle for him, but the story came out. Eli accepted God’s judgement. But that’s not the end of this story; it goes on to say, “…all Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was a trustworthy prophet of the Lord.”.
Samuel knew what was right and did it, even though he knew it would be hard. He lived out his commitment to God, and he was known as a trustworthy prophet.
It is by consistently listening to God that we become trustworthy God-followers. So what does God tell us, on this weekend dedicated to the memory of Martin Luther King, Jr?
Good comes out of places like Nazareth.
God loves everyone, no matter where they come from, no matter what they look like, no matter what language they speak, no matter what.
Whoever we are, wherever we are on life’s journey, God loves us.
And we are called to share that good news to our world, to be witnesses to God’s inclusive love.
We are called to confront the forces of evil which would proclaim that some people are better, more acceptable, than others, that some people don’t deserve the necessities of life. We are called to model the life of Jesus Christ, who healed lepers, spoke to women, served the poor, came from Nazareth to save the world.
We are called to be Christians.
© Virginia H. Child, 2018