Can Anything Good Come Out of Nazarreth

Rev. Katherine G. Dougherty
Sermon Text: 

2nd Sunday After Epiphany

1 Samuel 3:1-10 (11-20) and John 1:43-51

January 14, 2018 (Year B)

“Can Anything Good Come Out of Nazareth

I come to you in the name of one holy and living God.

         While in seminary, I met a variety of people.  You’d think my attending a seminary in east Tennessee that sat upon a mountain plateau somewhere between Nashville and Chattanooga would have limited the variety of folks I met, but that wasn’t the case.  Starting at the same time I did, were two people from a small country in Africa.  Amara was young female lawyer in her 30s who lived with her family in the country’s capital city.  She was successful in her career, but she felt God was calling her to the priesthood.  Not many women are priests in her country, so her answering this call would be unusual  - it would push societal norms.  Amara was a very faithful soul.  She believed, that as a priest, she could a lot of good in her country, especially in the areas of women’s rights and the treatment of women. 

         I remember when she arrived.  She had been traveling for several days, and though she looked exhausted….she greeted me with a huge smile and offered me a present from her mother as thanks for my hospitality. Later, I would come to learn that to answer this call and to come live in America and attend school for two years, Amara left behind her two daughters – a 3yo and a 6yo, whom she loved dearly.   When asked about leaving home, she said God’s grace opened the doors for her to answer this call and serve her people, how could she say “no”.  She often followed it by saying, “God is good indeed.” 

         Father Jabari was the other student from Africa.  Unlike Amara, Father Jabari came from a rural section of their country.  He too left behind a family for his two years of schooling.  Father Jabari was already ordained, but he wanted to advance his training so to help the people of his country.  He was short in stature and a lovely fellow.  He had this great, big laugh that seemed to open the gates of heaven and would always make me smile.  During our conversations, he would share about life in his beloved country and village, and how deeply he loved his wife and their children.  He told me that African women work very hard.  In many communities they are expected to do all the cooking, all the cleaning, and all the raising of the children.  He said it was expected by their society.  He also shared how much he disagreed with this.  He felt it was unfair and too heavy of a burden to place on women.  He told me how he would help his wife with the chores.  Father Jabari believed that God did not intend for women to work that hard.  He believed that women were not less than men or should serve them.  He hoped that by helping his wife, he both made her life easier and set an example for the other men of the village. 

         One afternoon when Fr. Jabari and I were talking, he shared a story about an incident that happened to him one night.  As he carried out the trash at the end of the day, a group of men from his village approached him.  They pulled him aside and threatened his life.  They said he was making them look bad and that if he didn’t stop, they’d kill him.  I asked if he stopped, and Fr. Jabari looked at me for a while, and then quietly said,  “No.”  He was following God’s call to love everyone and to treat everyone the same.  He risked his life so that his wife didn’t have to carry the entire load herself and in hopes that his actions would serve as an example to others.

         The final story I’ll tell you today is of a gentleman who attended the church where I served while in seminary.  He was a construction worker, and he too worked hard.  He was from Central America. He came to our country to help his family.  His family wasn’t with him.  They couldn’t afford to move here, so Phillip worked in order to send money back to them.  He felt this was the best way to help them.  On the side, he also painted pots and sold them.  I’d often see his pots in our church’s narthex.  He bought the basic red clay pots many of us have and painted them with glorious colors.  He sold them for much less than they were worth, but he didn’t want to ask for too much.  Phillip regularly attended Sunday services.

         One Sunday, Phillip came to the Adult Forum.  We were talking about Centering Prayer and listening for God in our world.  Phillip, who rarely spoke up, raised his hand.  When he spoke, my heart sank.  He had always been this gentle soul who seemed so kind, but today he was not gentle.  Today he spoke of his despair.  He spoke of God’s absence in our world.  He described returning back to his town in Central America to see his family and to bring them the money he had raised.  He described the poverty that was destroying his people – the sickness that comes from broken sewer pipes and contaminated water.  With pain in his voice, he asked where was God in that?   How could a loving God allow this suffering and poverty?  He was angry and sad and defeated.  As we all sat silent – stunned by what Phillip had just shared…one woman sitting next to him…spoke up.  She turned to him and gently held his hands – his tired, worn, rough, leathery hands in hers.  She looked at them and then at him and said,  “Here is God.  In these hands that work so hard each day and then go home and paint such beauty in hopes of bringing money back to his family.  These are the hands of God – in this world.”

         In our Gospel reading today, we hear Nathanael ask, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth,”  as Philip encouraged him to come and see this man, Jesus from Nazareth.   Can anything good come out of Nazareth, or Haiti, or El Salvador, or countries of Africa?  Yes, for ALL are created in the image of God.  ALL are called to share in the Kingdom of Heaven and to love one another.  We each come with our own stories – with our own burdens – with our fears and beliefs.   We don’t have to always agree in order to show respect, and love and kindness towards one another. 

         Philip says, “Come and see.”    This is an invitation!  We are invited to Come and See that there is abundant good in EVERY nation of the world.   Come and See a different way of living…a way that is loving and gentle. And please, Come and See a way to treat one another in respectful ways  as we honor  each other’s dignity.

         Both this week and next we will hear and witness Jesus calling out and asking his disciples to join him.  Not everyone is called to be a prophet like Samuel or a disciple like Nathanael, but God does summons each and every one of us.  God calls us to the work of the Kingdom – here and now. 

         As disciples of Jesus, we are called to welcome and embrace ALL people.  This is our work – to love and to serve – to welcome and to embrace. God’s grace opens the doors to us all and calls us to love everyone and to treat everyone with dignity and respect.   As Amara, my friend from Africa used to say, “God IS good – thanks be to God”. 

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