Epiphany 2, Year B: 1 Samuel 3:1-20, Psalm 139:1-18, 1 Corinthians 6-, John 1:43-51
“I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” (Psalm 139: 14a)
This morning I’m going to begin with the psalm which is not usually a place I begin. I rarely even mention the psalm in the sermon, but today I want to let its words speak here. I want us to embrace and be embraced by its message.
Know before I share some of its words that Psalm 139 is one of the scripture passages that made up the core of the youth curriculum we used for years here at Grace and we still weave it in. It has felt essential to us that every young person who comes through this place understands themselves to be “fearfully and wonderfully made,” by God and in the image of God. This psalm is an essential and I believe foundational way in which we as people of faith understand and relate to ourselves and one another. Just listen to the psalmist’s prayer:
“O Lord you have searched me out and known me,” the psalmist prays. “For it was you, O Lord, who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you! for I am fearfully and wonderfully made,” the psalmist says. “Wonderful are your works; that I know very well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.” Created by God, this psalm says, known and tenderly loved by God. It’s what we want our children to believe about themselves and others too. It’s what I hope for each of us.
And one of the beautiful and holy things about this psalm is that it can be prayed by anyone and still be true.
Because it’s not only Episcopalians who are fearfully and wonderfully made. It’s not only Christians who are fearfully and wonderfully made. Created by God and in the image of God precedes anything else in all of scripture, other than the making of the land and the animals and the birds of the air, and the stars, and sky, and seas. The language of this psalm, reflective theologically of the very first chapter in Genesis, is our starting place – literally – in terms of faith, anyway. Wonderfully made. Created by God, in the image of God one and all.
So, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Nathanael asks in today’s gospel after he’d heard about Jesus’ hometown. And according to this psalm (not to mention the gospel) yes! Yes it can! In fact, if we do indeed believe “fearfully and wonderfully made by and in the image of God one and all” then the answer is always yes, isn’t it.
Now Nazareth was a very small and not very wealthy town. It was overshadowed in many ways by the cities of that time. And of course there were significant, long-running tensions among the regions too, and all of that was loaded into Nathanael’s thinking, and so it shaped his initial response.
And given that load he almost missed this moment. Let that sink in for a minute. The “Savior of the World” had come to them to be with them and he almost missed out. Remember that Phillip had come to Nathanael with some amazing news: “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote,” Phillip said to Nathanael, “Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” And it was to that that Nathanael said, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” And he probably almost walked away. (From the presence of God.)
Now I love Phillips response, because I think it’s key to how this whole story unfolds and it’s a phrase we hear throughout the gospel of John. “Come and see,” Phillip said. “Come and see.” Perfect. Sort of lovely, actually. There was no attack. There wasn’t even an argument. Nor was there any shaming. Phillip very simply offered a simple and direct invitation to the would-be-disciple who almost missed the invitation of a lifetime, a new-lifetime actually.
And to give Nathanael some credit – for all his cynicism, and despite his prejudice, he went. Nathanael met Jesus and then the conversion didn’t take very long at all, in fact Jesus encouraged Nathanael not to be overly impressed too quickly, that over time he would “see greater things than these…The heavens will open up.” Apparently, Nathanael was hungry for this. Even that initial encounter was transformative.
Can anything good come out of Haiti? Out of Africa? According to this psalm, according to our faith, yes, yes it can! In fact the answer is always yes. Can anything good come out of the Republican Party? The Democratic Party? The south? The north? The Midwest? The coasts? According to this psalm, according to our faith the answer is always yes, and if we are going to hold tightly to any of our beliefs right now, if we are going to allow any few pieces of our faith to shape our words and our actions in the world right now, maybe it should be this: Fearfully and wonderfully made. Created by God. In the image of God one and all.
Tomorrow as a nation we will remember Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. whose dream of equality, acceptance, and love has had tremendous impact and fifty years later – post assassination- the dream has yet to be realized. Truth is that on some level, (rarely articulated but finding voice in policies and public response or lack thereof,) we still wonder if anything good can come out of Ferguson, New York City, Flint, inner City Detroit? Even we who listen to NPR, are engaged in social justice efforts on various fronts, recycle, and support ‘MeToo’ have a lot of work to do on this front. I think that short of a very few people, we all have this question lurking somewhere inside of us: Can anything good come out of _________. And according to this psalm the answer is yes, the answer is always yes and that is a yes on which we must insist. According to this gospel, we probably do that best by receiving and offering invitations to “come and see.”
Come and see a people, any people among whom there are gifts, there are flaws, there are needs and hopes and hurts. Come and see a people who are trying very hard to not be afraid of “the other” whoever the other happens to be. Come and see and be a people who are working to eliminate Nathanael’s question and other dehumanizing thoughts from our psyche. Come and see and be a Body who believes that the answer to “Can anything good come out of? is yes it is always yes, because we have all been fearfully and wonderfully made by God, in the image of God one and all. Come and see and be a people who have taken a vow to “respect the dignity of every human being.”
This work won’t be easy. It never has been. But it will be holy. It always has been. We will see greater things than this, Jesus says. The heavens will open up – we can count on that. We will all see greater things than this if only we are open to such an encounter and willing to be transformed ourselves.
While we opened with the words of the psalm, we we’ll close with a few minutes from Martin Luther King Jr. in his voice: “I Have A Dream.”