"Can anything good come from Nazareth?"
by Rev John Nadasi
John 1: 43-51
In the eleventh century, King Henry III of Bavaria grew tired of court life and
the pressures of being a monarch. He made application to Prior Richard at a local
monastery, asking to be accepted as a contemplative and spend the rest of his life in the
"Your Majesty," said Prior Richard, "do you understand that the
pledge here is one of obedience? That will be hard because you have been a king."
"I understand," said Henry. "The rest of my life I will be obedient
to you, as Christ leads you."
"Then I will tell you what to do," said Prior Richard. "Go back to
your throne and serve faithfully in the place where God has put you."
And the king returned And fulfilled the call for his life Realizing that it was
God that had appointed him to his throne.
When King Henry died, a statement was written: "The King learned to rule by
God's call for his life did not look the way he might have imagined it, But it was
real just as well, And he followed it.
In this morning's lectionary texts, We have heard two great stories of God's
calling. We heard the story of the call of Samuel And both Phillip and Nathaniel.
Both passages are about the "call of God" - Samuel - as a youth - called
in the night from the midst of his sleep to hear a message; - and Philip and Nathaniel -
called in the day from the midst of their busy lives to and follow Jesus.
Next Sunday, as well, we will hear from the Gospel of Mark about the calling of
Simon and Andrew and James and John - to leave everything and to follow Jesus and become
ones who fish for people.
As I look at the two texts, The first thing that I notice is the dramatic
difference between the calls.
In our story of Samuel, We have a boy lying in his bed, Who is awakened to the
sound of God's voice calling his name.
And in this story, God himself explains to Samuel that he is to go and speak to
Israel with the authority of God behind him.
Here we have a story of the call of a great prophet demonstrated by all the Drama
we have come to expect of the Old Testament Much like that of Moses, Elija, and Elisha.
There is direct contact with God and his intentions are made known with absolute
Clarity and dramatic expression. There is left no room for doubt.
I think that this is what most people even today envision as calling. When I have
asked people why it is that they do not express their faith Or consider some kind of
ministry, I get an answer like, Well, I haven't been called to it.
Let's take a closer look at our second story.
Our Scripture lesson from John today tells about Jesus calling Philip. Jesus found
Philip and said to him, "Follow me." It also tells us that Philip was from the
same hometown as Peter And Andrew.
Why is this significant? That means that Philip already knew what kind of people
Peter and Andrew were. He understood their character.
Just the day before Peter and Andrew became Jesus' followers. When Jesus came to
Philip he probably already had heard that Peter and Andrew were following him. That
information probably had already had an impact on Phillip.
He might have been asking himself, What kind of a man could influence others,
Especially Peter and Andrew, to just walk Away from their livelihoods.
What kind of a man is this?
Something had a profound impact because of what Philip did. Philip immediately ran
to Nathaniel and said, "We have found the one spoken of by the prophets."
Notice he said "We have found..." I suppose that "we" included
Peter and Andrew. So Nathaniel came to meet this prophet Philip had told him about.
When Nathaniel came Jesus acted like he already knew him. And we find out that
Jesus had seen him sitting under a fig tree before Philip called him.
I imagine that when Jesus came to Philip and said, "Follow me" he knew
Philip would run to Nathaniel. Jesus could already see Philip talking to Nathaniel under
that fig tree.
But that is not all! If you remember, before Jesus called Philip, God had moved
Andrew and Peter to follow Jesus.
I suppose that God knew what kind of impact their decision to follow Jesus would
have on Philip. In a sense God orchestrated this whole series of events.
Andrew and Peter decided to follow Jesus. Their decision moved Philip. Philip
tells Nathaniel. And Jesus is just standing back watching the dominos fall. And enjoying
every minute of it.
Okay, so here is the trick question of the morning for you. Whose call is more
real? Which call is really from God?
Samuel's call from God in the middle of the night? Or is it the call if Nathaniel
and Phillip whose call is as simple as "Follow me."?
No burning bush, no voices in the night, no drama, Just, "follow me."
Which call is the one really from God?
William Muehl, a professor of Yale Divinity School, has spent many years teaching
people who are about to become ministers and those who are already ministers.
William Muehl is well acquainted with ministers, and he has a complaint.
What bothers him is what he sees as a widespread tendency among ministers to do
some romantic editorial work on the nature of Christian calling.
To hear most ministers talk, claims Muehl, God calls people only in moments of
theatrical intensity. Someone, for example, is reading a theological book when, suddenly,
a shaft of light falls upon a penetrating passage and scales fall from the reader's eyes.
Or a hillside communion service at a summer church camp begins to glow With all
the luminosity and power of the Upper Room. The ministerial version of Christian calling
almost always involves a moment of high drama.
This is just like what we find in Samuel's calling. God moves with intensity and
purpose. Nothing is left to doubt. Yet, nothing is left to faith, either.
Muehl does not doubt that such moments do occur, but his complaint comes from
doubt that they occur as often and as predictably as some ministers say they do.
Muehl thinks many ministers are guilty of dressing up these events in
"Damascus Road" garb, which is unfortunate since most people come to faith, in
ways that are far more down-to-earth.
They were forced into Sunday church school by their parents, or found the local
church youth group to be a reliable way to spice up an otherwise dull weekend.
"These ways seem to have at least one thing in common," states Muehl.
"They are not nearly as dramatic and intellectually impressive as people feel a
genuine religious experience ought to be."'
When we look at the great prophets from the Old Testament, We are lead to believe
that calling is a one time extraordinary event That leaves us no doubt that we are doing
exactly what God would have of us.
Burning bushes, God's voice in the night, a dove descending from heaven.
But in today's story from John, That is not the only experience of call that we
find. I believe what we have here is the call that most people experience. "Follow
No voices, no burning bushes, no doves. Just
I heard other seminary students question the reality of their call. God knows I
have spent hours questioning my own. People who question their call, and respond out of
faith are not The exception, they are the norm.
Most folks never receive a direct experience of God telling them to do something,
Most folks only receive the gentle prompting of the Holy Spirit saying, "follow
This is one of the reasons that prompts Muehl to complain about People preaching
exorbitant call experiences as the norm. He was trained as an attorney and discovered, in
the law school's moot court, that he was an exceptionally effective trial lawyer. He won
his cases, for the most part, but the emotional stress of doing so caused him to develop a
After treating him for several gastric episodes, one of the health service
physicians made a dire prediction. "Muehl," he said, "if you really
undertake a career in the law, you will probably be rich by the age of forty.
The only trouble is that you will be dead by the age of thirty."
Hearing this, Muehl left the field of law and joined the faculty of Yale Divinity
Surrounded there by colleagues who had come to their work in response to a genuine
sense of calling, Muehl soon began to doubt that he had experienced a real call, so he
approached another faculty member, the ethicist H. Richard Neibuhr, with his concern.
Neibuhr puffed on his pipe, Laughed gently, and responded, "What does it take
to make a 'call' for you, Muehl?
What you had planned to do with your life was quite literally eating you up
inside, driving you . . . to consider alternatives. I can't imagine a better call outside
What does it take to make up a "call" for you? That's an intriguing
question, and one which lies at the heart of today's passage from the Gospel of John.
There are all sorts of reasons that people miss the sense of call God has for our
But, perhaps the most recurring reason is that people do not Sense their call in
the midst of the ordinary.
Can anything good come from Nazareth? I don't know? Can anything good come from
Nazareth? Phillip rushed to Nathaniel and proclaimed. "We have found him about whom
Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth."
But Nathanael, like so many people who are blind to their own call, wasn't
convinced. All he had to say was, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?"
Nazareth, that provincial town, far removed from the center of worship in
Jerusalem, a common place that would never be the kind of town that could produce the
Nathaniel was looking for something grand Something immense to move him.
Can anything good come from Nazareth. You know. That little town,
Three hours southeast of Denver On the Colorado High plains.
Nazareth, The little town in Kiowa County that is struggling with economic
hardship Far removed from the larger cities on the front range.
Nazareth, A town filled with hard working people That might just be mistaken for
common place, and ordinary people.
Can anything good come from Nazareth? Can anything good come from (Haswell/Eads)
Nathaniel missed it completely. I would imagine so do most of the people who
travel through this Town in their cars and semi-trucks on their way somewhere else.
Nazareth. What good could possibly come from Nazareth?
What Nathaniel missed, And what William Muehl picked up on was this
The call from God many times comes to the ordinary. Farmers, Fisherman, hunters,
carpenter sons. If you are not watching for it, and open to it, you can miss it
What good can come from Nazareth? (pause)
Whatever good God decides to make known. All he is looking for is people receptive
to his call.
Philip could have gotten into a long discussion with Nathanael. He could have told
him all the reasons that Jesus is who he said he is; he could have even come to the
defense of the town of Nazareth.
But he didn't do that. All he said was "Come and see" --a simple
invitation to meet the man himself.
It started with a chain of events. First Peter and Andrew, Then Phillip and
This chain of events shows how God reaches people. God uses the ordinary to call
us to discipleship. It is a call to come and serve. It is a call to come and be a part of
the Body of Christ. And it is ALWAYS a call to share your faith with others.
If you look at your past I am sure you will see the people that influenced your
decision to follow Christ: parents, relatives, Sunday school teachers, neighbors, maybe
even a few preachers.
Other people's commitment to Christ was a testimony to you. "Follow me."
What good can come from Nazareth? What good can come from such a common town? It
is up to you. It is through the ordinary that God has decided to reveal the extraordinary.
What can you do to be faithful to God as we play our part in this plan?
You can write these down
1. Pray. Pray for those around you; your children, parents, friends, neighbors,
and so on. We don't lead people to Christ on our own. Jesus uses us, but it is really
Jesus that does the leading. We can do nothing apart from Christ, so turn to him first. If
you never do anything else, pray!
(Eads) We have even made it easy for you. Wednesday night at 6 pm, We gather for a
half hour to just sit and pray. No program, no expectations, no sermons. We are just
coming together to pray and discover What good can come from Nazareth.
2. Live. Live a Christian life for all to see. Let people see the joy of your
salvation. And don't be afraid to let them know of your pain and disappointment either.
They will see your faith and that will influence them, much like the influence Of
Peter and Andrew on Phillip and Nathaniel. People will see God at work in your life if you
refrain from hurtful Behavior, yes, that still means gossip, and instead Work to build
others in the love of Christ.
3. Speak. You don't have to preach to tell others of your faith. You could simply
share what God has done in your life. As Christians we see the world differently then
others, let that point of view influence your speech.
If someone says, "It's a beautiful morning" respond "Yes, thank
God," or "Isn't God's work beautiful?" Or if someone invites you to dinner,
Which I have been told in this county means lunch and Not supper, anwer with "I'll be
there Lord willing."
Tell friends that you have been praying for them. Instead of saying "Isn't
she lucky" say "Isn't she blessed." People will pick up on your faith and
that will influence them.
4. Invite. When the time is right, and the door is open, invite someone to follow
Christ. Like Philip, go to Nathaniel and say, "We have found the one the prophets
Ask them to pray with you or for you. If it is too awkward for you, just invite
them to church.
When Jesus came to you and said "follow me," he could already see the
people you would influence. Isn't that what happened in our story this morning?
Jesus knew that to get Nathaniel, he had to get Phillip. To get Phillip, He first
got Andrew and Peter.
Where are you in the chain? Are you the weak link, Or are you living out your
faith in such a way That leads others to know the Lord?
There are all kinds of Nathaniels in this world sitting under fig trees waiting to
be called right here.
See that door at the back of the church? They are out there.
Go to them. Answer your call.