About Our Church

 Sunday Services



 Youth Fellowship

 Music Programs

 Join a Group

 Interfaith Ministries

  Current Year
  Prior Years
  Other Writings

 Pastor's Page



 Greater Things to Come

Sermon - 1/15/12
Daniel E. H. Bryant
First Christian Church, Eugene, Oregon

John 1:43-51

The text for our reflection this morning comes from the gospel of John, the first chapter, and in that chapter, John introduces us to John the Baptist, who proclaims Jesus to be the Lamb of God who takes away sin of the world. And then Jesus begins to call his Disciples, first of all Andrew, who then goes and gets his brother Simon, who then Jesus names as Peter. And Andrew says to him "We have found the one for whom we have been awaiting, the Messiah".

And then that 'call' story continues in the last portion of chapter 1, verses 43 through 51:

The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, ‘Follow me.’ 44Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45Philip found Nathanael and said to him, ‘We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.’ 46Nathanael said to him, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ Philip said to him, ‘Come and see.’ 47When Jesus saw Nathanael coming towards him, he said of him, ‘Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!’ 48Nathanael asked him, ‘Where did you come to know me?’ Jesus answered, ‘I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.’ 49Nathanael replied, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’ 50Jesus answered, ‘Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.’ 51And he said to him, ‘Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.’

Well, there are many themes in this text that I could spend some time exploring, but with an interest of the time and the playoff games this afternoon :), I'll refrain from all of them, and focus just instead on one small aspect of the text, and that is this idea that Nathaniel would see greater things to come.

Nathaniel is a very intriguing figure in the Gospel, even if a very minor character. He is the first to express skepticism about Jesus, though certainly not the last. Can anything good come from Nazareth?

I love Eugene Peterson's translation, or paraphrase, "The Message", in which it reads Nathaniel saying "Nazareth? You've got to be kidding!".

Nathanael shows his prejudice in pre-judging Jesus sight-unseen based on a stereotype. Given that this is Martin Luther King weekend, that seems like a very good theme to unpack just a little. How often do we hear, and perhaps even we ourselves make similar kinds of prejudicial judgment?

Doug bales is the Coordinator for the Egan Warming Center, so I've been spending a lot of time with Doug this last year. Doug shared with me just this last week that a woman called him up and said to him "I'm against the homeless!". Huh? Like they were a political party or something. How are you against the homeless?

I wonder if she read the Heart-to-Heart column this week -- did you read it? Yesterday's column was written by a homeless man who talked about how his faith in God and humanity had been strengthened by the compassion shown to him by complete strangers. Angles unaware.

I wonder if all those who are disgusted by the homeless and the spectacle they created at the Occupy Eugene camp read the article about Samantha Garvey. She was the young gal, 17 year-old teenager, homeless, who was informed in the shelter where she and her family were staying after one of her parents had been put out of work because of the illness or injury, she received notice that she was a semi-finalist in the prestigious National Science Competition sponsored by Intel Corporation. I mean, what does it take to change preconceptions and prejudices that we have about the homeless?

Jean Stacey is a retired professional businesswoman, moved here to Eugene, retired from her career in Florida. She got involved in the Occupy movement and she discovered through that a new side to the homeless that she was unaware of, and the attitudes that they encounter living on the street. She spoke about her experience at the City Club a couple weeks ago, and I wanted to share a two-minute clip from that, as she talked about the attitudes:



By the way, that line she gave about eating breakfast with the homeless, that was inspired by the breakfast we serve here, where many people do sit down to eat together.

I was standing in the back of the room, it was packed at the City Club when she spoke, and next to me was a gentleman who I presumed to have been homeless, and as she identified for this very middle-class crowd there at the Hilton what it was like to be homeless, I saw tears streaming down his cheek. At one point he had to step out and go out to the hallway where he wept.

Here's the thing about Nathaniel that gives me hope: his prejudice against the people of Nazareth did not stop Jesus from welcoming him with open arms. Nathaniel was kind of like that character played by Clint Eastwood in the movie Grand Torino -- he's a ratchety old racist, but he's also a decent man who's willing to sacrifice everything for his Southeast Asian neighbor he begrudgingly befriends and ultimately saves.

So Nathaniel changes his tune once he actually meets Jesus. Would that every person who has ever judged someone because of their place of birth, their color of skin, their sexual orientations, their religion, or their economic status have that opportunity to meet the one who breaks through barriers and stereotypes to reveal the child of God that is in each of us.

Jesus doesn't reveal all that much to Nathanael -- "I saw you sitting under the fig tree" -- and yet that's enough to impress Nathanael, that here is the one, the Messiah. And Jesus replies 'You haven't seen anything yet', like turning water into wine or healing the blind are raising Lazarus, even Jesus' own death & resurrection. All of which Nathaniel would, I suppose, experience along with him, but can be inferred in this rather cryptic saying of Jesus about angels ascending and descending upon the Son of Man. I mean, what is that?

It's nothing to be understood literally, it is a mystical reference to the unveiling of the Kingdom of God which Nathanael will see revealed in the teaching and actions of Jesus, if not yet eventually fulfilled on earth as in heaven.

And here's the peculiar thing about Nathaniel -- he appears so prominent here at the beginning of the gospel story in John, this skeptic turned believer, yet he does not appear again in the entire story until the very end. After the resurrection, there with Disciples fishing along the seaside, Nathaniel is named as being one of the 7 in the group. And not only that, he does not appear in the other three Gospels at all, or anywhere else in any of the New Testament writings.

Now, some scholars question whether or not John may have created Nathaniel for this story. Others try to explain the discrepancy between the list of the Disciples in John and Matthew, Mark, and Luke, by suggesting that maybe he's really Bartholomew, and he has a second name, like Simon Peter (Bartholomew Nathaniel). It's just silliness, frankly, so don't pay any attention to that.

I think Nathaniel is very real, and very distinct from the twelve. I think Nathanael is every man, every woman, who has had their doubts, their skepticism's, their prejudices revealed and redeemed by Christ, the living word of God among us.

You see, I think we are the ones to whom Jesus says "You will see greater things than these".

Martin Luther King was one who told us that, that we would see greater things to come. On that night before his assassination, remember, he told that church in Memphis that God had taken him to the mountaintop, that he had seen the promised land. And even in the midst of all the troubles and the trials and the problems and the turmoil and the fighting and the division that he could be happy. He said "Only when it is dark enough can you see the stars". And he could see God at work in the struggle of the people to be free. And that is why on the last night of his life he could say "I may not get there with you, but I want you to know tonight that we as a people will get to the promised land, and I am happy tonight, I'm not worried about anything, I'm not fearing any man, mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord".

To see the possibility of what can be, the promised land, in contrast to what is, is to see the glory of the coming of the Lord. And because Jesus has taken us, like Martin Luther King Jr., to that mountaintop, we are a people who know that there are greater things to come. Because we have seen the promised land, the coming Kingdom of God in the teachings and actions of Jesus.

And so we can see a world where every child is fed and every family is housed. And so we know that there are greater things to come.

We can see that place where no woman need fear walking alone at night and no man need prove his manliness with physical force or power over others, and so we know there are greater things to come.

We can see swords turned into plowshares, and spears into pruning hooks, and nations that will not learn war anymore, and so we know that there are greater things to come.

We can see the poor that are blessed rather than cursed, the naked who are clothed rather than shamed, the unemployed given jobs and the sick given healthcare, and so we know that there are greater things to come.

We can see people of God united by their faith rather than divided by their differences, and so we know that there are greater things to come.

We can see a time when schools are funded and prisons are ended, when immigrants are welcomed and foreigners are befriended, when youth are treasured and seniors are honored, and enemies are loved and families are healed, and so we know that there are greater things to come.

Because we can see such a time, God's time, the coming Kingdom of God, we know there are greater things to come.


Home | About Our Church | Services | Mission | Education | Youth Fellowship
Music Programs | Join a Group | Interfaith Ministry | Sermons | Pastor's Page
Questions or comments about this web site?  Contact the WebMasters