Date: June 28, 2015
Title: “Can Anything Good Come Out of This?”
Preaching: The Rev. Donna M.L. Pritchard
Scripture: John 1:43-51
Theologian Robert McAfee Brown once wrote a personal statement of faith in which he said, among other things, “There are little moments when vast things happen.”
It’s true, isn’t it? Think of some of those little moments in your own life – the moment you welcomed a new child into the world, for instance, through birthing pains and excruciating hope. Or remember the moment that same child left your home for her first day of kindergarten, or her first semester of college, or for that first job out on her own. Think of the little moment when you met your one true love. Or imagine the moment you heard the scary diagnosis, or realized a great financial loss, or said goodbye to your mom or dad for the very last time. These are all little moments when vast things happen.
Vast things happen in little moments, and we could easily miss them if we are not careful. It was just a little moment when Philip called to Nathanael and said, “Hey, good news! Great news, really… we’ve just hitched our wagons to a star! You’ve got to come and meet this guy!” And there is Nathanael, tending to his own affairs, minding his own business, hanging out under the shade of the fig tree. He is not looking for Jesus. He is not asking for his life to be transformed. Nathanael knows this moment is just one little moment in a long line of unremarkable little moments. So he scoffs at Philip’s enthusiasm, asking “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”
Michael Marsh suggests:
It is no coincidence that Nathanael is sitting under the fig tree when he makes his snarky remark about Jesus. It is the fig tree that gave Adam and Eve the leaves behind which they hid from God and themselves. It is the fig tree that Jesus will later curse for producing no fruit.
Nathanael thought he knew all about Nazareth, that backwater little town where nothing ever happened and nothing of value was ever produced. He was so busy making assumptions about the town that he could not believe it held any promise whatsoever…How could anything good ever come out of Nazareth?
Nathanael was just like us – missing the vast things happening in that little moment because of his assumptions. Again, in Marsh’s words:
Our assumptions act as limitations; they deny the possibility of reconciliation, healing, a different way of being, a new life. Our assumptions impoverish our faith and proclaim there is no room for God to show up in this little moment and act…Assumptions, like the fig tree, become our hiding places. They are not fruitful and only keep us from engaging life, ourselves, each other, and God at deep and meaningful levels.
Our assumptions lead us to miss the vast things happening in the little moments of our lives. If we are honest, we will admit we all have our own “Nazareths”, those people, places, situations and circumstances of our lives which we dismiss as uninteresting, undesirable, unworthy or unimportant. We ask Can anything good come out of this… when really we are asking Is there any hope here for me at all?
Because the truth is our assumptions are mostly about us and our fears, our prejudices, our guilt, our losses, and our wounds. We go through life projecting onto others the disappointments and the pain we experience, and then we hide behind the assumptions we make. We hide, hoping that our snarky comments and our self-imposed isolation will speak for itself, and people will leave us alone in the shade of the fig tree.
But the problem is, God does not share our assumptions. The problem is, God refused to be limited by those same assumptions. For every Nazareth in our life God gives us the invitation to “come and see”. For every assumption we make there is a deeper truth to be discovered, a new relationship to be created, a new life to live, and a vast possibility in the tiniest of moments. And it is up to us to “come and see.”
Brian Doyle has written a Book of Uncommon Prayer: 100 Celebrations of the Miracle and Muddle of the Ordinary. In this book he has a prayer with a very long title…he calls it “A Prayer for the Elderly Woman on the Train Eating One Almond Every Five Minutes for Two Hours for a Grand Total of Forty Almonds and Believe me I Counted, Fascinated…” Here is how it goes:
Fascinated, partly because she was about eight inches away from me and the intricate process of getting the bag of almonds out of her vast carryall and then choosing exactly the right one and then chewing that single almond as carefully and slowly as any being has ever in the blessed world chewed a single nut back to individual atoms is driving me quietly bonkers!
But I am fascinated too because she has slowly and silently reminded me not to be an arrogant idiot. Maybe this is all the food she has for her journey. Maybe she is a bodhisattva who is trying to remind me to savor every instant of this wild and lovely life. Maybe she is a saint who is saying to me gently, “Assume nothing; the exterior is a disguise and a costume; and I am a holy being also formed by the Imaginative One, and here we are together, younger brother, on a train with almonds! Are we not blessed? Are we not graced beyond words that no one is shooting at us, and we are rushing magically through the countryside without effort, and our bellies are not shriveled from starvation, and we are alive and breathing and there is the redolence of almonds between us?”
And these things are true and she is right and I grin and feel a twinge of regret when she finishes the bag, which must have contained exactly 40 almonds…So then I pray for each of us, that we stare intently at the wilderness of miracles around us every moment, so very many of them savory. And so, Amen.
This morning I pray that each of us recognize the vast things in the little moments, and that we hear God’s invitation to “come and see.” Because it is not enough to stand aloof in our comfort zone and formulate opinions and hang onto assumptions from a distance. We have to come and see God’s presence, we have to come and see God’s love, we have to come and see God’s kin-dom when it breaks in upon us. When it shows up in little moments of forgiveness and grace, and when it becomes real in little moments of hope.
This has been an amazing roller-coaster of a week. We’ve all been standing under our fig trees, minding our own business. When all of a sudden we’ve witnessed the incredible grace of a community shattered by violence in Charleston, South Carolina, and we’ve heard forgiveness which we pray will create change this time. Standing under our fig trees, expecting nothing more than little moments, we have participated in the vast shift of marriage equality and the triumph of love over hate. Standing under our fig trees, God is still inviting us to “come and see” even greater things.
Robert Fulghum tells a story which could have been Nathanael’s story, which could also be ours. He writes:
It was the summer of 1984 and a young woman sat next to me in the Hong Kong airport, obviously on her way home after fantastic adventures. I was surprised when she started to cry, then began to sob, and drew me into your sadness. I guessed you had been very alone and very brave for some time, and a good cry was in order. And weep you did – all over me – a monsoon of grievous angst.
Indeed, you were not quite ready to go home; but you had run out of money, and so here you were, having spent two days waiting in the airport standby with little to eat. And your plane was about to go. And you had lost your ticket. You had been sitting in this one spot for 3 hours, sinking into the cold sea of despair.
After we dried you off, I and a nice older couple from Chicago who were also swept away in the tide of your tears, offered to take you to lunch and talk to the airline about some remedy. You stood up to go with us, turned around to pick up your belongings, and SCREAMED.
I thought you had been shot, but no… it was ticket. You found your ticket. You had been sitting on it for 3 hours.
Like a sinner saved from the very jaws of hell, you laughed and cried and hugged us all and were suddenly gone, off to catch a plane for home, leaving most of the passenger lounge deliriously limp from being part of your drama.
We all sit on our own tickets, from time to time. So we need Jesus’ calling “come and see” to get us up and moving on to whatever comes next. Come and see the good. Come and see the vast possibility in the tiniest of moments. Because you already have a ticket home. Thanks be to God! Amen.