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BETHLEHEM LUTHERAN CHURCH: | Mason City, Iowa USA | Pastor Mark Lavrenz


Sunday Sermon - Pastor Lavrenz Stained Glass - Communion

Grace to you and peace, from God our heavenly father, and from our Lord and Saavior Jesus Christ, AMEN

The text for our meditation today is the Gospel Lesson for this LWML Sunday, John 1:43-46. There we read these words:

The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, "Follow me." Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, "We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph." Nathanael said to him, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" Philip said to him, "Come and see."

We begin in Jesus name, AMEN

Have you ever been surprised by something in your life? Surprises can be quite pleasant. After a romantic stroll in the park, a man gets down on his knee, pulls out a beautiful ring, and asks his high school sweetheart, "Would you marry me?" A young wife eagerly shares big news with her unsuspecting husband: "Guess what? We are having a baby!"

Surprises can also be unpleasant. Unexpected rain pours down on your much anticipated wedding day. An optimistic job seeker receives a letter of rejection after a seemingly great job interview. News of the sudden death of a loved one crushes you.

All surprises are, by definition, unexpected. But not all surprises are received in the same way. People can have vastly different reactions to the same surprise. The results of the latest presidential election are in. Some celebrate. Others lament.

Think of movie or restaurant reviews on the Internet. One woman’s favorite film or café is another woman’s worst entertainment or dining venue.

Perhaps you have heard someone describe to you an artist’s new style or her latest song by saying, "People either like it or hate it." Same surprise. Different responses.

This dynamic is exactly what we encounter when Philip and Nathaniel respectively see and hear of Jesus for the first time. Through His only Son, God revealed His greatest surprise for a world in darkness: Jesus Christ, the Light of the World, came from above to dispel the darkness. Yet we have two entirely different reactions to this news.

"Follow me!" After spending time with Jesus, Philip learned the basics about this man from Galilee and shared the good news about Him with Nathanael.

You can sense the excitement in Philip’s words: "We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph!" Philip spoke as if he had found an invaluable treasure and he needed to tell everyone about it. He received the news with a joyful heart. Philip saw Jesus through the eyes of the Holy Spirit, the eyes of faith. He had literally seen the Light!

What about Nathaniel? Through the mouth of Philip, Nathaniel heard of Jesus for the first time. But his reaction was entirely different from Philip’s. You see no excitement upon Nathaniel’s hearing of the good news, but rather a sense of suspicion about the Galilean Jesus: "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?"

Nathaniel’s was not a joyful attitude, but a guarded posture. He received the news with a cautious disposition at best, and a doubtful one at worst. Unlike Philip, Nathaniel saw Jesus through the eyes of the flesh, somewhere in that spectrum between disbelief and unbelief. He was literally in the dark! The Light had yet to overcome it. And the question remained: "Could anything good come out of Nazareth in Galilee?"

Stained Glass Baptism Window

The odds seemed to be against Galilee. The northern province of Galilee was a land too close to unclean Gentiles and too far from holy Jerusalem in the southern province of Judea. No self-respecting Judean Israelite would look for the Son of God, the King of Israel, in such an unexpected place as Galilee of the Gentiles.

Unlike their counterparts in Judea, Galilean Jews spoke with strange accents and were known for a less than clean record on following prescribed Jewish laws. Why look for God’s power and wisdom in Galilee? It made no sense!

Was not the great city of Jerusalem the real center of kingly power and rabbinic wisdom? Were not God’s holy temple and priests in the holy city? Were not the learned Pharisees and scribes there, too?

In short, were not the clean, pure, and righteous Israelites to be found in Jerusalem? Could God truly work out His salvation from an unlikely place such as Nazareth in Galilee, and among such unlikely folks as Galileans?

God often surprises people like you. So often people look for power and wisdom in the wrong place, in the best that humans have to offer, in their holiness, their purity, and their righteousness.

Yet it is in Jesus of Nazareth, the unassuming man from Galilee, that you are called to see the power and the wisdom of God at work in your lives. You are called to fix your eyes not on yourselves, but on Jesus. Not on your holiness, but on Jesus’ holiness. You are reminded that you are not the light. Jesus is the Light of the World.

To the surprised and perplexed, to the cautious and guarded, to those in disbelief or doubt and seeking answers, Jesus appears and invites them to fellowship with Him: "Come and you will see."

Andrew had been a disciple of John the Baptist, but then was suddenly sent by the Baptist on a different path. He must now follow Jesus. After all, John the Baptist was not the light, but came to bear witness to the Light.

Yet Andrew likely had questions about this sudden change of allegiance to Jesus from Galilee, and sought answers. So Jesus asked him, "What are you seeking?" And Andrew, along with another one of John’s former disciples, responded: "Rabbi…where are you staying?" Then, we hear Jesus’ wonderful invitation to these seekers: "Come and you will see!"

Later, Jesus extended the same invitation to Nathaniel. But this time, Jesus spoke His words of invitation through Philip, whom He had just called to follow Him. Nathaniel’s infamous words, "Can anything good come out Nazareth?" were met with Philip’s call to meet Jesus: "Come and see!"

Any lingering questions and doubts Nathaniel may have had about the man from Galilee eventually came to an end when Jesus Himself appeared to him and, to Nathaniel’s surprise, told him exactly where he was before Philip called him, ("I saw you under the fig tree").

Suddenly, the light came on for Nathaniel! The light of Christ overcame the darkness of Nathaniel’s heart. Nathaniel now saw the Light. Nathaniel’s infamous words were now replaced by his confession of faith: "Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!" Good things do come out Nazareth in Galilee.

Not only does God work out His salvation, but He also reveals the Light of the world, from a most unexpected place. Out of Galilee, through the man from Galilee. In addition to this surprising state of affairs, God also chose to bring the light of His Son to the most unlikely folks—to Galileans themselves—and through them invited others to partake of the fullness of life in His kingdom. Andrew, Simon Peter, and Philip were from Bethsaida in Galilee. Nathaniel was from Cana in Galilee.

Stained Glass Confirmation Window

And the list goes on. A Galilean Savior with His Galilean disciples. How shocking! How surprising! A people too close to the Gentiles. A people with too strange an accent. A people cut with a different cultural cloth than their southern counterparts.

Yet it is out of odd and lowly Galilee that the risen Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, sent out His Galilean disciples to bring the world God so loved into the Light, to bring a wayward, erring, and dying world to the One who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

Who are the Galileans of your day? Who are the people in your neighborhoods who look and speak differently from you, whose cultural ways confound you? Who are those strange folks, or children of folks, from different tribes, languages, and nations in your midst?

Who do you think, from your narrow human perspective, are the neighbors least likely to benefit from the goodies, from God’s surprising news of salvation in Christ? Who do we think, due to our close-minded sinful ways, are the neighbors least likely to receive God’s gracious invitation into the life-giving kingdom of His Son?

You see, you too can be like Nathaniel, doubtful about what God can do on behalf of and with neighbors in marginal areas like Galilee, cautiously optimistic about strangers coming into and serving in our churches, guarded about inviting modern-day Galileans to be disciples of Jesus with us for the sake of the world.

When you think in these ways, you too are in the dark. You only see with the eyes of the flesh, and you close your hearts to the surprisingly gracious ways in which God reveals His great love for new neighbors near and far through His Son.

Yet God is merciful, and He surprises you again and again, inviting you to see with the eyes of the Holy Spirit what mighty deeds He can do in the most unlikely places and among the most unlikely characters.

What is the church but a beautiful fellowship of Galileans? A marginal people called out of darkness into the light of the Son. A people once dead raised to new life through faith in God’s Son. Through strangers in your midst, God reminds you that the church is a bunch of strangers in a foreign land. You are in the world, but not of the world.

To the world, you are complete strangers, speaking with a strange accent and walking to a strange beat. You speak the ancient language of Holy Scripture. You initiate people into the church by sprinkling them with water at the Baptism font. You eat the body and drink the blood of God’s Son at the altars. Your pastors forgive you your sins. You even love your enemies.

And you sing and dance to the tune of strange-sounding hymns, canticles, and songs to worship your Galilean Lord and God. How odd! How surprising! You, too, are, as I am, strange Galileans.

On this LWML Sunday, rejoice in Jesus’ calling and invitation to come and see once again what He has graciously done in your lives, His great deeds of salvation on behalf of Galileans like you. Today, receive with great thanksgiving and awesome wonder Jesus’ surprising invitation to come and see what He can do and is indeed doing even among strange Galilean neighbors in your midst to extend His kingdom throughout the world.

Hey Philip! Can anything good really come out of Nazareth in Galilee? Yes indeed, Nathanael. Jesus, God’s greatest gift, surprisingly came out of lowly Galilee for us and for our salvation. Good things do come out of Galilee! Hey Philip! Can God work out His salvation in lowly places and among strangers today? Yes indeed, Nathanael. "Come and see!"

Christ is risen.

Luther Rose


Christ Is Risen
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