“The Savior From (That ‘Hole’* Called) Nazareth”

The following sermon was preached at the 8:30am and 11:00am Rite II and 6:00pm Rite I services at the Episcopal Church of the Ascension in Lafayette, Louisiana on Sunday, January 14, 2018, being the Second Sunday after the Epiphany.

Collect: Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ is the Light of the world: Grant that Your people, illumined by Your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory, that He may be known, worshipped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with You and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Readings: 1 Samuel 3.1-20; Psalm 139.1-5, 12-17; 1 Corinthians 6.12-20; John 1.43-51

*Note: Out of respect for the Church and consideration of the various age groups present during the preaching of this sermon, the offending word spoken by the President of the United States during the January 11, 2018 immigration reform meeting with Congressional leaders at the White House was not spoken, but alluded to.

“Nazareth!’ Nathaniel exclaimed; ‘Can anything good come from Nazareth?’ Philip said, ‘Come and see.’”—John 1.46-47

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.

This past Thursday, news broke via major news sources that the President of the United States, during a meeting with Congressional leaders on a potential bipartisan immigration agreement, expressed frustration at their suggestion of restoring protections for immigrants from countries with temporary protected status.[1] The specific countries that meeting participants mentioned were El Salvador, Haiti, and African countries. The President’s response?

“Why are we having all these people from [those] countries come here?”**

The President, instead, suggested that America should bring in more people from countries like Norway, as well as from the Asian continent, because he believed they would help the country economically.[2]

As a historian of race relations and a Priest of the Church, hearing this account from major news sources and its confirmation from interviews of Congressional leaders attending the meeting—including one from the President’s own political party[3]—both shocked and appalled me. The President saying what he did not only caused division between the United States and other countries, but amongst Americans themselves. The words of Martin Luther King, Jr., who our country honors tomorrow, could not be more applicable for this time: “I have a dream that [all people] one day will live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”[4]

Saint Paul proclaims in Acts 17

“[God] created every race of men…to inhabit the whole earth’s surface. He fixed the epochs of their history and the limits of their territory. In Him we live and move, in Him we exist.” (Acts 17.26-28)

And as the music of the Irish rock band U2 seeks to help us realize, we need to see the beauty that exist in the ugly things of this world and know that there is hope beyond the scarring we inflict upon each other.[5] It is that very hope we see foreshadowed in today’s Gospel.

+         +         +

The story begins with Jesus making His way to Galilee. He calls Philip of Bethsaida to follow Him. Philip, in turn, finds Nathanael, telling him that they have met Jesus, Joseph’s Son from Nazareth, the Man whom Moses and all the Prophets wrote about. You can sense the skepticism in Nathanael’s answer, “Nazareth! Can anything good come from Nazareth?”

Much like the President’s unfortunate comment, Nathanael’s objection reflected an opinion from that time of Nazareth being a “hole” of a place. It was a place so geographically remote that nothing hardly ever happened there and where nobody of importance ever lived or came from. People viewed Nazareth as being backwoods, redneck, illiterate, and just a plain dead-end town. In Nathanael’s mind, if the coming Messiah was to come from somewhere, it would surely be from Jerusalem, the “Big City.” Philip’s response? Simply, “Come and see.”

Jesus has nothing against places like Norway or the Asian continent. They are as much part of His creation and their inhabitants His people like everyone else. And it is that precise reason why Jesus’ coming from a place like Nazareth is important, to convey to His people in places like El Salvador, Haiti, the African continent, from small towns and big cities all over the world that the same is true of them, that they are just as important to Him as everyone else is. He hasn’t just come for the affluent and influential, but also for the poor and powerless.

And what is most important for us to realize is that what others felt about Nazareth being illiterate and dead end is applicable to every single person’s past or present life without Christ. When we arbitrate on our own what places are good or bad, what kind of people are acceptable or not, who should be welcomed in and left out, all we end up doing is causing further division. But the truth of the matter is that not a single one of us has power in ourselves to help ourselves, nor to pronounce judgement upon others. All of us need Christ.

As Saint Paul says to the Ephesians

“Time was when you were dead in your sins and wickedness, when you followed the evil ways of this present age, when you obeyed the commander of the spiritual powers of the air, the spirit now at work among God’s rebel subjects. We, too, were once of their number: we all lived our lives in sensuality and obeyed the promptings of our own instincts and notions.” (Ephesians 2.1-4)

Hence, we are invited to come and see this Jesus from backwoods Nazareth. We are invited to see how, because of Jesus, good can come from all places, rich or poor, large or small. We are invited to see how, through the Holy Spirit, God is amidst all people.  We are being offered the gift of everlasting salvation by this poor Messiah from a backwoods town on Earth who, by coming down from Heaven, shared our human nature, lived and died as one of us, and reconciles all who believe to His Father, who is God and Father of all.

Jesus says to all whom God saves, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you; and you will bear witness for Me in Jerusalem, and all over Judea and Samaria, and away to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1.8) Wherever we are, God, too, is there. And wherever God is is no low-status place.

With Jesus coming “not [as] a High Priest unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but [as] One who, because of His likeness to us, [will be] tested [in] every way, only without sin” (Hebrews 4.15), He will reveal Himself to be the One through whom God has come to humanity and through which all humanity can be in relationship with God. No matter who you are or what part of any country you come from, to all who receive Jesus and yield Him their allegiance, He will give right to become God’s children.[6] No one will be denied the opportunity of God’s love.

+         +         +

At the end of today’s Gospel, Jesus says, “You shall see Heaven wide open, and God’s angels ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” One-day, small places will all crumble down and fade away. Big cities will, too. What will remain is you, me, all others from small places and big places in love with God in that one Great Place of everlasting peace.

Can anything good come from El Salvador? From Haiti? From Africa? From any and everywhere? Because of Jesus Christ, yes! Because of Jesus, the Messiah from the backwoods of Nazareth, all people and places will be made new. In Jesus, there is hope for us all. Let us all, together, come and see how.

The Lord hath manifested forth His glory; O come, let us adore Him. Amen.

[1] Ryan Teague Beckwith. “President Trump Called El Salvador, Haiti ‘S***hole Countries.’” Time (January 11, 2018).

**Deliberate research was done while writing this sermon to verify the authenticity of the President’s reported statement. In addition to stories from The Washington Post, The New York Times, and Time, stories from Fox News Channel (“Trump Laments Immigration from ‘S***hole’ Countries in Oval Office Negotiations,” January 12, 2018) and “The Daily Caller” (“Trump Upset That ‘People From ‘S***hole Countries’ Immigrate to America,” January 11, 2018), both major conservative media outlets, were consulted, lending veracity to the statement. The latter named source specifically mentions how “in a statement, the White House does not deny that the [P]resident said the above quote behind closed doors.”

[2] Josh Dawsey. “Trump Derides Protections for Immigrants From ‘S***hole Countries.” The Washington Post (January 12, 2018).

[3] Quote of Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) in Thomas Kaplan, Emily Baumgaertner, and Alicia Parlapiano’s article “How Republican Lawmakers Responded to Trump’s Vulgar Immigration Remarks,” The New York Times (January 13, 2018).

[4] Martin Luther King, Jr. “I Have a Dream,” delivered at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on August 28, 1963.

[5] See Brian Christofferson’s article “Beauty in Ugly Things” in the May-June 2001 issue of Sojourners magazine.

[6] John 1.12

 

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