Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | January 14, 2018

2018.01.14 “The Dream Remains” – John 1: 43 – 51

Central United Methodist Church
The Dream Remains
Pastor David L. Haley
John 1: 43 – 51
January 14th, 2018

MLK Mem 1

“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 about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” And 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.” John 1: 43 – 51, the New Revised Standard Version

 

MLK Mem 2It was a beautiful January day in D.C. several years ago, when on Martin Luther King Day, my family and I went to visit the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial on the National Mall. Since my son and daughter-in-law and grandsons live just a few miles away, it was a family outing, and appropriate, given that it is the only monument on the National Mall honoring a preacher.

There were lots of people visiting, mixing with each other, black and white, young and old. There was a choir, a group of alumni from King’s alma mater, Morehouse College, singing hymns.

Around the memorial, engraved on blocks of granite, are some of King’s most famous quotes, like:

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

Or this one: “If we are to have peace on earth, our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Our loyalties must transcend our race, our tribe, our class, and our nation; and this means we must develop a world perspective.”

Or this one, as true than ever: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

The centerpiece of the King memorial is this sculpture of King emerging from a mountain, embodying his own words from his 1963, “I Have a Dream” speech: “With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope.”

MLK NYerThis was only a few years ago, but it seems like a lifetime. On this Human Relations Day, the day before Martin Luther King, Jr. birthday celebration, not a few of us wish Dr. King was here, especially now, at a time when the moral and civil discourse of the nation has hit a low unseen in decades. We miss his moral vision, his eloquent words, and most of all, his prophetic actions. No wonder the recent New Yorker cover by Mark Ulriksen portrays King where we might find him if he were with us today, kneeling in prayer between NFL football players Colin Kaepernick and Michael Bennett. Sadly, there is no one on the national stage like Dr. King, who could address the moral outrage of our present situation with the moral vision or eloquence that he did.

So where do we begin to effect change? On this Human Relations Day, I would suggest that change begins exactly in our everyday relationships and conversations with each other. Such relationships and conversations should be based not upon the things that divide us, such as where we come from or how much money we make or what the color of our skin is, but the things that unite us, like mutual respect and compassion and not upon on where we come from or the color of our skin. As Dr. King so eloquently presented the dream, that we might “one day live in a nation where people will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

It is exactly upon such a level, in everyday relationships and conversations, that the ministry of Jesus begins in today’s reading from the Gospel of John. It begins not in a church or temple or palace or government building, but out in the streets, the places where people meet and mingle together, not unlike the King Memorial on that day I visited a few years ago.

In recent weeks, we’ve attended [Jesus’] birth and witnessed the visit of the Magi to pay him homage. Last Sunday, as an adult, we’ve seen Jesus show up to be baptized by John in the Jordan River, with the heavens splitting open and the Spirit descending upon him like a dove. But now what? How and where does his ministry begin? In John’s Gospel, Jesus’ ministry begins with a couple guys talking to each other.

John has pointed out Jesus as the Lamb of God to two of his disciples, Andrew and his brother, Simon Peter. The next day Jesus decides to go to Galilee, where he finds Philip, also from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip finds Nathanael and tells him, “We have found the One about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus, son of Joseph, from Nazareth.” We are working on two levels in John’s Gospel: on one level, the incarnate Word, the Lamb of God; but on the other level, he is disguised in plain sight, as Joseph, the carpenter’s son, from Nazareth.

Furthermore, these potential converts and future disciples are real people and they come off this way, even talking the trash talk we sometimes talk, reflecting our tribalism and provinciality, not our best selves but our worst selves. Upon hearing Philip make the astounding statement that “We have found the Messiah – and he is Jesus bar Joseph from Nazareth – Nathaniel says what we might say – are you ready for it? – “Can any good thing come from that sh*th*le of Nazareth?”

Who knows what it was Nathaniel didn’t like, why he would say such a thing, since Nazareth wasn’t that far away. Were there trailer parks in Nazareth? Was their skin a little darker than the people of Bethsaida?

For us, it still raises larger questions? What is it about us that loves tribalism, preferring our country and our race and our religion above others? What is it about us, such that even when we are bad off, we need to find someone beneath us, and take joy in debasing and denigrating them? What is it about us that evaluates strangers by place of origin, residence, family, education, and station in life, rather than by need or – as King said – by the content of their character?

We ask this in a week when not just Nathaniel made a racial slur, but no less than the President of the United States. At a meeting on immigration at the White House, President Trump asked why the United States should accept people from sh*th*le places like Haiti or Africa instead of nice Nordic countries (read white) like Norway. Why would any Norwegian in their right mind want to come here and give up their free health insurance, free education, free pension? While at one time Norway was a sh*th*le country – like the countries most of our ancestors fled – Norway has now been rated as one the happiest nations on earth. More Americans are trying to move to Norway, than Norwegians are trying to move to America.

How discouraging, that on this King celebration in 2018, it has come to this. It pained me to read this week what one mother wrote in the comments section of the NY Times:

“As a 67-year old African American, born under Jim Crow, I had hoped that the pain & trauma that racism inflicts was largely behind me. I also hoped that my granddaughters wouldn’t have to deal with this issue and grow into adult-hood afflicted by these insults and apprehensive about their status in this country. So you can imagine my disgust upon hearing these comments voiced from the White House from Trump in his official capacity as spokesperson for this country. Now I’m forced to look my grandchildren in the eyes, as my parents & grandparents did me, and reassure them that they are not worthless, that their ancestors come from a magnificent continent, and they have nothing to be ashamed of.”

At least in the Gospels, after Nathaniel’s comment, things begin to look up. Philip invitingly says to Nathaniel, “Come and see!” Nathaniel did, and when Jesus sees him, he says, “There’s a real Israelite, not a false bone in his body.” And Nathaniel says, “Do I know you?” “Nathaniel,” says Jesus, smiling, “I knew you before Philip even called you”. “Wow,” says Nathaniel, “that’s impressive.” “You think that’s impressive,” says Jesus, “You ain’t seen nothing yet.” So the story begins, so we have seen and will yet see, greater things than this.

For those of us who are tired or discouraged on this King celebration weekend, Dr. King reminds us: “Human progress never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless effort of men and women willing to be coworkers with God.” Not just Andrew and Peter and Philip or trash-talking Nathaniel, or Dr. King, but also us.

And sometimes, even by people from the so-called sh*th*le countries of the world, who should be judged not on the external characteristics like their nation of origin or color of their skin, but by the content of our character.

MensahWhen we do this, we discover American heroes like Emmanuel Mensah, 28, a handsome, sturdy New Yorker, a member of the Army National Guard, originally from the West African country of Ghana. After he got back from Army training in December, on Thursday night, December 28th, the coldest night of the year, a fire broke out in Mensah’s Bronx building. It was begun by a toddler playing with knobs of a stove, but when the mother ran out carrying the toddler, she left the apartment door ajar, which allowed the flames to spread through the building. Fueled by gusty winds, the fire tore through the century-old apartment building, killing 13 people, including four children, to become was the deadliest fire in New York City in more than a quarter-century.

Mensah easily saved himself, but then rushed back into the burning building to rescue others. Three times he rushed in and out, bringing out four people. Then Mensah dashed toward the flames again and reached the fourth floor in a desperate effort to save a fifth person. As columnist Nicholas Kristof put it in the New York Times: “This brave soul from what Trump would describe as an sh*th*le country, the kind of person Trump was insulting, never made it out. Mensah’s body was found high in the building’s wreckage. A few days ago, the Army posthumously awarded Mensah the Soldier’s Medal, its highest award for heroism outside of combat, and New York State awarded him its Medal for Valor. The citation on the state medal reads: “His courageous and selfless act in the face of unimaginable conditions are consistent with the highest traditions of uniformed service.” “Who better embodies our nation’s values? (Nicholas Kristof, Mr. Trump, Meet a Hero Whom You Maligned, the New York times, January 12, 2018)

Though we are not there yet, on this King weekend, may we one day live in a nation where people will not be judged by their country of origin or the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. Toward that end, let us be co-workers with God. Amen.

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