January 17, 2021 Turning 21: Called To Vision, by Pastor David
John 1: 43-51 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found the One about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” 46 Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47 When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” 48 Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” 49 Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50 Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” 51 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.”
We take a moment here to center into this moment, to take in the music we just heard, to hear the scripture in our hearts and to be present to what God is communicating to us today.
January 17, 2021 Turning 21: Called to Vision
Martin Luther King, jr. was famous for going to jail, and for being willing to go to jail. He taught and followed the teachings of Gandhi, Howard Thurman, Henry David Thoreau and others, who recognized the violence of the state that can only be countered by non-violence which exposes that violence.
When King was assassinated in 1968, I was 15 years old. The week of his funeral was Holy Week. We had the week off of school and I remember painting my room in the attic of our house with the TV playing the funeral of MLK. I could tell that my mother was upset that King had been killed even though he had not exactly been popular with with folks at my church and in my community. I watched the protests and the funeral and didn’t know quite what to make of it all. I had no idea how much King and the civil rights movement had inspired people who would inspire me, how much his work for justice and peace would influence my life as an activist, pastor, organizer and justice seeker.
Even though King’s legacy has become more complicated over the years, (this year there are several books about the people with guns who defended King in his home so he could be out doing the work of nonviolence.) I personally feel like his witness and work is still critically important in the ways that his vision remains unfinished.
33 You have heard about people who go to jail having a small window to look out of. They say that some people see bars and some still see the stars. It’s the same little window for both people, but some see the metallic reminders of a difficult reality. And some, like Martin Luther King and Diane Nash, one of the organizers who worked with him, see beyond the obvious, envisioning a future that goes beyond current realities.
That’s what comes to mind as I read this passage from John this morning, where Philip invites Nathanael to “come and see” whether anything good can come out of Nazareth. The gospel of John is full of allusions to who can really see. In this passage, Nathanael is amazed at Jesus’ insight and vision - seeing him under the fig tree, and seeing more deeply into the needs of the world. There are three ways I expect us to have vision for the future.
First, if we have vision today, we will see that the work and teachings of Martin Luther King are particularly important this year after the insurrection last week where anti-democratic, para-military vigilante, supremacists showed their true colors and intentions in our country.
We see anew during this time the importance of being organized and vigilant. the multi-faith, non-partisan network that we are building through POWER and other groups, committed to non-violence and to ending racism looks really valuable to me during this time, and it will prove even more valuable in years to come. These networks have provided a way during the last months to counter the toxic messages of racism, and they will continue to be important for raising up the needs of poor people. We know that a change in administration in Washington is not going to be a magic fix for all that ails our country and community. We still have to work and challenge and organize to make it work.
Secondly, if we have vision today, we will see that the message of Jesus is particularly important this year after the isolation, pain and discouragement of COVID 19. The pandemic has left us reeling. Remember, the pandemic started during Lent last year. We put our ‘alleluia’s” in a box on the altar, thinking that we would celebrate Easter when we came back to the sanctuary in a week or two. This time apart has been a super-Lent, a long time of fasting from being together, a long time of not singing together, a long time of not eating together. During a normal Lent, we reach Easter and it is a release and a wonderful thing to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. I’m still hoping that by April 4th this year, we can have a real Easter service together - either in the sanctuary or out in Ashbridge Park or in the playground. Some kind of service where we can see each other again, and worship together again, and say Alleluia together again.
I think that when we really get back together again, no matter when that is, there will be an opportunity to see with Easter eyes, care for each other with Jesus hearts, renew our community with God hands. It will be a chance to not go back to normal - to not go back to gun violence, to not go back to accepting poverty and inequality as normal, to not go back to thinking that good health care is affordable only for some of us. And to continue our outreach online - to people all over the community and even friends and neighbors who live too far away to join us in person.
Thirdly, if we have vision today, we will see that we don’t always see very well, but that God sees and reveals wild possibilities in the stress of this moment. We will know that God sees better than we do and we don’t have to have it all together. We just get to have the insight and faith to trust God’s vision more than our own, to accept God’s love and grace. We cherish the opportunities God has created during this time, valuing our new connections with the Main Line Muslim community and the Narberth Havurah and Jewish community more than ever. God will bring us back together again and call us to new possibilities.
See, this is the last thing to note about this passage - something we can’t see in English. In the Greek, the end of the passage switches from talking about you singular to you plural. This whole passage has been a conversation between Jesus & Nathanael, but in the last verse, 51, it broadens out to a wider audience and says, 51 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 Human One, Son of Man.” We are all included in God’s vision, God’s hopes.
So these are the three visions we are called to on this MLK weekend - 1. the vision of MLK for the beloved community during a social crisis, 2. the vision of Jesus for renewal during and after the pandemic, and 3. the vision of the living God, blessing us with grace and love, helping us where we are blind, accepting us as we are, loving us into wholeness. This is God’s especially good news, because so many of us don’t see all that well.
We can use God’s help, so we sing “Precious Lord, Take My Hand,”
Responsive hymn 474 Precious Lord, Take My Hand