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Calvary Episcopal Church
667 Mount Road
Aston, PA       19014

610-459-2013
OFFICE




mail@calvaryepiscopalrockdale.org
SERMON
2nd Sunday after the Epiphany
January 18, 2009
The Rev. Kristine Hill
667 Mount Road, Aston, PA   19014                                                 610-459-2013
Small Parish - Big Heart
The little church you've been looking for!
All are welcome!
Our Mission:

To worship
the Lord

To serve the
community

To grow the
church

1 Samuel 3:1-20
1st Corinthians 6:12-20
John 1:43-51
The Rev. Kristine Hill, Interim Rector
Jesus  seemed  to  know  Nathanael  just  by  seeing  him  under  the  fig  tree.  It  
happened  like  this.  Jesus  was  choosing  his  disciples.  He  found  Philip  and  said  
“follow  me,”  so  Philip  did.   Soon,  Philip  was  convinced   Jesus  was  the  Messiah,  
so  he  went  and  got  Nathanael,  telling  him  “we  have  found  the  one  about  whom  
Moses  and  all  the  prophets  wrote  --  Jesus  son  of  Joseph  from   Nazareth.”  Philip  
and  Nathanael  had  a  brief  conversation,  during  which  Nathanael  questioned  the  
credentials  of  Nazareth.  But  in  the  end,  he  decided  to  take  Philip’s  advice  and  
check  Jesus  out  for  himself.  

The  two  approached  Jesus.  When  Jesus  saw  them  coming,  Jesus  said,  indicating  
Nathanael,  “here  comes  an  Israelite  in  whom  there  is  no  deceit.”  Nathanael  was  
astonished.  How  did  Jesus  know  him  -  they  had  never  met?  Jesus  said  “I  saw  
you  under  the  fig  tree  before  Philip  called  you.”   [Perhaps  Nathanael  had  been  
talking  with  others,  interacting  with  fellow  Israelites.  Maybe  Jesus  had  observed  
him  for  a  while.]   Whatever  the  case,  Nathanael  was  stunned.  He  said  to  Jesus  
“Rabbi,  you  are  the  Son  of  God!  You  are  the  King  of  Israel!”   Jesus  replied, “stick  
around  and  you’ll  see  much  greater  things  than  that.”

It’s  a  story  about  identity – Nathanael’s  identity  and  Jesus’  identity.  Jesus’  initial  
reading  of  Nathanael  probably  was  not  too  difficult.    Nathanael  does  seem  pretty  
“guileless”  the  way  he  is  so  surprised  by  Jesus’  perceptiveness  and  how  he  
jumps  from  there  to  confessing  Jesus,  not  simply  as  a  wise  person,  but  as  Son  
of  God  and  King  of  Israel.   It  appears  that  Jesus  is  not  so  much  flattered  by  
Nathanael’s  adoration  as  bemused.  “You  believe  because  I  told  you  I  saw  you  
under  the  fig  tree?  You’ll  see  greater  things  than  these.”     Who  is  Nathanael?     
Someone  ready  to  believe,  not  cynical,  not  a  slave  to  his  own  interests,  and  at  
the  conclusion  of  the  story – a follower  of  Jesus.     Who is  Jesus?   …in  the  season  
of  Epiphany,  we  are  just  beginning  to  address  that  question.  We  know  Jesus  is  
the  Son  of  God,  but  what,  exactly,  does  that  mean  for  us,  for  the  world,  for  
people  in  our  communities,  in  our  time?

Terry  was  a  member  of  my  church  in  Hickory.  He  might  have  been  40  --  a  man  
with  long  hair  and  a  beard,  tattoos  all  up  and  down  his  arms;  he  rode  a  
motorcycle,  and  he  loved  Jesus.  He’d  come  through  some  rough  times  -  addiction  
to  drugs  and  alcohol  -  but  he  was  back  on   his  feet.  For  a  big  man  Terry  had  a  
surprisingly  soft  voice.  And  the  tattoos  on  his  arms  were  unusual;  they  told  the  
story  of  Jesus’  life,  death,  and  resurrection  in  pictures.  Terry  used  to  go  down  to  
biker  bars  and  into  parts  of  town  where  prostitutes  worked.  As  tough  as  he  
looked,  he  was  easily  accepted  there.  He  would  strike  up  a  conversation  with  
someone  -  a  prostitute  or  somebody  struggling  with  addiction  -  and  eventually  he  
would  show  them  his  tattoos,  tell  them  about  Jesus,  explain  how  Jesus  had  
helped  him  turn  his  own  life  around.  

One  Sunday  morning  Terry’s  face,  among  others,  was  on  the  front  page  of  the  
local  paper.  A  group  of  men  had  been  arrested  in  a  sting  operation.  They  had  
been  in  a  disreputable  part  of  town  spending  time  with  prostitutes.  Those  of  us  
who  knew  Terry  understood  why  he  was  there  --  he  had  been  ministering  in  
Jesus’  name.  But  not  everyone  looked  at  it  that  way.  A  couple  weeks  later,
teaching  my  confirmation  class,  some  of  the  students  were  laughing  about  the  
church  member  who  was  caught  having  a  good  time  with  prostitutes.  “No,”  I  said,
“it’s  not  like  that.”  I  told  them  about  Terry,  how  he  went  to  see  prostitutes  to  tell  
them  about  Jesus,  but  I  could  see  in  their  faces   they  didn’t  really  believe  me.  
Their  disbelief  stung,  and  it  made  me  think   about  Jesus  himself.  Jesus  kept  
company  with  tax  collectors  and  prostitutes;  surely  people  made  the  same  kind  of  
assumptions  and  comments  about  him.  It’s  not  always  safe  or  easy  to  be  “like”  
Jesus.

There  are  many  questions  that  surround  identity.    Who  are  we  as  a  congregation?  
What  do we  want  to  be  known  as  --  the  congregation  that  shows  great  hospitality  
to  all,  that  welcomes  everyone?    the  congregation  that  has  lots of  community  
functions  in its  building  and   takes  time  to  address  the  needs  of  the  community?   
Or  do  we  want  to  be  known  as  the  congregation  that  works  really  well  with  
children,  youth  and  young  adults?   Addressing  those  questions  helps  us  shape  
our  identity,  helps  us  know  better  who  we  are  and  who  we  want  to  become.  As  
we  sort  through  these  questions,  we  should  also  ponder  the  identity  of  our  Lord.  
Who  is  the  Jesus   we  are  seeking  to  serve?  Some  congregations  seem  to  want  
only  to  serve a  safe  Jesus  whose  message  is  one  of  comfort  for  them  and  their  
families.   But  I don’t  think  that  is  what  Calvary  wants;  I  think  Calvary  wants  to  
serve  Jesus  who  is  the  embodiment  of  God’s  love  and  truth  in  the  world,  who  
calls  us  to  embody  that  same  news  to  our  neighbors.  Then  there  is  the  Jesus  
who  said  that  in  order  to  be  his  followers  we  must  lay  down  our  life  with  him  
and  take  up  our  cross  --  how  do  we  handle  that?      We  wrestle  with  so  many  
questions  as  we  seek  to  know  our  identity  in  relation  to  the  identity  of  our  Savior.

Last  Sunday  we  discussed  Calvary’s  identity  at  a  Parish  Forum.  We  had  fun  doing  
it  --  we  split  into  four  groups.   Each  group  chose  a  strength  of  the  congregation  
upon  which  to  continue  building  our  ministry.  Then  each  group  set  three  or  four  
goals  based on that strength,  and  finally  they  explained  how  achieving  those  goals  
would  help  us  clarify  our  identity  even  further.   Some  good  ideas  got  generated  
in  that  exercise!    When we  were  finished  with  that  stage  of  the  meeting,  the  
Discernment  Committee  brought  forward an  issue  they  have  struggled  with --  what  
to  do  when  they  have  an  excellent  candidate,  someone  who  suits  Calvary  church  
very  well,  and   who  is  homosexual.   The  discernment  committee  admitted  that,  thus  
far,  they  have  set  aside  such  candidates – assuming  the  congregation  would  not  
accept  them – but  they  have  felt  conflicted  about  doing  so.  They  came  to  the  
congregation,  asking  for  guidance.  Those  at  the  forum  discussed  what  to  do  -  
whether  the  committee  should  reject  such  candidates  or  consider  them.  We  had  
an  honest,  respectful  discussion,  with  Calvary’s  members  sharing  their  thoughts  
and  feelings  on  the  matter.  That  in  itself,  the  ability  to  talk  about  such  a  sensitive  
topic, showed  great  health  and  strength  in  the  congregation.  I  don’t  know  that  an  
absolute  decision  was  made,  but  what  I  heard  was  a desire  that  the  committee  not  
cut  off  any  candidates  over  just  one  issue  but  consider  all  and  use  its  best  
collective  judgment  regarding  whom  to  choose.   

What  we  were  discussing  in  all  of  that  was  our  identity --  who  are  we  at  Calvary  
church?   Who  do  we  want  to  be?   We  need  to  answer  carefully  so  that  our  
answer  will  be  truthful  today  and  on  into  the  future.  And  as  we  reflect  on  our  
own  identity,  on  who  we  are,  we  also  need  to  think  about    who  is  Jesus?   Our  
lives  are  inextricably  linked  with  Jesus’  life,  and  how  we  live  should  show  that.  
How  we  care  for  one  another,  how  we  talk  about  important  matters  with  each  
other,  how  we  present  ourselves  in  this  community  --  all  of  it  is  wrapped  up,  not  
only  in  who  we  are,  but  who  Jesus  is  among  us.

I  attend  a  pastor’s  Bible  study  on  Tuesday  mornings  in  the  Mount  Airy  section  of  
Philadelphia  with  about  15  other  clergy.  Pastor  Jeff  always  tells  the  best  stories  at  
that  Bible  study.  Last  week  he  mentioned  a  recent  occasion  when  he  was  in  a  
topless  bar.  Immediately,  all  conversation  stopped  and  everyone  turned  on  him  
puzzled  looks.  Jeff  is  married  with  two  young  sons;  a  topless  bar  doesn’t  fit  him  
in  any  way.  But  Jeff  simply  went  on  with  his  story.  It  was  a  bachelor’s  party,  he  
said,  and  one  of  the  topless  dancers  noticed  that  he  wasn’t  acting  like  everyone  
else  in  the  place.  So  she  asked  someone  about  him  and  was  told  “he’s  the  
preacher.”  When  she  got  a  break,  she  down  next  to  Pastor  Jeff  and  asked  him  
what  God  thought  about  her,  about  what  she  was  doing.  She  wanted  to  know  if  
God  condemned  her.    It  wasn’t  that  she  liked  the  work,  she  said,  but  she  had  
children  to  feed,  and  since  her  eldest  son  had  gotten  his  girlfriend  pregnant  last  
year,  now  she  had  a  grandchild  to  raise  as  well.   She  was  worried  what  God  
thought  of  her.  

Jeff  reported  how  strange  it  was  to  be  having  such  a  serious  conversation  about  
God,  in  a  place  where  most  people  hoped  God  was  not  present.  But  as  Jeff  told  
his  story,  we  all  knew  God  had  been  very  present  that  night.  He  said  to  the  
topless  dancer,  “the  sad  thing  is  that  nobody  in  here  sees  you  the  way  God  sees  
you.”   Whereas  most  people  in  that  place  saw  a  body  to  ogle,  God  saw  the  whole  
human  being,  someone  who  struggled  and  suffered,  someone  of  value  and  worth.  
Although  it  was  surprising,  even  shocking  at  first,  once  you  think  about  it  --  it’s  
not  strange  that  Jesus  was  in  a  topless  bar  that  evening  --  embodied  in  one  of  
his  people,  listening  with  compassion  to  the  troubles  of  a  working  woman.

Jesus  saw  Nathanael  by  the  fig  tree  and  sensed  who  he  was.   We  don’t  know  
what  others  thought  of  Nathanael,  how  his  friends  or  associates  would  have  
described  him.    Maybe  he  was only  4  foot  6   and  had  been  dubbed  “shorty.”   Or  
maybe  he  had  a  hot  temper  and  people  avoided  him.   Maybe  there  was  nothing  
special  about  him  at  all  and  he  was  often  over-looked  --  who  knows?   But  
Nathanael  was  struck  by  how  quickly  and  accurately  Jesus  assessed  him.  Jesus  
did  not  overlook  Nathanael.  Jesus  did  not  judge  Nathanael  based  on  any  odd  
physical  attributes  or  social  stigmas.  Jesus  saw  Nathanael  the  person,  and  
grasped  the  basis  of  his  character.  That’s  a  great  feeling  --  to  be  noticed  in  that  
way,  to  be  truly  seen  as  who  you  are,  not  just  as  what  you  do  or  through  the  
lens  of  your  faults.

Jesus  sees  us  this  way,  too.   We  are  often  like  that  dancer  in  the  topless  bar,  
wondering  what  God  thinks  of  us,  fearing  God  will  judge  us  for  one  thing  or  
another.   But  God  sent  Jesus  to  reveal  to  us  God’s  great  and  tender  love  for  us.   
When  Jesus  catches  sight  of  us  he  doesn’t  say  “ooo,  there’s  that  person  who  
curses  other  drivers  in  traffic,”  or  “there’s  that  person  with  a  messy  house”  or  
“who  doesn’t  always  tell  the  truth.”  Jesus  knows  our  failings,  our  sins,  but  does  
not  define  us  by  them.   No,  when  Jesus  looks  and  sees  the  genuine  person  we  
are:  Loyal  Maggie  with  the  fiery  spirit  and  the  warm  heart;  Sally  who  trusts  her  
Lord;    Ed  who  keeps  himself  and  his  family  going  with  dedication,  humor  and  
love;   Allison  and  Emily  who  take  such  tender  care  of  the  children.   Ralph  whose  
goodness  shines  in  his  eyes  and  in  his  smile.   Jesus  sees  you;  each  of  you -  the  
whole  you,  the  beautiful  you.   When  Jesus  sees  you,  you  are  received  by  God  
with  love.

Isn’t  this  the  Jesus  we  want  to  embody  for  one  another  and  for  our  neighbors?  It  
must  be  because  the  people  of  Calvary  already  embody  this  Jesus  in  much  of  
their  interactions  with  each  other  --  by  listening  instead  of  judging,  by  pushing  
but  also  having  patience,  by  welcoming  new  people  with  real  friendliness  instead  
of  looking  to  see  whether  they  fit  in.  This  Jesus   already  abides  here,  in  and  
among  us,  the  Jesus  who  knows  us  by  name  and  looks  on  us  with  love.  Jesus
welcomes  us  here  in  God’s  house,  greets  us  with  compassion  and  joy,  and  invites  
us  to  continue  wrestling  with  what  it  means  for  us  to  live  -  today,  in  this  world –
as  his  faithful  people.                  amen