"The MIGHTY Lord is with us; the God of Jacob is our FORTRESS." Psalm 46:7
 
 

2 Epiphany proper B2                            
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
John 1:43-51 Sermon                                               
January 18, 2009 

CAN ANYTHING GOOD COME FROM HERE?

TEXT:  (v. 45-46) “Philip found Nathaniel and told him, ‘We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote--Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.’  ‘Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?’ Nathaniel asked.  ‘Come and see,’ said Philip.” 

            Ever since my father retired from the ministry, he spent a good number of Sundays supplying vacant pulpits in the area.  Sometimes it was because the pastor was out-of-town for one reason or another, or sometimes it was because a particular congregation was between pastors. 

            Of course when this happens, a visiting pastor isn’t usually very familiar with the congregation; viz. the individual people, the history, or the life of the congregation.  Because of this, it is difficult to tailor a sermon to a congregational situation, or to be aware of some basic facts.

            Such was the case for my father.  He was invited to preach at Hope Lutheran Church in Burr, Nebraska, which is a congregation of the former American Lutheran Church.  The one Sunday he was there was the same as today, the second Sunday after the Epiphany.  The appointed Gospel reading is the same one we had this morning, where Nathaniel asks the question, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”  So my father opened his sermon by asking a similar question, “Can anything good come out of Burr?”

            Before I go on, I probably should explain a bit about Burr, if you’re not familiar with it.  Burr is a very small rural community on an old railway line about 30 miles southeast of Lincoln, not too far from Tecumseh.  It has a population of about 70 people more or less.  It used to have a school which has long been closed.  Then there is a grain elevator, a post office, two churches, and that’s about it.  About the only person of any notoriety that I’m aware of who has come from Burr is Dean Steinkuhler, the former Nebraska football player.  But apart from that, the people in Burr are just the nice, friendly, regular-type folks you’d expect to find in any rural Nebraska community.

            So my father asked the question, “Can anything good come out of Burr?”  And after the service, he got an answer to his question that he wasn’t expecting.  It seems as if that small congregation in Burr has generated several pastors who are active in the ministry; and if I remember correctly, there’s even a foreign missionary amongst that group.  The people of Hope Lutheran are very happy about this; and so yes, indeed something good came out of Burr. 

            As we look at our Gospel reading for today, we encounter the same question, only it is directed to the hamlet of Nazareth.  We’ll see the reason for this question in a few moments, but first we should get an idea of the overall picture of the situation.

            In the verses just before our Gospel reading, we find Andrew being called by Jesus.  Andrew, a resident of Bethsaida, had been a disciple of John the Baptist, and now he had made the transition from John to Jesus.  When Andrew does this, the first thing he does is in effect tell Jesus, “Hey, wait a minute Lord, I’ve got to go and get my brother; he’s got to be a part of this too!”  And so he goes and fetches Simon.

            The next day they depart from Bethsaida and head toward Galilee.  But before they leave, they come across Philip whom Jesus also calls as a disciple.  Philip was most likely a friend of another man by the name of Nathaniel.  Philip finds him sitting under a fig tree, and tells him:  "We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote--Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph."

            This now begets the question we started with.  Nathaniel says to Philip: ‘Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?’ Nathaniel asked.”

            This almost sounds like Nathaniel is prejudiced against Nazareth; but if we examine the surrounding facts, that probably wasn’t the case at all.

            Nazareth was a community where there was a mixed population, and not predominately or exclusively Jewish.  It was a working class community too.  Nazareth was not known for being a religious or theological center.  So as far as Nathaniel was concerned, Nazareth was one of the least likely places for the promised Messiah’s home town.  Common sense would dictate that Jerusalem would be a more likely place.  After all, the temple was in Jerusalem; and along with it were all of the religious leaders and scholars. 

            Nazareth certainly was not the bastion of Judaism; in fact it was far from it.  Since it was about 80 miles from Jerusalem, it couldn’t even be considered a bedroom community.  So due to the fact that Nazareth was such an unlikely place, Nathaniel asks his question more out of shock and bewilderment than anything else.  “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?”

            Today we are looking at the theme of God calling people.  Our Old Testament Lesson is the account of God calling young Samuel.  Samuel responds with some often quoted words:  "Speak, for your servant is listening."   (I Samuel 3, 10b)  And then in our Gospel lesson, Jesus calls four disciples:  Andrew, Peter, Philip, and Nathaniel (sometimes called Bartholomew). 

            Has God called the likes of you and me to be his disciple too?  He certainly has, or we wouldn’t be sitting here this morning.  Dr. Martin Luther in the explanation of the third article of the Apostles’ Creed explains it this way: “…the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith; even as he calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith…”

            Yes my friends you have been called!  I have been called!   God the Holy Spirit has touched each and every one of our hearts and has given us a call.  Because we have come together as members of Christ’s Holy Church, we give evidence to the fact that he has indeed called us to faith and called us into his family.

            We now have to properly identify what that call is.  Some years ago, I had a Sunday School teacher who felt that God had given her a direct and divine call to teach.  Of course God hadn’t spoken to her in a thundercloud or a burning bush or anything else.  And the congregation hadn’t issued her with an official call document either.  She just felt “in her heart” that God had called her to do this, and she felt obliged to carry that out.  Of course her thinking wasn’t right on this issue.

            So let’s put the proper perspective on God’s call to us.  If we look at those first disciples, their call wasn’t to do a particular duty or perform a particular service.  Their call was first and foremost a call of faith, which is a call to a relationship between a person and Jesus Christ.  That’s what God’s call to us is as well.

            If we look at the example of my Sunday School teacher, her call was the call of her Saviour in which they had a faith relationship.  Because of that, she was able to recognize that she had a God-given talent in the area of teaching children.  She had the ability and the opportunity to put that talent to use in doing the work of the Lord.

            God calls many people through the Gospel.  Although the call is the same, the way it is carried out in our lives is as individual as we are.  And God wants us to use our lives in his service in whatever way we can.

            We need to remember why God has called us in the first place.  He does so because he loves us.  He calls us into a relationship with Jesus Christ so we can have the benefit of what he did for us.  We have this relationship with him on earth that will continue on into eternity.

            That call to faith is by far the most important thing in our lives as Christians.  If God called us directly to do such acts of service as mow the lawn, or trim the hedges, or paint a wall, or clean the church, or help the poor, or teach Sunday School, or any of those other services we do as Christians, and he did so without calling us into a faith relationship with Jesus, then we would have a religion of works.  We would be doing those things as a way to impress God, and try to get in good with him.  It’s like saying, “See what I’m doing for you Lord?  You’ve got to be impressed with this!”  

            But we’re sinful human beings.  Without faith in our Saviour as our first priority, then all of those nice things are of no use.  We can’t stand before the throne on Judgment Day and tell Jesus:  “Hey look at how much I gave in the offering, or look how nice and clean the toilet is in the church restroom!”  Good works are nothing without the call of faith.  If we’re not clothed in the righteousness of Christ, if we don’t have faith in him as our Saviour, then what we do is futile.  The forgiveness Jesus won for us on the cross is only ours through faith alone.

            This morning I was going to spend a bit of time talking about the call I have from you, the congregation.  Time doesn’t permit me to go into much detail, so I’ll just touch on a few things.

            I have received the call of faith into a relationship with Jesus my Saviour the same as any Christian.  I have had this relationship for many years.  When I began my theological studies, it wasn’t because of some direct call that I received from God.  I had the desire and I felt I had the ability and qualifications to pursue the office of the public ministry.  And so I set forth on my course of study.

            Even with the successful completion of my seminary studies, I never received a guarantee that I would receive a call to serve a congregation.  I knew that from the first day I set foot in the classroom. 

            But I had a relationship with Jesus.  He knew my heart.  He knew my strengths and weaknesses.  And because he did, God saw to it that I received my first call, and every call since that time.  I went where he wanted me to go.  A man cannot be a pastor, nor can he hold the title unless he has a divine call from a congregation to be a pastor. 

            Have I been less than a perfect pastor?  Have I sinned along the way?  Have I even brought shame to the office I hold?  I’d be lying if I said I didn’t. 

            But this is the area where that first call becomes so important.  Even though I’ve failed, I thank God that I have a Saviour who never fails.  Jesus has never stopped loving me, he has never stopped being with me, and he has never stopped being faithful, even during those times I have.  The only thing that gives my ministry any validity at all is the Gospel of Jesus Christ that has saved me through faith alone.  This is the same Gospel message that I continually share with you.  I pray that you will always keep your relationship with Jesus as the most important thing in your life.

            In our Gospel lesson this morning, Nathaniel asks the question, Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?”  In our terms of reference, we can plug in about any locality we want.  We can substitute Burr, or Seward, or Lincoln, or Staplehurst, or Goehner, or Beaver Crossing, or anything that comes to mind.  Can anything good come from there?

            In our Gospel lesson for today, Philip gives Nathaniel a simple, three-word answer to that question.  He just says, “Come and see…”

            Regardless of where the location is on earth, we know that wherever the Word of God is proclaimed, and the Sacraments are administered according to it, there the Holy Spirit is.  This is the same Holy Spirit that Dr. Luther tells us who: “…calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith…”

            God’s call to you and me and everybody is a call into sainthood through faith in Christ Jesus.  So if the question should be asked:  “Can anything good come out of Nebraska, or Seward, or Mighty Fortress,” you can respond the same way Philip did to Nathaniel so long ago:  “Come and see.”

2Epiphany proper B2
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
John 1:43-51 Sermon
January 17, 2009

Hymns:
164 "God Himself Is Present" (now playing, alternate arrangement)
124 "Creator Spirit By Whose Aid"
52 "As With Gladness Men Of Old"
56 "O One With God The Father"


CAN ANYTHING GOOD COME FROM HERE?

TEXT: (v. 45-46) "Philip found Nathaniel and told him, ‘We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote--Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.' ‘Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?' Nathaniel asked. ‘Come and see,' said Philip."

Ever since my father retired from the ministry, he spent a good number of Sundays supplying vacant pulpits in the area. Sometimes it was because the pastor was out-of-town for one reason or another, or sometimes it was because a particular congregation was between pastors.

Of course when this happens, a visiting pastor isn't usually very familiar with the congregation; viz. the individual people, the history, or the life of the congregation. Because of this, it is difficult to tailor a sermon to a congregational situation, or to be aware of some basic facts.

Such was the case for my father. He was invited to preach at Hope Lutheran Church in Burr, Nebraska, which is a congregation of the former American Lutheran Church. The one Sunday he was there was the same as today, the second Sunday after the Epiphany. The appointed Gospel reading is the same one we had this morning, where Nathaniel asks the question, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" So my father opened his sermon by asking a similar question, "Can anything good come out of Burr?"

Before I go on, I probably should explain a bit about Burr, if you're not familiar with it. Burr is a very small rural community on an old railway line about 30 miles southeast of Lincoln, not too far from Tecumseh. It has a population of about 70 people more or less. It used to have a school which has long been closed. Then there is a grain elevator, a post office, two churches, and that's about it. About the only person of any notoriety that I'm aware of who has come from Burr is Dean Steinkuhler, the former Nebraska football player. But apart from that, the people in Burr are just the nice, friendly, regular-type folks you'd expect to find in any rural Nebraska community.

So my father asked the question, "Can anything good come out of Burr?" And after the service, he got an answer to his question that he wasn't expecting. It seems as if that small congregation in Burr has generated several pastors who are active in the ministry; and if I remember correctly, there's even a foreign missionary amongst that group. The people of Hope Lutheran are very happy about this; and so yes, indeed something good came out of Burr.

As we look at our Gospel reading for today, we encounter the same question, only it is directed to the hamlet of Nazareth. We'll see the reason for this question in a few moments, but first we should get an idea of the overall picture of the situation.

In the verses just before our Gospel reading, we find Andrew being called by Jesus. Andrew, a resident of Bethsaida, had been a disciple of John the Baptist, and now he had made the transition from John to Jesus. When Andrew does this, the first thing he does is in effect tell Jesus, "Hey, wait a minute Lord, I've got to go and get my brother; he's got to be a part of this too!" And so he goes and fetches Simon.

The next day they depart from Bethsaida and head toward Galilee. But before they leave, they come across Philip whom Jesus also calls as a disciple. Philip was most likely a friend of another man by the name of Nathaniel. Philip finds him sitting under a fig tree, and tells him: "We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote--Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph."

This now begets the question we started with. Nathaniel says to Philip: "‘Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?' Nathaniel asked."

This almost sounds like Nathaniel is prejudiced against Nazareth; but if we examine the surrounding facts, that probably wasn't the case at all.

Nazareth was a community where there was a mixed population, and not predominately or exclusively Jewish. It was a working class community too. Nazareth was not known for being a religious or theological center. So as far as Nathaniel was concerned, Nazareth was one of the least likely places for the promised Messiah's home town. Common sense would dictate that Jerusalem would be a more likely place. After all, the temple was in Jerusalem; and along with it were all of the religious leaders and scholars.

Nazareth certainly was not the bastion of Judaism; in fact it was far from it. Since it was about 80 miles from Jerusalem, it couldn't even be considered a bedroom community. So due to the fact that Nazareth was such an unlikely place, Nathaniel asks his question more out of shock and bewilderment than anything else. "Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?"

Today we are looking at the theme of God calling people. Our Old Testament Lesson is the account of God calling young Samuel. Samuel responds with some often quoted words: "Speak, for your servant is listening." (I Samuel 3, 10b) And then in our Gospel lesson, Jesus calls four disciples: Andrew, Peter, Philip, and Nathaniel (sometimes called Bartholomew).

Has God called the likes of you and me to be his disciple too? He certainly has, or we wouldn't be sitting here this morning. Dr. Martin Luther in the explanation of the third article of the Apostles' Creed explains it this way: "...the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith; even as he calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith..."

Yes my friends you have been called! I have been called! God the Holy Spirit has touched each and every one of our hearts and has given us a call. Because we have come together as members of Christ's Holy Church, we give evidence to the fact that he has indeed called us to faith and called us into his family.

We now have to properly identify what that call is. Some years ago, I had a Sunday School teacher who felt that God had given her a direct and divine call to teach. Of course God hadn't spoken to her in a thundercloud or a burning bush or anything else. And the congregation hadn't issued her with an official call document either. She just felt "in her heart" that God had called her to do this, and she felt obliged to carry that out. Of course her thinking wasn't right on this issue.

So let's put the proper perspective on God's call to us. If we look at those first disciples, their call wasn't to do a particular duty or perform a particular service. Their call was first and foremost a call of faith, which is a call to a relationship between a person and Jesus Christ. That's what God's call to us is as well.

If we look at the example of my Sunday School teacher, her call was the call of her Saviour in which they had a faith relationship. Because of that, she was able to recognize that she had a God-given talent in the area of teaching children. She had the ability and the opportunity to put that talent to use in doing the work of the Lord.

God calls many people through the Gospel. Although the call is the same, the way it is carried out in our lives is as individual as we are. And God wants us to use our lives in his service in whatever way we can.

We need to remember why God has called us in the first place. He does so because he loves us. He calls us into a relationship with Jesus Christ so we can have the benefit of what he did for us. We have this relationship with him on earth that will continue on into eternity.

That call to faith is by far the most important thing in our lives as Christians. If God called us directly to do such acts of service as mow the lawn, or trim the hedges, or paint a wall, or clean the church, or help the poor, or teach Sunday School, or any of those other services we do as Christians, and he did so without calling us into a faith relationship with Jesus, then we would have a religion of works. We would be doing those things as a way to impress God, and try to get in good with him. It's like saying, "See what I'm doing for you Lord? You've got to be impressed with this!"

But we're sinful human beings. Without faith in our Saviour as our first priority, then all of those nice things are of no use. We can't stand before the throne on Judgment Day and tell Jesus: "Hey look at how much I gave in the offering, or look how nice and clean the toilet is in the church restroom!" Good works are nothing without the call of faith. If we're not clothed in the righteousness of Christ, if we don't have faith in him as our Saviour, then what we do is futile. The forgiveness Jesus won for us on the cross is only ours through faith alone.

This morning I was going to spend a bit of time talking about the call I have from you, the congregation. Time doesn't permit me to go into much detail, so I'll just touch on a few things.

I have received the call of faith into a relationship with Jesus my Saviour the same as any Christian. I have had this relationship for many years. When I began my theological studies, it wasn't because of some direct call that I received from God. I had the desire and I felt I had the ability and qualifications to pursue the office of the public ministry. And so I set forth on my course of study.

Even with the successful completion of my seminary studies, I never received a guarantee that I would receive a call to serve a congregation. I knew that from the first day I set foot in the classroom.

But I had a relationship with Jesus. He knew my heart. He knew my strengths and weaknesses. And because he did, God saw to it that I received my first call, and every call since that time. I went where he wanted me to go. A man cannot be a pastor, nor can he hold the title unless he has a divine call from a congregation to be a pastor.

Have I been less than a perfect pastor? Have I sinned along the way? Have I even brought shame to the office I hold? I'd be lying if I said I didn't.

But this is the area where that first call becomes so important. Even though I've failed, I thank God that I have a Saviour who never fails. Jesus has never stopped loving me, he has never stopped being with me, and he has never stopped being faithful, even during those times I have. The only thing that gives my ministry any validity at all is the Gospel of Jesus Christ that has saved me through faith alone. This is the same Gospel message that I continually share with you. I pray that you will always keep your relationship with Jesus as the most important thing in your life.

In our Gospel lesson this morning, Nathaniel asks the question, "Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?" In our terms of reference, we can plug in about any locality we want. We can substitute Burr, or Seward, or Lincoln, or Staplehurst, or Goehner, or Beaver Crossing, or anything that comes to mind. Can anything good come from there?

In our Gospel lesson for today, Philip gives Nathaniel a simple, three-word answer to that question. He just says, "Come and see..."

Regardless of where the location is on earth, we know that wherever the Word of God is proclaimed, and the Sacraments are administered according to it, there the Holy Spirit is. This is the same Holy Spirit that Dr. Luther tells us who: "...calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith..."

God's call to you and me and everybody is a call into sainthood through faith in Christ Jesus. So if the question should be asked: "Can anything good come out of Nebraska, or Seward, or Mighty Fortress," you can respond the same way Philip did to Nathaniel so long ago: "Come and see."

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