In our Gospel lesson from this past Sunday, Philip has an encounter with Jesus who tells him – “Follow me.” This clearly impacts Philip and changes him. He is excited and goes and tells Nathanael about Jesus, telling him that he has found the one who Moses and the prophets wrote about – Jesus, son of Joseph, from Nazareth. Nathanael responds by asking “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”
This question haunted me all week. I saw this question play out in four instances.
The first was something I wrote about at the end of last week – about a white nationalist running for Congress, right here in Central PA. The low point of his nine-page press release announcing his candidacy was his intention to take the American Dream away from the hoards of Muslims and those from Central and South America who are storming the borders. His question is this – Can anything good come from Muslims? Can anything good come from Central and South America?
The second instance was the President’s statement about other nations. You can read what I wrote here. The President was asking a similar question. Can anything good come from Haiti? Can anything good come from El Salvador? Can anything good come from Africa?
Later in the week, I took a ride up to Allison Hill in Harrisburg. Allison Hill is the poorest section of Harrisburg. You can feel the poverty when you drive through it. The homes are falling apart, there is trash everywhere, and weeds growing all around. When you look inside the “restaurants” you see a thick plexiglass window separating customers from employees in order to protect the employees from robbery. When you look at the faces of people who live there, you see the hopelessness. Can anything good come from Allison Hill?
Lastly, our church is two miles from what is known as the Miracle Mile. It’s one of the busiest intersections of travel in the US. I wrote more about this here. It’s full of people who are homeless, prostitutes, drug problems, sex trafficking, human trafficking, and immigration issues. Can anything good come from the Miracle Mile?
Are these questions any different from what Nathanael asks Philip? Nazareth was known as being a worth place where nothing good ever came from.
Yet it is Philip’s response that struck me – “Come and see.” Philip could have thrown a great deal of stats and figures, rational arguments, and what not at Nathanael, but he didn’t. If this interaction were happening today, I imagine that Philip could have done Facebook postings and other social media posts to try to convince Nathanael. But I don’t think he would have. His answer tells me something else. You don’t convince people with facts and figures. You let them experience and encounter Jesus for themselves. And when that happens, their lives change. Then they know for themselves.
Can anything good come from El Salvador? Yes. My friend David is from El Salvador. He lives in Finland and works for the Lutheran church there. Working with youth and with international folks. He answered Jesus’ call to follow him. David invites all to come and see the amazing things that are happening and how Jesus encounters people in Finland and beyond.
Can anything good come from Africa? Yes. My friend Moses is from Tanzania. He answered the call to follow Jesus and it took him to the US. He now works at a local Lutheran church as their youth director. And he’s building bridges with the local African-American community. Bridges that could never be built by the mostly white congregation on their own. He invites people to come and see how Jesus is encountering us and changing lives.
Can anything good come from Allison Hill? Yes. Christ Lutheran Church is in the heart of Allison Hill. 20 years ago the senior pastor was sent there to shut the church down because they were down to seven members. Instead, the pastor answered Jesus call to follow him. They opened a health clinic and it has expanded to include a pre-natal clinic, and a dental clinic over those 20 years. People’s lives are literally changing because of an encounter with Jesus.
Can anything good come from the Miracle Mile? I believe the answer is yes. A week ago, a disciple at St. Stephen and myself went over to talk with the general manager of the local truck stop. We wanted to ask questions about the homeless population who uses their facilities. Her response was that no one had ever asked them about the homeless before. We were shocked and not surprised. They are very open to working with us. And so on Friday night, in the wee hours of the morning, we’ll be going over to the truck stop to meet the homeless. We are going then because that’s when the homeless come inside. We’re going with the intent of offering free showers for those that need them, laundry service with people, and providing a meal at the local restaurant attached to the truck stop. The shower, laundry, and food are important. But that’s not the end of the story. It’s about spending time with people, re-establishing their humanity, hearing their story, and seeing how Jesus calls us to follow him with people that he spent time with.
I don’t know what Friday will look like. And that doesn’t matter. But I invite you all to come and see. I invite you to come and see on a Friday night. I invite you to come and see how you can be a support for those who go over in the middle of the night – not everyone is meant to go in the middle of the night. Support and preparation during the day is important too. Making phone calls to potential partners and churches is important. Finding other services that align with this mission is important – maybe something like the SOAP project – a mission designed to free women trapped in trafficking and prostitution.
Philip responded to Nathanael’s question by saying come and see. And he did. And Jesus encountered him – and his life changed. And so I invite you to come and see. Come and see.