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This Week's Sermon

Greencastle Presbyterian Church
“You Were Made for This”
John 1:43-52
March 4, 2018
Rev. Wes Kendall

Jesus Calls Philip and Nathanael

43 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 him 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,[a] you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”

On Wednesday night just after 7:30, Dr. McCoy emerged from behind the curtain over at Kresge Auditorium, and when he did, hundreds of people got a glimpse of the “person” they had come to see.  In fact, if you were there, you could hear the murmur of the crowd.  That two second “glimpse” had gotten everyone stirred up, and college students and local dignitaries were leaning over each other to whisper, “Did you see her?”

Yes, behind that curtain was “Sophia,” the one everyone had come to see … the robot that had appeared on the Jimmy Fallon show and that was being billed as our next step in this ongoing process to create a living, interactive source of intelligence.  Her face looked fresh and beautiful.  And everyone strained to get a sense of the expression on her face.  Was it serene?  Or calm?  Or just “lifeless”?

The curtain closed again.  Dr. McCoy stood behind a podium to say a few words, but you could tell everyone was just biding their time to get back to Sophia.  Dr. McCoy introduced Gloria Townsend, a Computer Science professor, to say a few more words, who in turn introduced the man who had helped create this robot, Dr. David Hanson.  And all the while, the anticipation continued to build. 

Finally, the curtain came open all the way, and Dr. Hanson began addressing the crowd.  He stepped away from Sophia, and you could sense the crowd’s energy pulling him back in the direction of this “AI” machine.

And, then it happened.  Dr. Hanson walked over to Sophia, and as he did, he continued to talk about her as if she was precisely what she was:  an animate object made of wires and circuits and a special latex called “Flubber.”  But, then he started to address her personally, inviting this “intelligence” to come alive and to begin interacting with him and with the audience.

I cannot remember the question he asked Sophia, but what I do remember is what happened after he asked “her” this question.

There was a pause. 

An awkward silence.

As everyone in the room waited for her to respond.

Such an intense interest and focus.

And Sophia was as motionless as stone.

What if there is a message for us to hear in all of this?

What if this whole scene I just described is a picture into the very heart of God.

I want you to reimagine this interaction that takes place between Jesus and Nathanael all over again, and I want you to envision it playing out another way.

I want to go back to the very beginning.  I want to go to the hidden mystery and the wonder of when God first imagined and then began the amazing, unimaginably complex and beautiful process of “forming” and “shaping” Nathanael.  I want you to see – as much as you can see the mystery – of what the Psalmist describes of that moment when Nathanael was being formed in his mother’s womb.  Being intricately made.  Being fashioned as an entirely unique work of art.  The moment the burst of energy and light and life shone forth when Nathanael was conceived.  I want you to see God shaping not just Nathanael’s human, physical form, but also beginning to craft and fashion and allow for generativity and development of Nathanael’s psyche and cognition.  I want you to see God shaping Nathanael’s personality and fashioning the thing we cannot even begin to describe without our jaws dropping open and falling to the floor.  This person.  This individual.  This soul.  

This created, child of God.


And I want you to see God looking upon Nathanael with that same intense interest, that complete attention that the crowd had over there in Kresge auditorium on Wednesday night.

Nathanael, I see you.

Nathanael, I have a deep and profound interest in you.

Nathanael, I know you.  I created you.  I fashioned you.  And … I love you.

When we have the ears to hear, we realize this is precisely the deeper message Nathanael receives in this powerful story.  And we also realize that is it precisely the message that God longs for us to hear.

Each of us.

Each.  And.  Everyone.  One.  Of.  Us.

For here is the divine mystery and power and beautiful message that we receive …

I cannot even begin to fathom this …

At the very deepest parts of God’s heart is this one, ongoing desire:  to share life with you.  

To experience a deep connection with you.

Do you see that?

God – even now – looking upon us with great love … longing to hear what we’ll say next.  Deeply invested in what is going on inside of us.

The problem, of course, is that we forget this foundational truth.  The problem is that we do not believe this to be true.

Oh, sure, there may be a “God” out there somewhere, but he’s not all that interested in me.
The problem is that we become like Nathanael at the beginning of this story.  We can no longer see this deeper truth because our minds have been colored.  Our life experiences have made it so that we are seeing the world now through our perceptions.

Can anything good come out of Nazareth?

Internally, we no longer believe it.  We don’t sense this deep connection.  We feel isolated.  We feel … left to ourselves … to make it through life on our own.

I am reminded of a story I heard recently that helps us – I believe – identify with Nathanael and the Nathanael in us.

It is the story of a young family who had two children, one a little boy who was a bit older, right around the age of 5, and another little boy who had just been born.

The most curious thing happened when this little brother came along.  Almost from the moment the parents brought the baby home from the hospital, the 5-year-old began to ask his mom and dad if he could have some time with his brother. 

Sure, the parents said, anytime - thinking their son was a bit mixed up about how this whole, new arrangement would play out, thinking that this 5-year-old was imagining that they weren’t going to be able to keep the little brother around or something.

But, the little boy kept asking.  When can I have some time with my brother?
Maybe he just wants to play with him, and so they kept assuring him that there’d be plenty of time for him to play with his little brother.  But, no, this wasn’t it either.  And they slowly began to realize what their 5-year-old son was really asking.  He was hoping that he could have some time alone with his new, little brother.

Okay, so that raised the parent’s anxiety a little bit.  We’ve all heard the stories of how older brother or older sister “respond” to a new addition to the family sometimes.

So, the little boy’s parents were not only suspicious.  Now they started getting cautious.  Still, though, they were loving and intuitive enough to see the desire in their 5-year-old’s heart.  And so they set up a way for their son to have this “time” with his little brother.

Once the baby was settled for the most part in his crib, the parents allowed the little boy to go into this newborn’s room.  They stood right outside the door and left it open a crack so that they could keep an eye on this whole “situation” … just in case.

And then the most incredible thing happened.

They saw the older brother move directly to the newborn’s crib.  And they saw him get down close to this new little brother, and then they heard this 5-year-old say, “Can you tell me what God is like again?  I’m beginning to forget.”

Now, there’s two things I take away from this story.

The first and the obvious thing is how this 5-year-old boy captures the point I am making.  There is something within us that has been created to be in relationship with God.  At the very core of our human identity is a deep, intrinsically given bond with the One who knows us … who made us.

And the second thing is what happens to us as we become “mature” … “adults.” 

We begin to forget. 

We begin to view ourselves and others and the world around us with cynicism.

Can anything good come out of Nazareth?

Instead of relating to God and those around us, we become trapped in our assumptions and perceptions of how God is … or how those people are … or even whether “I’m worth it” or not.

So, do me a favor.

I want you to go back to that Wednesday night again.  And I want you to replay this whole scene with me again, and I want you to be a bit adventurous in how you imagine this whole interplay in light of everything we’ve been talking about.

And why don’t you go ahead and mix up those images of Sophia behind the curtain on Wednesday night and this story about Nathanael here in John’s Gospel. 

And I want you to see yourself as that one who everyone has shown up to see.  Except, I want you to imagine not all those people … but just one person … your God.  The one who loves you so much. 

And I want you to see the great interest and joy and enthusiasm upon God’s face as he tries to get a glimpse of … you … you … you!  This one whom God has made … this incredibly beautiful, unique, complex, … wonder … this child of God.

And I want you to see yourself in Nathanael’s place.  There you were underneath that fig tree.  There you were in that space where you were starting to wonder … what’s the point?  

Does anyone really get me?

And then I want you to Philip pulling you away to “go and see” this Jesus.  I want you to see 
yourself as you’re walking towards Jesus, and as Jesus starts walking towards you.  I want you to see the look of deep interest and love on Jesus’ face.  You’re taken aback.  Who is this guy?  How does he know me?

And then he tells you.  He does know you.  He sees you.

He sees you.


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