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Sermon January 17, 2021

There was a lady lawyer from California whose name was Scharlette Goldman.  Her legal practice consisted of defending inmates who were on death row.  She was defending an inmate whom she believed was legally insane.  (He was schizophrenic with an IQ of 58 and very much out of touch with reality.)  She had to prove his insanity to the court to save this man’s life because it’s illegal to execute someone who is unable to understand why he is being executed.  The state of California didn’t agree with Scharlette’s interpretation of the defendant and had him medically assessed.  The psychiatrist testified that she believed the defendant was able to understand his fate because he’d played tic-tac-toe against her and won.  Scharlette believed that one’s ability to win at tic-tac-toe did not indicate the ability to appreciate the finer points of execution.  But the court agreed with the psychiatrist. 

The lawyer struggled with her defense.  She racked her brain trying to find a solution.  Then suddenly she had an ah ha moment.  She remembered visiting the fair when she was young and seeing chickens that could play and win at tic-tac-toe.  She searched for and found an upstanding chicken to prove that one doesn’t need a high IQ to win at tic-tac-toe.  Can you imagine a chicken being called to testify in court?  Well, Goldman’s challenge was successful.  

In the gospel, Nathaniel has one of those Ah ha moments.  When Philip first told Nathaniel that he had found Jesus, the Messiah, Nathaniel  responded with doubt, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”  He didn’t think it was possible for Jesus to be the Messiah. Then Nathaniel met Jesus and Jesus told Nathaniel that he knew him before they met.  Suddenly, Nathaniel’s heart was changed and he declared “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 

Do you remember some Ah ha moment in your life?  It is a moment of sudden realization, inspiration, recognition or comprehension.  Sometimes we say that a light bulb goes off in our head.  I say that light bulb might come from the light of Christ. 

Have you ever had a sudden realization about God or about Jesus?  I remember once feeling the presence of Jesus beside me.  It was a sudden realization.  I have felt the crucifixion of Jesus as a personal gift to me. 

I also think about times when a passage of scripture hit me suddenly and I found new inspiration.  I remember questioning the legitimacy of Jesus speaking about the lilies of the field.  He said why do you worry?  God takes care of the lilies and God takes care of the birds.  My thoughts had been negative because I felt that God hasn’t stopped hunger in this world.  My moment was when I chose to consider the words about fear.  Jesus told us not to fear because God was always with us.  Of course, I later concluded that part of the message is the expectation by Jesus that people who have should help those who don’t.  It changed my entire perspective about the passage.  

Sometimes our moments of new-found inspiration come from another person.  Philip shared his understanding with Nathaniel that Jesus was the Messiah.  Without Philip’s witness, Nathaniel would not have seen Jesus as God.  Our witness is important. 

In Hebrew Scripture, we hear about the words of God that were given to Samuel.  God spoke three times before Samuel heard it and it took the help of his mentor Eli for Samuel to understand that it was God speaking to him.  We may miss God’s message to us if we don’t listen.  

In Epiphany, we focus on Jesus as the light of the world.  Our lessons for today point to Jesus bringing us the light of knowledge and truth.  We use the teachings of Jesus to understand God’s wishes for us. 

The light of Christ, Jesus reaches out for us, seeking to bring us out of our darkness.    Let me share some thoughts from a commentary I read.  John’s account of the calling of his disciples reveals the concern that Jesus has for every individual.  Jesus can see the true nature of each person and offers himself in a unique way to each.  Jesus approached Philip, and before this Andrew and Simon, one way.  He approached Nathaniel differently.  Jesus referred to Nathaniel as an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.  Nathaniel was being honest in his creation and Jesus accepted and helped him to see the light.  And Jesus told Nathaniel that there were more ah ha moments to come.  Nathaniel would see the heavens opened. 

A person’s epiphany is often unique and not something that is easily understood by others.  As a child I remember the story of Archimedes.  The king had a problem because people were making things out of silver, making it look like gold and charging him as if it were gold. Archimedes looked for the answer.  While sitting in the bathtub, he thought about how his body displaced water.  He suddenly realized that silver would displace more water than gold because it is less dense.  Archimedes jumped out of the bath and ran to the king yelling Eureka, I have found it.  How many people laughed with scorn when watching Archimedes run?  I am sure people thought he was crazy. 

And we might react in the same way to what Nathaniel experienced.  What made his exchange with Jesus a moment when lights flashed in front of his eyes?  It is not clear to me.  I think even Jesus was a little taken back by Nathaniel.  Jesus gave him a little kidding joke something like, “what did I say that got you so excited?  Stick around and you will see more than that.”  Jesus recognized Nathaniel as he sat under the fig tree and said some nice things about him.  That doesn’t seem so special to me.  It is helpful to know that some religious texts of the time would say that a person is gathering figs when what they really meant was they were seeking God, studying the Torah.  Jesus was probably saying that Nathaniel was a genuine person, a sincere follower of God.  Nathaniel thought the words of Jesus were special, insightful, something that could only be seen by the Son of God.

As Jesus continued to share with Nathaniel, his words seem to be directed to all believers not just one.  We are followers who search for God and who proclaim Jesus as the Messiah.  And Jesus responds to our efforts, proclaiming that we will experience magnificent things, that the gates of heaven will be open to us. 

I believe that God is always reaching out to us, trying to touch us in our own unique place.  And our response may be unique to us.  I am reminded of that line from amazing grace “I once was lost but now am found”.  John Newton who wrote the words Amazing Grace was found by God.  Newton was at the helm of his ship ashamed of his sins when Got came to him.  Newton would later write, “On that day the Lord sent from on high and delivered me out of deep waters.” It was his ah ha moment. 

Not all of us will hear the voice of God speaking to us as Samuel did.  None of us will have the chance to speak with Jesus during his time on earth.  Some people never hear a message from God directed to them.  But all of us have the opportunity to open ourselves to the power of Jesus’ words.  We can all learn from the steps that Jesus took while he lived on earth. Let us search for Jesus just as he searches for us every day.  Let us look for the light of Christ in our lives.  

Paul wrote this so clearly in 2nd Corinthians, For it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness’, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” 

An unknown author wrote, Let us not ask of the Lord deceitful riches, nor the good things of this world, nor transitory honors; but let us ask for light.  With the light of Christ and with knowledge and strength, we become witnesses just like Philip was a witness to Nathaniel.  It doesn’t take some brilliant oratory or some long discourse to be a witness.  For Philip it was a few short words.  We too can be witnesses.  If we just let our own light shine, people will see that we love Jesus.

I believe in the power of prayer.  Over and over people tell me how important it was that people prayed for them.  Pray is especially important given our situation today.  We struggle with peace in our country and we struggle to survive during the pandemic.  Prayer will make a difference.  Our collect today mentions our belief that Jesus is the light of the world. Let us pray again that God will illumine our lives through the Word and Sacraments.  Let us pray again that our hearts will shine with the radiance of Christ's glory, that he may be known, worshipped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth.  Amen.


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