A Day for Play: Happy Birthday, St. Nathaniel’s!

ladderA sermon offered for
St. Nathaniel’s Day
Sunday, September 15, 2013
Genesis 28:10-17, From Psalm 139, 1 Peter 5:1-11, John 1:43-51
(Readings from the Office Lectionary, St. Bartholomew, August 24)

(Let us pray)
LORD, you have searched me out and known me; *
you know my sitting down and my rising up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
Look well whether there be any wickedness in me *
and lead me in the way that is everlasting.   . . . Amen.

Today’s a special day at St. Nathaniel’s . . . we’re having a birthday party! We’re here today . . . ready to play!!  And be assured — Play is especially good for the soul. Be assured also that Ella – and Bill and Rayetta – and their accomplices have a party ready to go after the (10:00) service!

Who’s birthday is it? It’s ours – St. Nathaniel’s Parish. The first time an Episcopal congregation gathered to worship in North Port was in 1963. That congregation later grew — and took on the name St. Nathaniel’s – so that means that we are 50 years old this year! And today – we celebrate!

Today is a day for play – a day for whimsy . . . The readings for today reflect a sense of whimsy as well. Remember for a moment the playful scene in the old testament readying – Jacob dreaming about angels flitting up and down a ladder to heaven – then Jacob waking to a very real sense of God with him – and he said “Surely the Presence of the Lord is in this place” . . . Sound familiar???

And the Gospel story – the call of Nathanael is a light-hearted, fanciful story through and through — The story begins with Jesus making a seemingly impulsive decision: “Let’s see, where shall I go next? Oh yes, how about Galilee?”

And who to take with him? He found Phillip and asked him to come along . . . and in turn Phillip found Nathanael. How’s that for simple direct discipleship — simple, direct evangelism? No long sermons, no pleading testimonials . . .
Even Nathanael’s nonchalant question about Jesus’ hometown — “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Not a serious intentional slur, I think . . . a casual remark. . . It takes no more than a simple challenge from Philip: “Come and see.” . . . and Nathanael is off running – ready for the adventure – – – ready to play . . .

Nathanael is excellent disciple material because he is open – and he is without deceit . . . honest, genuine. Nathanael feels comfortable with himself and who he is – he has nothing to hide.

The fact that Jesus, who has never met Nathanael, knows his integrity suggests that Jesus can read people’s hearts. This happens often in the Gospel of John . . . Jesus is the light that illumines everyone – he not only gives each of us light, he sees each of us in our true light.

I wonder what Nathanael was feeling when he so quickly realized that Jesus knew him — even before they’d been formally introduced. It IS good to be known . . . . . . isn’t it?

On the other hand, maybe sometimes we’d prefer that God didn’t know so much about us – those things that we ourselves want to avoid – some of our thoughts, our attitudes, our addictions, our obsessions. . .
But where do we go to get away from these things – how do we hide them from God?

Sometimes it can be difficult to accept that God knows us so well. We’d rather stay in the darkness. But scripture says all things will come to light, eventually.
The good news is that through God’s grace, we come to realize that our relationship with Him – our spiritual growth – our transformation – depends on how honest we can be with ourselves. When we are willing to admit … to accept and expose our dark side, we find that His light can instantly dissolve our darkness.

And awakening in His light we see that to be known by God is to be loved by God. Then we can confidently pray in faith with the Psalmist:
“Search me out, O God, and know my heart; try me and examine my thoughts; see if there is any way of wickedness in me – and lead me in your ways.”

In this gospel story, why does Nathanael decide to go with Jesus? Perhaps because of Philip’s testimony, but the deal is sealed when Nathanael learns that Jesus already knows him.

As it happens, Nathanael’s being known triggers his own knowing – a revelation – an epiphany – suddenly Nathanael knows Jesus as well. Nathanael recognizes Jesus as the Son of God and the King of Israel.

It is good to be known – and even better to know!

Jesus invites Nathanael on an adventure that promises even bigger and better things. The last verse of the gospel leaves us with that same image of playful angels dancing up and down on the ladder that leads to heaven . . .
Imagine yourself as one of those angels today . . . today is a day for play . . .

As we move through the dance of the liturgy and the feast of the Eucharist, let’s thank God for his presence in the life of St. Nathaniel’s . . .

Let’s give thanks for the fifty years and the many saints who have laid the foundation for the blessings we enjoy here today . . . and let’s pray for vision to live faithfully and generously and joyfully into the future God has planned St. Nathaniel’s.


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