A Civil Response

“The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, ‘Follow me’. . . .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’. Nathanael said to him, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’. John 1: 43, 45-46.

Nathanael apparently had a low opinion of Nazareth. Why was Nathanael so harsh on Nazareth? Perhaps it was because Nazareth was an obscure, isolated town from Galilee, a part of the Holy Land where people like Nathanael suspected that the family trees of the residents didn’t have quite enough branches, where the gene pool was a bit on the shallow side, and where nothing much had ever happened. The kind of place where you hope your car doesn’t break down or run out of gas; the kind of place where “those people” [insert your own prejudice here] live and you didn’t care to interact much with them. 

At first, Nathanael sounds like a lot of people who populate the “comments” section of websites (check any major newspaper website) where, under the cloak of anonymity, respondents come forth with all kinds of foul and vile thoughts. To Philip’s everlasting credit, he does not respond to Nathanael in kind. Instead, he issues a simple, heartfelt invitation: “Come and see”. Upon seeing Nathanael, Jesus disarms him by offering a compliment of the highest order. In no time at all, Nathanael proclaims his faith in Jesus.

On this weekend which honors the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., my sermon is entitled “A Civil Response”. How can we draw on what Abraham Lincoln called “the better angels of our nature” and model civil discourse by surrendering to Philip and Jesus’ model of encountering others?

On Monday evening, the Burlington Clergy Association is sponsoring a “Peace Meal” at Temple Shalom Emeth on Lexington Street, beginning at 6:00 p.m. It’s a pot-luck format (vegetarian, nut-free dishes welcomed) but even if you can’t provide a dish, come and participate in a program which will include some Burlington residents sharing their experiences with prejudice. Discussion around the tables will give us all a chance to interact with people from different backgrounds. There’s a sign up sheet in Fellowship Hall if you are interested!

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