16 January 2012

SERMON TEXT: Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus: Your Personal Invitation to God’s Epiphany


All the tech companies are in the cloud now: Microsoft, Google, and Apple. “In the cloud” means they store your files and information on remote servers. iCloud - Cloud computing is all the rage today. Jesus calls two disciples and talks to them about being “in the cloud.” He talks to them about angels ascending and descending into heaven. Jesus is the epiphany of God. Listen to the reading from John 1:43-51.
The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, "Follow me." Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 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?" 
Philip said to him, "Come and see." 
When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, "Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!" 
Nathanael asked him, "Where did you get to know me?" 
Jesus answered, "I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you." 
Nathanael replied, "Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!" 
Jesus answered, "Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these." 
And he said to him, "Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man."

My friend Buck told me a story this week. He has a pharmacy buddy he visits with in the furniture section of his pharmacy. The pharmacist friend was fishing in a nearby lake and it was kind of cold. He had his cell phone in his upper left jacket pocket and was fishing on the bottom with a weight and a hook. He leaned over to look down in the water, and there were two people on either side of him, and his cell phone fell down into the water. Just then he felt a bite on his fishing pole and reeled in what he thought was a small fish but it was his cell phone. The guy next to him, instead of saying, "Whoa, you're lucky!" said, "How did you do that!?" 

I was in the midst of a prayer meeting earlier this week when my cell phone buzzed and I left the room to answer it. After the call I poked my head in the door but the prayer session had begun. So I left. How much do our cell phones ensnare us? How do they enhance the web of our relationships? If only we could look up God's cell number in our address book and click on it. Would God's voice sound like Siri's voice on the iPhone 4S? I wonder.

Passing along the beach of Lake Galilee, Jesus saw Simon and his brother Andrew net-fishing. Fishing was their regular work. Jesus said to them, "Come with me. I'll make a new kind of fisherman out of you. I'll show you how to catch men and women instead of perch and bass." They didn't ask questions. They dropped their nets and followed. [Mark 1:16-18 (MSG)] They dropped their nets and followed Jesus. We drop our nets when we drop our defenses. We drop our nets when we drop our ego, our sense of who we are and how we want to be seen by others. We drop our nets when we let go of the distractions and obsessions that keep us away from the freedom to which Jesus calls us. Jesus once said, "If the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed." We are desperately seeking an inner freedom from the nets that entangle us. We are entangled by relationships that haven't worked out as we had hoped. We are entangled by family members whose health is failing. We are entangled by our sense of lack of money, or lack of friends, or lack of family or whatever it is that we think we lack. Jesus approaches us and says, "Come with me. I'll show you how to get untangled from those nets. I'll teach you how to use different kinds of nets to bless people. You have no idea what you can do with those nets." And we drop our nets and follow Jesus. Jesus is ever enlisting us in projects that we hadn't imagined. We had never thought of that before. Someone from the church calls us on the phone and wonders if we will help with this project and our initial reaction is no, I've never done that. Yet as we think about it and pray about it we sense God calling us to do this thing that we weren't planning to do. We see this new project as an opportunity not a responsibility. So we say yes and we find ourselves, with Gods' help, doing this thing we had never considered.

What are the nets that are tying you up? What are the nets that are keeping you from following Jesus? Have you ever noticed how the Internet is sometimes called "The Net." That is a good name for it because it ties us up. We are tied up by our fascination over the presidential race, the Kardashians, sports, technology, whatever it is that ties up our time. Interests are good. There is nothing wrong with reading and keeping up with the news. That is part of what we are called to do as Christians. Sometimes our experience of "The Net" is tied up with making a living. Some of us work in the Information Technology industry or other industries that are tied into the net. In truth, the net includes our whole financial, political, cultural and religious system. 

Following Jesus gives us freedom by connecting us to the Christ within us. We discover new kinds of nets that are good, healthy, spiritual nets that tie us in to our true selves, not our false selves. These nets are spiritual practices such as spending time with a spiritual friend, reading the Bible with spiritual eyes, praying in whatever way makes us feel connected with God. The freedom also is freedom from the net of enslavement to the desire to be "successful" in the eyes of the world. Think of the fishermen who dropped their nets to follow Jesus they were laying their burdens down in the sense that they were no longer going to be defined by their jobs. There is a difference between a job and a calling. Our job is what we do to make a living, to pay the bills, to pay the rent, to buy food, to support our families. Our calling is what we do to find life, to get out of the bed in the morning, to fulfill our purpose in life. Our calling is why we are here. It's why God put us here on this earth. Our calling is our purpose in life. Find your calling. We find our calling when we find our epiphany. We find our epiphany in the person of Jesus.

In our gospel reading this morning, Jesus’ call to Nathaniel and Philip is an invitation to an epiphany. What is the epiphany? What is the revelation? The epiphany is the person of Jesus. Jesus call to these two fishermen is not a call to mission so much as it is an invitation to an epiphany. Jesus is the revealer, the epiphany, of God. 

And Jesus said to him, "Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man." The angels ascending and descending remind us of Jacob in the Old Testament. Jacob wrestled with an angel of the Lord at Bethel and won a blessing from God. He had a dream about a staircase stretching from earth to heaven. Angels were ascending and descending this ladder to heaven. (Gen. 28:1-17) 

Jesus says Nathaniel is an ideal Israelite. Jacob’s new name, given to him by God, is Israel, which literally means “God’s people rapturously beholding their God.” Jacob saw God face to face and he was transformed. (Gen. 32:30) 

Our gospel reading wants to tell us that people like Nathaniel who see Jesus are seeing God face to face. Jesus, the Son of Man, is the ladder stretching from heaven to earth. Jesus is the point of contact between the finite and the infinite. Jesus is the conjunction between time and eternity. Jesus is the place where the heavens are opened and the divine glory is contemplated. Nathaniel, as guileless Jacob, is the prototype of a new humanity. He is reborn in Christ but this is an extended process as we see in the rest of the Gospel of John. The cross is the place where the heavens are opened. There is a mysterious conjunction between the crucifixion and the exaltation. 

Amazon.com started out as a tiny company with less than a dozen employees. They worked out of a 2,000 square foot basement with a 6 foot high roof. One employee was 6 foot 2 and had to walked with his head stooped down at all times. During the day, they handled computer programming and other tasks. Afternoons and nights they would spend packing and shipping orders. Bezos says the team would be kneeling on the concrete floor packing books, until one day he announced that his knees were killing him. His solution? Knee pads for everyone! Bezos says the person next to him cast him a look of disbelief that seemed to say: “I’m working for this person . . . ?”  (Holtje, Jim (2011-12-06). The Power of Storytelling: Captivate, Convince, or Convert Any Business Audience UsingStories from Top CEOs (pp. 27-28). Penguin Group. Kindle Edition.) Amazon.com today is a billion dollar company. Remember what Jesus said about the explosive growth of the tiny mustard seed. Amazon.com's humble beginnings are an illustration of that concept. 

Imagine Jeff Bezos and his employees getting down on their knees to pack boxes. They spent so much times on their knees that Bezos ordered knee pads for each employee. Do we need to order knee pads for each member of our congregation? Are we spending enough time on our knees in prayer? Strangely enough, it is that time down on our knees in prayer that helps us ascend Jacob's ladder from earth to heaven. For that time on our knees shows our intention to develop a relationship with the Christ within. That Christ within us is the connector between our human nature and our divine nature. God calls us like God called Nathaniel, to come and see. See Jesus. See Jesus in the people who persecute you. See Jesus in the people who can do nothing for you. See him in those who will do nothing to further your agenda. Turn your eyes upon Jesus. 

Turn your eyes upon Jesus. Look full in his wonderful face. And the things of earth will grow strangely dim. In the light of his glory and grace.