Friday, April 17, 2015

Think About Such Things

Think About Such Things                                   4/19/15
Philippians 4:8-9, John 1:43-51
Sermon 6 in the Path of Discipleship series

Where were you when Jesus saw you?

Nathaniel was sitting under a fig tree.  Shaded by its branches, he sat in quiet.  Why?  Was he on a short break from his work in a field?  Was it a common practice of his to find a place to meditate? Was he having a bad day, and needed to have let his thoughts stew?  Was he in trouble, and running away from something?  Was he in the moment, just taking a break to think about life?  We don’t know.  He may have been thinking about the story of Jacob’s ladder.

Jacob left Beersheba and went to Haran. He came to a certain place and camped for the night since the sun had set. He took one of the stones there, set it under his head and lay down to sleep. And he dreamed: A stairway was set on the ground and it reached all the way to the sky; angels of God were going up and going down on it.
13-15 Then God was right before him, saying, “I am God, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. I’m giving the ground on which you are sleeping to you and to your descendants. Your descendants will be as the dust of the Earth; they’ll stretch from west to east and from north to south. All the families of the Earth will bless themselves in you and your descendants. Yes. I’ll stay with you, I’ll protect you wherever you go, and I’ll bring you back to this very ground. I’ll stick with you until I’ve done everything I promised you.”
16-17 Jacob woke up from his sleep. He said, “God is in this place—truly. And I didn’t even know it!” He was terrified. He whispered in awe, “Incredible. Wonderful. Holy. This is God’s House. This is the Gate of Heaven.”
18-19 Jacob was up first thing in the morning. He took the stone he had used for his pillow and stood it up as a memorial pillar and poured oil over it. He christened the place Bethel (God’s House). The name of the town had been Luz until then.
20-22 Jacob vowed a vow: “If God stands by me and protects me on this journey on which I’m setting out, keeps me in food and clothing, and brings me back in one piece to my father’s house, this God will be my God. This stone that I have set up as a memorial pillar will mark this as a place where God lives. And everything you give me, I’ll return a tenth to you.”     Genesis 28:10-22, The Message

Nathaniel sat under the fig tree and thought.  And in the middle of his thought, he heard his name called out.  It was Philip.

I’ve found him!  Philip exclaimed.

Who are you talking to Philip?  Nathanial might have asked, it is just you and me here.

No, Nathanial.  I was looking for you because I found him.  The One!  The Messiah.  The One Moses wrote about.  The One the prophets dreamed about.  He is here, Jesus of Nazareth.

At this, Nathanial’s heart sank.  The Messiah from garbage town?  I don’t think so.  Can anything good come from that place, Philip?

To which Nathanial received the classic reply:  “Come and see.”

Nathanial did just this.  He went to go see Jesus.

And as Nathanial and Philip go back into town, Jesus sees the two coming, and in front of the those around him, he speaks about Nathanial, whom he had never met.  “Well look here folks, here is a true Israelite!  There is nothing false about this man”.  It is quite an introduction, even more so that Jesus is saying this.  It must be true.  If we are looking for Nathanial to redirect the conversation, or eat a piece of humble pie, we won’t find it in this story.  “How do you know me?” he responds.

“I saw you when you were sitting in the shade of the fig tree”.  Now, Jesus has Nathanial’s attention.  Nathanial had worked hard to be alone.  No one knew his spot.  Philip found him after a lot of searching.  That was his cherished, secret spot.  No one knew.  But Jesus knew.

After  Nathanial proclaims Jesus Son of God and King of Israel, Jesus says to him:  This thing that has you giving me praise, its nothing really.  You’ll see greater things than that.  In fact, you’ll see heaven open and the angels will ascend and descend all travel by way of me.

Perhaps Nathanial now understood Jacob’s dream.
--He thought about God’s presence while sitting in that shade, but right before him was
   God in human flesh.
--He wondered about his journey and hoped for security, but there before Nathanial stood
   God his protector.
--He hoped he might have the food he needed, but here was the bread of life.
--He hoped to be safe throughout the journey, but here was one in whom Nathanial could
   feel safe.
--Nathanial had used that fig tree as a place to meet God, but God was alive in more
  powerful ways than simply through the places which commemorated him.
--To give a tenth of all that Nathanial had received was surely what the law required, but
   before him stood the Fulfillment of the Law.  Here before him was one who was the
   Truest Israelite, perfect and righteous.

And so Nathanial followed him.

The church in Philippi was one that lived in general peace and joy.  Paul had little trouble singing his praise for them.  His letter to them is one of the church’s most beloved, and has some of the most well known phrases.   In today’s reading, Paul invites the Philippians to use their minds to contemplate the best.

Think about what is true. 
Think about what is noble.
Think about what is right.
Think about what is pure.
Think about what is lovely.
Think about what is admirable.
Think about what is excellent and praiseworthy.
Think about such things.

If we were to stop and consider these words for their real value, we would have to change our ways.  But the freedom and beauty we would find would be so incomparable to the struggle that we feel now.

We have to be informed, but we don’t have to fall prey to news cycles and bullet points that are shaped with so much fear and folly.   The talk radio we choose might not focus on things worth talking about.  The front pages of stories might miss the most important news.    Thinking about true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praise worthy things is more real that the drama created by media.  All of these things weigh their counterpart appropriately.

Truth has to consider falsehood.
Nobility acknowledges that which is less.
Right knows there is wrong.
Purity understands there is also impure.
Lovely can see where unlovely has walked.
Admirable is neighbors which some who are not.
Excellence shines because of shoddiness.
Praise goes back to God, glad it can be lifted up.

The truth is that what is true requires a lifetime of exploration.
The truth is that it requires great strength to be noble.
The truth is that the simplest way is often to do what is right.
The truth is that purity allows us to see God.
The truth is that love endures forever.
The truth is that which is admirable is worth pursuing and implementing into our lives.
The truth is that excellence is worth the effort.
The truth is that praise is our best offering.

To think about such things is an honor, and a blessing.

During Lent and Easter, we have been traveling down the Path of Discipleship.  We have focused on a Map that provides steps to take to become better disciples of the Lord.  2015 is the opportunity to take steps in your discipleship.  The Map provides columns that move you from being someone who attends looks at God from a tourist perspective to that which looks at God from based on an intimate knowledge that comes from travel and fellowship.  Jacob had seen the Lord’s faithfulness to him.  Nathanial and Philip followed Jesus after he called them.  You and I are also to follow.

Today, we highlight the small groups column of the Map.  While it is good to practice what Paul preaches, and while it is good to find that fig tree to contemplate the works of God, our faith should grow within a network of support and encouragement that small groups can bring.

At Stockton, we have our Friday morning Bible study.  This is an open group, and you are welcome to attend.  The Women also have a retreat coming up, which acts like a small group.  On Wednesday mornings, there is also the chance to attend the Iron Men’s Small group that gathers at Titusville, but open to all the men from the 3 church partnership.  The Choir acts like a small group in its support and encouragement.

There are other chances to be part of small groups on the campus that are not directly related to the church.  AA meets twice a week if you a community to support you in your sobriety.  The Book Club meets once a month and has nurtured solid friendship.  I also had two nice conversations this week with a group called The Suppers program, a nationwide grass roots campaign to eat healthy today in a supportive environment.  Perhaps they have a future on this campus.

The best thing about Stockton church is that it is a people that have met Jesus Christ.  We proclaim him Son of God and King of Kings.  Someone like Philip found us and invited us to this place to meet Jesus.  Like Nathanial, we may have had our doubts along the way.  But like Nathanial, when Jesus met us, we have called him who he is.  Doing so opens the door to a new purpose in life:  one of truth and nobility, righteousness and purity, loveliness and that which is admirable, excellence and praise.  At the end of the day it’s quite simple: think about such things.  They’ll fill you with all you need, and more!

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