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Eyes of Faith See Wondrous Things Everyday

wild flowers inside old work boots, we are called to put ourselves in the shoes of others

Sermon by Pastor Joel Crouse

Second Sunday after Epiphany

January 14, 2024


1 Samuel 3:1-10

1 Corinthians 6:12-20

John 1:43-51

We don't know much about Nathanael.  Other than this story, we know only that he was privileged to see the risen Christ.  In this first encounter with Nathanael, Jesus said, "Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree?  You will see greater things than these."

Jesus said, "Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened -- and the angels of God ascending and descending."  That might seem like strange language to us, but it would not have been strange to Nathanael.

Because way back in the beginnings of the Jewish people, God made a covenant with Abraham.  God promised to make a great nation of Abraham's descendents and to bless the whole world through him (Gen 12:1-3). Then later, God renewed that covenant through Jacob -- Abraham's grandson.  God gave Jacob a vision -- a vision of angels ascending and descending on a ladder from heaven to earth—what we have now come to know as the story of Jacob’s Ladder.

A ladder from heaven might seem strange to us, but Jacob understood it.  He knew that the ladder meant that the heavens, where God dwelled, had broken open so that God could visit earth.  Jacob named the place Bethel, which means, "dwelling place of God."

When Jesus told Nathanael that he would see angels ascending and descending, Nathanael would think immediately of Jacob's ladder.  Nathanael would know that Jesus was promising that, just as Jacob experienced God's presence, so would Nathanael.

There is an odd thing about this story.  In the original Greek when Jesus says, "You will see greater things than these," he uses "you" singular, indicating that he is talking to Nathanael.  However, when he says, "You will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending," Jesus uses "you" plural.

In other words, Jesus was talking to Nathanael, but then he begins to talk to the disciples -- perhaps to all disciples -- even to us.  It is not just Nathanael, but all of us who will see great things -- heaven opened -- angels ascending and descending.

And that is exactly what happened.  After the resurrection, the disciples gathered at Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost.  There, amidst tongues of fire and sounds of a windstorm, Peter preached and three thousand people walked down the aisle to be baptized.  It was an amazing day!  Heaven opened!  Angels of God ascending and descending!

And then a crippled beggar asked Peter for alms.  Peter said, "I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give to you; in the name of Christ, stand up and walk." And the man got up and started walking. Amazing!  Heaven opened!  Angels of God ascending and descending!

And then Saul went to Damascus to persecute Christians, but Jesus blinded him with a great light -- and dropped him to his knees -- and Saul became Paul, the great Christian missionary.  How amazing!  Heaven opened!  Angels of God ascending and descending!

You might say, that’s great, but it was two thousand years ago.  We haven't seen heaven or angels for a long time now. (put on glasses from Christmas Eve)

But we have!  Do you remember these from Christmas Eve.  It has only been a few weeks.  Have we forgotten already?  We do see angels ascending and decending.  With the eyes of faith we can see all that is good and just and right.  With the eyes of faith we can follow hope without stumbling.  With the eyes of faith we see the gift of God coming to us at Christmas, at Easter, in life, in death, in everything.

The heavens that opened when Jesus came have been open ever since.  Some people couldn't see it while Jesus was here on earth, and some still can't.  But eyes of faith see wondrous things happen all the time. Heaven opened!  Angels of God ascending and descending!

Now let’s not confuse this moment with a Romper Room Majic Mirrow.  When I look out into the world with the eyes of faith that were given to me at my baptism I see people caring for each other in times of all sorts of need.  I see people present for each other in illness, grief, and loss.  I see parents nurturing each other and their children.  I see quilts and sandwiches and used furniture and chilli gathered to help those less fortunate than ourselves.  I see justice.  I see love.  I see hope.  I see those things even in this city as we approach this week of prayer for Christian unity as Christians from every walk of life put aside their doctrinal differences for the sake of the unity we share in Christ Jesus.  I see those things through our church dollars that help in significant ways to heal the brokenness of this world. Heaven opened!  Angels ascending and descending!

God breaks through even in the most unlikely places.  We are only weeks away from our Annual Congregational meetings when we look over the past year and move into the coming year.  It is true that we are careful to listen to what God wants for the world and the direction that Jesus is calling us to.  And God blesses our community of faith because of it.  Our calling is to listen, respond and be transformed by those angelic and grace-filled moments! 

But it is only with eyes of faith that we can see the angels and the heavens. Nathanael had been a skeptic.  When first told of Jesus, he asked, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?"  But Philip invited him to come and see, and Nathanael came.  This time, it is Jesus who is doing the calling, not by command, but by recognizing his good character. Nathaniel is amazed that Jesus saw him under the fig tree before meeting him officially. He answers Jesus call. But Jesus chides him gently: “Do you believe because I said I saw you first?.” He tells Nathaniel: You will see greater things than this.  And Nathaniel did!

We too will see greater things.  Christ asks only that we come and see -- that we deal with Christ honestly -- that we give Christ a chance -- that we step out in faith.  If we will do that, we have no alternative but to see wondrous things. Heaven opened!  Angels ascending and descending!  And so, by the grace of God, we will. Amen.


 

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