Sermon -- Jan. 17, 2021: "No Deceit" -- Bill Dow

                                                      “No Deceit”


The lectionary takes us to all four of the gospels during the seasons of Christmas and Epiphany.  We’ve heard the birth story from the Gospel of Luke, the story of the Magi from the Gospel of Matthew, the story of Jesus’ baptism from the Gospel of Mark, and today we find ourselves in the Gospel of John as Jesus gathers disciples for the start of his earthly ministry.

The actual authors of all the gospels are a mystery.  It is commonly accepted that the first gospel to be written was the Gospel of Mark, composed between 65 and 70 CE during Emperor Nero’s bloody persecution of those who followed Jesus, most likely including the execution of both Paul and Peter.  It was also a time of Jewish revolt against Rome, which resulted in the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. 

The unknown writer of the Gospel of Matthew clearly had a copy of the Gospel of Mark that was used as a reference in the process along with another unknown source commonly referred to as “Q.”  There is consensus among scholars that the time of writing is somewhere around the year 80 CE.  The writing occurs with full knowledge of the destruction of the Temple and the total defeat of the Jewish revolt by the Roman army.

The writer of the Gospel of Luke had access to the manuscripts of the Gospel of Mark, the Gospel of Matthew, and “Q.”  The time of the writing is estimated to have happened between the years of 75 to the year 100 CE.  Because these three gospels are interwoven along with “Q.” The three together are referred to as the Synoptic Gospels because of their similarities. 

And then there’s the Gospel of John, perhaps written by a disciple of the Apostle John, published somewhere around the turn of the century.  The organization of this writing comes to us in three parts: The Book of Signs, The Book of Glory, and the Epilogue, which is the rehabilitation of Peter and his betrayal in Chapter 21.

The Book of Signs is held together by the invitation to “come and see” and bridged with The Book of Glory as Thomas is invited to put his finger in the holes and place his hand in the wounded side of the Risen Christ.  He “saw and believed.”  Come and see.  Saw and believed.  It’s the arch that connects the reader to the perfection of The Word made flesh and encouraging the reader to believe.

In today’s reading Jesus sees two disciples of John the Baptist following him.  He turns and a strange conversation begins, “What are you looking for?

They replied, “Teacher, where are you staying?”

“Come and see.”

Andrew finds his brother, Simon Peter, and announces that he has found the Messiah.  Simon’s discipleship seems instantaneous!  Jesus looks at him and says, “You are Simon son of John.  You are to be called Cephas.” 

Philip answers Jesus’ call to follow him and when he invites Nathanael to come, we get a response filled with bias, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

“Come and see.”

Nathanael is speaking from the security of his tribe, his homies, to use a more current colloquialism.  And isn’t it easy for implicit bias and prejudice to come to the surface when we’re in the company of our own crowd, because that’s where bias and prejudice comes from.  The façade of superiority is an acquired taste that comes from our families, friends, community, and yes, even our churches.  Our nation has divided to the point of alternate reality to the point where we feel justified asking, “What color is the sky in the place where you are living?”

And in the meantime, God’s children are suffering.  Come and see.

Transparency is a two-edged blade. reveals that the average giving for Presbyterians is 1.5% of annual income.  Those making $25,000 per year or less are more generous, often approaching or exceeding the biblical threshold of a tithe, one tenth of income.  In our mainstream protestant community, including United Methodists and all the rest, it can be seen that the higher the income, the lower the percentage of giving. 

Rest assured, the psalmist was not handing single-issue politicians a club with the writing of today’s reading.  Way before the discipleship of Nathanael, the Hebrew people acknowledged and found security in God’s ability to see humans with complete intimacy…no secrets, no games, no rationalizations.  God sees us for exactly who we are, including our prejudices and implicit bias.

Our struggle is to UNLEARN attitudes and behaviors that we have acquired since our first moment of awareness, when we decided that we were the most important thing on the planet.  The tricky part is that implicit bias creates blind spots, hampering our ability to come and see.  And even trickier, implicit bias distorts our vision, causing us to see things according to the bias we carry.  In the extreme, cell phones turn into pistols. 

Joel Barker presents himself a futurist and has written many books on paradigms, the frame in which we see things.  He did an exercise where images of playing cards were flashed in front of his audiences, asking them if they saw anything unusual.  The exposure time increased as people looked intently for anything unusual.  Some caught it, but most did not.  I was one that did not, and that experience has stuck with me all these years.  The colors were reversed.  Spades and clubs were red.  Diamonds and hearts were black.  I couldn’t see it because my mind was programmed to see things as according to my predetermined world view.

As Nathanael approaches Jesus, he is confronted by his implicit bias.  Something good HAS come from Nazareth and is standing right in front of him.  Philip has invited him to come and see, and he has seen the Son of God.  In the Book of Signs, Nathanael proclaims, “Rabbi, you are God’s Son!  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! I assure you that you will see heaven open and God’s angels going up to heaven and down to earth on the Human One.”

Come and see.  The invitation is perpetual.  It knows no barriers.  Young.  Old.  Left.  Right.  Gay.  Straight.  The whole spectrum.  Rich. Poor.  Black.  White.  And all the colors in between.

Why???  To relieve human suffering and establish beloved community that extends beyond the constraints of time.

The time has come to assign ideology its proper place.  It has become an idol that reinforces our prejudices and implicit bias.  We are conflicted to the point of gridlock and resorting to violence: physical, emotional, economic, and spiritual violence to maintain the relative comfort we enjoy in this moment of time.  We bring a lot of fear into this moment.

Adversity is the springboard for opportunity.  Come and see.  There are angels among us; enough to address human suffering, establish beloved community, and keep the faith.

Come and see.  See and believe.  Have courage and steadfast faith.  Thanks be to God!