Dennis Sepper, Burnsville, MN


Warm-up Question

Can you name one famous person (or more) who came from your hometown?

From Small Beginnings Come Great Things

Can anything good come out of Swartekill, New York?  That was the birthplace of Isabella Baumfree who became known as Sojourner Truth.  Sojourner Truth was sold into slavery at the age of nine for $100, which included a flock of sheep.  Later she escaped with her infant daughter and went on to be a prominent abolitionist and an advocate for women’s rights.

Can anything good come out of Hodgenville, Kentucky?  On February 12, 1809 Abraham Lincoln was born there.  Abraham’s father was a determined pioneer who worked the land.  The family was forced to move several times eventually ending up in Illinois.  Lincoln was elected to the state government of Illinois and then as the 16th President of the United States.  President Lincoln is best known for the Emancipation Proclamation which freed the slaves in the north and for his Gettysburg Address where he declared that the United States was “dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”

Can anything good come out of Tuskegee, Alabama?  Rosa Parks was born there in 1913.  One day, weary from work, Parks refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery Alabama bus.  Rosa Parks was arrested and her act of defiance sparked the Montgomery bus boycott.  Participating in that boycott was a preacher by the name of Martin Luther King Jr whose day we celebrate this weekend and Monday, January 15th.

So often our perceptions and geographical prejudices can make us believe that nothing good can come out of certain towns, regions of our country or the world.  However, there are hundreds upon hundreds of examples of people being called by God to change society and the world.  The vast majority of them come from places we’ve never heard of or believe to be a place which could not produce a world changing personality.

Discussion Questions

  • Have you ever underestimated the abilities of someone because of where they were born or based on what their parent did for a living?  Why do you think that happens?
  • Have you ever experienced someone underestimating you because of where you are from, or what high school you attend, or what your parents do for a living?  How did that make you feel?
  • What can we do to stop ourselves from judging people without really knowing them?

 (Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year B at Lectionary Readings

For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.

Gospel Reflection

In today’s gospel text Nathanael is a bit like you and me (if we are honest with ourselves).  Philip had an encounter with Jesus and had answered Jesus’ call to “follow me”.  Excited that Jesus was the Messiah of God, Philip shared the news with his friend Nathanael.  However when Philip shared that the Messiah was “Jesus, son of Joseph from Nazareth” (vs 45) Nathanael was not so sure.  In essence Nathanael responded by saying “Nazareth?  Really?  Can anything good come out of Nowheresville?  Son of Joseph, the carpenter?  Really?”

Nathanael’s sight was obscured by the expectation that the Messiah should come from an important city like Jerusalem and from an important family.  How else would the world take notice of this Messiah?  What kind of political power would Jesus have coming from such a small town?  But let’s give Nathanael some credit; when Philip invited him to “come and see” Nathanael went to see and meet Jesus.

What happened in verses 47-48 we can’t be sure.  Perhaps Nathanael was doing something under that fig tree that caused Jesus to say “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!”  Whatever happened, once Nathanael encounters Jesus, face to face, his opinion of Jesus and where Jesus came from changed radically.  Nathanael becomes the first disciple to recognize Jesus as the Child of God and King of Israel.

Inviting Nathanael to come and see Jesus for himself was the best thing Philip could have done. So often our misconceptions about people fade once we meet them and engage them.  It is in that relationship that we come to see people for who they really are and what their lives are really about.  As followers of Jesus we are called to welcome all people and treat them with compassion, mercy and love.  Further Jesus teaches us to lift up the downtrodden and let each person know that they are loved and valued by God.  This Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend is an appropriate time for us to remember and recommit ourselves to these specific teachings of Jesus.

Discussion Questions

  • Have you ever had your opinion of someone change once you met them face to face?  What happened?  What caused the change?
  • Think about who invited you to come and see Jesus.  Was it your parents?   A friend?  Your Pastor?  How did they put out that invitation?  What happened when you heard the call to come and see?
  • Has your experience of who Jesus is changed as you have grown in faith or read Scripture?  In what way?

Activity Suggestion

Think of someone you admire and google their name.  Where were they born?  What was their background growing up?  Share what you learn with others in your group.

Closing Prayer

Jesus, understanding Savior, send your Holy Spirit upon us that we may see others through your eyes and come to know them for whom they are called to be.  As your faithful disciples may we be lights to the nations inviting all we meet to come and see you and there to find acceptance, forgiveness and hope.  We ask this in your most holy name.  Amen.