Saturday, January 21, 2012
Nobodies become somebody in Christ...
Here we are in Clarksville, Tennessee, native home of few but adopted home of many. How many of you ever thought you would end up living here? I didn't. I associated Tennessee with the Beverly Hillbillies and had no clue that my life would ever lead to Tennessee. I had never even heard of Clarksville until a phone call came telling me I had been elected Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church in Clarksville. You did not know where I came from either. You never heard of the little village in Nebraska that I called home. But it is not where we are from or where we end up or even what we do in between that makes us somebody.
Jesus is the one who makes us somebody. He is the somebody who became a nobody in order to turn us nobodies into somebody. In the Gospel for today, Jesus calls Philip. Now Philip was from Bethsaida – not a whole lot to say except that was a much better pedigree than Gentile Nazareth. Philip tells Nathanael of what he has seen and heard of the Messiah. Nathanael wonders out loud "can anything good come from Nazareth?" Nathanael was a man with an honest heart. No deception here. He put his doubts out there right up front. In order to be somebody, you have to come from some place of note – at least as the world gets it.
But Jesus isn't from someplace of note. In fact that is the great charge against Jesus. The real Messiah could not come from a noplace town like Nazareth and from a nobody family like Mary and Joseph. Hidden in all this nothing, was something of note. Jesus did not come from a place that is noted on the map; Jesus puts that place on the map. And so it is for nobodies like you and me. Jesus has not come to recognize the somebodies of this world, He has come to transform the nobodies of this world into the somebodies by the grace and favor of God. He has come not for greatness but for sinners like you and me.
It does not matter where you came from or where you end up. It does not matter what you accomplish in between. We come from dust and we return to dust. For all that a pedigree or place might give us, it cannot keep us from hearing "ashes to ashes, dust to dust" when they lay us into the ground. For all that success and accomplishment might offer us, its fame does not last and we are as gone and forgotten as the cemeteries filled with those whom no one remembers. Our claims are all worthless. Our accomplishments are worthless. Only Christ can make us somebody.
Unlike Nathanael, we are probably not without guile. We are filled with lies and deception. We puff ourselves up, we pad our resumes, we enhance our stories in an effort to distinguish us from others and make us somebodies. But it does not help. The world says there is no such thing as bad publicity. The world says even attention you get for the wrong reason is attention. In the end, it all passes away... just like we do. Whether you seem good and upright or stained with sin and guilt, your only hope rests in the Jesus is the only one who can transform us nobodies into somebodies.
That is what happens in baptism. We who came from nothing now have the pedigree of children of God. We who had no purpose or reason have become the people of God who are His glory and through whom He does His bidding. We who had only the grave to look forward to, now have life and eternity in heaven. We who had a past without a future now have our past forgiven and our future secured in Christ. Jesus is the somebody who became a nobody in order to turn us nobodies into somebody.
Our self esteem, our sense of self worth – these do not come from the right pedigree or the right accomplishments or living right. These are God's gifts to us in Christ. We were nobody and now we are somebody in Christ. What we have to share with the world is not some secret recipe to happiness or fame or fortune. What we have to tell the world is that finally we can be honest. We are a bunch of nobodies from nowheresville. What we have to tell the world is that Christ has embraced us, that He become nobody, in order to make us somebody by grace. Oh, Paul might have put it a bit more nobler than this – He who was rich became poor for us – but it means the same.
Did you see how quickly "Can anything good come from Nazareth" turned into "You are the Son of God and the King of Israel?" All because of grace that came out of nowhere and turned a nobody into somebody. None of us are worth any more or any less than anyone else... in fact, none of us are worth anything until God counts us worthy in Christ. He came to us with everything to become nothing on the cross. We come to Him with nothing and He makes us everything by grace. This is the heart and core of the Gospel, it is the surprise of grace that gives meaning and eternity to our meaningless and temporary lives.
I never thought I would end up here. But since I came from nothing, it might have been predictable that I end up nowhere special. There is no disappointment in my words. It does not matter where we came from or where we end up. What matters is the upward call of God. He delivers to us His own Son in our flesh and blood. This Jesus embraces all the nothing that we are in order that He might make us something. This is what Nathanael found out when Jesus of Nazareth saw him. This is what you and I find out when God beholds us through baptism, marks us as His own, sets upon us the robe of Christ's righteousness, and makes us brand new.
There is freedom in these words. Free from the pressure of the world to define us by where we come from or where we end up or what we accomplish, we discover in the great surprise of grace, the God who makes us into somebody–right now in this mortal life, and forever in the life to come. Amen