(A sermon based on Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18 & John 1:43-51 for the Second Sunday after the Epiphany and preached on January 18, 2015)
Big Brother is watching you.
We live in an age of ever-increasing surveillance. Security cameras are becoming more and more prevalent; Facebook and Google know more about you than your mother does; the debate will continue over how much access to your personal information the government is entitled to as it monitors cell phone records in order to try to prevent terrorist attacks. It’s a complicated situation as we try to walk the line between fostering security and protecting privacy. We want to be safe but we don’t want people to know our business.
Would it make you nervous to know that there is someone who knows everything about you—who knows everything you have ever done, every thought you have ever had, every motive you have ever followed—from whom absolutely nothing about you can or will be hidden? Well, God does in fact know everything about you; God knows everything about everybody.
Our knowledge about God’s knowledge about us might indeed make us nervous. After all, it means that all of those things about ourselves that we have so carefully hidden from everyone are not in fact hidden; it means that the selfish motives that lay behind some of our good acts are known; it means that the corners we have cut to get ahead are not secret.
Our heavenly Father is watching us.
Perhaps our knowledge of God’s knowledge of us should inspire us individually to ask that God forgive us and help us move by God’s grace and power toward being who God has made us capable of being. Perhaps it should inspire us as a church to ask that God forgive us for putting other things ahead of loving God and loving other people; perhaps it should lead us to examine ourselves carefully to see if when we pray that God’s will be done we really mean it and if when we pray in Jesus’ name our prayer actually reflect the character and actions of Jesus.
But we need to come at this from another angle. Aren’t there times when you are reasonably sure that your heart is right with God? Aren’t there times when you are relatively certain that your motives are good and your integrity is intact? Don’t you wish at such times that someone knew that, at least at that moment in your life, you really are ok? After all, there are so many people with twisted motives and a lack of integrity that they figure everybody else has those same conditions as well and so they can’t believe that anybody has sound motives and a pure heart. Rest assured, though, that if and when you do approach sound motives and a pure heart, God knows it.
So when Nathanael approached Jesus, the Son of God said of him, “Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” Now, the original Israelite was the Jacob about whom we read in the book of Genesis; he was the one who had his name changed to Israel. And Jacob, the original Israel, was hardly a person of no deceit; indeed, he was renowned for his chicanery and shenanigans. But he did grow and change and mature. Evidently Nathanael had grown and changed and matured, too; even before he started following Jesus he was identified by Jesus as a person of faithfulness and integrity.
I have to confess, though, that I am a bit taken aback by Nathanael’s response when Jesus said that of him—he seems to accept it as a valid judgment of his character. I mean, even Jesus, when someone called him “good,” said “Why do you call me ‘good’? No one is good except God alone.” Perhaps humility wasn’t Nathanael’s strongest point. Or perhaps he really was doing the best he could and he knew it; there’s nothing wrong with knowing such about yourself so long as you take your judgment of yourself with a grain of salt.
It’s the same with our church. We can be hard on ourselves sometimes but let’s not fail to realize the good things about our fellowship; we have come a long way and we are doing many good things. I think that we’ve grown a lot in knowing who Jesus is and in knowing what he would have us be and do. I think that we are growing in being open to the work of God in us through the Holy Spirit. I believe that we are coming to understand better and better that our being must precede our doing. Sure, we have a long way to go and we always will, but I believe the Lord has some very good things to say about us. We can accept them with gratitude.
It was impressive—Nathanael was certainly impressed—that Jesus had seen Nathanael under the fig tree (something which we are to take, I think, as divine insight) even before Nathanael came to him. But it is even more impressive that Jesus was able to see into Nathanael’s heart and know what kind of person he was.
He can and does do the same with us as individuals and as a church.
And he is the one who can help us to grow toward being all that we are meant to be and all that we are capable of being because he is the one through whom heaven and Earth are connected; he is the one who gives us access to God and who brings God to us. The ladder that Jacob saw in his dream was a symbol of such a connection; Jesus was that connection. And because of his crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension, he is still that connection for us.
We are known by God; nothing about us, be it good, bad, or mediocre, is unknown to God. That might make us nervous or glad or both simultaneously. The best news is that because of Jesus Christ we can—if we will but follow Jesus Christ—grow slowly but surely into being true Christians and a true Church in which there is no deceit and which there is much integrity marked by grace, love, hope, trust, and peace …