“CHECKING OUR VISION”
a message by Rev. Dr. Bruce Havens
Coral Isles Church, U.C.C.
January 7, 2024
John 1:43-51 NRSV
43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” 46 Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47 When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” 48 Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” 49 Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50 Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” 51 And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”
One of the great benefits of getting older is how bad my eyesight is getting. In case you couldn’t tell from my tone of voice I typed “benefits” using my sarcasm font. I feel like I constantly need to recheck my vision prescription. I don’t know if it is ironic or just the universe chuckling that we are in the midst of talking about our church’s vision and mission. Hopefully my limited physical sight does not compromise my ability to get a glimpse of God’s vision for us as a congregation.
I love this passage of Scripture for two or three reasons. First, it is kind of a “spicy” bit of text. The dialogue has a feeling of real personalities. Jesus has gone to Galilee. John doesn’t say if it was specifically to call disciples, or not, but that is what happens. Notice Jesus says to Philip, “follow me.” Not “Worship me,” but “follow me.” One wise observer has said the problem with many churches today is that we have traded following Jesus, and doing the things he did, for worshiping Jesus, and never doing a thing about the things Jesus did, or called us to do. Remembering that as we develop our new vision and mission focus is important. I feel like this church does a pretty good job of keeping those two things in proper order. I believe we are a church committed to doing the things we believe Jesus did and wants us to do. So there’s my first premise when it comes to vision and mission. Follow Jesus.
Philip goes and finds Nathanael, [ let’s call him Nate ], and says – here’s the guy! This Jesus is the one Moses and the Prophets spoke of: Jesus of Nazareth. Now I am very intrigued by Nate. He is clearly a skeptical kind of guy. I don’t know about you but I can relate. Nate has a rather spicy comeback: “can anything good come out of Nazareth?” I don’t know what it was about Nazareth’s reputation, but give Nate points for asking the question, even if it was with a sly grin on his face. I also give credit to Philip. He says, “Come and SEE.” There you go. It’s all about having the vision to see who Jesus really was and is. Philip doesn’t give a theological dissertation on why Jesus is the Man. He just says, “Come and see.” He doesn’t give him a 7 point spiritual law lecture or any other conversion technique. He just says, “Come and see.”
Then Jesus SAW [ notice all these “vision” words? That’s what I’m talking about with this passage! ] Nate coming toward him Jesus says something interesting, maybe even kind of “spicy.” He says, “here’s an Israelite with no guile.” Perhaps we might say no deceit, no falseness, maybe even no fake diplomacy in him. Nate asks how Jesus knows so much about him and Jesus says “I saw you under the fig tree.” SAW you. More “vision” stuff. I’m not sure of the ultimate symbolism of this statement. Some scholars see it was a way of Jesus had the ability to assess a person’s character even from afar, just “seeing” them. Nate is impressed. He immediately declares Jesus the Son of God and the King of Israel. Heavy stuff.
And here’s the kicker. Jesus says, to put it in the vernacular: “you ain’t seen nothing yet!” He suggests that Nate – and perhaps those with eyes to see – will see angels flying around the Son of Man. One assumes Jesus means himself, of course. As we develop our vision, as we strive to see what we can focus on as a congregation striving to “follow” Jesus I suspect we need to watch for those angels to show up, even in these times when guile, and sarcasm, and spicy attitudes cast a chill on anything spiritual or faith-related.
So, all that said, let me turn to what we are doing as we seek to see a fresh vision. First, let me say this is not to say that what we have done, what the church has done in the past is wrong, bad, or inadequate. A new vision will help us say what we want to focus on as we go forward. A vision statement helps say what we see as the ideal future, and how we fit in that as a congregation. We have a current Vision Statement in our Bylaws that follows the long paragraph we read as our “Purpose” in our Affirmation of Faith earlier. The Vision Statement reads: “Coral Isles Church nurtures a personal relationship with God through unconditional love, open-minded acceptance and forgiveness.”
For comparison, let me share what came out of the meeting our Council had with Neal Watkins, the Associate Conference Minister of the Florida Conference United Church of Christ, that has been assisting us in this process. He wrote these words out:
“A community of faith where, in God’s love, all are accepted and honored FOR who they have been, Embraced, Affirmed for who they are, and empowered and supported to be who they are called to be.”
We may want to wordsmith that and tweak it, but it seems to me to do two things. First, it affirms that this is who we are and what we are about already, and second, it seems to invite us to picture a future that is positive, faithful, and focused. However we end up wording it I think this speaks to who we are and what we want to be at the same time. What do you think? Let me know, talk to members of the Council [ have them stand ], give your thoughts. We will have opportunities to do that more formally in group sessions coming soon. “WATCH” for when we announce those times will be. “SEE” what I did there? Oops I did it again!
The Scripture invites us to be ready to see amazing, even miraculous things when we follow Jesus. We may not literally see angels ascending and descending, but I suspect if we watch with faithful eyes and hearts we will see signs of heaven moving earth and God bringing us opportunities to live out our faith in terrific ways. I hope we will all keep our eyes open for such things and tell others about it. This is a vibrant and faithful church. People out there will want to be part of that as they come to realize what we are doing. We just have to share the good news about it with others.
So we are beginning the process of planning a productive, positive, and faithful future. The next couple of weeks we will follow up on this in worship. Neal will be here two weeks from today. He’ll share more so you can hear him in person and dialogue with him about what this is all about. It seems to me to be incredibly important to begin this New Year working toward a new vision. Hand-in-hand with that we share the Sacrament. As we come to this table and share the bread and the cup, we reenact the vision we have for this church. All are welcome, a variety of ways to experience God’s presence are offered, we come together supporting each other as we come to the table.
It doesn’t matter how bad my physical sight may be. It is not a problem that none of us is able to see God’s vision completely on our own. God meant for us to find it together. And the presence of Christ, the inspiration of the Spirit and the amazing love of God are with us to guide us toward a great future that God envisions for us. AMEN.