You might remember how it all went down. Jacob was trying to get to Haran where he would begin a new life, but right now Esau is hot on his trail ready to kill him, and right now the sun is setting, and Jacob is exhausted. He took a stone, laid his head upon it, and that’s when heaven tore the seam and spilled into earth… Jacob was just found by God.
All through his life, Jacob had been fighting his brother Esau, and lately, he’d been winning every round. He swindled Esau’s birthright for a bowl of stew. He straight-up stole Esau’s blessing by running a con on their father! No wonder Esau is looking to kill him, but what happened was the LORD found him first.
Now you might think God would send the demons to torment Jacob, to make him realize the harm he has caused by selfishness and greed, but no. You might think God would at least send Jacob back to face his brother and make things right, but no.
Instead of pronouncing judgement, God spoke a blessing to Jacob— promising him land, and offspring, and I will be with you wherever you go, says the LORD. We might be surprised that God is rewarding Jacob by giving him the very blessing he tried to steal! But you know what surprises Jacob?
He was just found by God, and that’s never happened to him before. He blurts out one of the best sentences in the whole Bible:
Surely the LORD is in this place— and I didn’t even know it.
Heaven tore the seam and spilled into earth, spiraling down to the ground and swirling back to the stars, and nobody saw it coming, but what if it’s everywhere…
Jacob was found by God, now who knows, maybe the day will come when Jacob will change his mind?
I mean, who knew there’d be angels here?
Do not be afraid.
Today we’ve come together in this sanctuary at the beginning of a new year. You and I know our world is struggling. We live in a nation that has become politically fractured, and the pressure to get on your side and stay on your side is becoming more entrenched. It’s not a climate of agree-to-disagree. There’s dangerous vitriol between liberals and conservatives, between republicans and democrats, and I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. And maybe you’re thinking, but why do we have to think about this division at church? I hear you.
It’s just… I need to tell you. Church of Peace is particularly well-equipped to become a community of peacemaking. And I’m not sure there’s anything the world needs more…
What if this new year is our moment?
What if peacemaking is our mission?
We’ve got a few extraordinary gifts that not every church has:
*First, we are a people who take to heart the central question of peacemaking. It’s this: What if my opponent could change her mind?
Maybe this comes from the strand of our tradition that values critical thinking and the deep wrestling of conscience, maybe we all have a testimony about the time when we changed our minds… Wherever this comes from, we are a people who know. The brother you’ve set out to kill this afternoon, he just might change his mind, and so could we. That’s the first thing.
*The next gift is that we’re a congregation that doesn’t just tolerate numerous perspectives. We actually encourage this variety! And here’s what I love so much about our church: We have conservative members, but we’re not a conservative church. Plenty of churches advocate for conservative political causes; plenty of churches profess a theology in line with an orthodox or evangelical agenda. That’s not us. The conservative people who choose Church of Peace are giving up something in order to be here; they’re making a brave choice. And that matters.
Now of course, we have liberal members, but we’re not a liberal organization. You can find groups in the Quad Cities that are seeking progressive policy reform; plenty of groups profess a secular or a religiously-neutral agenda. That’s not us. The liberal people who choose Church of Peace are giving up something in order to be here; they’re making a brave choice. And that matters.
*More than anything else, our best gift is that we’re a congregation of people who truly care for each other. In a few minutes, you might find yourself taking communion alongside a person who is politically opposite from you, and get this, that’s okay. That’s beautiful!
It’s not that our differences don’t matter. They definitely matter. It’s not that we agree to never talk about politics. We can talk about hard things together because —here’s what blows me away— we’re not threatening to each other. Even when do not agree, it’s like we can still see something of Christ in each other. It’s like seeing heaven tear the seam and spill into earth.
Today we’re continuing our journey into the Gospel of John. In the scripture Sylvia read, the invitation from the Lord is to Come and See. Come and See for yourself, because who knows? We might be surprised. In this story, the words that keep getting said are Come and See; the action that keeps happening is that people get found.
John the Baptist is talking with two of his disciples when he finds Jesus walking by, so Andrew and the other disciple begin following Jesus. They call him Teacher, and when he tells them to Come and See, they wind up staying with him. Next, Andrew found his brother, Simon, and told him: This guy is not any old Rabbi. We just found the Messiah!
The next day, Jesus sets out for Galilee but not before finding Philip to go with him. Philip is ready to go, but first, he goes and finds Nathanael. Now you’ll notice the people in our story don’t spend a long time searching! Instead, at every turn, they keep on finding each other and getting found.
The first thing Philip says to Nathanael is: We found him! It’s the one whom the law and the prophets were promising, and get this, it’s Jesus, son of Joseph.
That’s when Nathanael said what everyone was thinking: Um, can anything good come out of Nazareth?
So Philip tells him: Come and See.
Now Nathanael is not being a jerk. He knows what he knows, and we learn that he’s a person who is deeply committed to his beliefs. So what do you think it would take to change his mind?
Maybe it’s all in the getting found…
Hang around Church of Peace long enough, and chances are, you will get found and found out. We will see you for who you really are. We will see your compassion. In case nobody has warned you, somebody should. This getting found might cause you to one day change your mind. It’s happened to me.
You might be a person who has long identified as anti-war. You know all the vintage folk songs, you’ve made posters for the protests, you will not pass up an opportunity to resist the military industrial complex.
Then what happens is you find yourself sharing a conversation with one of the veterans in our church. They might tell you about acts of human kindness during combat. And I’m not saying these conversations will make you any less anti-war, but this might make you change your mind about what it means to support veterans. At least that’s what happened to me when I was found by you.
You might be a person who values things like following the rules, responsible civic engagement, and supporting the police. We’ve been taught to trust authority and respect those who give their lives to the work of serving and protecting.
Then what happens is you find yourself sharing a conversation with one of the people in our church who have been mistreated by a law enforcement officer. Now I’m not saying this conversation will make you any less supportive of our police, but it might make you change your mind about the people who protest police misconduct. It might add layers of complexity to a story we thought we understood. At least that’s what happened to me when I was found by you.
Now here we are, each of us about to take communion with someone who sees the world differently, someone whose most deeply-held values challenge your most deeply-held values. Before we say, Oh that doesn’t matter— it does.
It means everything that we’re choosing to reach across our differences to keep finding each other and loving each other. And one day that person over there might change her mind. One day I might change mine, you might change yours…
Nathanael knew what he knew. He was committed to his faith; his beliefs shaped the core of his identity. See the fig tree is where Jewish teachers and students studied, so when he’s spotted under the fig tree that signals his religious devotion. Now when Philip comes and tells him the Messiah was Jesus *from Nazareth* well, bless his heart, but that can’t be true.
Then Jesus found Nathanael, and well, he never saw that coming. He blurted out: Rabbi, you are the Son of God. You are the King of Israel! Jesus told him: Oh just wait— the day will come when you’ll see heaven tear the seam and spill into earth…
And who knew we could change our minds?
You could be found by a person in this church! Somebody here might look at you and see the truth of Christ…
And who knew there’d be angels here?
Do not be afraid.