Fifteen Seconds

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I grew up in Platteville, Wisconsin.

I wasn’t born there. Platteville is a small town, and when I was born, there wasn’t a hospital there, yet. So, my parents drove a half-an-hour away, and crossed the Mississippi River, and went to a hospital in Dubuque. And I was born in Iowa.

But I grew up in Platteville. I grew up among the rolling hills of the Driftless Area in the Southwest corner of the Badger State. I went to my first schools and I had my first jobs there. I made my first friends and had my first awkward teenage romances there.

And even though I wasn’t born there, and I haven’t lived there for twenty-odd years, and I haven’t done more than pass through—or pass around—there in ages, that is where I am from.

So I know this joke.

It’s a joke that people tell wherever there is a large body of water, and a border that barely matters, and a pointless and good-natured rivalry. It’s a joke that is told in a thousand variations in a thousand locations. And, fair warning, it’s a joke that has some language that has been described to me as… youthful language.

Why doesn’t Wisconsin fall into Lake Michigan? Because Iowa sucks.

Every year around this time, we move from the law and the writings and the prophets into one of the gospels. And this year, we are moving from the law and the writings and the prophets into the gospel—the good news—according to John.

We heard the beginning of John a couple of weeks ago. So you know that John does not begin with angels and shepherds and mangers. You know that John does not begin with kings and wise men and daring escapes to a foreign land.

John begins in the very beginning. John begins with the beginning of… everything.

And then John skips forward to the moment when another John—John the Baptizer—sees Jesus walking toward him and exclaims, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”

In our reading today, John the Baptizer has seen Jesus. And in our reading today, Jesus is meeting his first disciples.

One day, Jesus passes by John the Baptizer, and two of John’s disciples start following him. And when Jesus notices them, and when they ask about him, he tells them, with all of the confidence of God-become-one-of-us, “Come and see.”

And they do. And one of them, Andrew, can’t help it. He runs to find his brother, Simon. And Andrew tells Simon what he saw, and brings Simon to see what he saw, and they all become disciples.

And the next day, Jesus passes by Philip, and Philip follows him. And Philip can’t help it. He runs to find his friend Nathanael. And Philip tells Nathanael what he saw, and tries to bring Nathanael to see what he saw, and…

So much of the story that we tell at this time of year—in Christmas pageants and holiday specials and during Christmas Eve services—focuses on where Jesus was born. And we all know that Jesus was born in Bethlehem.

But the people who knew Jesus in those early days of his ministry—the people who followed Jesus in Galilee, and heard his first sermons, and felt his first healing touches—knew that Jesus was not from Bethlehem. That’s not where he learned the words of the Torah or worked in his father’s shop. That’s not where he made his first friends or… well…

Jesus may have been born in Bethlehem, but he was from Nazareth. And Nazareth…

When Philip tells Nathanael what he saw, and tries to bring Nathanael to see what he saw, he tells Nathanael, “We found the one who the law and the prophets told us about. It’s Jesus, the son of Joseph, from Nazareth.”

And Nathanael replies, “I don’t think so, Philip. Think about it for a minute. Has anything good ever come out of Nazareth? Can anything good ever come out of Nazareth? I mean… you know why Capernaum doesn’t fall into the Sea of Galilee; because Nazareth sucks.”

And it’s not in the Bible, but there has to be the moment where Philip could believe Nathanael. He could believe that Nazareth sucks, and that nothing good could come from there; he could forget about Jesus and go on with his life.

Or he could leave Nathanael. He could follow Jesus without his friend. And when he comes home and sees his friend, he could keep his mouth shut.

But, instead, Philip does the hard thing. He looks at Nathanael. And he tells him, with all of the confidence that fifteen seconds of courage can provide, “Come and see.”

I know that this is a little inside baseball, but…

At the beginning of December, some of us gathered in Fellowship Hall after worship. We talked a little bit about the last couple of years. We talked a little bit about our plans for twenty-twenty-two. We talked a little bit about our strengths and our weaknesses… and about our hits and our misses… as a church, as a community, and as a little consulate of the kingdom of God.

And one of the things that we talked about—one of the weaknesses that we noticed—is that we are an introverted church. We are a little uncomfortable with starting conversations, or standing out, or being the center of attention.

But…

After that gathering in Fellowship Hall, I started thinking about the difference between being an introvert and being insecure. Because, you see, I’ve been both.

I am absolutely an introvert. I get my energy from time alone or with a few close friends. I recharge by putting on some music, or reading a book, or escaping from the world for a little while. I like pondering and analyzing and having deep conversations. And I’m not unusual in that regard. A lot of people are introverts; a lot of pastors are introverts.

And don’t get me wrong. I like people. And when I’m all charged up, I can go into the world and start conversations, and stand out, and be the center of attention. Being an introvert is about how I get energy; it’s not about how I am, all the time.

And I’ve always been an introvert. And I’ve also, sometimes, been insecure.

There have been times when I would not speak to people unless they spoke to me first… when I imagined that most people would not like me and that most people did not like me… when I thought that no one could possibly care about what I said, or what I thought, or who I was.

There have been times when I was so afraid of rejection… that I protected myself from rejection—from the very thought of rejection—by refusing to share myself.

And after that gathering in Fellowship Hall, I started wondering if we aren’t just an introverted church. I started wondering if we are also—sometimes, maybe, just a little—an insecure church.

I started wondering if some of those rough experiences we’ve had with starting conversations, and standing out, and being the center of attention, haven’t robbed us of some of our courage.

I started wondering if we are afraid that people will say that we suck. And I started wondering if we are so afraid of rejection… that we protect ourselves from rejection—from the very thought of rejection—by refusing to share ourselves.

Even when there are—and I am certain there are, I have no doubt there are—so many people out there who are desperate for a community just like this one.

I don’t know when I stopped being insecure. To be fair, I don’t know if I’ve stopped being insecure. There are still times…

But whenever I’ve gotten over it, I’ve gotten over it fifteen seconds at a time. Maybe even less.

We don’t get to hear what Jesus says to those two disciples of John the Baptizer who follow him. We don’t get to see what they saw. We only know that one of them has to go and tell his brother.

We don’t get to hear what Jesus says to Philip. We don’t get to see what he saw. We only know that he has to go and tell Nathanael.

And we get to hear how Nathanael responds.

And it’s not in the Bible, but there has to be the moment where Philip could believe Nathanael. He could believe that Nazareth sucks, and that nothing good could come from there; he could forget about Jesus and go on with his life.

Or he could leave Nathanael. He could follow Jesus without his friend. And when he comes home and sees his friend, he could keep his mouth shut.

But, instead, Philip does the hard thing. He looks at Nathanael. And he tells him, with all of the confidence that fifteen seconds of courage can provide, “Come and see.”

And Nathanael does. And it changes his life.

And I know it’s a little inside baseball. And I know I’ve been on this kick for a while. But here’s the thing: That’s all it takes. Fifteen seconds. Maybe less.

Because the truth is that Iowa does not suck. And Nazareth does not suck. And this church… this community… this little consulate of the kingdom of God… absolutely does not suck.

And it only takes fifteen seconds of confidence—fifteen seconds of pretending to have confidence—to tell someone…

…I have heard good news of great joy for all people… or,

…I have found the one who the law and the prophets told us about… or,

…I am loved and worthy of love, and so are you. God loves you exactly the way that you are; and God loves you too much to leave you that way. And there’s this place—there’s this community—where I go to experience all of that and more. Maybe you would like to come and see.

Fifteen seconds. Maybe less.

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