Today we have heard texts about God coming to us illuminating us and our union with God in Jesus Christ. Paul says to be in relationship with God in Jesus Christ, is to be freed from the law (all things are lawful), but this doesn’t lead to nihilism or an amorality, (not all things are beneficial). What this freedom should lead to is seeking to judge oneself and others according to relationship communion and union between oneself, God, and others.
Today is also the beginning of the Week of prayer for Christian Unity. Divisions among Christians often are not much more than divisions between what to eat or not to eat, some Christians fast and some don’t, some mark out and strictly follow patterns of celebration and penance and fasting others do not. As Christians come to differing conclusions about human sexuality our divisions are also about the law, or morality. We are divided over what are Christians allowed to do or not do with their bodies and their sexuality. Such divisions show we often miss the point, or rather miss what is the true basis and or binding agent and unity of the Church. If what Paul says here, that all is Lawful but not all is beneficial then the basis of our unity cannot be what we conclude about what is truly beneficial. Rules, morality, ethics aren’t what bind Christians together.
Our Gospel today gives us a glimpse of how some of the 12 Apostles came to be within the inner Circle of Jesus’s followers. It’s the story of Philip and Nathaniel. Jesus comes to Philip and as a good Rabbi calls him to be a disciple, come follow me. Philip seeks out his friend Nathaniel to tell him of this Rabbi who had called Philip to be his disciple, this Rabbi though is no ordinary rabbi this is the one Israel has been waiting for. Nathaniel isn’t convinced of the character and respectability of a person from Nazareth. Interestingly Philip isn’t said to have argued with Nathaniel about how it is possible, that someone from Nazareth could be the Messiah, rather he tells him to just check it, out. Meet this Jesus. Philip perhaps had the inkling that attempting to convince Nathaniel of the goodness of someone from Nazareth wasn’t the means of Nathaniel and Philp coming into agreement about the Messiah and who he was, he might be or where who his people might be. Rather, Nathaniel had to meet and encounter this Jesus of Nazareth. Nathaniel’s agreement with Philip wouldn’t come through argument about the standing of people from Nazareth but through Jesus Christ himself.
The basis of Paul’s radical statement all things are lawful, as well as his radical teaching of Grace and that is Faith in Christ not works that justifies or makes us righteous, is also the basis of the unity of the Church, namely Jesus Christ. The basis of human community, of a righteous and just world, then isn’t in the moral or ethical sphere, it isn’t in the Law, it isn’t how good you are, but rather the basis of all this is union with Christ. To put it another way the source of our unity is our willingness to come and see how God is transforming the world even when we can’t match that up with our moral and ethical prejudices.
Paul’s claim, Philips claim to Nathaniel, and my assertion to us this evening, is that if you want to know about Justice and righteousness , if you want to know how God is transforming and reconciling us and the world and returning it to wholeness, one needs look no further than Jesus of Nazareth. Admittedly, this is an astounding and wild claim. How could one person, from one tiny insignificant village in 1st century Palestine, one Jewish Rabbi among countless Jewish Rabbi’s and teachers of his day, be all that? A good question. And to answer that question isn’t about arguments and certainty, rather the answer comes in encounter.
Of course, we, in 21st century Chicago, can’t meet in person Jesus of Nazareth the Christ, not at least the way Nathaniel did. However, we have the witness of what Nathaniel and Philip, Mary the mother of Jesus , Mary of Bethany, Martha, Lazarus, Peter, John (the author of our Gospel, ) James, Marry Magdalene, and Photini (the Samaritan woman at the well, and I could go on) encountered. And to have the full answer one must walk with the Church through the seasons of its feast and fasts, starting with Advent and Christmas. (we are still in the celebration of the nativity and incarnation). The church recalls in this current feast cycl, that God the second person of the Trinity, the logos and wisdom of God became human in Jesus of Nazareth, and is forever united with humanity and the entire universe through the incarnation of God in this one person.
This is interpreted as a Radical act of Love, especially by the Apostle John, “God so loved the world”, You may have heard, but perhaps in a way that has leached away for you the earth shattering nature of those words.
God didn’t come to make us all agree, but to transform the world to infuse it with divinity, to allow us to meet and encounter God, not through our own efforts but because God came to us.
The way to find the moment of the world’s transformation and of being reconciled to one another, is to hear and act upon Philips words to Nathaniel: “Come and see.” Yet, that is most difficult in its simplicity, there’s no argument nor proofs, no getting it right or getting it wrong, no means to justify oneself to oneself and or to others, just a simple invitation, to get beyond our moral and ethical prejudices and look beyond how disappointing human beings can be and are, and how awful Christians can be and are, and instead see God, come to us in a Jew who lived over 2000 years ago. To take a moment and hear Philips, and Photini’s and Mary Magdalen and Mary of Bethany’s witness, that God has dwelt, made a temple, in our midst and is forever human, flesh and blood, now united with the universe. That which is most other than we are, who has no commonality with anything we know or can see or can discover. That one, we often give the name God to, this God creator and origin of all that is or can exist, beyond understanding, comprehension or knowledge comes to us and unites God’s self to God’s creation out of love, and it happened in one person Jesus of Nazareth. From that one person the transforming rejuvenating love and life of God moves out into the whole universe, from person to person, united to Christ.
This is our unity, this is why all is lawful, but not all is beneficial, this is why to fully know this reconciliation achieved by God in Jesus of Nazareth, we must come and see, to encounter this love, this community of love in Father Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.