Where are you from? - Message from September 12, 2021
Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Preacher: Rev. Dr. Kristin Stoneking
Scripture: Genesis 2:4b-15; John 1:35-51
Series: I've Been Meaning to Ask...
Message: Where are you from?
When I was a child, I remember seeing a recurring sign by the side of the highway.
It read, “One Kansas Farmer feeds 78 people plus YOU!” Or 89 or 101—the number changed slightly each year. It was a project of a woman named Jeanne Mertz. She and her family lived on a farm outside of Manhattan, Kansas. Her hope was to affirm the work of all laboring on the land. My family didn’t live on a farm, but the sign made me feel proud of where I came from, of being a Kansan. The signs said that we were making a contribution to others, and I loved looking for these signs and seeing the numbers change.
Think back with me for a minute to the time when you were a child, maybe that was not so long ago, or maybe it was quite some time. What recurring signs or images do you remember seeing as you sat, most likely in the backseat, driving the roads of your home geography looking out the window? Or maybe it was when you were walking the roads of your town. If you’re worshipping online, I encourage you to share a description or a word in the chat. The chances are that what has stuck with you was indicative in some way of where you are from—perhaps generationally, or a defining period in history, or something connected to a particular place or value, something that spoke of your identity in some way. Does this sign or image give insight into where you are from?
But of course, these signs don’t tell the whole story. With the exception of three years during my first church appointment, I haven’t lived in Kansas since I was 17. If you globalized assumptions about me based on what you think you know about Kansas and the Midwest, you would likely have a pretty limited picture. And the signs that may have come to mind for you just now don’t tell your whole story, either.
In our Gospel scripture today from the book of John, the scene opens with John the Baptist and two disciples seeing Jesus pass by. Just like the signs that passed us on the side of the road as we drove by, Jesus is passing this trio as a sign that speaks and calls to them. To John, Jesus is the sign of God’s presence among us, and the fulfillment of God’s promises. When John sees Jesus, he says, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” John and Jesus have a relationship that predates the relationship with these disciples. But the disciples are still learning who Jesus is and as he passes them, they begin to follow him. Presently, Jesus turns to the men who are following him and says, “What do you want?” And they answer him, “Rabbi, where are you staying?”
It’s interesting that the disciples don’t really answer Jesus’ question of “What do you want? and instead turn the question back to him. Their answer, “where are you staying?” indicates to Jesus that it’s to know him better that they want, but they are careful, indirectly giving him the courtesy to go deeper if he wants to, or not.
In calling Jesus, “Rabbi,” these disciples are defining Jesus as a teacher and interpreter of scripture. He certainly was that. But in his answer, “Come and see”, Jesus does invite them into deeper understanding. They word translated in our Bibles as “see” actually has connotations not of literal sight but of knowing, understanding and perceiving. So what is really happening here is that Jesus is inviting them into deeper relationship with him and who he is. He hears their deeper desire, accepts it, and responds to it.
As we as a community enter into our month-long worship series of “I’ve been meaning to ask…” and our season of holy conversations on racial justice and the beloved community, we can find guidance throughout this passage for this journey. First, we see that there is a necessary curiosity about the other. To be curious is to accept that we don’t know everything. That there is more to learn. One term for this is “epistemological humility” which means simply to acknowledge we don’t know what we don’t know. Curiosity is to embrace a desire to discover. As John’s disciples follow Jesus, we see they are curious. They are engaged.
Significantly, though the disciples indicate that they would like to know him better, their initial response to his “what do you want,” gives him an out if that is not what he wants. In the exchange that ensues, there is an acknowledgement on both sides of a desire for deeper understanding. The second key is mutuality.
The disciples’ curiosity is respectful and unintrusive, but it stands ready, looking for opportunities to “see” or perceive the other more fully. Just as any label we attach to a person today carries with it assumptions and connotations, the term “rabbi” meant specific things at that time. In saying, “Come and see,” Jesus is inviting them to learn, but also to unlearn assumptions. So the third ingredient we see here is to be ready to engage, but respectfully unintrusive, while at the same time being willing to invite others in.
How often do we say, in email or conversation, something to the effect of “I hope you’re well!” I’ve noticed that I do this, and while it is a true statement for me, I do hope others are well, it is not exactly an invitation to tell me if you are well or not. In this series and this season, I want to invite us all to interrogate our shorthand ways of communicating to see if they express curiosity, invitation and an epistemological humility. I’ve realized that to say, “Are you well? and wait is quite different than my typical statement.
This leads to the fourth key in the passage: to know and understand others takes time. When these two disciples join Jesus where he is staying, the scripture says, “They came and saw where he was staying and they remained with him that day.” They remained with him that day. Jesus answered their surface question by showing him where he was staying, but the group had not fully lived into his invitation to “Come and perceive. Come and understand.” To perceive and understand takes time.
Finally, in our journey of building the beloved community, we are enjoined to make the circle wider by communicating to others that we see them. One of the disciples who followed and sat with Jesus on that day was Andrew, the brother of Simon. Andrew brought his brother Simon to Jesus and Jesus looked at him and said, “Simon, Son of John, you are to be called Cephas” which meant Peter and rock. In Simon Peter, Jesus strength and commitment. I don’t believe anyone, even Jesus, knew at that time how Peter’s story would play out, but in naming him, Jesus reflected to Peter that he saw him. And then Philip was invited to the circle, who in turn invited Nathaniel, and Jesus affirmed to Nathaniel that he had seen him as well.
We have a second scripture for today from Genesis and it begins in this way, “the Lord God made the earth and the heavens. But no shrub had yet appeared on the earth and no plant had yet sprung up, for the Lord God had not sent rain on the earth and there was no one to work the ground.” And then it goes on to give us the story of the creation of humanity, “Then the Lord God formed humanity from the dust of the ground and breathed into the nostrils of humanity the breath of life, and the human person became a living being.” We are all formed from the same matter, and we all enlivened by the same divine breath. We are of one substance and essence.
As we move into this new series and ask, “Where are you from?” we need to remember that we do this work from an ontological grounding that holds all of us. In a theological sense, our answer to the question, “Where are you from?” is the same: “We come from God.”
And this is the key to building the beloved community: affirming that we are both unique persons with distinct paths and individual histories, AND we are one.
This is a dialectic not a dualism. And it is when we live in the truth of these interplaying dimensions of our beings and of each other that we find the blessing of being known. Being known is the foundation of intimacy.
The civil rights activist Ruby Sales has said, “One of the greatest trigger fingers of empire is to destroy intimacy.” When we build the beloved community, we are also building spaces for intimacy. We are building our capacity for intimacy in its honesty and vulnerability, but also its security and contentedness. Of course empire would not want us to have the capacity or experience of intimacy through beloved community. Empire wants us to feel insecure, inadequate and impoverished so that we will keep seeking security and contentedness through conquering and acquiring.
And so beginning with “Where are you from?” becomes a revolutionary act. I’ve been meaning to ask, “Where are you from?” I’m from Kansas, I’m from God, I’m from a people of faith called Epworth who are seeking true right relationship with each other and the world. May God bless us and carry us in all that we seek and all that we hope. May we be drawn into an intimacy that holds, affirms and sustains us. And may we know draw others into this beloved community. May it be so. Amen.
Order of Service
The Community Gathers...
Rev. Jerry Asheim
Welcome & A Covenant of Grace
Rev. Kristin Stoneking, Rev. Jerry Asheim, Judy Kriege, Melanie Gantes
Prayer for Illumination
Dana Buntrock & LeRoy Howard
Opening Music: "More Love" (comp. Sid Davis)
To Hear the Word...
Scripture Reading: Genesis 2:4b-15
Dana Buntrock & LeRoy Howard
Call to Confession
If we were to call the prayer of confession by another name,
I would call it a moment for truth telling—
A moment to pause, to reflect,
to be honest about the places we want to grow
and the way we need God’s help.
Family of faith, there is power in honesty.
So pray with me. We worship a loving and gracious God.
Prayer of Confession
When people heard that Jesus was from Nazareth,
they asked, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”
We confess, God of beginnings, that we have asked the same question.
Can anything good come from that side of town?
From a school with poor test scores?
From a criminal history?
From the opposite political party?
From a history of addiction?
From a faith with doubt?
From a church with faults?
Holy God, forgive us for doubting that you are in all things at all times.
Open our eyes to see your goodness, not as something that resides here or there, but as the expansive grace that it is.
Can anything good come from there?
Yes. Always yes. Amen.
Words of Forgiveness
Family of faith, if you ever ask yourself,
“Can anything good come from this messy and human life of mine?”
Remember this: God is always whispering, “Yes.”
You were created in the image of God.
Your origin story is one of goodness and love from the very beginning.
So hear and believe the good news of the gospel:
God is here. God is at work among us.
We are forgiven. Thanks be to God for a love like that. Amen.
*Affirming the Peace Among Us
You are invited to turn to the people around you and bow to each other as a sign of graceful greetings this day.
Anthem: "For Good" by Stephen Schwartz
Rev. Jerry Asheim & Michele Arreola-Burl
Gospel Reading: John 1:35-51
Dana Buntrock & LeRoy Howard
Message: "Where Are You From?"
Rev. Kristin Stoneking
To Respond and Renew Commitment...
Musical Mediation: "For Everyone Born (A Place at the Table)"
Rev. Jerry Asheim & Melani Gantes
Prayers of the People
Leader: Loving God,
People: We lift our prayers to you.
The Prayer Jesus Taught (The Lord's Prayer )
Our Creator (Father/Mother), who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom (kin-dom) come, Thy will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for Thine is the kingdom (kin-dom), and the power, and the glory forever. Amen.
Offering Our Resources and our Energy
Give online at www.epworthberkeley.org/donate or, send a text message with the dollar amount you wish to give to +1-833-276-7680.
*Affirmation of Faith
We believe that goodness can come from the dirt,
that faith can come from doubt,
that minds can be changed,
that justice can begin with us,
and that something good can come from Nazareth.
We believe all these things, because we believe that God is
more expansive than we have words for—
showing up in the corners of our world so often
ignored and denied.
We believe that from this place of holy surprise,
God invites us forward—
beckoning hope, bravery, and curiosity from each of us.
“Come and see,” God says.
Help our unbelief. Amen.
To Go Forth with Love and Compassion
Closing Hymn: "Dazzling Bouquet"
Rev. Kristin Stoneking
Rev. Jerry Asheim
***Special Thanks To:
Preacher: Rev. Kristin Stoneking
Worship Leaders: Rev. Jerry Asheim, Michele Arreola-Burl, Dana Buntrock, Melani Gantes, Susan Jardin, Judy Kriege, LeRoy Howard
Ushers: Shan McSpadden & Jeff Bruno
Audio engineer: Carol Baumbauer | Podcast producer: Ethan Toven-Lindsey | Livestream producer: Merrie Bunt
Credits: Liturgy by Rev. Sarah Are, A Sanctified Art LLC., sanctifiedart.org. Hymns reprinted/streamed with permission under ONE LICENSE # A-733809, CCLI Copyright license # 20022935, & CCLI Streaming license # 20476749. All rights reserved.