"What's in a Label?" **sermon for 2 Epiphany B, 14 January 2024**

 

“Lynn, Lynn, the city of sin

You never come out the way you came in.”

 

I feel I have always known this little chant.  Even as a very young child.  I am not sure how or where I learned it.  Perhaps it is just a north shore Boston thing.  I don’t know.  Lynn, the city in question, is outside of Danvers and Salem.  Yes, THAT Salem of the witch trials infamy.

Popular lore has it that Lynn, in its past, had a history of corruption and lawlessness.  Especially during prohibition.  Lynn was then known for bootlegging, prostitution, and other illegal activities.  Think of Chicago during the same era with Capone and the other gangsters.

I wonder what Nathanael has in mind.  Philip tells him about a learned teacher and healer from Nazareth.  Nazareth of all places!  One has to ask “what is Nazareth’s reputation at the time that Nathanael remarks: ‘can anything good come out of Nazareth?’?”

Sure, Nazareth is sort of a small town.  The people were probably poor.  Many of them may go to nearby Sepphoris to work.  Perhaps there is that small town bias against “the big city.”  You’ll forget your roots and who you are in the city.  That you’ll be corrupted and ruined by the city.

Today, we hear about migrants being placed on buses or planes.  States such as Florida and Texas shipping these “undesirables” to northern cities.  We also hear of increasing acts of violence and hate speech against our Jewish friends.  These sad events remind me of that ditty from my childhood.

When I hear someone mention “Lynn,” I have to work hard to stop myself. Even now, many years later, as an adult.  My immediate reaction is to go, “EWWWWW, Lynn!  Why would you want to go to (or live in) Lynn?”  I have a learned prejudice, much as Nathanael does in John.

My inherited bias conflicts directly with my faith, however.  The Bible has much to say about how we should treat one another.  Genesis 1 tells me that all of us, without exception, are created in God’s image.  God loves each and every one of us (John 3:16).  No exceptions, no exclusions.

Here is just a little of what the Scriptures also tell us:

God calls God’s people to treat the orphan, the widow, and foreigner with compassion and mercy (Deuteronomy 24:19-22).  Just as God has compassion and mercy on you and me.

God reminds God’s people that they were once foreigners themselves (Deuteronomy 10:19).  Ruth is a powerful story about a foreigner who becomes grandmother to Israel’s greatest king, David.

God challenges God’s people to “love their neighbor” as themselves  (Leviticus 19:18).  A challenge repeated by Jesus in the Great Commandments (Matthew 22:39).

Jesus says, “just as you did unto the least of these, you did unto Me” (Matthew 25:40).  How we treat one another is a reflection of how we treat Jesus in our midst.

Jesus Himself sets the example for us.  Jesus touches “unclean” lepers (Luke 17:11-19).  Jesus includes a Samaritan woman (John 4:1-45).  He invites a tax collector to be His disciple (Mark 2:13-15).

The status and role of immigrants is just one of today’s “hot topics.”  There are many other issues that divide our country and our families right now.  Sadly, that division may increase as we head into the thick of the 2024 elections.  My place is not to tell you how to vote in the election.

I am here to encourage you to be informed.  Research the candidates.  Find out where they stand on the issues that matter most to you.  Don’t just look at one or two topics.  Consult your faith and your values.  Then vote in a way that is consistent with your values and beliefs.

Philip’s response here is a great model for you and me to follow.  Notice how Philip replies to Nathanael.  There is no hostility or judgment.  There is simply the invitation to “come and see.”  That invitation opens the doorway for Nathanael to meet Jesus and see for Jesus for himself.

What if you and I used this “come and see” approach?  How might that change our perspective?  Perhaps we’d understand the other better and be able to form a friendship. We’d be able to see past the labels we attach on the other out of fear and misunderstandings.

Maybe we’d see that we share many of the same hopes and dreams.  Then we’d be the bridge-builders the world needs.  And, more importantly, we’ll be following the commands of us to “love our neighbor as ourselves.”

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