My mother walked into my grandparents’ house sometime in 1994, and my grandfather Pop’s gruff voice called to her, “C’mere, I want to show you something.” He directed mom to the kitchen cabinets, opened them incredulously, and there, from bottom to top, end to end, were stacks of canned tuna fish. Dozens and dozens of cans. For weeks, it seems, my grandmother Boo had been going to the grocery store, forgetting why she’d made the trip, and at a loss for what else to do, buying tuna fish. It was the first sign that something was wrong.
Often when this passage from Mark comes up in the lectionary—this account in which Peter brings Jesus home to meet his mother-in-law—it gives rise to all manner of mother-in-law jokes. I happen to have the world’s best mother-in-law, and consequently I find mother-in-law jokes to be boorish and uncouth, especially from the pulpit. I just don’t understand why some of my fellow preachers would tell a joke like, “Do you know the punishment for bigamy? Two mothers-in-law.” Or, “Jim and Bob were having a drink after work, when their mothers-in-law came up in conversation. Jim said, ‘My mother-in-law is an angel,’ to which Bob replied, ‘Lucky.’” (Think about that one for a moment.) But I’m not going to tell such jokes in this sermon, because they are distractions.
From our text today we learn the heart and simplicity of Johns’ message, which was used by a few new converts to Jesus. As a matter of fact, their exciting message of invitation consists of only three simple words—Come and See! Jesus is travelling into Galilee where he finds Philip from Bethsaida and later Philip finds Nathanael who announces, “we have found the one whom Moses and the prophets have written about, Jesus, son of Joseph from Nazareth.” I am certain Nathanael, with a puzzled expression on his face answered, “Are you kidding me? Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Before Philip can ponder Nathanael’s words, he seems to anticipate his response and simply replies, “Come and See”, and are you ready for this Nathanael? It is Jesus, son of Joseph….from Nazareth!!! I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall to see the expression on Nathanael’s face when Philip mentioned anyone or anything of significance coming out of Nazareth, as he replied, “Nazareth!!!!??? Can anything good come out of Nazareth, much less the Savior of the world?” You see, Nathanael is not interested in following just anyone claiming to have a new idea or thought, least of all someone from Nazareth. Nathanael is also wise to imposters and does not want to be thrown under the bus from embarrassment and disappointment. More importantly, Nathanael is familiar with Nazareth and has his own biased thoughts about the town and its people.
I once met Alison Krauss. Do you know Alison Krauss? She is a world-class bluegrass fiddler and singer. I’ve often said, if I die and get to heaven and the angels don’t sound a lot like Alison Krauss, I may not stay. Suffice to say, I’m a big fan (and you should be, too). I once met Alison Krauss. Alison and her band, Union Station, were in Roanoke, and my parishioner was the general manager of the performing arts hall where they were playing. Jill and I had second row seats, and thirty minutes before the show my parishioner texted me and asked, “Do you want to come backstage and meet Alison?”
“And then, something happened.” It is a phrase I suspect anyone who has been a priest for very long has heard multiple times. In my experience, the lead-up usually looks something like this: A parishioner visits my office with alternating facial expressions of wonder, confusion, and sheepish embarrassment. He begins to talk without pause, covering every mundane topic of the day to avoid the real reason for the visit. Then, almost on a dime, he shifts gears and says, apropos of nothing, “You probably won’t believe this.” And his real story begins.
I don’t get lost anymore. Whenever I travel, I simply type my destination’s address into my dashboard GPS system, and the electronic lady’s pleasant (albeit monotoned) voice directs me step-by-step from here to there. GPS is a wonderful invention, and it’s saved me from driving off the edge of the world more than once. It’s also saved my marriage. The most heated arguments my wife and I have ever had cluster around a series of navigational decisions made at sixty-five miles per hour on the highway. “Turn here!” she’d command from the passenger’s seat. “Where? Where?” I’d holler in response. And we’d invariably get lost.