Scriptures Genesis 2:4b-15, John 1:35-51
Genesis 2:4b-15 (New Revised Standard Version)4 This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, when the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.
5 Now 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, 6 but streams came up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground. 7 Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.
8 Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. 9 The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
10 A river watering the garden flowed from Eden; from there it was separated into four headwaters. 11 The name of the first is the Pishon; it winds through the entire land of Havilah, where there is gold. 12 (The gold of that land is good; aromatic resin and onyx are also there.) 13 The name of the second river is the Gihon; it winds through the entire land of Cush. 14 The name of the third river is the Tigris; it runs along the east side of Ashur. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.
15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.
John 1:35-51 (Common English Bible)35 The next day John was standing again with two of his disciples. 36 When he saw Jesus walking along he said, “Look! The Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard what he said, and they followed Jesus.
38 When Jesus turned and saw them following, he asked, “What are you looking for?”
They said, “Rabbi (which is translated Teacher), where are you staying?”
39 He replied, “Come and see.” So they went and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon.
40 One of the two disciples who heard what John said and followed Jesus was Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter. 41 He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah”. 42 He led him to Jesus.
Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon, son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).
43 The next day Jesus wanted to go into Galilee, and he found Philip. Jesus said to him, “Follow me.” 44 Philip was from Bethsaida, the hometown of Andrew and Peter.
45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law and the Prophets: Jesus, Joseph’s son, from Nazareth.”
46 Nathanael responded, “Can anything from Nazareth be good?”
Philip said, “Come and see.”
47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said about him, “Here is a genuine Israelite in whom there is no deceit.”
48 Nathanael asked him, “How do you know me?”
Jesus answered, “Before Philip called you, I saw you under the fig tree.”
49 Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are God’s Son. You are the king of Israel.”
50 Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these! 51 I assure you that you will see heaven open and God’s angels going up to heaven and down to earth on the Human One.”
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from watching the Facebook conversation about street signs on Chebeague unfold over the past couple of weeks, it’s this - even people who are from Chebeague have different understandings of what it means to be from Chebeague...and who have different points of reference - whether you had your formative years here in the 1930s… or the 1960s... or the 1980s.
For those not on social media - or who have had these conversations in other areas of their life instead of online - the presence of street signs on the major Chebeague roads has been one of great debate - and have surfaced fears around the changing demographics of this community, fears around suburbanization, as well as surfacing other values, like street signs don’t change how we care about each other. There’s been points made about people who are “from away” not understanding how things used to be or about how everyone should embrace the necessity to adapt with the times. It’s been messy and and polarizing in some aspects and highlighted to me just how much our perspectives are shaped by experiences and our particular locations in life - and so the question “where are you from” isn’t just about place or geography, but, like Dr. Nadella references, also about stories and values that made us who we are today.
Likewise, we all carry assumptions and judgments about others that can surface as we hear about where someone is from. When we take the time to hear the stories and experiences that accompany this question, we can acknowledge, disrupt, and release these automatic assumptions we make of others.
The goal is to build connection and trust - and to do that, we need to listen to each other’s stories to learn who and what has shaped us - and we also need to feel seen and known for who we are. Curiosity is a two-way street, as was mentioned in the video. And in this, we can acknowledge both the particularity of our identities - for example, my story as a white girl from Maine who has a Masters Degree - and the common ground we share - like that all of us here have some connection to Chebeague and common love of this place.
The two stories we heard this morning from scripture point to our shared creation and call - and how sometimes we need to disrupt our assumptions (how can anything good come from Nazareth?) to remind ourselves of that fact. Genesis paints this picture of mutuality - the creation story we claim as ours in the Christian tradition depicts a God with hands in the dirt, fashioning the human beings out of the mud, out of the soil, out of the very earth. There’s a charge to care for the land that Adam was made out of - and the story is very specific around the geographic bounds of that land. There’s a symbiosis here between the waters and the land and the human being made from the mixture of the two - and God breathing life into the midst of it all. Where are you from? All of us are of the earth...of the stars...beloved of God.
If the first story reminds us to reflect on our common humanity, our second story invites us to embrace our differences, noticing how our assumptions about people may need to be disrupted - particularly our assumptions about those who are from different places, who may dress or look differently, who may hold different values or think differently than we do.
Suspending our assumptions is a hard thing to do - especially when our culture reinforces stereotypes and unconscious biases go unchallenged in our news media and our television and movies. In our polarized country, narratives about “the other side” prevent us from being curious and actually engaging in conversation with those who hold different values. How did they come to hold such a position? What experience did they have that shaped them into the person they are?
That’s why Jesus’s invitation of “come and see” - an invitation that Phlip later offers to the skeptical Nathanael - gives an opportunity to stop and engage - that two-way street curiosity.
So in some ways, I feel like this street sign saga that has unfolded on Facebook and in conversations here and there around the island, is a perfect lens for us to practice staying curious - to not jump to conclusions because of where someone is from or not from - and to genuinely listen one another’s perspective, giving rise to a deeper understanding of one another - and giving an opportunity for healing and wholeness through being seen and heard and valued.
It reminds me of the poem that Rev. Sarah Are wrote for this week, entitled “We Are Not Strangers” - where in conversation around our particularities and our identities we can discover the common ground that sustains us and ties us together - that binds us together it ways that are deeper than street signs or being from away or growing up here or there or your political allegiances or your country of origin. Her poem goes like this:
If you ask me where I’m from,
I’ll tell you about the South--
about sweet tea, church pews,
slow drawls, sultry summers.
And if you pause,
then I may go on to tell you
how I’m from a family of preachers,
how I stand on the shoulders of generations
who believed that love could be the answer.
And if you’re still listening even then,
I’ll tell you that I’m from strong women
with tall spines who have carried the weight
of inequality on their backs with children on their laps.
And then I’ll tell you about
the kitchens that I’m from,
which have always cooked enough
food for unexpected guests—just in case.
Or I could tell you about the car
that carried us into the mountains, summer after summer
so that we could breathe again.
That’s part of where I’m from.
And if you haven’t given up yet,
then I may even mention the dirt--
the earth that catches me,
the earth that holds me.
The earth that reminds me of growth.
The earth that will eventually welcome me home.
You and I aren’t really strangers after all.
May each of us this week be challenged by God to go deeper with those around us - listening to the stories that have made each other who we are...sharing and being heard and carried in kind...may our courageous conversations lead us to glimpse hope, joy, and beauty -- and to become the community God created us to be. Amen.
Pastor Melissa Yosua-Davis has been serving the community of Chebeague and its church since July 2015. She currently lives on the island with her husband and five year old son and 2 year old daughter, along with their yellow lab. Read here recent sermon excerpts, thoughts on life and faith, and current announcements for the church community. She also blogs at Going on to Perfection.