Is there anything good to be found here? How would you answer that question if someone asked that about our church?  Can anything truly good come from this congregation?  What would you say?  Would you answer with a list of things, that you consider our strengths as a congregation?  There’s a lot of good here!  We have a group of people who genuinely care and support one another, as best as they can. We have a committed Sunday school which wants to teach the truth’s of God’s Word to all ages.  We have a good worship environment, where we enjoy gathering together on a regular basis.  We have fun together at events like a Hawaiian Luau and Ladies’ Advent by Candlelight.  We try to work in our community with things such as our free garage sale.  There is plenty of good here.  But couldn’t someone look at any of these things, or whatever other strength you and I might list and say, “You know what, I’ve seen a lot better.”  There are still problems there.  There are weaknesses there too.  Weaknesses that still prompt that question,“Can any real good come from here?”  Would the better answer be the one that Philip gave to Nathanael?  Come and see.
What caused Nathanael to ask that question in the first place?  There is really a small chain of events.  We are told in our first verses, “The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ Philip found Nathanael and told him, ‘We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote – Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”  In this first chapter of John’s Gospel, we see John the Baptist trumpeting loudly an Epiphany fitting message of “Look  there is the Lamb of God.”  He tells his disciples several times, this is the one I told you about.  And so we start to see those disciples following Jesus to find out more.  We hear about Andrew, Peter, and most likely John in the verses before this.  And now Jesus goes and finds Philip before heading north to Galilee.  Philip is convinced that Jesus was the long awaited Messiah, the one promised in the Law and the Prophets, the Old Testament. He runs to tell Nathanael the news and he is met with that question.  “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?"
What’s Nathanael’s problem here?  We sometimes rush to the point that Nazareth was a pretty unimportant place in the backwaters of Galilee. But I don’t think that is all that is going on here. What do we hear about Philip, and Andrew, and Peter?  They are all from Bethsaida, a simple fishing village up in Galilee.  It wouldn’t make a ton of sense that all that is in Nathanael’s mind is “Oh Nazareth is the sticks.”  It would be like someone from Cottage Grove acting like there is nothing good from Hastings.  Is it possible someone would say that? Sure.  But wouldn’t it make more sense that Nathanael is not just picking on Nazareth? Instead he is meaning something very good with his question?  Philip just said to him, we found the Messiah, Jesus from Nazareth. What would a true Israelite, one who knew his Old Testament say?  Can the good one come from Nazareth?  He is supposed to be born in Bethlehem Ephrathah.  Can that which is really good be found there in Nazareth?
Isn’t that the question that people are asking, aloud and mentally about this place and others like it?  Can that which is the highest good really come from there?  There is a lot of doubt that real good can be found in the church. One of the members of our church posted a video on her Facebook page that is a dramatic telling of how Jesus is greater than religion and how the church seems to teach a different message than Christ taught.  It’s an interesting video, because it very subtly sets up a new standard of what makes someone a Christian.  But that is someone who is a Christian asking if there is anything good here.  What about those who aren’t?  What about those who are unaware of the real message we teach? Are they convinced that nothing good can come from this?  And if they are, what are we doing to answer it?
How are we showing them that there is something good to find here?  Do we act like we are convinced there is?  Are we willing to give Philip’s answer to those people who ask us?  Come and see what good is here.  Or are we afraid?  Afraid that if they come, they won’t really be convinced there is much good or impressiveness here.  Are we embarrassed, that if we ask them to come they won’t find some of Scripture’s teachings to be good on their first taste?  Are we afraid they will come and see people who aren’t any better than they are, people who still struggle with sin like they do?  Or is the problem that we have convinced ourselves there is good here, but we are putting forward the wrong “good” thing?  We love to point out some of the things that we do as a church to others, as if that was really the good that comes from our congregation. Is the good that we offer something that could easily be found  elsewhere?  Do you and I act like there is something good to be found here?  How do you talk about coming here?  Something that you know you should do once in a while or something that you know will reveal to you the highest good?  Do you prepare to taste and see that the Lord is good, or do you come because you have done so every week for a long time?  Are we acting and living like we have an answer to this question, “Can anything good come from there?”
Jesus had the answer to Nathanael’s question.  Nathanael didn’t even ask it but Jesus answered it.  “When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, ‘Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false.’ ‘How do you know me?’ Nathanael asked. Jesus answered, ‘I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.’ Then Nathanael declared,‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.”  Jesus revealed to him what good thing he had found.  As Jesus in a simple way showed Nathanael his omniscience, that he knew all things, Jesus revealed to him who he had found.  Not just a good teacher from Nazareth.  Not just a charismatic leader to follow.  But just how good it was that he was there.  He revealed to Nathanael that he was the Son of the living God.  He was the long promised good and gracious Savior.  He was the King of Israel.  And he would show Nathanael just how good he really was.
How do we reveal how great of a good can be found here?  I can’t say to someone who walks in, here is a true Cottage Grovian, in whom there is nothing false.  I saw you at Cub before so and so invited you here.  But see what does happen here.  We like Philip tell everyone, including ourselves, we have found the one written about in the Old Testament and witnessed to in the New.  We have found the one who is the Son of God and King of Israel.  That is what is good to find here.  We get to reveal the Christ.  We get to say to the hurting and the lonely, here is the good you seek.  Not people who are caring and supportive, even if they are.  Not a pastor who is willing to counsel you, even though I willingly try to help. Here is the good. The one promised is revealed here.  The one God who can heal your hurt.  The one King who reigns over sin and death for you.  The one who showed up to walk in Galilee and then to Jerusalem to Calvary. Here is the good you seek.  God eternal in human flesh.  Set to keep the law for you.  Set to die for you.  Here he is. Come and find this good, here as his Word is proclaimed.  As we sing his word back to him in our hymns.
And as good as this is, Jesus says you will see greater things.  Jesus says, if you are amazed at how good I am that I came and was revealed, watch this.  Watch as I take simple water and by my powerful word wash this child’s sins away and make him my own.  Watch as I take bread and wine, and miraculously by my powerful promise give you my very body and blood for the forgiveness of every last one of your sins. Watch, as I strengthen you as you return here over and over again to hear of my great love for you, a sinner whom I have called my own.  Watch as I help you and care for you in a variety of ways.  Watch as I place my cross upon you to keep you trusting in my power and my work.  
This is the good that is being sought.  This is the good that we enjoy  here.  This is the good that more need to hear and to see.  You do not need to be a fearful Philip or a master of misdirection. If we tell someone come and see, they will come to hear the greatest good that is found in the gracious God. If we tell someone come and see, we are not basing our confidence on any  of the things that we do or who we are. All such works and efforts should be serving our desire to share the greatest good.  We can pursue excellence in our ministry, but we pursue it knowing that we do so to see and to share the one who is truly good.  Answer the question, “Can anything good be found here?” with a resounding yes!  Here is found my Savior Jesus in Word and Sacrament.  Here is found the answer to our problem of sin and the fears of our lives and others.  Here is found the greatest good, the Son of God, the King of Israel.  Amen.

This is the 4th sermon from the "Just One Question Series." The question this Sunday was "What's the point of going to church?")

"What It’s All About”

It’s About Going, not Coming

It’s About Needed, not Need To

          How often would you meet me?  If I asked you today to meet me with me at Caribou at a scheduled time this week, would you try to do it?  I hope you would.  Now what would you be thinking, if you showed up at the set time and we had a cup of coffee together.  Maybe I told you a funny story or two.  While we sat there you saw a few of your friends walk in and they sat with us for a while.  Maybe we both even went overboard and had a pastry while we talked.  As our time came to an end, I got up to leave and asked you to meet there again next week.  Would you do that a second time?  A third?  Now maybe you really like the coffee that is served there.  Maybe you as so delusional to think I am a funny guy and you really like my stories.  Maybe you like seeing your friends and having pastries.  But the question would need to be asked whether you came once or every time.  What’s the point?  Why are we meeting together if these things are all we are going to do?  How big of a jump do we need to take to ask these questions about gathering here at church?  Why in the world, do you busy people give up time to be here at this place?  Have you asked yourself that question lately?  Is it the coffee and snacks?  The entertainment?  The music or social aspect?   There is nothing wrong with us enjoying any and all of these things, but are any of those answers a good enough reason to be here often?  Let’s look very closely today at why we gather here together.  We are going to see what it’s all about.  It’s about going, not coming.  It’s about needed, not need to.
          The point of church is not simply coming here, is it?  I am sure that none of you would answer the question in that way.  If someone asks you why you go to church, would any of us really say, “Well the point is that I am there.”  No, I don’t think we would.  But is that thought that I just need to get there, sometimes more of a motivator than we would like to admit?  Do we give people the impression that the final goal, the point of worship is simply that I find myself in the pew Sunday morning or Monday evening?  There, I came to church.  Never mind the fact that we went and listened but what we heard that day doesn’t make it to the parking lot with us as we leave church, let alone all the way home and into our weeks.  Never mind the fact that I was there physically, but my mind was everywhere else.  It’s not my fault that pastor was really boring today.  If these things are true, aren’t we essentially saying, all that matters is that I come to church?  That’s all that needs to be done.
          Or is the point of church simply coming here because it’s what we always do?  This is what I have been doing since I was a child.  This is what I have done every Sunday for years.  But stop and ask yourself, when you got in the car this morning, did you think about why you were coming to church?  Did you stop and consider what the point of showing up here was?  Whether you are someone who has been regular in worship for a long time or you are someone who wants to get back into going to church or to try it out, would our answer to why do you want that be nothing more than, I am going to come to church?  Isn’t such a view of worship really silly and pointless.  I am going just to be there.  I am coming to church because that is what I should do. 

          The point of going to church is not about coming here.  The point of going to church is going while you are here.  Don’t misunderstand me.  It’s important to be here in church.  Whether you are someone who is here every Sunday, someone who tries to get here a few times a month, someone who is trying to get back into the church thing, or someone who is trying it out, I am glad you are here.  But being here is not the all important step.  Getting here is just the beginning.  The point of worship is where we go when we come here.  That is what our verses this morning talk about.  “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.”  The reason that you come here is not to be here.  The reason you come here is where we go together when we are here.

          It is when we are here that we go to approach the Almighty God of the universe.  It is here where we stand together to enter into God’s presence in a very real way.  You come here to go to meet with God.  And notice what it is that allows us to enter into God’s presence.  It is not a spotless church attendance record that we hold up to God and say look at how many times I was in church.  No, you and I boldly stand in God’s presence today and hold up the blood of Jesus.  We march into God’s throne room, confess our sins together, and plead for God’s mercy, because we have a great High Priest who shed his blood to cleanse us and purify us.  We come to church so we can go to hear from our God his message for us.  A message of law that points out our sins and a message of forgiveness and promises.  

We come here because a new way has been opened to us.  How many times would you come to church if every time you showed up the doors were locked?  For the Old Testament believer, they continued to come to the Temple, but they did not go to stand in God’s presence.  No one did that, other than the priest with great fear once a year.  But understand where you are when you come here today.  You are standing in the holy of holies.  You are standing in the presence of God as he dwells with us and works among us through his Word and his Sacraments.  You come here to meet your priest, and I don’t mean the pastor.  You come here to meet the one who is over all of God’s house, over all of God’s people.  The one who bids you to go and meet with God every time you come and meet here.  The point of coming is so that you can go.  The pew is not your final destination on your journey to church.  It is the first stop as you journey to the very throne of God to hear him declare with joy that you are cleansed and pure through the blood of his Son and the pure water of baptism. 

Would we need any more reason to gather here together?  Do we need any more purpose than to enter into God’s presence?  No, I don’t think so.  But God provides you and me more reasons to continue gathering together.  What is church all about?  It’s about needed, not need to.

Could you make the case that you can do all this going into God’s presence at home?  God is everywhere, why do I need to go to a certain place to worship him.  I would agree with the line of thought to a point.  You don’t need to come here to enjoy what we have been talking about.  God in his grace allows each one of us to enter his presence through Christ, whether we do that here as a group or you do that personally and privately as you take your sins to God and receive forgiveness from him.  As you study his word and sit at his feet to hear what he has to say.  But this argument really is based on a false premise regarding what church is all about.  Coming to church is not about you need to do it.  It’s really about the way in which it is needed by each one of us.
          God meets your needs when you gather here together.  Look at what God calls on each one of us to do.  “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.  And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.  Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”  Think about the three tasks that you see here and ask again what the point of worship is.  It’s because it is needed.

We are called upon to hold unswervingly to the hope we profess.  God wants you and me to lock onto the truth that we have from his word like a clamp holding a piece of word.  Firmly and relentlessly.  Are you up to that challenge?  Do you grasp with certainty the truth you have learned?  Or do we let parts of our knowledge slip?  Are you as sharp as your were the day you were confirmed?  And we aren’t just talking about memorization and Bible knowledge.  God wants you to hold onto the truths of salvation firmly.  There are so many forces that want to knock such things out of your hands.  The devil wants to pry them loose little lie by little lie.  The world wants to distract you from them so your grip slackens.  Your sinful nature wants to jettison these teachings that get in its way.  Are you up to the challenge of holding unswervingly to them?  We all must confess that we have failed to do this, but look at the blessing that church can be in this regard.  You can gather with fellow believers and hear the truths of God repeated for you and reapplied.  You can squeeze tighter the joy you have of hearing about your forgiveness and receiving it through the word and the Lord’s Supper.  You can confess the truth together.

The second thing we are encouraged to do is to show love and carry out good deeds.  To do good works.  Notice the need that is met here at worship.  Let us focus on how we can spur one another one to such things.  Showing love for God and our neighbor is what our lives are to be about now.  Such love does not come naturally to us.  It is a love that flows only out of seeing God’s love for us, the love that we can enter his presence.  But now we have a chance to spur each other one.  If you can picture a track meet, what a difference it makes for a runner when he or she hears the rest of the team urging them on.  The point of coming to church is not because we need to do it, but because we need the help.  We need one another being examples.  We need one another pushing us to do more great works.  We need one another to help us carry out some works that we couldn’t do on our own.  We need to push each other, not against one another, but toward the same goal, showing love in word and action.
          Finally, we need what is here because we need encouragement.  The challenges that face us are many and the race of our faith fatigues us.  But we can encourage one another.  We need to be encouraged when we grow tired and we need to be encouragements when we are strong.  Think about what you see when you walk through those doors.  You see a host of other people, some similar to you, some very different.  But you see a group of people who struggle with sin just like you do.  You see a group of people who want to hear about God’s forgiveness just like you do.  You see a group of people who want to push one another on to the same goals, growth in holding onto our faith and sharing that message with others.  What can be more encouraging?  Look around you and see why you need to be here.  You have brothers and sisters who need you.  You have brothers and sisters who are needed by you. 

I started this morning by asking you that question, “How often would you meet me?”  Jesus asks you that question this morning.  Notice today you did not hear the magic number of services you need to make in a given year.  God does not command you to come to church.  He simply wants to show you his reason for meeting with him.  He wants you to come into his presence as his cleansed children through the blood of Jesus.  He wants you to be strengthened and encouraged to hold onto the truth you know and to produce love and good deeds.  He wants you to be blessed and to be a blessing to one another.  That is the point in being here.  That is the point the Jesus has for worship.  How often will you meet him here?  Amen.