Can Anything Good Come Out of Imbler?
From today’s gospel lesson, John 1: 43 – 51
45Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” 46Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.”
Imbler, Oregon is not a particularly memorable place. There’s a main street with one store. There’s a church that has a signboard with corny sayings like the one during a hot spell last summer, “You think this is hot?” Imbler lies roughly half-way between La Grande and Elgin. You say that doesn’t tell you much? That would be the point.
We hear “Nazareth,” and think “Jesus of Nazareth,” or “Church of the Nazarene.” Sounds kind of impressive.
What we don’t get is that “Nazareth” is every Imbler or Hoboken (New Jersey) or Bluefields (Nicaragua) or White Center (Washington) or (fill-in-the-blank) improbable, unlikely, can’t-wait-to-get-out-of-here, not the right neighborhood/ zip code place we have ever known.
Nazareth is where you would never be if you could possibly help it. It is definitely not Sun Valley, Aspen or Martha’s Vineyard or other prestige locations. Nazareth is the place you’d never admit that you were from. “Yeah, New York, well, not exactly, but near there. Well, no, a little further west. Yeah, closer to Buffalo.”
Nazareth is forgotten, improbable, impossible and it is where God meets us, where God shows up, where God chooses to be, where God chooses to inaugurate world-saving work.
Nazareth is the chapter of our life that was so dark we can hardly bear to look at it. It is the part of our story we’d rather forget. It is the background we’d rather not claim as our own.
And yet, this Nazareth, is where God is at work. Where God was/ is doing amazing things.
God, this God, has a preferential option for the unlikely. The “wrong” people, the “impossible” places, the “embarrassing” experiences. From the manger to the cross, this God chooses what the world calls foolish to humble the wise, what this world calls least to bring down the great, what the world calls weak to shame the powerful.
And this is the good news. Good news for us when we are in some down place, when we think everything important is going on elsewhere, when we think nothing good can come from where we are, geographically or emotionally, right now.
Last May, driving through Imbler, Oregon, my heart was touched. Touched by the sight of beautiful banners hanging from the lampposts on main street. Each bore the name and photo of one of the town’s three or four 2020 high school graduates. Graduates who would, because of COVID, have no graduation ceremony. Imbler said to their own, “we’re so proud of you.”
Later in the spring, I saw similar forms of honor and recognition for that year’s graduates in other small towns in the Northwest. But I saw it first in Imbler. Imbler, Oregon.
“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” “Come and see.”
A blessed season of Epiphany to you.