What Is Assumed

Pastoral Prayer: Lord God, we have a saying, we human beings, “Never assume for when you do you make . . .”, well that is not really appropriate for the pulpit, Lord. So, maybe it is better described in an Indian Proverb, “The baby has not been born yet, and yet you assert that his nose is like his grandfather’s!” Samuel assumed it was Eli speaking. Nathaneal assumed nothing good may come out of Nazareth. Christians in Corinth assumed that grace meant they could do as they pleased. Almost 1700 years ago Gregory of Nazianzen may have said it best, “What is not assumed is not healed.” Samuel learned that You are a God who speaks. Nathaneal learned the Messiah indeed came from Nazareth. And, the Christians in Corinth were reminded that you God washed us, sanctified us, and justified us such that in Jesus, who assumed all that we are, healed us from what we were to be united with You. What Good News! And all God’s people say, Amen.

John 1:43-51; 1 Corinthians 6:12-20; 1 Samuel 3:1-20

You really thought I might use that word in a pastoral prayer?

Had I done so it would have been received like Tony Campolo, who used another word in a sermon almost forty years ago, to the shock of his audience, it would have been the only thing remembered this morning. It may have made a great point but it might have kept us from hearing from the God who speaks and when God speaks it is an Aha moment.

Our theme for this series is, “All will see it.” 

The line is taken from the prophet Isaiah who called attention to a group of people who had suffered the consequences of their poor decisions for years. God would bring their hard labor in captivity to an end. YHWH would comfort them and more. He would reveal his glory and all would see it. That is, the glory of the Lord would be reflected in the people. Living out their liberation would be a means for all the world to see the goodness of God.

When we come to the story Barbara read from the Gospel of John, we discover the way our texts to emphasize that there is a time when assuming is what heals us. Rather than make a claim without proof, God revealed in Jesus takes up for us what we are powerless to resolve. That is what Gregory of Nazianzen meant by,

“What is not assumed is not healed.”

He was not laying claim that God should have checked our story first before assuming anything. Instead, Gregory’s line came as the Church was grappling with how human was Jesus. Gregory wanted those concerned to know that if Jesus did not identify with human beings all the way down, in every respect, in every feature, even having a rational mind, then any part left un-assumed, not taken up in Jesus, could not be healed. Gregory is remembered for reminding us that Jesus is God become human who heals us. Athanasius came along not many years later and altered the saying,

What has not been assumed as not been redeemed.

Can anything good come out of Nazareth?

Some of us have lived in both Oklahoma and Texas. We have heard from both sides of the border that the only thing good coming out of either Texas or Oklahoma is I-35. It just depends on which side of the border you call home. The underlying premise for the tongue in cheek snark is that there is nothing good in the other State except a way out.

There may be a Red River Rivalry. But, the reality we live with is that we human beings, then and now, assert an air of superiority over those who we determine to be less than without investigation. We often assume the worst about people and judge them shameful and unworthy of respect. Take Hannah, Samuel’s mother. The backstory of Samuel coming to serve with Eli is found in his mother Hannah.  Shamed and ridiculed for her inability to have children gave occasion for another person to treat her with shame and disrespect.

Her rival used to provoke her severely, to irritate her . . . year by year . . . she used to provoke her.

God redeemed Hannah from her captivity to shame and disgrace, to suffering and torment. God met her in her annual pleas for help and the result was the boy Samuel. Jesus died on a Cross subject to the Powers that employ shame and disgrace, suffering and torment. He assumed all our guilt and shame. That is, Jesus assumed, took up, both Hannah’s shame and disgrace and her rival’s torment and provocation. He took up ours also.

“What is not assumed is not redeemed.”

Nathanael is found by Phillip and from Phillip hears the Good News,

We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote.

Phillip may have had Deuteronomy 18:18 in mind,

I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their own people, I will put my words in the mouth of the prophet who shall speak to them everything I command.

Given his assumptions Nathaneal is skeptical. None of the prophecies in the Torah point to Nazareth as having anything to do with the coming of the Messiah. Lacking any other reason to investigate Jesus the son of Joseph led Nathaneal to dismiss the news as fake,

Can anything good come out of Nazareth?

We human beings often draw conclusions about others. If what they do or who they are do not fit with our social categories we deem them lesser. If Nathaneal refuses to see Jesus as worthy for the town in which he grew up, it is easy to assume Jesus as insignificant for the reputation of the place from which he grew up.

Jesus refused to engage Nathaneal as we would. Rather than argue for Nazareth against Cana, Jesus recognized Nathaneal as a straight shooter, someone in whom there is no deceit. Startled at being recognized by a stranger, he wondered how it is Jesus knew him. Jesus had seen him under the fig tree. Rabbis contend that the fig tree was the fruit Adam and Eve ate in the Garden. As such it stood for the place where human beings recognized their sin. Under the fig tree may be an allusion to a repentant Nathanael in whom their was no deceit – he was a straight shooter. But, that did not make him less skeptical of Jesus until Jesus told him things about him he did not think anyone knew.

Jesus reveals God to Nathaniel in words that result in a confession,

Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!

Jesus reveals that God knows our names, our faces and in spite of our sin, under the fig tree comes to us anyway. 

Nathaniel is only mentioned twice in the New Testament. That is, Nathaneal is no Peter, Andrew, James or John. He is not even the notorious Judas Iscariot. He literally gets two mentions. Two. Talk about obscure. If Nazareth is considered insignificant, what about Nathaneal. 

Many of us will live and die without much fanfare. Sure, our family and friends will miss us. We may have an accomplishment or two to our names. But, outside of that very small circle of people among 7 billion, we won’t merit a mention in any major work of history. Yet, toiling in relative obscurity is not reason to think you or I are any less in the eyes of God. 

The son of Joseph of Nazareth assumed obscure, even scandalous origins. And, assuming the role of a bunch of nobodies reminds us that anyone made in the image of God, which means all human beings made in the image of God, bear worth and value. God redeems us from any sense of loathsome self-identity. God revealed in Jesus knows our names and our faces and all that we have done and loves us still.

What is not assumed is not redeemed?

Sadly along the way we Christians seem to forget what we were. 

Can anything good come out of Nazareth?

Substitute anything you like for out of Nazareth and it is not long before Nathanael’s line describes how often we Christians sound – judgmental. Call it what you like but about the time we view all other, any other, human being with such cynicism, we have made assumptions that make of us, well, fools. Ah, you were paying attention.

Paul’s written exchanges with Christians in Corinth reveal that it is easy for us to forget that God assumed all of us, what we were and what we did, and redeemed us. Before we get to today’s reading from the Apostle’s correspondence, Paul writes,

And this is what some of you used to be.

Listen to the list,

Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers – none of these will inherit the kingdom of God.

And this is what some of you used to be.

What is not assumed is not redeemed.

Reading through the Gospels what do we find? Jesus hanging out with all sorts of people hearing the whispers, 

Can anything good come out of Nazareth?

Tax collectors, prostitutes, and sinners were his people of choice. Rather than seeking the place of power, Jesus took his ministry to those whose lives had been wrecked by the Powers of Sin and Death. He approached the approachable who knew all too well their own self-perception and what others thought of them. We are deceived, we Christians, when we think that our goal is to have a seat at any other table than the one to which Jesus makes for us a seat. It is not that God is not interested in the powerful. It is that the powerful are generally not interested in Jesus. 

God’s mission, the nature of God to seek out those considered irredeemable is that those judgments are not his. As Christians, our mission is the mission of God and we do not get to characterize anyone as irredeemable.

That is, the real difference God’s glory makes in the world is seen when those who call him LORD, find themselves more interested in relaying all the ways Jesus assumed all of us and healed us, redeemed us.

Living out lives that do not play up our freedom to do as we please gives us the occasion to live as pleases Jesus. For had Jesus not assumed all of our pain and poor decisions, our guilt and our shame, our suffering and torment, we would have no freedom from the Powers that hold us captive.

Living for what is beneficial for others is the glory that all will see. For it means nothing if we claim that Jesus lived to benefit us all if we ourselves do not live to benefit others. There is no glory, there is no light, to see by.

The “Aha” moment? What is it that keeps us grounded in the freedom we receive in Jesus? It is in recalling that what we used to be has now been changes as Jesus assumes all of of us in himself and we remember,

But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.

God gets all the verbs. We receive all the action of those verbs.

God called out to Samuel when visions were rare. God spoke to Nathanael through a friend convinced that Jesus would reclaim him from his own captivity. Christians in Corinth read the words of the Apostle and found the Spirit of our God in them learning to glorify God in their bodies as they lived out what it meant to be united with Christ.

What is not assumed is not redeemed.

Can anything good come out of Nazareth?

God takes us up in Godself and by God’s own work he makes good to be found anywhere – even in you and me.

So, we say with Samuel,

Speak for your servant is listening.

We say with Nathanel,

Your are the Son of God! The King of Israel!

We say with the Apostle,

We have been washed, sanctified and justified in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.

Now for we who are here, who are listening with us via Livestream, 

Jesus God assumes all we could not and cannot resolve and heals us, redeems us.

This is the Gift of Jesus – receive the Gift today.

*I generally take a manuscript with me to preach each week. However, the preached message is often a bit different than what you will find here.  You may listen/watch here.

About the Author
Husband to Patty. Daddy to Kimberly and Tommie. Grandpa Doc to Cohen, Max, Fox, and Marlee. Pastor to Snow Hill Baptist Church. Graduate of Oklahoma Baptist University and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Reading. Photography. Golf. Colorado. Jeeping. Friend. The views and opinions expressed here are my own and should not be construed as representing the corporate views of the church I pastor.