Something Good

Sermon Preached at St. Mark's Episcopal Church
John 1:43-51 / Epiphany 2B
On January 12, 2010, a magnitude 7.0 earthquake’s epicenter struck just 16 miles west of Port-au-Prince, the capital city of Haiti.  The next 12 days sent at least 52 aftershocks measuring 4.5 or greater to inflict more destruction on a people already affected.  Death toll estimates from those earthquakes range from 220,000 to 300,000.[1]  More than a quarter million residences collapsed or were seriously damaged.  In 2017, the United Nations reported that 2.5 million Haitians remain in need of humanitarian aid, including about 55,000 people living in camps.  Matters were made worse in 2016 when Hurricane Matthew leveled entire communities and caused an upsurge in an ongoing cholera epidemic.  More than 9,500 Haitians have died from cholera.[2]
Against this backdrop of natural destruction and against the backdrop of complex socio-political relations between the U.S. and Haiti, a large number of Haitians have left the island for an opportunity to live a better life in the United States.  These are immigrants who have come here believing that the risk of coming here illegally could not possibly be worse than the realities plaguing their home country. And today there are now nearly 1 million Haitians living in the United States, most in Florida and in New York.
On January 11, 2018 – on the eve of the 8-year anniversary of the seventh most deadly earthquake ever recorded – President Trump is reported to have responded to a discussion about protecting immigrants from Haiti by saying, “Why are we having all these people from s-h-i-t hole countries come here?”[3] This comment came just months after “the Trump administration rescinded deportation protection granted to nearly 60,000 Haitians” who arrived in the United States “after the 2010 earthquake and told them to return home by July 2019.”[4]  President Trump denies the use of such crass language although he did acknowledge in his Twitter feed that “the language [he] used . . . was tough.”[5] Yes, the language was tough and it was harsh; because racist rants always are.
Tomorrow, on January 15, our nation observes Martin Luther King, Jr. Day – an observance that was signed into law in 1983 and was first observed in this country in 1986, nearly two decades after Representative John Conyers introduced the bill to Congress.   Thousands of working-class Americans – most of them black members of labor unions risked their jobs by walking off their jobs on King’s birthday over the next decade a half, demanding the right to honor a man they viewed as a working-class hero.[6]
And today, we have a gospel passage in which Philip, a new follower of Jesus, tells his friend Nathanael about Jesus only to have Nathanael reply, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”[7]  President Trump asks, “Can anything good come out of Haiti?” The U.S. government for years asks, “Can anything good come out of a celebration of an African-American Civil Rights leader?”
Philip’s response to Nathanael is the only response a follower of Jesus can give, “Come and see.”  Because “come and see” leads us directly to the other, directly into a relationship with someone unlike ourselves, directly into a conversation that has the power to transform our preconceived notions, our long-held assumptions, the power to transform our very lives.  Nathanael takes Philip up on his invitation and he too becomes a follower of Jesus, witnessing with the other disciples the miracles, the healings, the disruption of corruption in the temple, and the profound teachings – teachings which will turn the world’s assumptions on end.  Teachings which show again and again and again a preferential treatment for the poor, for the ostracized, for the other.  Nathanael witnesses all of this and more.  All because Philip encourages him to “come and see” the good that can, indeed, come out of Nazareth.
And so you and I have the same opportunity, the opportunity to be like Philip and say to the powers that be, yes, something good can come out of Haiti. Yes, something good can come out of the life and witness of Martin Luther King, Jr.   Yes, yes, and yes, because what that is what makes us who we are as a nation:
“Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
‘Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!’ cries she
With silent lips. ‘Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!’”[8]
So, yes, you and I have the opportunity to be like Philip to say to the powers that be, yes, something good can come out of Haiti. Yes, something good can come out of the life and witness of Martin Luther King, Jr.   And not only do we have the opportunity, as Christians, we have the responsibility to say, “Yes, yes, indeed.  Come and see!” We have this responsibility as Christians because in the waters of baptism, our lives have been transformed just as Nathanael’s life was transformed in his encounter with Jesus.  In the waters of baptism, we acclaimed that “Yes, something good can come out of Nazareth. Yes, something good can come out of Haiti. Yes, something good can come out of El Salvador, out of Africa, out of the streets of Chicago, the homeless shelters, out of the prisons, out of all of the places where lives have been trampled down and oppressed by the systems and structures of society.  Because yes, something good did come out of Nazareth – something very good indeed. The Messiah, Jesus Christ, Our Healer, our Teacher, our Savior.” In the waters of baptism this is what we acclaimed to be good when we promised to proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ, to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves; and to strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.[9]  All people. Every human being. The Haitian ones. The African ones. The LGBTQI ones. The Muslim ones.  The imprisoned ones.  The gang member ones.  All people. Every human being. 
Can anything good come out of Nazareth?  Oh, yes.  Oh, yes, something very good indeed.  Jesus came out of Nazareth , love and light and life came out of Nazareth.  “And the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness [will never] overcome it.”[10]  And you and I are that light in the world today. Something good can and must come out of you and of me.

[1] “Haiti Earthquake Fast Facts,” CNN, December 20, 2017,, accessed January 12, 2018.

[2] José Ignacio Martín Galán, “Fact Sheet: Cholera Situation in Haiti,” United Nations, June 10, 2017,, accessed January 12, 2018.

[3] Josh Dawsey, “Trump Derides Protection for Immigration from ‘Shithole’ Countries, The Washington Post, January 12, 2018,, accessed January 12, 2018.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Donald J. Trump, @realDonaldTrump, Twitter, January 12, 2018, 7:48 a.m.

[6] William P. Jones, “Working-Class Hero,” The Nation, January 11, 2006, accessed January 12, 2018.

[7] John 1:46.

[8] Emma Lazarus, “The New Colossus,” Selected Poems and Other Writings (2002) at Poetry Foundation,, accessed January 12, 2018.

[9] BCP, 305.

[10] John 1:5b.