Don’t underestimate the possibilities of small, rural churches. After all, Jesus’ hometown was an insignificant agricultural village, says Jeremy Troxler.
January 5, 2009 | Editor's Note: This sermon was preached May 21, 2007, at the Thriving Rural Communities Aldersgate Gathering at Duke Divinity School.
“Can anything good come out of Nazareth? . . .
‘Come and see.’”
Jesus finds Philip, so then Philip goes and finds Nathaniel to tell Nathaniel that he has found Jesus, forgetting exactly who found whom in the first place.
(We do that sometimes.)
“Nathaniel,” Philip says, “we’ve found him, we’ve found the one, the one about whom Moses and the prophets wrote, the Savior, and, are you ready for this, it’s Jesus, son of Joseph from . . . Nazareth.”
And Nathaniel looks at Philip as if Philip has just told him that really, the Chicago Cubs are really, actually going to win the World Series this year.
“Nazareth? Can anything good come out of Nazareth, much less the Savior of the world?”
“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”
I did some reading about Nazareth. It didn’t take long, because we don’t know much at all about Nazareth in Jesus’ day. Nazareth is barely, if ever, mentioned in first century documents outside of Scripture. The little we do know is largely speculative and wholly unremarkable. Apparently scholarship suggests that Nazareth was a small community of anywhere between 500 and 2000 people: likely just about the size to qualify for funding from the Duke Endowment’s Rural Church Division. Nazareth was likely located not far from a major East-West trade route that ran from Egypt to Asia called the Via Maris: picture it as one of the small communities you see exit signs for off that major trade route from East to West that we call I-40. Specifically, Nazareth was situated in the hill country of Galilee, a region of fishing and farming that was also known in Scripture for its distinctive regional accent and for having a large population of Gentiles, a high number of immigrants, foreigners, resident aliens.
Archaeological evidence also shows that Nazareth may have sat somewhat in the shadow of the nearby city of Sepphoris, which was being rebuilt as a regional capital around the time of Jesus. Sepphoris was the place where the action was. Sepphoris was the place with the multiplex cinema- or at least Roman theater. Sepphoris was the place where the young people went off to work and find jobs. Nazareth . . . well, apparently nothing much happens around Nazareth. Nothing to make the news. They apparently don’t even have a sign on the edge of town that says, “Welcome to Nazareth, home of . . .” and then the name of some small-time celebrity or state champion high school basketball team.
Even the HarperCollins Bible Dictionary describes Nazareth as, quote, “an insignificant agricultural village.” Of course, it would probably say the same thing about Brown Summit, where I grew up, and about most of the rural communities represented in the Thriving Rural Communities program.