Second Sunday After Epiphany

Second Sunday After Epiphany

John 1:43-51

Jesus Calls Philip and Nathanael

The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip 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.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts, be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our strength & our redeemer (Psalm 19:14)

When I read this text the first thing that came to my mind was when the ELCA Youth Gathering was in Detroit in 2015. I remember a lot of attendees asking “Is there anything good in Detroit, has anything good come from there?” There were many layers to this question. 

  • One concerned race and judgements made about those who lived in Detroit. 
  • Another reflected how Detroit was going through changes, as manufacturing declined and left people without jobs. 

Detroit is a very storied city, which one needs to go and see to appreciate. I loved my time in Detroit, getting a chance to accompany our neighbors there and to let them know we see them.

The other thing that came to mind was missing Rev Bob & Jeanie Graetz , who passed away this past year, and taught me so much about understanding Rev Dr Martin Luther King Jr. And his ministry in the Civil Rights Movement. This is weekend we celebrate and remember Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and all that he accomplished through the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. We still feel Dr. King’s impact today. Dr. King sought equal rights for African Americans and all who are oppressed by the systems in the United States. As many experienced in the summer of 2020, with civil unrest after the murder of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, there is still work to be done confronting systemic racism in our country. Yet Dr. King’s legacy lives on, empowering a new generation to work for equality in our country and world.

It is part of our human condition to make judgements and seek power; this is part of our brokenness. We often judge others on how they look, talk, dress, think, or act. When we make such judgements, we diminish others in our minds, whether we express that judgment out loud or act on it.

What do we see when we see a face? MLK dreamed of a day when we could see facial color but also more deeply—into the “content of character.” God sees this clearly; we—and all others—are seen fully by God.

Jesus finds not one, not even two, but four, and eventually more. He does not seem interested in solo spirituality, or the lone believer. We believe to find ourselves in Jesus’ community, together. We need one another, we need good company. We need friends. These men probably were friends prior to Jesus materializing. They certainly knew Zebedee and his sons, James and John. All from the same small hometown, Bethsaida. 

Archaeologists cannot quite agree on where it was, but it would fascinating to visit Et-Tell, where some of the houses excavated have fishing hooks lying on the floor. A real place, with real people.

And their friendship changes. They had no doubt done business together. They had probably enjoyed meals, an evening stroll, and they knew one another’s families. Friends. But once they follow, their friendship shifts into one of serving together. 

  • Aristotle thought of friends as those who help you to be wise and virtuous. 
  • Augustine saw friendship as the way to help one another to love God. 

I wonder if they were mutually surprised by themselves, dropping everything and traipsing off after somebody they never heard of five minutes before. Jesus must have been immensely compelling.

Philip has so little to go on—and yet he has everything: he has seen Jesus’ face. So he finds Nathanael, who is skeptical. Philip does not launch into any logic; he alludes to Scripture but does not quote anything. He grabs him by the hand (at least in my imagination he does!) and says “Come and see.” That is the witness, right? Not a sledgehammer of truth, but an experience that makes you sure that if somebody else simply saw, it would be enough.

I am forever intrigued by what Jesus says to Nathaniel. Jesus recognizes him, prompting Nathaniel to ask, “How do you know me?” Jesus answers, “I saw you under the fig tree.” I do not really know what to do with that. There is no moral to it. Just worth pondering and playing with: Jesus saw him under the fig tree. He noticed him.

Chances are we already consider ourselves a follower of Jesus. Particularly if you serve in the church in any capacity. Yet following is not a once and done deal. When we commit to follow Jesus, we agree to humble ourselves, dropping anything that distracts us from the Christ’s singular purpose of redeeming and reclaiming all of creation. It also means that we remain open and listen for God’s direction and guidance; after all, we may be led to change. And, change is simply hard for human beings. We generally rebel against change that we didn’t initiate or tacitly approve. Plus, we are simultaneously saint and sinner—people in process.

Maybe it would be easier if following Jesus were the only option. It’s not. There are plenty of calls to follow in our world. 

  • One can follow a particular sports team and let this loyalty be known through the purchase of licensed merchandise, banners, flags, etc. 
  • One can follow the tenets and work of a particular community organization or a beloved non-profit or ministry. 
  • One may also align oneself with a particular political party or ideology. 

Yes, we daily hear a myriad of calls to follow everything from brands to groups to teams to organizations, all thanks to effective marketing and rhetoric.

And still Jesus calls: “Follow me.” He meets us where we are, but this is not where the Christ expects us to stay. Folks, faithful discipleship is hard work. We can’t just show up for an hour or two on Sunday and expect to magically absorb all there is to know about the good news and being a follower of Jesus. We have to keep Jesus front and center every day of the week and every hour of the day. We need to be in regular communication with God (i.e. prayer and holy listening). Regular deep dives into scripture are part of the faithful follower’s routine; how else can we be fed and nourished on the Word? We need spiritual friendships with people in our faith community who are also committed to a life of following Jesus. We are wired for service—both within our faith community and without—and for generosity. These “marks” of discipleship help ensure our growth in faith and our love of God and neighbor.

Why, then, is it still so hard to answer Jesus’ call to follow? Evidently Jesus was so compelling that his initial band of followers just dropped everything without counting the cost of what such an action might be. They even invited others to come and see what they found. It’s easy for us to recommend a restaurant, movie, or brand, but what about recommending Jesus? What about inviting others to come and see what has swept us off our feet and changed our lives?

  • Well, first of all, our life has to be changed, which gets back to the letting go of anything that gets between us and Jesus. 
  • Secondly, we really do have to surrender to our Creator the illusion of control over our life. 
  • Finally, we have to pay attention, work the marks of discipleship, and take seriously Jesus’ words and instructions. 

Remember that old song that says “and they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love; yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love”? Yes, loving God and neighbor is one of the simplest admonitions, but also one of the hardest instructions to live out. We’ve seen just how difficult that is in the recent actions of some of our neighbors and elected representatives.

We can do better. We must do better. We must listen and learn. We must name that which runs counter to the gospel. And my friends, we must do better by Black, indigenous, and people of color. Our silence speaks volumes in the face of our siblings’ pain. We must see that no child goes to bed hungry and that the justice system is just for all. Such actions make love visible in the name of Christ, and it’s going to take a whole lot of love to bridge the divides in our nation and world.

And still Jesus calls: “Follow me.” How will you answer the call?

Our calling is always to Come and See. We do not ponder anybody at a distance. I often say if you only hang around with people like yourself, you become arrogant and ignorant. We go to others, to those not really expecting us. And we find both Jesus and ourselves there. A rich donor was visiting Calcutta and met Mother Teresa. She pulled out her checkbook and said “How can I help you in your work?” Mother Teresa pressed the checkbook back into the woman’s purse, took her by the hand and said, “Come and see.” She led the woman into an impoverished barrio, and found a hungry, frail child. “Care for her.” The woman took the child in her lap, wiped her brow, and fed her. Transformative. Mother Teresa was right when she said “When we care for a child, we are caring for Jesus. When we love the unloved, we are loving Jesus.”

Putting all this together for this morning has gotten me to thinking that one of the best feelings in the world is when you are found. Do you know what I mean? 

  • Maybe it’s the delight of the child playing hide and seek who, though having put some thought and effort into his or her hiding place, is nevertheless so very happy to be found. 
  • Or maybe it’s that time you were out for a hike and got lost and had absolutely no idea where you were, not even what direction you were going in, wondered how in the world you’d make it back to the main trail or road, and then you saw a trail marker. 
  • Or maybe it’s not a geographical lost-ness, but an emotional or existential sense of being out of place. A young adult lost to addiction who finds help, a friend lost to depression who finds a measure of solace in a new relationship, a parent lost to dementia who still lights up when you hit upon particular memories that tucked deep inside. 

Yes, there are few things that feel better than being found when you are lost.

Except, perhaps, when you are the one who finds someone who is lost…. even, and maybe especially, if they didn’t know they were lost in the first place.

There is, right now, a lot of lost-ness in our congregation, country, and world. And perhaps good reason for that is: pandemic, rampant injustice, intense division, a readiness to resort to violence to achieve dubious ends, a disregard not just for facts but verifiable reality. Yes, lots of lost-ness. And, truthfully, I find it frustrating, even maddening. Yet this passage also reminds me that God seems to have a heart for the lost, for the irresponsible, self-absorbed, and reckless younger-siblings and the rule-following, rigid, and self-righteous older ones alike. Which includes people I get mad at, and people who get mad at me, and it even includes me when I am lost, whether I know it or not.