GOSPEL READING John 1:43-51
The Holy Gospel according to Luke.
Glory to you, O Lord.
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.”
The Gospel of the Lord.
Praise to you, O Christ.
Now let the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you O Lord, our strength and Redeemer
When you’re starting out in seminary one of the usual ice-breakers are telling your Call story. A Call story is how you recognized that God was calling you ministry. Everyone has one if they think about it hard enough and see where God was giving a nudge here or a nudge there to serve the Church, or in a specific setting. We hear some Call Stories today from Samuel & Nathaniel, and know others like Phillip, Andrew, Peter & Paul.
I have shared parts of my Call Story in other messages, and mine like most is not all that magical or mysterious. Most Call Stories I’ve heard from people was in a continued gradual nudge to go a different direction in life.
Martin Luther’s “call story,” is familiar to most but if not let me give you the Cliff Notes version: while a law school student, he was on his way from one place to another in the country and was trapped by a thunderstorm. Lightning threw him from his horse and Luther gripping the ground in terror, cried out to Saint Anne, “Save me and I will become a monk.” He followed through, making a sudden and unexpected transition from a star pupil on his way to a lucrative career to a poor monk, committed to a life of poverty and humility. At least, that’s how the story is traditionally told.
One time someone asked Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr about his Call Story to which he composed this statement about his call to ministry:
My call to the ministry was neither dramatic nor spectacular. It came neither by some miraculous vision nor by some blinding light experience on the road of life. Moreover, it did not come as a sudden realization. Rather, it was a response to an inner urge that gradually came upon me. This urge expressed itself in a desire to serve God and humanity, and the feeling that my talent and my commitment could best be expressed through the ministry. At first I planned to be a physician; then I turned my attention in the direction of law. But as I passed through the preparation stages of these two professions, I still felt within that undying urge to serve God and humanity through the ministry. During my senior year in college, I finally decided to accept the challenge to enter the ministry. I came to see that God had placed a responsibility upon my shoulders and the more I tried to escape it the more frustrated I would become. A few months after preaching my first sermon I entered theological seminary. This, in brief, is an account of my call and pilgrimage to the ministry.
Sometimes it’s a traumatic event, and sometimes it’s the gradual nudge, but however that call story to your relationship with Christ…it’s starts within invitation like… “Come and See.”
Our first lesson is Samuel’s dramatic call story. The boy Samuel was dedicated to God by his parents, brought as a small boy to the temple where he lived with the priest Eli. Three times he heard a voice cry out his name, “Samuel, Samuel.” Three times he went to Eli. Three times Eli said, “I did not call you.” Then Eli said, “It must be God. Next time you hear the voice, say ” ‘Speak, for your servant listens.’ ” And that’s what happened, and it was God calling, and God did give Samuel a special prophetic mission.
Our second lesson was written by Paul, who had his own dramatic call story, one that has given its name to call stories, his “Damascus Road,” experience when he, like Luther, was thrown to the ground by a flash of light. Paul’s story marked the beginning of his conversion, his believing that Jesus was the Christ, the Risen Lord—and that he Paul had been called to spread the word.
Today’s Gospel lesson tells two overlapping call stories. First, Jesus found Philip and said, “Follow me.” Then Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found him who Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote.” Nathanael scoffs at Philip’s discovery. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” I’m sure Philip thought about arguing with Nathaniel, about convincing Nathanael that Jesus was indeed the Messiah—but he resisted these thoughts and instead did exactly the right thing. He invited Nathanael to “come and see,” for himself.
Somehow Philip realized that you do not argue someone into the Christian faith. All one can do is invite them to “come and see” Jesus. Nathanael is convinced by this meeting that Jesus is, indeed the Messiah, the Christ. Nathanael affirms “You are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel!”
One of the things that intrigues me about these call stories is that, on the surface, they look like very sudden, cataclysmic shifts from one thing to another. But if you take a deeper look, you realize that these turns were years in the making. Samuel, Paul, Philip and Nathanael had been being prepared for these very moments for many, many years: Psalm 139: 16 says, “. . . you knit me together in my mother’s womb . . . In your book were written all the days that were formed for me.” Luther was raised in a devout Christian home, he learned his ABCs at a church school. and received his higher education at a university run by priests and monks. He was ready when the call came. Samuel was raised in the temple, served old Eli every day, trusted Eli to tell him the truth, was prepared to hear when the voice of God called. Paul was uniquely suited to take the gospel to the gentiles, he was raised in what is now Turkey and received both a rabbinic education and a secular Greek and Roman one.
Obviously, Nathaniel and Philip were ready to talk about what it meant for someone to be the Messiah, they had studied the scriptures, “him who Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote. . .” The call came in a moment—but they had been getting ready for a lifetime.
In this week’s Gospel, we see the start of Jesus’ ministry–and what a simple start it is. Call Stories and a low pressure invitation to come and see. Note what is left out of this narrative.
I assume that many people declined Christ’s invitation, for all the standard reasons: no time, conflict of interest, family commitments, laundry and grocery shopping to do, too much work to do before quitting time; we are people with responsibilities; we can’t just abandon them to follow some guy around the countryside. Experts tell us that it takes 4-8 invitations before a friend will come with you to church. Imagine what Jesus faced as he offered invitations to total strangers.
And notice that Jesus carries on. Jesus doesn’t go off in a huff. Jesus doesn’t spend time complaining about how he’d rather have a different sort of ministry. Jesus doesn’t whine to God that God promised him something different, one of those mega-churches perhaps. Jesus walks from town to town, issuing a simple invitation: Come and see. The ones who respond to the invitation offer the same invitation to their friends. Come and see.
There are several powerful messages for us here in this Gospel. We, too, have been offered this invitation…Come and see. And what are we to make of what we see? How do we respond? Do we tell others? Do our lives change? Can other people tell that we’ve been changed?
One of the tasks that God calls all of us to do is to transform the world we live in, to make the Kingdom of God manifest here on earth. Jesus doesn’t start with a huge group. Jesus doesn’t start with a huge budget. Jesus doesn’t even have a building to call his own. Jesus shows us what we can accomplish on a small scale—and that small scale is capable of transforming the larger society.
On a daily basis, an hourly basis, God constantly calls us to come and see. God always calls us to transform the world and God promises that transformation is possible, that’s what being Resurrection People is all about.
When you are a minister, people ask about your call story. I often think they expect something dramatic, like Samuel, of Paul, or Luther. My story is very mundane, quite ordinary.
What’s your call story? And whom do you know who needs to know that God is looking for them? Whom do you know who needs a little nudge, who needs you to invite them, saying, “Come and see.” You are Philip—who is your Nathanael? Our calling is to be like Philip and invite others to “come and see” what God is doing in our lives and in GSLC; to “come and see” what a difference knowing Christ has made in our lives, individually and as a community; to “come and see” how Christ could make a difference in their lives too.
If we have become so jaded by the twisting of words and images, where do we find our ability to share something authentic about our faith? Perhaps the answer lies in taking a look at our own experiences with God’s love, revealed in Christ, and sharing it. Others trusted Philip. He didn’t ask people who didn’t know him to “come and see!” He’d already created a relationship a foundation of trust. Maybe the gospel’s word for us today is to start with what we know and invite others to experience that with us.
It isn’t, “Hey check that out,” but “come and see!” We bring others into our experiences of God and God’s love. That is authentic. That is inviting. That is encouraging. This is what Philip models for us and Jesus promises Philip that he will see much more than he bargained for. Let’s not invite others to “Come & See” the fake news, let’s invite them to “Come & See” the good news.