Sunday, January 18, 2015

Sermon; Epiphany 2B; John 1:43-51

I find today's gospel to be an odd little story.  Two days ago, John the Baptist identified Jesus as the Son of God.  Yesterday, John again identified him as the Lamb of God.  At that time two of his disciples, Andrew and one unnamed (I'll call him, 'Bob'), decided to leave John and follow Jesus.  Andrew then went and told his brother Simon that they had found the Messiah.

And today Jesus goes to Galilee where he called Philip to follow him.  Philip then goes, finds Nathanael, and tells him that they have found the Messiah.  Nathanael famously replies, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

He and Jesus exchange words, Jesus telling him that he saw him under the fig tree before Philip called him, and Nathan making the proclamation that Jesus is the Son of God and King of Israel.  Nathan then disappears from the gospel story until the post-resurrection fish fry in Chapter 21.

Where do we go with this?  Do we focus on the titles John gives to Jesus – Son of God and Lamb of God?  Do we focus on Nathan's extreme willingness (some might say gullibility) to proclaim Jesus as Son of God and King of Israel?  Do we focus on Nathan's innocence (an Israelite in whom there is no deceit)?  All of the above?  None of the above?

I'll take Option Number 5 – none of the above.  Instead, I want to focus on what we might overlook (because I’ve overlooked it many times before), and that is discovery and evangelism.

First, discovery.  In the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke), Jesus calls the disciples to him.  He calls Simon and Andrew and James and John out of their fishing boats.  He calls Matthew away from his tax collecting business.  All of this calling reminds me of Hymn 550: Jesus calls us o'er the tumult of our life's wild restless sea, day by day his clear voice soundeth, saying, “Christian, follow me.”

Our imaginations and memories are filled with that type of imagery: Jesus calling to us; Jesus knocking on the door; Jesus calling and searching for us like lost lambs.  But John has given us a different vision.  In John, Jesus doesn't necessarily call his disciples to him as much as his disciples have been looking for him.  In this opening chapter of John, Philip is the only person Jesus explicitly calls.  Others – Andrew, Bob, Nathanael – come to Jesus through their own searching.

Andrew and Bob were disciples of John the Baptist.  However it happened, their search for the Messiah took them through John.  And John clearly proclaimed he wasn't the Messiah, but was a voice preparing the way.  They probably figured he would lead them to the right person.

Nathanael was also searching for the Messiah, but in a different way.  Jesus says he saw him under the fig tree.  The fig tree is a symbol for Israel.  By placing Nathan under the fig tree, John shows him to be searching for the Messiah within that tradition.  But Jesus didn't come as expected, or in a way that met Nathan's preconceived ideas about who the Messiah should be.  Maybe that's why he isn't mentioned again until the end of the story, because he spent all that time trying to figure out who Jesus is.

All of these people discovered who Jesus was.  Two of them immediately followed Jesus.  One had his preconceived ideas challenged, but eventually came to see him for who he was, not who he wanted him to be.

Second, evangelism.  In today's passage, and other places in John, we hear something along the lines of, “We have found the Messiah.  Come and see.”

John identifies Jesus as the Messiah and Andrew and Bob go to him.  Andrew tells his brother, Simon Peter, “We have found the Messiah,” and brings him to Jesus.  Philip found Nathanael and said, “Come and see.”  I/we have found.  Come and see.

Later in John, a Samaritan woman announces to her community, “Guess who I found?  Come and see.”

You know what?  That's the only way this endeavor is going to work – by inviting people to come and see.  We are all searching.  We are all inquirers.  And although there is some uncertainty in a search process, I would hope that we are all open to seeing where God might be calling us.  No matter where that search takes us, we need to continue to ask questions, delve into the mystery and learn.

And when we have found something that speaks to us, as happened with Andrew, Bob, Philip and the Samaritan woman, we need to invite other people to come and see.  Jesus may call us o'er the tumult of our life's wild restless sea, but that call often goes unanswered if there isn't anyone to help us into the boat.

Evangelism is a one-on-one endeavor.  It doesn't happen because we painted the doors red.  It doesn't happen by delivering clothes and snack packs to Ft. Vannoy.  It doesn't happen through liturgy.  It happens when we invite someone to come and see.

The Epiphany season is all about the manifestation of Christ to the world.  We saw that in the story of the wise men from the east.  We saw it in Jesus' baptism and heavenly announcement.  We see it today with the disciples inviting other people to come and see.

There are a lot of people who feel all alone in a wild, restless sea.

There are a lot of people searching.

There are not enough people inviting others to come and see.

This Epiphany season, may you so shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory that those whom you invite to come and see may behold him as Son of God and Savior of the world.



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