Epiphany





Good Morning Church,

What do we know about Jesus? We know that He is surely God's Son, his one and only Son. Jesus is God. He is Savior. He died to forgive us of our sins. He will come again to take us to heaven.


What else could we learn about this person we call Jesus? Well, it's part of the reason we have this season of the church year called Epiphany. This is one of the season’s when the spotlight is completely on Jesus, to show him more fully, to reveal perhaps if possible aspects of who he is which we have not seen before, or which perhaps we have forgotten. The incident of the life of Jesus we read in the Gospel writer, St. John's version of the life of Jesus read for you today, reveals some surprising aspect of this Jesus and a person's relationship with him.


Jesus is about to leave the northern area of Palestine called Galilee to go other places. As Jesus is about to leave, he finds a man named Philip. He turns too Philip and calls on him to: “Follow me.” We know what Philips answer ends up being because he will become one of the 12 disciples. We even see Philip telling others too: “Come and See.”


What we gather from this brief first interaction is that Jesus finds the people that he believes will take those next steps in faith and gives them a little push. Philip was not looking for a master to follow, instead the master found him. Found, discovered, I guess, called, we might say, to be a follower of Jesus.


Back in the mid 70’s there was a campaign that was promoted by Campus Crusade, what is now called CRU, that was called “I Found It!” The purpose of the campaign was that you would have something like a bumper sticker on your car that would encourage conversations with other people and you could then share your story. Campaigns like this have been the cornerstone of American Evangelicalism for decades, but they are not exactly the kind of evangelism that Jesus was teaching his disciples.


Remember the story of Philip? Jesus was not walking through town with a bumper sticker on his his satchel he may have been carrying, hoping for the other person to begin the conversation. No, rather Jesus reached out to them first. He came and walked amongst the communities that he was visiting. With Philip, Christ called him to come and follow him. In other instances, Jesus commits acts of healing and grace for communities. So often a communities introduction to Jesus comes in personal and physical ways.


Jesus does not wait for us to make a choice to follow him. Jesus comes to walk in our lives with us. So, what does it mean, to follow Jesus? It means to leave all other pursuits in life and put him front and center. It means that from now on, this Jesus will be 1 in life, above all other aspects of life. It means that we accept everyone as an equal and work to build a better society for all people.


As a young Evangelical Christian, I found that church so often was seen from an insider vs outsider perspective. We would love to have you come and live amongst our community, so long as you follow our stringent rules that we might not always follow, but if you chose not to join our community you are an enemy from the churches perspective. As the outsider, you are not “in-line” with the teachings of the bible. If you question those teachings, you are no longer “in-line” with the church.


Now as a minister, I do wonder some times whether we "seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness." I wonder if we believe, that then "all [other] things will be added" that we need to our life. In thinking about all of that, I consider what it meant for Philip to follow Jesus. He did not go to class. He did not get himself baptized. He did not "join" a church. And he certainly did not sign any kind of commitment card. He found his brother, Nathanael, and told him about Jesus. In other words, he told what had happened to him to someone he deeply cared for. I want to remind you all that this is the first action of a "follower" of Jesus.


So often in the Church we place so much importance on the public profession and the stuff, but once we have done that we kind of go into coasting mode for the rest of our lives. We use phrases like being saved and think that is all this whole thing is even about, yet we forget the simple lessons of Christ to welcome all and seek out others.


Evangelism has been simplified so much so that we believe it is simply about "Spreading the Word.” This usually involves some committee or group or slightly weird group of people who talk Jesus talk all the time! If, and I say, if the standard for following Jesus is precisely this, to tell those we love of Jesus, could you or I even come close to being considered: followers of Jesus?


An important aspect of Philip's telling about Jesus to Nathanael is that he, Philip, "found" him, just as Jesus had found him. Philip doesn’t give the huge philosophical argument for why his brother should follow Christ, instead he simply shares what has happened to him. Jesus calls people to come and see, what he doesn’t do is try to convince people of what they should believe. Jesus allows for his actions, the actions of his followers, and the love and grace of God to be the deciding factors. Philip shared what was good news for him with someone else. That is what it means: to follow Jesus! Is the good news of Jesus "good" enough to share with someone else?


We must remind ourselves of people like Philip and how he believed so strongly that the truth he knew of Jesus was worth sharing. It’s not about whether or not we have exciting and cool worship experiences or even whether or not we have the best church programing, but rather is about the will and intention behind all that we do. Are we choosing to share the immense love of Jesus Christ in ways that will leave a lasting impact on those we share it with? Are we living up to the example that Jesus set for all his followers to come? Is Jesus the central component of our message?


A final aspect of what it means: to follow Jesus is Nathanael's meeting with Jesus, an absolutely fascinating and intriguing dialogue. Nathanael goes to see Jesus, check him out, check whether Philip's got something here or is he and this Jesus full of beans. When Jesus sees him, his comment is: "You are a true Israelite. You tell it like it is." What does Jesus mean by this "true Israelite," "nothing false in him?"


Jesus sees in Nathanael a person who is not scared to question something. He is willing to take what is given and analyze the facts with the reason that he inherently has. Maybe that is what is meant by Jesus finding him under a fig tree, a place to think things through and consider what the real meaning is of this Jesus.


Nathanael is someone who doesn’t just take what he is told as fact, but rather gives it time to think through what he has been presented with. I believe that this could be a really good representation of the rest of the world outside of Christianity. It is important to remember that those who think differently then we do are not bad, or foolish, but are thoughtful and intelligent people too. And how do we see Jesus responding to him? Jesus is respectful of him, even in his uncertainty, and even shows respect to him before he offers a little more to show who he as Christ truly is. Maybe that is the lesson that Christians need to take from this interaction. We are called to be showing love for our neighbors, to invite them to come along the journey and to respect them when they do not understand or even agree. We are called to create space and live as Jesus taught us to live, allowing for our lives to be examples of God’s grace.


To be in the presence of God, is part of what it means: to follow Jesus. To have the grace for others even when we quantify the love of Jesus or not. We are to remember that Jesus is the one on which the whole world rests, that he has all of us in the palm of his hands. We are therefore called to act in such a way as to exemplify this knowledge for others. In doing so and believing in the love of Jesus Christ, we can help to transform this world into the kingdom come. I encourage us to begin this new year with a new sense of purpose in faith and life, to take what we have done in years past and expand this love to as many people as possible. I encourage us to be even more acutely aware of where God is leading us and to whom God is leading us. Let us create inclusive and welcoming spaces where all can come and ask questions and seek healing. In doing so we will find Jesus in others and see Jesus in our world.