January 17, 2021 Second Sunday after Epiphany The text is John1:43-51.
43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45 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.” 46 Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47 When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” 48 Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” 49 Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50 Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” 51 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.”
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to You, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.
Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God the Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
The Scriptures don’t specifically tell us how old Jesus was when the Wise Men visited and had that first Epiphany, the initial revelation of who, and what Jesus was, and is. And, contrary to the way every Nativity scene is composed each year, Scripture tells us that when the Maji did arrive, they encountered Jesus and his mother, Mary in a house; not at the manger. It’s likely that the star they followed directed them to find the infant Jesus when he was around two years old. And Herod’s edict ordering the slaughter of all the male children two years old and younger serves to confirm this understanding of how old Jesus was when the first Epiphany occurred.
Last Sunday’s Gospel lesson recounted the very first public acknowledgement of the identity of Jesus as the Messiah when he was baptized by John. We read that God himself proclaimed Jesus as God’s own Son. This served as an epiphany for those gathered at the river Jordan being cleansed of their sins by John the Baptist. And this morning the revelations continue; it seems that the season of Epiphany includes quite a few more revelations than that of the Magi and the baptized at the river. This, even though God himself made his declaration confirming Jesus as the Christ at the Jordan. Apparently, people need to come to this conclusion individually, on their own. While some instinctively recognized Jesus’ identity, others needed a bit more convincing. We will read next Sunday that Jesus simply told a group of men mending their nets that they would fish for people if they were to follow him. Thus, Simon Peter, his brother Andrew, and James and John would immediately leave their nets and fishing boats behind, to follow this itinerant Nazarene preacher. Their epiphany was immediate.
But this morning, it’s Phillip and Nathanael and there is a bit more convincing needed. Let’s be honest, Nathanael seems a bit disparaging when Phillip tells him that he has found Jesus, who comes from Nazareth. He says, basically, “what good could possibly come from that backwater town?” So, he’s predisposed to be dismissive of Jesus before he even meets him. But as soon as Jesus tells him he saw him sitting under the fig tree, he responds by naming Jesus as “Rabbi”, “Son of God”, and “King of Israel”. This is a rather abrupt turn-around. Nonetheless, Nathanael also experiences his epiphany as he comes to realize Jesus’ identity. By the way, in Hebrew Nathanael means “gifted by God”. Interesting then that Nathanael’s insight into Jesus’ divine nature actually parallels his own name. And quite ironic that Jesus is sent by the Father as the ultimate gift of God to redeem God’s people.
The Wise Men were compelled by the star they followed to “come and see” the newborn king. And the gospel this morning tells us that Phillip told Nathanael to, “come and see” what Jesus was all about. Jesus then tells Nathanael that he will, “see greater things” and “see heaven opened up”, and he will “see angels”. When Nathanael asks Jesus how he came to know him, Jesus replied that he “saw” him sitting under the fig tree. There seems to be quite a lot of being called to “come and see” something or someone in these texts. In the first reading Samuel, who isn’t a person of faith finds himself being called by the Lord because there are things that God wants Samuel to know.
And all the epiphanies we’ve read about, these were also revealed after people heeded the call to “come and see”. This revelation results in faith; faith in Jesus, who Nathanael rightly announces is the “Son of God”. And along with these revelations, these epiphanies, comes another calling. For, once someone does come to discover what is revealed in the identity of Christ, that’s when the call to “come and see” is replaced with the admonition to “come and serve”. And those who most dramatically answered this call were Jesus’ first followers. Phillip and Nathanael this morning, Simon Peter, Andrew, James, and John next Sunday, and the rest of the Apostles as Jesus calls them to “come and see” and to “come and serve”. We’re told that, for the most part they left their comfort zones to follow Jesus “immediately”.
The time period between the first Epiphany of the Wise Men and Jesus’ calling of the Apostles is about thirty years. And over the last 2,000, people have been called to “come and see”; to discover for themselves the nature of Christ Jesus, as God’s Son. And, the call to serve has also continued unabated. And since Jesus has returned to the Father, the call to “see” now comes through the work of the Holy Spirit. Martin Luther wrote that we are not able to “come and see” Christ of our own ability, but that only by the action of the Holy Spirit are we called to “see”; to come to faith, and to “serve”. And this mandate to serve includes our calling to invite others to “come and see” this Jesus, the One recognized by Nathanael as the “Son of God”.
A ten-year study revealed that 86% of people who visit a church for the first time did so because they were invited by a family member or a friend. People don’t generally stumble into a church on their own; someone suggested that they “come and see”. The sad part is that this same study reported that only 2% of members have ever invited an unchurched person to come to their church. Granted, in these times of isolation and quarantine it would be quite a challenge to convince people to come to services in a place where they have never been and probably only know the one person who invited them. So, we can be forgiven if we put this part of “come and see” on hold for a time. Yet, Jesus’ command to “make disciples” remains; and this is really just another way to express “come and see”.
And this admonition isn’t confined to dragging our neighbors to church just to fill the pews. While a Sunday service filled to overflowing would be wonderful, Jesus was more concerned with bringing people to faith and not necessarily to church. Our call to serve may be undertaken in many ways. And not all of them need be centered around actual evangelism; specifically telling others to “come and see”. Jesus told the apostles that the world would recognize them as his followers if they acted toward one another as Christ acted toward them. And these actions extend to the way we act with those others who have not yet “come and seen”. A very large number of our neighbors have found themselves nearly fully isolated over the last eleven months; many depend on the kindness and concern of others for food deliveries, a prepared meal, or a simple phone call to check on them. The recent card-writing program from the members Emanuel prompted quite a few return calls and notes letting the church know how much this expression of kindness meant to those who received the cards.
We hear frequently from the leadership at the Guild of St. Agnes, telling us how much the families they serve appreciate the food donations that Emanuel has delivered. The Giving Tree continued this year at Christmas and helped brighten the Holidays for a great number of folks in need. These are examples of corporate expressions of service to others. And while these are worthy and we ought to continue in this direction, I submit that the actions of individuals have far greater impact that that of any institution.
Jesus called his first followers one-by-one, telling each to “come and see” what he was all about. We too should find ways that each of us might reach out to others, to provide help, comfort, or simple friendship to those who are most vulnerable in these times of worry, seclusion, and loneliness. And each time a follower of Christ extends a hand to help it is done in the name of the One who called us to “come and see”, and as we do so we are transmitting that same invitation to those we serve. To “come and see” how people who follow Jesus act toward those whom he has called to “come and serve”.
Will you pray with me? Good and gracious and Holy God, you have sent your Holy Spirit to us, telling us to “come and see” Jesus. Give us the will and the strength to reach out to invite others to do the same, so that they too may inherit your promises brought about by faith in your Son. And we pray these things in the name of Jesus Christ, the One who promises we will “see greater things than these”. Amen.
God is Good, all the time. All the time, God is Good.