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Epiphany 2B Sermon
John 1: 43-51
17, 2021


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John 1:43-51

43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, ‘Follow me.’ 44Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45Philip 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.’ 46Nathanael said to him, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ Philip said to him, ‘Come and see.’ 47When Jesus saw Nathanael coming towards him, he said of him, ‘Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!’ 48Nathanael asked him, ‘Where did you come to know me?’ Jesus answered, ‘I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.’ 49Nathanael replied, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’ 50Jesus answered, ‘Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.’ 51And 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 grace, mercy and peace of God be with us in the name of our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ; Amen.

My friend and colleague, Pastor June Wilkins, is preparing to leave as pastor of Gethsemane Lutheran Church just north of here and become the pastor of an ELCA congregation in Hilton Head, South Carolina. She and her husband, Bob, have been packing up their house for several weeks, now, and it is on the market. One of the tasks in this has been to pack up the items in their basement. At one time, every square inch of it was covered with pop-culture collectibles from the 1950s through the seventies. It was incredible - everything from Howdy Doodie to Batman, the Flintstones to Happy Days. And of course, they had an entire room in their house dedicated to The Beatles!! Some of the items were sold, and most were packed away. Now (according to a picture posted on Facebook recently) the floor and walls are bare.

I have mentioned this amazing sight before, and the reason that I mention it again is because of the three simple words that we hear Philip tell Nathanael in our Gospel reading - “Come and See!” When I first witnessed Bob and June’s basement, it was one of those experiences that I couldn’t help but want to share with others, so I told many people that they should, “Come and See”. I was really moved and uplifted by the many toys and other items that brought back memories of my own childhood.

Jesus finds four disciples in this reading. They don’t find him, nor are they really looking for anything special. Jesus finds them and says, “Follow Me.” Earlier in this chapter, Jesus has already invited a group of John’s disciples - including brothers Simon and Andrew to “Come and See” where he was staying. Jesus will hear the words, “Come and see” in John 11 when he asks where they laid Lazarus’ body. These words are invitational. They invite someone into an experience that will be life changing. They invite someone into relationship based on shared experience and interest; and in the case of Jesus, they invite someone to physically follow the one who is about to make the presence of God manifest in the world!

Our calling is always to “Come and see.” We do not observe at a distance, pondering what it all might mean. Mother Teresa was once visited by a rich donor who wanted to give to her work. Teresa pressed the checkbook back into her 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. She told the woman to care for the child, which she did, taking the little girl into her lap, wiping her brow and feeding her. Mother Teresa once said that when we care for a child, we are caring for Jesus; when we love the unloved, we are loving Jesus. When Jesus invites us to come and see the work that he is still doing in the world, it is more than just seeing with our eyes; it is joining him with our whole lives.

We sometimes chuckle at Nathanael because after Jesus recognizes him and he asks, “How do you know me?” Jesus answers that he saw him sitting under the fig tree. This really seems to strike a chord with Nathanael - he responds, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God, the King of Israel!” Seems odd, doesn’t it? That simply because Jesus noticed him snacking on some of the fallen figs or finding shade on a hot Middle Eastern afternoon, he should be inspired to follow as a disciple of the Son of God? To be noticed is something - that someone might make a mental note of someone who isn’t doing or saying anything special or spectacular but is just … there! Going back to one of Bob and June’s favorites, the Beatles once sang, “I saw you standing there!” Paul and John also wrote such lyrics as, “I’ve just seen a face I can’t forget.” Now, these are more love songs, from the perspective of a guy trying to get up the courage to tell a girl how he feels, but it all begins because the singer noticed the one to whom he is devoted and wants to invite her into a relationship.

We still sometimes wonder what about someone catches another’s attention. Why would Jesus notice Nathanael, Philip, Simon, Andrew … and you and me! In terms of valuable, saintly abilities or attitudes, we all fall short of considering ourselves “desirable” to be found or chosen by God. It’s not like the Capital One commercial about easy decisions where the kids on the playground basketball court pick Charles Barkley first … and six foot six inch Sir Charles, former NBA MVP responds, “Yes, I still got it! I told you she’d pick me first!” No, we don’t bring those kind of skills to attract the eye of Jesus so much that we are going to crush all of his enemies. But that seems to be the way that Jesus works. Simon and Andrew - along with James and John - were fishermen, and we will hear their call story next week from Mark 1.
According to the resource, “The Lives of the Saints,” Phillip of Bethsaida was a married man with several daughters, who would preach in Asia Minor after Pentecost Day. Nathanael was also known as Bartholomew, a name which probably describes his lineage - bar means “son of” and the “-tholomew” is probably the English version of “Tolomai.” Most think that Nathanael, son of Tolomai was of noble birth. That makes his question, “can anything good come out of Nazareth” make sense in context - he was probably looking for a king who would be valuable in the world’s standards. So, Thomas invites him to, “Come and See,” then Jesus invites him to participate in what God is doing in the world that is of even more value than what earthly nobility is doing. Both men, friends who come from different backgrounds, have this in common - they followed Jesus, witnessed his ministry, death and resurrected body, were baptized with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and shared the Good News of Jesus in such a way that the authorities of the world had them martyred in some manner or another.

Jesus noticed them, invited them into God’s vision of discipleship - following and abiding in God’s love through Jesus Christ. Jesus even describes it in a way that we experience the barrier between heaven and earth - the separation of God’s presence and our lives - to be abolished so that all will witness the power of Jesus’ love. That is a vision that will come to full fruition on the cross and empty tomb. When that act of sacrifice and love is fulfilled, then the full extent of God’s saving and healing power in our world is experienced by all. This is the vision or reality into which we are being called by Jesus even today as we remember those he called during his earthly life.

Friday was the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and tomorrow is the national holiday that bears his name. In probably his most famous speech, Dr. King invited us into a vision where the barriers of heaven and earth are destroyed, and God’s reign invades our sinful and imperfect world. King’s vision into which he invites us is rooted in the American dream because our own foundational documents proclaim that we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal - and we would say all people are created equal today. It is a vision of people who formerly persecuted and were persecuted, living together in the truth of that equality - children of former slaves sitting down at table with children of former slaveowners, places of injustice being transformed into oases of freedom and justice, and most of all - the vision of a reality where people are not judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. I was not quite born when Dr. King shared that vision, but I know that it was shared as an invitation not only to the thousands gathered in Washington DC to hear it, but also to all people who would continue and still continue to come and see what God is doing in the world. I believe that this is what God is doing. We see the actions of folks who oppose that vision still today - and I know that I still participate in ways that prevent it from becoming reality; but our call as Jesus’ disciples is to grasp on to that vision, and to follow Jesus as the one who loves perfectly, and to share whatever it is that God has blessed us with so that all people experience the breaking down of the barriers between God’s heavenly reign and this sinful and yet so precious creation that God seeks to redeem through Jesus Christ.

Even though we are not together in person, it is still important to hear the invitation spoken to us by Jesus - to Come and See - and to invite others to do the same as we anticipate the unfolding of God’s vision of love in this world. Amen.