“An Invitation” Colchester Federated Church, January 17, 2021, Second Sunday after Epiphany (John 1:43-51)

Last Sunday—on Baptism of Christ Sunday—we considered the Sacrament of Baptism and how it’s the beginning of our journey into the Christian faith.  It’s the moment where we are incorporated into the universal church, the beginning of our walk as disciples of Jesus Christ.  We make vows in our faith tradition to be Christ’s disciple, to follow in the ways of our Savior, to resist oppression and evil, to show love and justice, and to bear witness to the work and word of Jesus Christ as well as we are able.[1]  Those promises aren’t just about what we believe, but about how we practice our Christian faith.  Those promises are about how Baptism fundamentally changes us and empowers us to show love and justice in the world.  Baptism and discipleship are linked together.  And it’s important for us to consider how we follow Jesus the Christ especially in light of all we are facing in our lives, in our communities, in our nation, and in our world these days.

Today’s Gospel story from John continues on with the theme of discipleship.  Jesus goes into Galilee and finds Philip, saying to him simply, “Follow me.”  Philip then goes and finds Nathanael and says, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law and the Prophets: Jesus, Joseph’s son, from Nazareth.”[2]  Philip is obviously very excited because he has already identified Jesus as the Messiah.  He knows that there’s something special about Jesus.  He can’t wait for his friend Nathanael to meet Jesus for himself.  Philip responds to Jesus’ invitation by finding someone else to join him on the journey. 

Sometimes church growth folks talk about everybody in church needing a job and a friend to feel as if they truly belong to a community of faith.  The most powerful form of evangelism remains people inviting friends to come and see.  It’s amazing to see this happen right after Jesus calls Philip.  Philip then goes and invites his friend Nathanael to join him.  That’s powerful stuff.  Because when we’re excited about something important in our lives, don’t we want to share it?  Though Nathanael responds to the invitation from Philip with a snarky one-liner, “Can anything from Nazareth be good?”[3] 

Yikes!  Talk about having some prejudice in judging a person simply by where they’re from.  How would we feel if someone asked, “Can anything from Colchester be good?”  We would be a bit offended, right?  That’s not a nice thing to say.  It just goes to show how people can have all sorts of assumptions about one another without knowing anything about them really.  Though Philip is undeterred.  He responds to the snark with a simple and direct, “Come and see.”[4]

To his credit, Nathanael listens to his friend Philip and does go and see Jesus.  Jesus and Nathanael have an interesting conversation where Jesus knows things about Nathanael that would be hard for anyone to know unless they are the Messiah.  Jesus says that he saw Nathanael under the fig tree.  Maybe that was a special place that Nathanael went to pray and Jesus knew that, knew that Nathanael was yearning to connect to something larger than himself.  Perhaps it was in reference to the prophet Hosea who wrote, “Like grapes in the wilderness, I found Israel.  In its first season, like the first fruit on the fig tree, I saw your ancestors.”[5]  At any rate, something clicked for Nathanael when Jesus referenced seeing him under the fig tree.  Nathanael comes out of that encounter a believer, “Rabbi, you are God’s Son.  You are the king of Israel.”[6]

In many ways, this Gospel story is about discipleship and how we respond to the calls of God in our lives.  It’s about saying yes to the invitation to come and see.  Come and see what this journey of faith is all about.  Come and see how your life will be changed.  Come and see Jesus for yourself.

We also remember that tomorrow is Martin Luther King Jr. Day.  It’s a day where we can pause and remember the ways that Dr. King invited us to come and see how we belong to one another in our country.  To come and see how Christians can truly see one another with the eyes of Jesus Christ.  When Dr. King found himself locked away in Birmingham Jail because of his participation in nonviolent demonstrations against segregation, he wrote a letter.  The letter was his response to a public statement of concern and caution that had been issued by eight white religious leaders of the South.  Dr. King was disheartened by their words. 

Dr. King wrote a response, “Beyond this, I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. Just as the eighth-century prophets left their little villages and carried their ‘thus saith the Lord’ far beyond the boundaries of their hometowns; and just as the Apostle Paul left his little village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to practically every hamlet and city of the Greco- Roman world, I too am compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my particular hometown. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid.

Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial ‘outside agitator’ idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider.”[7]

Can anything from Nazareth be good?  Can anything from Birmingham be good?  Or Washington D.C.?  Or Colchester?  We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality.  We are tied in a single garment of destiny.  Whatever affects one person directly affects everyone indirectly.  Dr. King was obviously well versed in our Christian tradition.  He lived into the idea that we are one another’s keeper.  We belong to one another.  Some days that’s a hopeful thought, and other days that’s a downright scary thought.  Because if we truly believe that we belong to each other, that means that I can’t just write you off because of where you’re from or who you hang out with or even what you believe.  It means that we are invited to respond to the invitation to come and see how we are to love one another.  Because that’s what Jesus taught us to do.  May it be so with us.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

[1] Order for Baptism in the United Church of Christ Book of Worship, 137.
[2] John 1:43 and John 1:45, Common English Bible.
[3] John 1:46.
[4] John 1:46.
[5] Hosea 9:10.
[6] John 1:49.
[7] Martin Luther King Jr., Letter from Birmingham Jail, August 1963, https://www.csuchico.edu/iege/_assets/documents/susi-letter-from-birmingham-jail.pdf

Photo by Rev. Lauren Lorincz.