St Luke's Anglican Church in Enmore a lively, inclusive welcoming liturgical community

Come and See

Ser­mon preached at Enmore, Feast of St.Michael and All Angels, Sunday 25th Septem­ber 2016. Read­ing: John 1.43–51

“The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Fol­low me.” John’s Gos­pel is struc­tured around encoun­ters with Jesus. Again and again from the call­ing of the first dis­ciples, to the Phar­isee, Nicodemus, to the Samar­it­an woman at the well, to the crippled man by the pool, to the man born blind, to Mary and Martha and Laz­arus, to Pil­ate and to Thomas and Peter, char­ac­ters through­out John’s story are encountered by Jesus. John is clearly fas­cin­ated by the diverse nature of the people Jesus meets and the vari­ety of their responses to Jesus. And to all of these people, Jew and Gen­tile, rich and poor, right­eous and unright­eous, Jesus issues the same invit­a­tion, “Fol­low me.”

In today’s read­ing we are told that Jesus moves from Beth­any in the south to Galilee in the north and meets Philip in the town of Beth­saida. Most of our know­ledge about Philip comes from John’s Gos­pel. The evan­gel­ist por­trays him as a rather ordin­ary man who often seems to be out of his depth. Apart from our ini­tial intro­duc­tion to Philip, John gives us three vign­ettes involving Philip show­ing us his char­ac­ter. On the occa­sion of the feed­ing of the five thou­sand, Philip is the dis­ciple asked the ques­tion by Jesus: “Where will we buy bread so that these people can eat?” Philip’s response is to state the obvi­ous, “If we had two hun­dred den­arii and we were to spend it all on bread we would still have only enough to give all of them a little taste.” It was not the most ima­gin­at­ive reply. The next time we meet Philip is on the occa­sion when some Greek pil­grims come to him at Pas­sov­er time in Jer­u­s­alem and ask him “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” They were want­ing to meet the man every­one in Jer­u­s­alem was talk­ing about but Philip was per­plexed by this request and was obvi­ously unsure what his atti­tude to these Gen­tiles ought to be. In the end he passed the mat­ter on to his friend Andrew who went straight to Jesus.

The final glimpse we have of Philip is on the night before Jesus’ betray­al when the dis­ciples are togeth­er in the upper room. Jesus tells his fol­low­ers that he is about to leave them but they are not to be troubled or afraid because he is going to pre­pare a place for them so that where he is they can be also. Jesus then says, “I am the way, the truth and the life, no-one comes to the Fath­er except through me.” Philip’s response this time is to say, “Lord, show us the Fath­er and we will be sat­is­fied.” To which Jesus replies rather sadly, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Who­ever has seen me has seen the Fath­er.” In Philip’s defence, on each of these occa­sions, he was merely express­ing the thoughts and atti­tudes of most of the dis­ciples so we should not be too harsh in our judge­ment. But it is also heart­en­ing to know that this less than bril­liant dis­ciple was called by Jesus and con­sidered worthy to be part of his team.

We can also notice that when Philip was first invited to fol­low Jesus he respon­ded with alac­rity and went imme­di­ately to his friend Nath­an­ael to share the good news. He informs Nath­an­ael that they have found the one proph­es­ised through­out the Hebrew Scrip­tures and iden­ti­fies him as Jesus of Naz­areth. We don’t know if Philip had been a dis­ciple of John the Baptist but he was clearly an Israel­ite who stud­ied the Scrip­tures care­fully and was look­ing for the com­ing of the prom­ised Mes­si­ah. Nath­an­ael did not share Philip’s enthu­si­asm espe­cially when he heard that Jesus was from Naz­areth. Nath­an­ael came from Cana, anoth­er Galilean town up the road from Naz­areth but a town he obvi­ously felt was far super­i­or: “can any­thing good come out of Naz­areth?” is his rejoin­der. I grew up in Seaforth and atten­ded Bal­gow­lah Pub­lic School. It was a pretty aver­age school but none the less we believed it to be on a dif­fer­ent level from the oth­er nearest pub­lic school, Manly West. Our con­tempt for Manly West was extreme and build on a found­a­tion of pure pre­ju­dice. The rivalry between Naz­areth and Cana may have been equally ill foun­ded. Philip’s response to Nathanael’s neg­at­ive atti­tude was the wise and win­some invit­a­tion, “Come and see.”

“Come and see” is in many ways the heart of John’s Gos­pel and indeed the heart of Chris­ti­an evan­gel­ism. We are not asked to ram our faith down the throat of our friends or to threaten them with hell fire but instead to invite them to come and see what God is still doing in and through Jesus and the com­munity of his fol­low­ers who have heard his call to fol­low him. But the dif­fi­culty is that we even find that dif­fi­cult. We are often tim­id creatures, afraid to offend or chal­lenge the think­ing of our fam­ily or friends who don’t share our faith. The num­ber one reas­on people give for com­ing to church for the first time is a per­son­al invit­a­tion. Most of us in church today are here because at some time in our lives some­where invited us or per­suaded us to come and see — a par­ent, a friend or a rel­at­ive.

Nath­an­ael was per­suaded to come with Philip and meet Jesus. Jesus wel­comed him with the rather start­ling com­ment: “Here is truly an Israel­ite in whom there is no deceit.” This was a com­pli­ment. Every Israel­ite knew about the guile, or deceit of their fore­fath­er, Jac­ob who stole his broth­er, Esau’s bless­ing. He did so by dis­guising him­self as his broth­er and deceiv­ing his almost blind fath­er. Nath­an­ael is even more sur­prised when Jesus informs him that even before Nath­an­ael appeared Jesus had seen him sit­ting under a fig tree. Sit­ting under a fig tree was an image the proph­ets some­times used of the peace prom­ised in the Mes­si­an­ic age to come. Con­sequently Rabbi’s often liked to teach under fig trees. Years later, St. Augustine wrote in his Con­fes­sions that he was sit­ting under a fig tree when he heard the call of Jesus to pick up and read the New Test­a­ment.

Nath­an­ael is impressed and moves quickly from his ini­tial scep­ti­cism to a declar­a­tion of faith in Jesus as the Mes­si­ah, with the words: “Rabbi, You are the Son of God, you are the King of Israel.” Jesus’ slightly amused response to Nathanael’s state­ment could be roughly trans­lated as, ‘You ain’t seen noth­in’ yet.’ Nath­aneal will learn that fol­low­ing Jesus is not about being impressed by his super­i­or know­ledge or even his power to heal the sick but rather dis­cov­er­ing that Jesus is the one who brings heav­en and earth togeth­er. Jesus’ words: “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heav­en opened and the angels of God ascend­ing and des­cend­ing on the Son of Man” are anoth­er ref­er­ence to the pat­ri­arch, Jac­ob. When Jac­ob was flee­ing from his broth­er after his decep­tion, he camped for the night at a place called Beth­el where he had a dream. In his dream he saw a lad­der with its foot on the ground and its top reach­ing to heav­en and angels going up and down on it. (You knew we were going to get angels in some­where this morn­ing!) For Jac­ob the point of the dream was that des­pite his per­fidy God had not giv­en up on him but would con­tin­ue to bless him if he would only trust and serve God. He learnt that even in that lonely place God was present. Nath­an­ael and the oth­er fol­low­ers of Jesus were to learn that in the per­son of Jesus, God was present with them. Jesus is the one who brings heav­en and earth into unity. Jesus is the one medi­at­or between God and his way­ward cre­ation. He brings the real­it­ies of God to us and lifts us up to God. In Eph­esians, Paul speaks of us being raised with Christ and seated in the heav­enly places with him. So on this morn­ing when we remem­ber the angel­ic host who wor­ship God we are reminded that in the per­son of Jesus, heav­en has been brought to us and that God is not dis­tant but closer to us than we can ever ima­gine.

Philip Brad­ford