By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
January 31, 2021
Mark 1:21–28 (ESV)
21 And they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath he entered the synagogue and was teaching. 22 And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes. 23 And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, 24 “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.” 25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 26 And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying out with a loud voice, came out of him. 27 And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” 28 And at once his fame spread everywhere throughout all the surrounding region of Galilee.
This past week has been interesting for me. I changed the type of work that I do outside of the church, which gave me a different perspective than I have had in a while. And we also had our Yearly Meeting Mini Conference. The conference was probably one of the better conferences we have had in a while, and we have had several good conferences, but this one was very timely. The topic was “Maximizing Our Kingdom Capacity During a Global Pandemic” but to be honest we did not talk a great deal about that. What we focused on the most was anger, sorrow, and what scripture calls lament.
The reason I liked this was because I did not realize just how upset and angry, I have been over the past few months. And I am not the only one. This past year has stretched us all. We have had to change aspects of how we do things. We must remember an extra piece of clothing every time we leave the house. We have had change aspect of our jobs and education. There is very little we have not had to change in our lives due to things outside of our control. For the most part we have adjusted quite well, but there is something within us that is a bit upset. We have to adjust, we cannot do things the way we have always done it, we resent this to some degree no matter how well we handle it. And our emotions are at play a bit. Then there is one little incident and it sets us off. Maybe someone asked you to put on a mask, maybe someone did not put on a mask. Maybe you noticed someone not washing their hands in a restroom. Maybe someone was standing too close, or maybe you were asked to take a step back. Maybe you are just tired of having to look through fogged over lenses all the time. Something triggers a response and the emotions bubble to the surface and it is not even the incident that you are upset about. Th reality is we are tired, we are drained, we are mourning the loss of the life we once lived, we are not upset about masks we are upset that our expectations are not met.
This is true about more than the pandemic and how we respond to it. We are constantly bombarded by unfulfilled expectations. Dissatisfaction with our jobs is often because it is not what we expected. When we look deeper into the divorce rates in our nation the reasons are not what we would expect. The most common issue we toss around is financial, but if we were to peel that layer away the underlying issues are unfulfilled expectations or uncommunicated expectations. When we pile these up over the course of time eventually we triggered by how our spouse squeezes the toothpaste and an argument ensues.
I want us to consider this in our lives. We have countless expectations we have never communicated and we assume everyone knows. I will give one example, every monthly meeting I am expected to give a report to the meeting but what goes into this report? For fourteen years I have asked respected and weighty Friends what is supposed to be in this report and I have never been given a clear answer. I have asked professors at Barclay College and Friends University and they will give examples but no real answer. Why when every Meeting and pastor knows they need to give a report, why can’t we tell the pastor what to put in the report? The answer is that there is not an answer. Everyone has a different expectation. Each person would like to know something but they have not expressed or communicated this and I would venture to say that many issues Meetings have with pastor deal with unexpected expectations on all sides.
Jesus goes to the place of worship and begins teaching. I first want to stop right here and make mention of something important. Jesus went to the place of worship. Scripture even goes as far as saying that Jesus made it his custom to go to the place of worship on the sabbath day. We need to remember this. We need the church. I do not necessarily mean that we need to meet in a building like this one, but we need to make it our custom to meet with others for mutual encouragement for our emotional and spiritual lives. Jesus made it his custom to meet with the community to worship.
This pandemic has been both a blessing and a curse in this area. It is a blessing because it has challenged our religious organization to come up with different plans and techniques to provide encouragement during a time where physical meeting has not been possible. This is extremely good. There are a number of things that we can do over the internet that make it possible to encourage others even over great distances. Over the past few months, I have met with Friends over zoom that live in two different states and we have worshiped and encouraged one another and it was a blessing. And just yesterday our Yearly Meeting was able to have a conference with people attending from across Mid America while one of the presenters was in Idaho. We could not do this before because many worship communities had not even explored the concepts of distant video interaction. These are blessings but there is a dark side too. Many have gotten comfortable with not meeting. Technology can not fully replace the psychological need of physical human interaction. We need to be around people physically. Some studies have proven that our brains do not fully function without other brains in proximity.
We need others to challenge us. We need others to expand our understand and to give us different perspectives. We need others to assist us in interpreting our lives, because at times we can become bound in a narrow point of view and unable to see a blessing just beyond our perception. We need others, we need communities. Jesus affirms this and makes it part of his holy rhythm of life. We need each other. I think I have mentioned this on multiple occasions. And we need people that have had different life experiences so that they can speak from a different perspective.
Jesus goes to the place of worship, and he begins to teach. Those present at that meeting for worship are astonished at the way he is teaching. The gospel writer says that he spoke as one with authority and not as the scribes. I find this fascinating because it seems a bit upside down. The scribes would have spoken from their knowledge and knowledge has power. They would have had confidence in what they were saying because they had footnotes and references. If you questioned their interpretation you could look it up. Maybe not look it up but you could ask another scribe to verify what they had said. They had the power and the authority of centuries of theological interpretations, yet the people at that synagogue were astonished by what Jesus taught because he spoke with authority. Like I said this seems a bit upside down, so what is the authority that Jesus is using? Is it confidence? Is it the fact that he is speaking from his divine personhood? It could be, but there is more. Authority can mean that he spoke in a way that alluded to an ability to perform. Usually when we think of authority we think of enforcement of legal standards, but authority could also come from life experience. I might have knowledge of things. I could tell you about pregnancy and how birth occurs, but I cannot speak with authority because I have not experienced it. I would be one of the last people an expectant mother would ask for encouragement but there are some in this room that they would quickly seek out for answers to their questions. That is authority. They were astonished because Jesus spoke in a manner that could be lived, and he spoke from authentic life experiences.
There is power in that kind of authority that goes beyond words in a book. I love knowledge. I would go back to school tomorrow if I could, to gain as much knowledge as possible, but knowledge can only take us so far. Our lives have power. Our experiences have power. We can debate until our bodies can no longer stand, and not move a single person closer to our opinion. But if we engage them in conversation, if we were to walk with them and show them a different perspective of life, we could change the world. Our testimony, our witness, our life experiences have more collective power than any sermon I will ever preach, because our life experiences are real. You might think your life is boring or uneventful but there is power there.
Jesus spoke from experience, and he spoke in a way that inspired people to believe that their lives could be lived differently. They were attracted to what he said. It was different and intriguing. It made them want to believe. But there is something else going on within this community. Not everyone is impressed with the way Jesus is presenting things. There was a man in the synagogue with an unclean spirit, who cried out against Jesus.
I want us to consider this for a moment. I want us to fully consider this scene in our minds. If we were to examine the books of the law and the prophets, we would understand that not just anyone could enter this meeting for worship. There were obligations required for people to enter this sacred place. This man, this man with an unclean spirit, met all the religious obligations and yet something was not right. Jesus spoke and this man would have nothing to do with what was being said, he was triggered so to speak. This is terrifying to consider. This man from all appearances was acceptable within the religious community, he might have even been considered as respectable, yet in the two thousand years of church history we see him as a demon possessed man. We see him as being someone outside acceptable religious circles, but he was in the synagogue. He was accepted as part of that community.
He listens to the words of Jesus, and he cries out, “What do you have to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are – the holy one of God.” I want us to just stop for a moment and consider the words that he is saying, but I want us to think of them from a different perspective. “What do you have to do with us,” is the first statement which is followed by Jesus’s name and his hometown. Could this man be disgruntled because Jesus is not from their community? Could he just as easily be saying, “Wait a second Jesus, we don’t do things like that here. That might work where you are from but not here.”
Next, he says, “Have you come to destroy us?” Have you ever had thoughts like this? I know some of us have because I have read Facebook posts and I have listened to enough conversations to know that many believe that if someone does not have the same opinions as we do, they are going to destroy our nation. I hope that hits us a bit, because as I prayed with this passage this past week, I felt like God hit me hard enough to leave a bruise.
Then the last statement, “I know who you are – the holy one of God.” Could this be sarcasm? Could this man be making a statement attempting to discredit Jesus? If he knew the family that Jesus came from, he might have known the questionable origin surrounding his birth. And the statement about the holy one of God is offset in our translation as if the man might be jeering. I know who you are. I know your family. I know what you did in high school and you are here trying to tell me how to live my life, really?
We often approach this passage and we see the power of Jesus over the unclean spirit, but what if we are that man? What if our words, our actions, our judgmentalism is just as demonic as what this man presented in that place of worship? This terrifies me because I have been that guy. I have discredited ideas presented by others because we just do not do that here. I have participated in conversations where I have accused someone of attempting to destroy everything me and my ancestors have tried to build up. I have made judgments based on past actions instead of current reality. I am this unclean man and I am a leader in a religious organization. I have power and respect. And I recognize this in myself. And I have also been on the receiving end of this as well. I am unclean. We are unclean.
We can get so bound in ourselves and what we think is correct that we can hinder the gospel that we claim to love. We can be so trapped in our ways of thinking and our traditions that we can drive people away from the kingdom instead of attracting people to a life of repentance. And we see this in our communities.
Jesus does not let it stand though. He looks at that man. The man approaches Jesus filled with self-righteous fervor, pointing his finger at Jesus’s chest making these statements. And Jesus tells him to be still.
Be still. We do not have to debate. We do not have to argue. If we are together in this place of worship our goals should be the same. Everything that we do and everything that we say should be done for a similar purpose. When we leave this place on a Sunday afternoon, we should be inspired to live our lives reflecting the holy life of Christ in a world that is filled with darkness. But the world so often does not see what we want them to see. The world so often makes statements about us that are untrue and it pains our spirits. We go out and we wonder why do people not come to church? Why do people leave the church? Why do they not love Jesus? Be still.
Are we showing them the truth? Are we speaking with authenticity? Are we living the life we claim? Be still. If people are saying things that we believe to be untrue about us, are we living a life that proves their falsehood or ours? Have we considered the possibility that we can be wrong?
In our conference yesterday they put a quote from Eugene Peterson on the screen that says, “The Jesus way wedded to the Jesus truth brings about the Jesus life. We can’t proclaim the Jesus truth but then do it any old way we like. Nor can we follow the Jesus way without speaking the Jesus truth.” Our words and our actions must be united. Jesus is speaking to us with authority, but are we listening? Jesus is praying that the kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven, are we praying with him? Are we Friends of Jesus or are we like that man in the synagogue pointing a finger?
By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
January 24, 2021
Mark 1:14–20 (ESV)
14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” 16 Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. 17 And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” 18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19 And going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20 And immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed him.
Again, we meet Jesus at the beginning of his ministry. The beginning of his revelation to us. He is just beginning to reveal the mystery of who he is and why he is here. Can you imagine what that might have been like? The people all around you eager for something to happen. There are some that are waiting for the warrior king who will come to push back the forces of Rome so that Israel will emerge once again as an independent nation. Then there are the people that are not necessarily opposed to Roman rule but are eagerly waiting for the Priest that will guide the people of God back to the spiritual fold of God. And some just want to hear the voice of God through a Prophet like the days of old. Prophet, priest, or king. Israel is eagerly waiting for something to happen, yet they are unsure of what it might be.
Some of the people remember stories that their parents had talked about the strange things that happened when they were younger. They remember the stories of that priest that had been visited by an angel when he was serving in the temple and was unable to speak until his formally barren wife gave birth and the name of John was given. They remember hearing about the magi from Persia coming into their little province, speaking about a star that they had seen in the sky and how they were there to find the King of the Jews. They know people who had experienced the sociopathic fit of Herod when he sent the troops out to Bethlehem and slaughtered the innocents. They remember how their relatives mourned when they looked back at that day. They remember the stories, but those stories happened a lifetime ago. Their parents were excited for the Messiah, but thirty years have gone by. Nothing has changed, they traded the cruel rule of Herod for governors sent from Rome. The tension is pulling tighter, and the people seem to be dividing even more.
Then something changes. There is a man preaching on the banks of the Jordan. He is wearing the garments of a prophet and he is crying out to everyone to repent. Crowds are gathering and this lunatic of a preacher is making the religious leaders nervous. And he is making the political authorities nervous as well. The excitement that your parents once had is beginning to build again. Could it be the one? Could this be the messiah? Could this really be happening?
The excitement is again building around the nation. This preacher cries out in the wilderness, and some ask are you the one we have been waiting for? He stops what he is saying as the question is asked and he stares out at the crowd. There is a hush, there is a holy anxiety that is building among all present and they listen even closer. And they hear the preacher laugh. Everyone looks at him in confusion, he had just called the religious leaders a brood of vipers, he had told the roman soldiers and the tax collectors to stop exploiting the people, he had basically told everyone listening that they were not worthy of the name Israel. And when people ask if he is the messiah he laughs, and he says “No, there is one coming. One who even I am unworthy to touch his shoes. I baptize with water; he will baptize with the spirit and fire.”
Everyone again begins to experience this righteous anticipation and anxiety. If they believe John, and believe him to be a prophet, and even he is unworthy of the one to come where do they stand? This goes on for days, maybe even months. Scripture does not give us a clear picture of how long John was out preaching in the wilderness, but we know that he was there long enough to attract the attention of all the wrong people if he was hoping to live a long and healthy life. But at some point, John began to direct his attention to something. A man would walk by and John would stop talking for a moment and just gaze at this man in wonder. Those that had become disciples of John, followed their teacher’s eyes and they saw the man. They recognized him as one of the laborers that had come into the area to do some work. Maybe he had been called to this area to work on the synagogue in Capernaum that a God-fearing soldier had donated renovation funds to. Some of them had conversations with this man. Some had even followed him to see where he lived. Because every time this man walked by John’s posture changed, and some of the disciples that had been closest to John had heard John mutter behold the lamb of God.
I want us to just imagine what that scene might have been like. Imagine the tension that might have been felt in and around Jerusalem. Imagine the years of anticipation, the heart ache, the arguing among the various factions within the religious community. And imagine the oddity of a carpenter or stone mason, causing a hush to come over a fire and brimstone preacher in the wilderness.
The mystery of Christ is layered. He was not someone that would attract attention, yet he attracted attention. He was common, and yet those that spoke to him were drawn deeper. The people of Israel had a righteous anxiety building. They were listening to John, and then all at once it was over, he was arrested. He was taken into a cell where his voice could be silenced and the threat, he posed to the ruling class could be minimized. You had put your faith in a man and it did not pan out. What do you do?
For thirty years the people of Israel had experienced a revival of sorts. And every time they began to get their hopes up life crashed down around them again. What will they do? They go back to what they know.
We all do this for various reasons. For some the stress of life has been weighing them down so they stop what they are doing, they step down from positions and they seek out a simpler lifestyle. I have done this a few times. I have moved up in the hierarchy of businesses and have realized that I had moved too fast and I was not ready for the struggles I was facing, so I step out. It is not always a bad thing. But then there are times we turn our backs on life. We get into a mindset that the world is stacked against you and instead of facing the challenges, we walk away. We walk away because of ignorance or maybe defeat. We step back not to examine a path forward, but we step out to avoid the unpleasantness of life.
Last week in John’s gospel account we saw Peter and Andrew, as well as Philip and Nathanial interacting with Jesus prior to him starting his ministry. Andrew follows Jesus to where he was staying, and Philip walked with Jesus on his way to another town. Jesus met them where they were, and he encouraged them in that place. Today we do not see these people in the same place they once were. John the Baptist had been arrested and with that arrest the excitement began to wane. The fishermen go back to their boats.
But something strange happened. This man that caused the Baptist to pause began to pick up at the place John left off. He picked up the message but there was a twist. John said that the time was near, but this man says, the time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand.
The first words of Jesus’s ministry excite me. “The time is fulfilled…” What comes to mind when you hear those words? For me I get a sense of anticipation. The time is fulfilled… something is about to happen, everything is in place, and whatever we were waiting for is about to start.
Then the second phrase, “and the kingdom of God is at hand.” Time is fulfilled, and the kingdom is right within our grasp. Jesus is not saying that there is something coming, he is saying, the thing you have been waiting for is right here and right now. I think we often miss this as we read through scripture. We as followers of Christ, often regard the kingdom as something off in the future, but Jesus is saying the exact opposite. What we desire the most is right here, we simply must reach out and it is not off in the future, but it is right now.
He goes on to say something like John, he calls for those that are listening, to repent, or to turn around. To repent is to stop what you are currently doing. Stop moving along the path you are currently on, turn, and take a different route. Repent and believe.
Believe. We miss the depth of this word. Often when we think of the word believe we assume that it means knowledge, but it is more than knowledge. It is trust. Jesus is calling us to turn, to stop looking off in a future realm because time is fulfilled and the kingdom is all around us, and to trust. We struggle with this form of belief. We are perfectly fine with the concept of knowledge, but to trust is much deeper than many of us are comfortable with.
Trust the gospel. John the Baptist has just been arrested, and Jesus steps up and says these words. John focused on the one to come, and Jesus is telling those that will listen to stop and look around us. What is going on around us?
There are plenty of things going on. Disease and riots. Divisions that threaten to rip our communities apart. We cry out to God to come and take us out of this deepening world of sin and vice, but do we trust? When we look at what is all around us are, we seeing what God sees?
Jesus speaks these words, and he walks away. His first sermon is one run on sentence, that directs our attention to the present work to be done. Why those words at that time?
Jesus leaves those words of trust hanging on the edge of the cliff. We do not know who was listening to this first sermon, but it challenges them. In what or in whom are we putting our trust in? Are we putting all our trust in the works and the minds of mankind, or are we trusting that God will lead us to where we should be? This is a difficult thing to consider. Because there are many factors involved. Should we fully disregard the things that mankind has developed? Or should we use the knowledge that we have to move forward in the future?
Jesus just leaves us to wrestle with this. He walks away. And we find him not on the banks of the Jordan, instead he is walking along the shore of the sea. And as he walks, he sees some of those people who were once devoted to the message of John. These men had gone back to what they had known before, they are out on the boat casting a net.
Once they are finished with what they were doing, and come into shore, Jesus speaks to them. He speaks in the vernacular of the fisherman. He says, “follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” I want us each to rest on this statement.
The kingdom of God is at hand, time is fulfilled, and fishers of men. Why is Jesus using such cryptic language? The concept of hooks and nets in the old testament is negative. It speaks of trapping and ensnaring people, and those that are caught are destroyed. But there are other types of nets, like a safety net for the performers at a circus. These nets are not there to destroy but to save.
The time is here, the kingdom is around us, and God is urging us to turn and trust. And he is telling us who and what we should be looking at. John cried out in the wilderness proclaiming that Israel was not worthy because of their sin, and Jesus is urging us to engage the world, engage the world so that we can lead people away from destruction and toward a relationship with God with us. Jesus is telling those first disciples, if you follow me you will see a shift of focus and that shift will change the way we see and act.
As we approach this week, I encourage us to pray that we will see the world through new eyes. That we will see with the potential of God, instead of the weakness of our bodies. Let us trust that God will do work in our communities through us if we are willing to turn.
By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
January 17, 2021
John 1:43–51 (ESV)
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 of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” 46 Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” 48 Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” 49 Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50 Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” 51 And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”
We are currently in the season of Epiphany in the church calendar. I know that Friends do not traditionally follow the liturgical church year, but I do find it to be helpful in my personal spiritual life. I like to walk with Jesus and his disciples through Jesus’s life and ministry, and the church year helps me do that. There is something profound when the seasons all around us, at least in the northern hemisphere, speak to the conditions of our own hearts. During the darkest days of winter, we celebrate the birth of Christ the light of the world that overcomes the darkness. When spring comes, we celebrate Easter, just as the world begins to bloom, we are reminded of the resurrected and glorified life of Christ. But this is usually where the free or non-liturgical churches stop. We forget about the long and hot days of summer and how they speak of the trials within our spiritual life which is the longest season of the year also known as ordinary time. Its ordinary because that is where most of the work is done, in pre-industrial societies it was during the summer when the when crops were tended and animals were led out to graze. And in the church, it is during the summer where we are reminded of the long processes of living the disciplined life and expanding influence of the church.
But there are a couple of other seasons not yet mentioned, the transition season. During the fall we have the gradual decline of the weather meteorologically, and this is highlighted in the church calendar with the ending of the ordinary time and the beginning of advent. The despair and longing for the coming messiah. Then as the days first being to get longer we have the season of Lent where we prepare ourselves for new life. Those are the major seasons of the church, but there are a few others. Some that last only a short time like Pentecost, which is the season between spring and summer which reminds us of the emerging church as we begin to get back outside to enjoy the warmer weather. And then there is this season of Epiphany what do we make of it?
Epiphany is hard. It is the time just after the joy of Christmas. The beauty of the holiday has past, the winter is set in and we do not want to get out. We start the new year during the season of Christmas, and when the new year comes, we are filled with great ambition. We set goals for ourselves. Things like: “I’m going to eat healthier,” or “I am going to read through the bible this year,” or maybe “I am going to finally kick some bad habit that I have been struggling with.” We set these goal or resolutions and in just a few short weeks, we have already forgotten them. That is the struggle of this season. The season of Epiphany focuses on the time of Jesus’ life that we do not really know a great deal about. We have great stories surrounding the birth of Christ, but we do not get much after that until he is approximately thirty years old. We get a few glimpses into what went on, like Jesus going to the temple and staying there when his family leaves, and the presents that the Magi bring when he was around two years old. But what else is there? We do not know. Jesus obviously lived a full life; we just do not see it in the pages of scripture. But we know that Jesus was still Jesus during that time. He lived within a family and community. He worked and he grew. He learned and he participated in the teaching and encouragement of those within the community. We know this because it was during this time Jesus developed his lifestyle that became the rhythm of the life we see in the pages of scripture.
Epiphany is the season of discipleship and discipline. It is the season of learning and testing. It is the season where we begin to see who Jesus is as a man and as God with us. It is during this season where the word of God is revealed. Because that is what Epiphany means, it is revelation and insight. We get to know God with us during this season. We begin to see and hear what Jesus is about, and we begin to take that walk with him. It is during this season that our journey begins.
Our passage today is early in Jesus’s ministry. Really, we could say that it is before Jesus begins his ministry. In the verses prior to today’s passage, we have John the Baptist’s ministry and testimony of Jesus. And we have the first invitation to the disciples. It is interesting to read these passages because we get a glimpse of the humility of Jesus. John is out on the banks of the Jordan screaming for Israel to repent and Jesus just walks by minding his own business and the screaming preacher stops talking for a moment and says almost in a hush, behold the lamb of God. And as Jesus is walking, he finds a couple of John’s disciples tagging along behind him. He walks and looks back and there they are. He walks some more and looks back again and they are still there. He finally asks them what they want, and they have this amazingly profound answer, “Rabbi where are you staying?”
At this point in time, Jesus, as far as anyone knew, was just an ordinary construction worker. He had not yet begun his ministry. He was just a man that was working with his relatives as a skilled craftsman as he had done for the past seventeen years. John called him the lamb of God, and these two guys just decided to follow him because if this man could silence John, he must be impressive.
But the invitation is interesting. He does not preach to them. He does not give them some formula to become his student. There is not an application processes, where they must meet certain requirements. They want to know where he is staying and Jesus simply tells them, “come and see.”
The next day, Jesus does not go back down to the Jordan where John is at, instead he travels north into Galilee. While he walks, he meets a man named Philip. We do not know how long they walked and talked with each other. We only know that Philip was from the same town as Andrew and Peter. And that Andrew and Peter had spoken with Jesus the previous night. What we do know is Philip, according to John’s gospel, was the first to be officially called to become Jesus’s disciple. Andrew and Peter were invited to come and you will see, but during the conversation that Philip had with Jesus, Jesus invited Philip to, “Follow me.”
Maybe Philip was just walking to the same village that Jesus was going to visit and just happened to be on the same path. We do not really know. But the conversation that they had inspired Philip to such a degree that once Jesus got to the place he was heading, Philip left for a brief amount of time to find his friend Nathanael. And He excitedly approached his friend and said, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”
Nathanael was just minding his own business when his friend come to him. If we look at his response, we can almost sense that he might be a bit annoyed with his friend for bothering him. You would think that with the news that was just given would have excited him, but Nathanael is skeptical. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” I like his response. I am like that. If you know me well you know that I do not get overly excited about very much. I need to see, observe, and study things for a bit before I begin to get excited. At times this makes people upset. They think that I do not take them seriously or that I do not recognize the seriousness of the situation. I am engaged, I just want to keep my eyes open to see what else is happening.
Nathanael seems skeptical but he is being rational. Nazareth did not really have the best reputation. It was not a center of culture. It was an area that was known for its narrowminded views on things. The people of Nazareth were rural, common, and simple. It was not a place that scholars emerged from, but it had its fair share of ideological rebels that seemed to stir up trouble. When Nathanael says, “can anything good come out of Nazareth?” He is being practical. He wonders if his friend is getting caught up in some conspiracy theory. Philip understands his friend’s skepticism and does not argue or engage in a debate. He simply replies, “come and see.”
I like this. It shows us something remarkable. Philip told his friend the exciting thing happening, but his friend was not buying it. His friend even tried to pick a fight with him, yet Philip did not argue. Maybe we could learn a thing or two from Philip in this age of social media. All the debates we seem to find ourselves entering on Facebook and twitter are not changing the minds of those we are talking to; it is just giving more fuel to their preconceived ideas. And are driving wedges in the relationships we have with them. For me personally, there are some friends and family members do not even want to talk to because everything I say will start another round of misunderstanding and pointless debate. Philip does not enter a debate. He does not add fuel to Nathanael’s prejudice, he simply offers an invitation to come and see for himself.
When I read this, it seems as if Philip’s response surprises Nathanael. It was not exactly the response he expected. It was obviously out of character for his friend. It intrigued him, so he followed his friend to meet Jesus.
Jesus sees them coming, and he greets Nathanael. “Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” I have always thought his is an interesting greeting. And as I sat praying this week over this passage, that sentence is where my mind rested. I thought about the wording and the history of Israel.
Israel is more than the name of a nation; it is a name of a person. It was the name given to the son of Isaac, Jacob, the prior to Jacob’s reunion with his brother Esau. It is important to remember this story because Jacob’s name has meaning like most names in scripture. Jacob means to follow, or to be behind but also to supplant, circumvent, assail, or overreach. In scripture Jacob lived out his name. He became known as a schemer and a trickster. He found a way to convince his brother to transfer the greater inheritance to him, and to get his father’s blessing. He also devised a scheme to increase his wealth while he lived with his uncle. But over the years all his schemes weighed on him. And when he approached the land of his brother, he was convinced that his brother would try to kill him. Jacob struggled with this in his mind, and one night, after he had sent his family into the land before him and he was alone on the border, he was visited by a stranger. For some reason Jacob wrestled and fought with this stranger though the entire night until the next morning. And at the end of this struggle, he came to the realization that he was struggling with God, and God gave him a new name. He was no longer Jacob, but Israel. And this new name means wrestles with God.
This story is seen in the greeting Jesus makes to Nathanael. Behold an Israelite indeed. This alludes to where Nathanael is spiritually. He is struggling, wrestling, not taking things at face value but looking deeper, he is seeking the truth. And like Jacob, he has a desire to put his previous life behind him yet does not really know how to move forward. Jesus reveals himself to Nathanael by revealing Nathanael himself.
The invitation that Jesus gives to each of us is like these first disciples. Jesus asks us each to come and see, and to follow. For some of us we simply listen and respond, and for others we the process takes a bit more time, and we must see it before we believe. This is the Epiphany. God will reveal himself to us in the way that we need when we need it. It shows us how we should approach life with each other, and how we should encourage those around us. It is not about having all the right words, but it is reflecting Jesus in our lives. I want us to think about this as we enter this time of open worship.
There is a natural response to share the gospel we know with other, but how are we doing it? We are urged and even commanded to go to Jerusalem, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth making disciples yet how are we doing that? Jesus shows us how. He shows us from the very beginning of his ministry. Build relationships and show a different way to live. Stop debating and listen, stop arguing and have a conversation. Everyone we know is struggling in some way, and Jesus I here with us in that struggle, and Jesus is speaking and offering healing for our condition if we are willing to simply come and see.