Epiphany 2 and Jesus is off to Galilee to make disciples. In Greek the word for “disciple” means learner, one who follows by hearing the voice of his teacher. From disciple we get the word discipline. A disciple is one who follows the discipline or teaching of his teacher.
One doesn’t decide to become a disciple. One is found and called to discipleship. You don’t choose a rabbi, a rabbi chooses you to be his pupil. “Finding Philip, Jesus said to him, “Follow me.” Philip didn’t find Jesus. He would not have known whom he was looking for or where to look. And he certainly would not have looked for a carpenter’s son from Nazareth. Jesus found Philip. Discipleship is all Jesus’ doing. He takes the initiative. He seeks Philip in Galilee. And you in Hacienda Heights.
“Follow me,” Jesus says. Those are disciple-making from the mouth of Jesus into the ears of Philip. Jesus’ words are Spirit and truth. They are enlivened and enlivening words that open ears to hear, loosen tongues to sing, raise the dead, and cause feet to follow. “Follow me,” Jesus said to the fishermen on the shores of Galilee. And Peter and Andrew, James and John followed him. “Follow me,” he said to Matthew in his tax collector’s office. And Matthew followed him. “Follow me,” he said to Philip when he found him in Galilee. “Follow me,” he says to you in your Baptism.
The call to follow is a costly call. It cost Jesus his life to issue it. To follow Jesus to loose one’s life in Jesus’ life, to die to one’s self in Jesus’ death. “If any one would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” To follow Jesus is to be nailed to his cross with him, to die in his death, and so to follow him through death and resurrection to eternal life. Did Philip fully understand all that? Probably not. He followed anyway. Believing is not understanding. Believing is trust. To follow Jesus is to trust him with your life and with your death.
The first thing Philip did was to find his friend Nathanael and tell him. “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Torah and about whom the prophets also wrote – Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Philip is so excited that he gets things backward. Philip didn’t find Jesus. Jesus found Philip. But there would be plenty of time to straighten out Philip’s sentences. The important thing is that he told his friend the same day he became a disciple. And what’s more, he did it without any special training or workshops, solely out of the joy of having met Jesus.
It’s what is called “evangelism.” But if you were to ask Philip what he was doing, he would say he was telling his friend Nathanael the exciting news of having met the Messiah. Philip wasn’t engaged in an activity. He was simply doing what anyone does when something exciting happens. You tell someone else.
There are two words that we ought to eliminate from our vocabulary for no other reason than they aren’t used in Scripture the way we use them: evangelism and stewardship. We ought to declare a ten-year moratorium in the church on the words “evangelism” and “stewardship.” Don’t use them for a decade. Declare a ban on methods, programs, videos, workshops, three-ring binders dealing with evangelism and stewardship. The more attention you pay to them, and the more you talk about them, the less of either one there will be.
The problem that we are always trying to tame the Lord and his church. We tend to bureaucratize, organize and institutionalize. We make the church into a professional institution modeled after the organizational structures of the business world, with trained “professional staff” who are expected to organize and run the show. I cringe every time I see the term “professional church worker.” Professionals do what they do for hire. Amateurs do it for love.
Outreach, in this institutionalized view of the church, is more like a pyramid scheme where every member is expected to sell the organization to the outsiders. If every member brings in ten more new members, the group grows and profits. One occasionally hears of churches, some Lutheran by name, who put their members on an annual outreach quota like a group of salespeople. I know of districts that have their mission pastors on a base salary plus commission for every new member and for average Sunday attendance. Twenty percent growth projected, twenty percent growth achieved. The Lord must be at work, they say.
A church that has institutionalized relies on methods, principles and programs. The naughty assumption here is that the Gospel can’t be trusted to do its work, and that you, the baptized priests of God, are not competent to declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light without some kind of program, script, or plan. Or that this is something that is best left for the so-called “experts” – an evangelism committee or the clergy.
It’s as if we had God on a leash. Organize and plan around so-called biblical principles, and God will bless our organizing and planning with success. This past week at our new pastor’s conference we were told that the first of the biblical principles of organizing churches for growth is to plan for success, because the Holy Spirit gives power only in proportion to our plan to use it. That makes the Holy Spirit sound much like a loan officer at a bank who wants to see the business plan and projections before approving the loan. No plan, no power, no growth. Try nailing that to the cross.
Now I’m not saying that the church doesn’t need some organization. Of course, the church still sends out missionaries and congregations probably ought to have some way to visit the visitors and make sure the community knows that everyone is welcome to come and hear the Word. But no amount of organizing and planning is going to make Jesus more effective at being Jesus. And our motivation for outreach is not the survival of the institution but the person for whom Christ died. In the end, outreach is no more than one person telling another about who Jesus is and what he has done for the world. It’s Andrew telling brother Peter, Philip telling his friend Nathanael, each of us telling those whom the Lord has placed around us.
We overcomplicate things. Jesus finds Philip, and Philip goes off to Bethsaida and finds Nathanael. We found the one written about in Moses and the prophets. His name is Jesus, Joseph’s kid. Comes out of Nazareth..
Nathanael is a bit skeptical. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Nathanael comes from Galilee. This is a local bias. Not someone from New York asking whether anything good can come out of California. More like someone from Covina asking if anything good can come out of Hacienda Heights. Or someone from Wilson High School asking if anything good could come out of Los Altos. Or vice versa. No bias intended. The point is that Nazareth was not the place from which you would expect the Messiah. Moses and the prophets didn’t point there. There was even a popular saying in Jesus’ time that said, “Out of Galilee arises no prophet.” And even if a prophet were to come from Galilee, he wouldn’t be from the town of Nazareth. That Jesus was known as the carpenter’s son from Nazareth did not make him any more marketable in a country where background and location meant everything. Philip has nothing to boost Jesus for Nathanael’s felt need for a Messiah with a distinguished background.
Our Lord hides his glory behind the ordinary and the weak things of this world – a virgin mother, a manger, Nazareth, the cross. Power and glory do not point the way to Jesus. Nor are prosperity and popularity the sure-fire signs of his presence. Not all churches grow on account of the Gospel, either. We might be tempted to compensate for such weakness, to cover the cross, to hold out another Jesus, shaped to the cultural needs of the community. But then that would not be the same Jesus. What we have are His spoken and written Word, the water of His Baptism, the humble yet holy Supper of His body and blood under the bread and wine. And like Nathanael, the world is just as likely to be skeptical. “Can anything good come out of that?”
“Come and see,” says Philip. He doesn’t just give Nathanael information about Jesus. He invites Nathanael to come and see Jesus for himself. Don’t take my word for it. Come and meet him yourself. Faith isn’t formed under fig trees, but in a personal encounter with Jesus. Faith comes by hearing the word of Christ, not by persuasive proofs, emotional manipulation, engaging arguments or personal testimonials. When the Samaritan woman by the well returned to her town, she told everyone about Jesus. The townspeople went out to Jesus to see and hear for themselves. Those that believed came back saying, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.”
Only Jesus can make disciples. Our task is to tell people who Jesus is and to invite them to “come and see” for themselves, to bring them into contact with Jesus in action, to lead them to where Jesus is forgiving sins, baptizing, teaching, preaching, feeding His people, to lead others to where we ourselves have been led – to the preached and written Word, to the font, altar and pulpit, to the word of forgiveness spoken in the name of Jesus.
To “come and see” Jesus, as Nathanael discovered, is to be seen by Jesus as we really are. “Here is a true Israelite in whom there is nothing false,” Jesus says to Nathanael. Jesus meets Nathanael’s skepticism with his own view of things. “Look. A straight-up, genuine Israelite who tells it like it is.” There’s no point in hiding anything from Jesus, nor is there a reason. He is there to forgive, not condemn. Nathanael is surprised at Jesus’ familiarity. “How do you know me?” Jesus replies, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.”
Remember that it was Philip who had brought Nathanael to Jesus from Bethsaida. Jesus wasn’t there under the fig tree in Bethsaida when Philip told Nathanael about Jesus. But he didn’t need to be. He’s the Lord. Before Philip had said a word to Nathanael, Jesus had already seen him. Jesus’ having seen him is what brought Philip to Nathanael in the first place. Jesus arranged all the pieces of the puzzle so that Nathanael could be brought to him through the instrumentality of Philip.
And so it is with all us. Some of us were brought to Jesus when just a few weeks old when we were baptized, just as people brought little children to Jesus to have him bless them during his earthly ministry. To bring little children to Baptism is to bring them to Jesus so that he might bless them. Some of us were brought to Jesus by a friend, a member of our family, a co-worker, perhaps even by a stranger who said to us “come and see.” Someone played Philip to our Nathanael. And we have been Philips for other Nathanaels, though we might not now be aware of it.
Hearing Jesus, Nathanael too believes and confesses. “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.” Those are heavy titles. Not the kinds of titles tossed about casually by a “true Israelite in whom there is nothing false.” Nathanael was not the type to butter people up with words. Can anything good come out of Nazareth? You bet it can. The Son of God, the King of Israel.
Jesus says, “You think that’s something? You haven’t seen anything yet!” “Amen, amen I say to all of you, you will see heaven open and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” There is always more to Jesus than meets the eye. The eye sees the man from Nazareth, the carpenter’s son. Faith sees and confesses him to be the Son of God, King of Israel, the Son of Man who opens heaven to us, who bridges heaven and earth, upon whom the angels ascend and descend like the ladder that Jacob saw in his dream. Jesus is the only One who makes peace between God and man, for he alone is the God-man, the eternal Word in human Flesh who made his dwelling among us. He is the Lamb of God, God’s sacrificial Lamb who takes away the sin of the world by giving his life in our place, the Victorious Victim, who conquered death by dying and who lives and reigns to make his victory our victory as a free gift.
We encounter the same Jesus in His Word, His Baptism, His Supper. Greater things than Philip or Nathanael could have imagined that day in Galilee we see and hear each Sunday. Who would have guessed that two thousand years later, men and women would be gathered in places as remote from Galilee as here Hacienda Heights to have our sins forgiven in the name of Jesus? To hear His Word? To eat and drink the bread and wine which is his body and blood?
We tell others and invite them to “come and see” what we have seen. “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” We keep on telling and inviting, even when we are met with skepticism or even outright cynicism and rejection. We do so not to promote an organization or for the survival of the institution. Or because we need people to fill the pews. Or because the budget needs more contributors.
We tell others for the simple reason that Jesus died for all and therefore all must hear it and be invited to “come and see” for themselves. Like Philip, we do it out of the sheer joy of knowing Christ by faith and having heard his gracious call to follow. We do it because this morning’s Introit is also our own prayer: I do not hide your righteousness in my heart; I speak of your faithfulness and salvation. To do your will, O my God, is my desire.