Jesus found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.”
Last week we celebrated Jesus’ baptism. All four of our Gospel writers include the account of Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan by John the Baptist. In each case, this is our first glimpse of the adult Jesus, and in each case, this is the first we know of his earthly ministry. Now, once again, we have begun our yearly journey along with Jesus and his disciples through this earthly ministry.
Today’s Gospel lesson relates the calling of Philip and Nathaniel. Next week, we will read of the calling of Andrew and Peter and James and John. Jesus says quite simply, “Follow me,” and they follow and become his disciples.
Jesus saw in Philip – something – something that qualified him to take his place among the twelve disciples that he was to call to share his ministry on earth. Other than having his name listed among the twelve disciples, we know little of Philip. He takes on the persona of sort of a killjoy in the few scripture passages that include him. He was a fisherman accustomed to calculating the profit of his catch. It would be Philip who would determine that the monetary cost of feeding 5,000 worshipers is not humanly possible.
Extra biblical information suggests that Philip went on to become a great missionary in the areas of Asia Minor as Christianity spread north from Palestine in the decades following the Resurrection and Ascension. Legend contends that Philip slew a dragon before he was martyred, perhaps by crucifixion on a long cross. But, all in all, the earthly biblical picture we get of Philip the Apostle is of an ordinary, very human follower of Jesus of Nazareth. What, then, did Jesus see in Philip?
What does Jesus see in each of us – as he finds us and says, “Follow me”?
Facebook allows me to stay in communication with several of my seminary classmates. Two of those are a young married couple, both ordained priests, who together were called four years ago to “plant” a church in their home diocese in Oklahoma.
Recently, they posted a video of various members of this church plant known as Grace Church. We hear from a non-traditional family who express their delight that they finally feel welcomed and embraced in a church family after years of searching and being made to feel unwelcome. A lovely young woman recounts her earlier struggles of being inquisitive, questioning her faith, asking hard questions, and expressing some doubt about religious teachings. For these expressions of struggle with faith she had been chastised by the religious leaders of her previous faith tradition. But, now, in the Episcopal Church, specifically Grace Church, her questioning has been valued and nurtured; she has been encouraged to ask hard questions and, thus, seek greater depth in her faith.
“Follow me,” Jesus says. I believe the Episcopal Church is strategically well-placed to hear Jesus’ call, to provide a sacred atmosphere of love and healing, a safe place for hard questions, a place where unity doesn’t mean we all agree in thought or style of worship.
Too many people have been driven from the church by sanctimonious religious leaders and congregations seeking to control thought, fearful of tough questions for which they have no textbook answers, retreating to comfort zones that ignore reality.
The Episcopal Church provides order amongst the ever-increasing chaos. We hold to our structured liturgical worship because it frames and expresses our beliefs and broadens our understanding of our faith in Jesus Christ. Our worship is intrinsically orderly and meaningful. Our worship is serious work that brings great joy and greater depth of understanding of what our earthly lives are all about.
Yet, while holding to traditional worship, The Episcopal Church thinks broadly and openly. This broad acceptance of thought does not mean we are loosie-goosie in our theology and that “everything and anything goes.” It means we welcome open conversation and exchange of ideas as we seek spiritual guidance in the interpretation of the scriptures and as we seek guidance in the ministries to which each of us is called. It means we welcome reason. All, as we love one another as Christ loves us and as we come together again and again in communion at his Holy Table – our common ground regardless of all differences.
Jesus says, “Follow me.” As his Church, we are called to be a place of welcome and healing especially for those who have been damaged by the very people called to represent Christ in our earthly communities. Jesus’ harshest words were for religious leaders who misled the people with their self-righteous exploitation of religious belief and practice.
Too many have been shown a God who is filled with vengeance and wrath – a God who is never pleased with us and who glories in punishment. It is we who are called to bring healing to these injured children of God.
I offer my building contractor analogy: When we began planning the construction of the guest cottage behind my mother’s home, we were held up for weeks trying to come up with a plan for a septic tank and all proper permits in order to begin building. At best, it looked as if we were going to have to convert the entire yard to drainage field in order to be in compliance.
For weeks, we heard “No, you can’t do it that way and if you try it you’re subject to fines and even incarceration.” Potential contractors said, “I can’t really give you any advice, but if you can figure it out and get the permits, call me back and I’ll look at your plans.” Finally, Jeff the Contractor said, “I don’t have the answer, but come on and get in my truck and let’s ride to the county office and see how we can get this worked out.”
The spiritual journeys of too many of God’s children have been thwarted by those recognized as God’s representatives. Each of us, as the Church, bears the responsibility to bring healing. We won’t have all the answers, but we can join our brothers and sisters in their struggle, assuring them that God wants only what is best for each and all of us; God is love. God’s judgment is real (as is a mother’s judgment for a child who wants to play in the street); but God judges with compassion.
Jesus sees in each of us – something – something unique that he needs for his ministry, something his Church needs to welcome and heal the wounds of those who have been hurt or misled by the teachings and practices of the Church.
Jesus is saying, “Follow me.” Share the power of the healing love of Christ.