And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
My sermon from the 2nd Sunday after Epiphany (January 18, 2015) on Luke 1:43-51. An ice storm canceled the church service but I recorded the sermon anyways. Listen to the recording at the bottom of the page or read my manuscript below.
Now, there’s something about this passage from John that I struggled with all week. And its about that first verse today – verse 43 – where we hear how Philip became a disciple of Jesus. His whole story about becoming a follower is not even one verse in length. Jesus meets Philip, and he says just two words: “follow me.” And that’s it. That’s all it takes for Philip to become a disciple. We don’t even know if Philip was looking for Jesus or if Philip had heard about Jesus before Jesus showed up. The text doesn’t give us any backstory – or history – or anything. We just get this one sentence. I struggle because it seems so easy for Philip to be a disciple of Jesus – and I wish it was so easy for me.
This text from John is part of a series of stories where we hear how Jesus put his band of followers together. Unlike Matthew, Mark, and Luke – there’s no temptation in the desert in the gospel according to John so after Jesus is baptized, which we heard last week, Jesus immediately starts gathering his followers. The first two followers of Jesus are disciples of John the Baptist. They hear John the Baptist declare that Jesus is different and they want in. They ask to see what Jesus is doing, where Jesus is staying, and Jesus invites them with just three words: “Come and See.”
And one of those two is named Andrew and Andrew goes off to find his brother, Peter, and he invites Peter to come and see.
Then, after Peter, we have today’s reading where Jesus decides to go to Galilee and runs into Philip – who is from the same town as Andrew and Peter – and Jesus tells Philip to “follow me” and Philip does.
That’s how this Jesus thing takes off. These initial gatherings – these initial encounters – are simply Jesus or a disciple of Jesus finding someone they know and simply saying “come and see.”
That’s how disciples are made.
But this is hard to hear because it sure doesn’t feel, to us at least, like that’s how disciples should be made. Even that word – disciple – seems to imply that there’s something more involved. A disciple can’t be someone who just received an invitation. There’s gotta be more. Because, to be a disciple, shouldn’t someone need to have it all figured out? They should be incredibly faithful, maybe living the perfect life, always behaving and do nothing wrong? Shouldn’t disciples have proven that this God and Jesus story is exactly how it is? Disciples – they are people who have met Jesus, they have Jesus deep in their bones – and they are the kind of people we all wish we could be.
Not too long ago ago, I reconnected with an old friend from High School on – where else – Facebook. She knew me at a time in my life when I wasn’t Lutheran, I didn’t go to church, and I was dreaming of spending my life buried in some research lab inventing the next thing that would save the world. So when she went through my profile and saw I was a pastor – – that kinda shocked her a bit.
But she took this time as an opportunity to ask me about God. And she asked me good questions – questions someone might have asked you at one point or another, such as, “How do you know that God is real? How do you know that the Christian story is right? Do you think it’s fair that a child who never heard of Jesus ends up going to hell just because of where he was born?”
She was asking, really, what happened to make me, like Philip, meet Jesus and hear him say “follow me.”
And, if I’m honest, I can’t fully answer it. I can’t describe all the bits – all the experiences in my life that brought me to be here today. There are highlights – sure – those big moments that I’ve pulled out of my history and charted on my faith story – but I can’t share the million little moments, those little experiences, that brought me to finally realize that Jesus had been speaking to me for 22 years. It just took me that long to finally hear his words: “follow me.”
And I believe that we are all caught in our own stories of faith, our own stories of seeing, or not seeing, Jesus. One of the great things about being a new pastor is getting to hear new stories. I’ve been blessed to hear faith stories – to hear, and see, what those meetings with Jesus can be like. I’ve met the 85 year old where God is just a constant presence in her life – like another person just always in her house, the 70 year old who never lost faith even in the face of incredible ordeals, the people whose faith was lost but held together by an amazing community who prayed for them when they couldn’t pray for themselves, and I’m seeing all these kids who are just getting that first taste of what this faith journey is all about. Each of us are on our own path – our own personal, wonderful, and sometimes frustrating journey with Jesus. And, the amazing thing is that none of these stories is exactly the same. Our encounter with Jesus can come in many forms. Even in these short verses from John where we hear how Jesus gets his first team of disciples together – even Philip and Nathanel’s story is different. All of these stories are centered in that encounter with Jesus – and each of them lead into, or involve, an encounter with someone else.
Because something keeps happening after people encounter Jesus. They can’t stop telling people about him. They go out and invite. But they don’t try to persuade. They don’t try to convince. They don’t try to prove that this is the One who will heal the world. Philip didn’t respond to Nathanel’s quip about Nazareth with a reasoned argument or a snarky rebuttal. Philip merely says – come and see.
Come and have an encounter with Jesus.
Come and see how my life has been changed.
And come and see how this Jesus could matter to you.
Making this kind of invitation – that’s our call. That’s our job – because we are people who have encountered Jesus and we’re here to share our encounter too. We’re invited to be people persons – to, like Jesus and Philip, engage in that one-on-one encounter, that one-on-one relationship with another person, where our invitation to come and see is more than just about visiting a church – but is about meeting Jesus.
And in this invitation – we are opening ourselves to see just what God is doing with us. We’re seeing how God is at work in our relationships, how God is bringing new and different people into our lives – how we are living out of our own sense of encounter with Jesus – and how, in a small way, we are the start of that Jesus encounter with our family, friends, and strangers. We’ve been encountered so we’re called to be that Jesus encounter to everyone we meet.
Now, I can’t share exactly how living that encounter with Jesus – what it’ll actually look like. Since all our stories with Jesus are different, just how living as that encounter will look – that’s going to be different for each of us. But the stories of living as Jesus’ encounter are stories that surround us. From our grandparents who shared their faith in words and love when we visited them to the friend who helped us through a difficult time when we needed their hope to survive – and even in the story of a man who preached, rallied, and taught that racial equality wasn’t just a dream but was, and still is, something worth fighting for – those are Jesus encounters. That’s people living out their personal encounters with Jesus. Jesus is using us – Jesus is calling us to be that encounter – to see ourselves as his face and body in the world – so that we are not just telling people to “Come and See” but we are living as if we are that invitation too. Because whether our encounter with Jesus takes half a verse or 22 years – Jesus is there – Jesus is calling – Jesus is inviting us to be that invitation and to share how we have been changed. Our job is to invite – to show others what following Jesus looks like – and that this Jesus has a personal relationship, a personal encounter, ready for others to come and see.