Second Sunday After Epiphany

I Samuel 3:1-20; Psalm 63:1-9; I Corinthians 6:9-20; John 1:43-51

We all need purpose. Our lives are so flooded with the mundane, like laundry, dishes, shopping, paying bills, working our 9-to-5 jobs, that it can all seem rather pointless at times. We are overwhelmed with the banal activities of life, doing the things we must to live, but experiencing it as simply repeating a cycle over and over again. But when we know we have a purpose, when we know that even the smallest aspects of our lives bear meaning and matter to someone, we can live with more vigor, more enthusiasm, more joy, even in suffering. By knowing that it all leads somewhere, and we are a part of something bigger than ourselves, while it could make us feel small and insignificant, I think actually makes us feel empowered, gives us an identity that transcends our day-to-day concerns, and makes us a part of something truly world-changing in scope.

We are called, each of us, to a life of purpose. But it is a purpose determined by our creator, a purpose given to us by Jesus Christ. And in the gospels today, we see Jesus calling people to this purpose, calling them to believe the good news he brings, and thus to become a part of something of immense power and purpose that they never could have achieved themselves. He calls them to be his disciples; Jesus calls them and us to the mission of God to bring about his Kingdom of new creation.

It begins with Philip, one of the original 12 apostles. By all accounts, however, Philip is not exceptional. Like many of the 12, very little is said about him in the gospels. In the gospel of John we see him multiple times; his contribution to the feeding of the multitude in John 6 was to note they couldn’t feed them “even with 200 shillings worth of bread!” When some Greeks ask to see Jesus, Philip asks Andrew. In his other appearances, nothing remarkable comes from him. It’s a good reminder to us that, even among the 12 apostles, the elite, the inner circle, Jesus did not select the best of the best. He chose, many times, ordinary men, people like you and me. Philip was ordinary, and it is through ordinary people that God will so often work, bestowing grace on them so it might flow through them into the giving of the gospel to the world through word and deed.

Philip the ordinary seeks out his friend, Nathanael, another person we know little about and who does not strike us as elite in any way. Philip follows the call of Jesus working in his heart, prompting him to tell another of this remarkable man he is giving away so much of his life to follow. Philip tells Nathanael this is who the prophecies spoke of, which translates to, this is the Messiah. As one theologian Godet put it, “one lighted torch serves to light another.” Very apt for us, as St. Aidan is depicted as carrying a torch, the light of the gospel carried from one place to another, dispelling the darkness as it goes, as it did when he left the isle of Iona and went to Northumberland, where his efforts resulted in the entrenchment of Christianity that lasted well into the future.

Doubting whether anything good can come from Nazareth, likely just a simple remark meant to indicate how insignificant a town it is, Philip replies, “Come and see.” This was a common rabbinic saying that simply meant, “let’s solve this problem together.” It was an invitation, not to argue, or berate, or condemn; it was an invitation to encounter Jesus Christ, to be faced with who he is, to grapple with what that means, and to, we hope, come to see him as truly the Savior of the world.

Jesus recognizes that Nathanael is a no-nonsense, honest type of man. A “straight shooter,” as we say. Proving that to be true, Nathanael says, “how did you know that?” And Jesus shares his supernatural sight, his ability to see Nathanael before Philip came to him. Nathanael believes with so little to go on, simply this act of power was enough. And it is there that Jesus then pulls in the promise of greater things, specifically, “you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” This seems to be a reference to God communicating to Jacob through the ascending and descending angels in Genesis 28, where he dreamed that there was a stairway set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.” Here it was where God reaffirmed the promise to Abraham, to his grandson Jacob. Thus Jesus says of himself, follow me, and you will see and receive my blessing from heaven, the very promise of God affirmed, in and through and by me. It is a promise, though Nathanael could not fully know it, that Jesus would indeed be the fulfillment of all that God had promised to Israel, and indeed to the world. By his death, his resurrection, and his ascension and intercession for us, Jesus Christ has become and will ever be the source of our life, our light, our salvation.

This is how God has always worked. He does not just make all things suddenly snap into place, though he surely could; he comes to us, even partners with us, working through us. He calls people like Philip, and like Nathanael, normal, humble people as well as the intelligent and capable; he proclaims and reveals himself to us, through many means; and through each other, through us, God invites all to come and see. This is an invitation to solve the problem of human life, the problem of violence, and hatred, and sorrow, and the seeming lack of any purpose beyond taking for ourselves. It is an invitation to gaze upon the work of God in the world. It is an invitation, perhaps, to even doubt, to question, to probe. It is surely an invitation to seek out the answer to our problem of purpose together, and in doing so, to find that the answer is indeed that Jesus calls us to the mission of God. He bids each of us to come and see, to be transformed by the Spirit, and to live out our callings knowing they are a part of God’s purpose, and that as we live into that reality, we will naturally draw others to respond, to whom we may say, come and see. May we be the torchlight, passed from Jesus on, down through the ages, faithful Christians of every age giving it to the next, and may we pass it on till Christ returns and reigns, world without end, Amen.

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