Sermon: When Have You Followed Jesus?
St. Paul’s – Brookings
Fr. Larry Ort
1 Samuel 3.1-20; Psalm 139.1-5, 12-17; 1 Corinthians 6.12-20; John 1.43-51
“And Samuel said, ‘Speak, for your servant is listening’” (I Samuel 3.10b; NRSV).
“Philip said to Nathanael, ‘Come and see’” (John 1.46b; NRSV).
“Jesus found Philip and said to him, ‘Follow me’” (John 1.43b; NRSV).
These imperatives confront us, and they have a lot to say about our faith experience. Let’s look a bit more closely at each imperative.
Speak—listen: In 1 Samuel, we are told that Samuel was lying down in the temple in the area where the ark of the covenant was located. This must have been in the Holy of Holies or very near it. God is calling him, but we are told “Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him” (Vs. 7; NRSV). Samuel was young, and even though he was serving in the Temple, he had not yet had a personal encounter with the Lord. I suspect that held true for many of us when we were young. We may have attended church school and church for a few years, but only learned about Jesus. We did not yet know him. God becomes real when we have a personal encounter, when we enter into relationship — “Speak, for your servant is listening.”
When we are listening, we may hear God in the words of scripture, a hymn, a sermon, even the words of a loved one or a friend. In some cases, as with Samuel, people claim to have heard God speak directly to them. Saul was riding on the road to Damascus when Jesus spoke to him: “Suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’ He asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ … ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting’” (Acts 9.3-5; NRSV). Talk about an epiphany! Paul encountered the Lord; he listened; his life was changed. Samuel listened, and the Lord was with him.
Come and see: Philip encountered Jesus and wanted Nathanael to do the same. Upon finding Nathanael, he said, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” Nathanael knew of the reputation of Nazareth, and he responded, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip issued an invitation – “Come and see” (John 1.45-46; NRSV). When Jesus saw Nathanael he said, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael, somewhat taken aback, asked, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Nathanael encountered Jesus and made his confession of faith. But Jesus asked him, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree?” Then, pointing to future things, Jesus said, “You will see greater things than these. . . Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man” (John 1.47-51; NRSV).
In the account which precedes this story, Andrew, one of John the Baptist’s disciples, followed Jesus after hearing the Baptist’s words, “Look, here is the Lamb of God.” After his encounter with Jesus, Andrew found his brother, Simon Peter, and said, “We have found the Messiah.” Andrew must have said, “Come and see,” for he brought Simon Peter to Jesus. When Jesus saw Peter, he said, “You are Simon, son of John. You are to be called Cephas (which is translated Peter)” (John 1.35-42; NRSV).
Nathanael and Peter were both invited to “Come and see.” In both instances, Jesus revealed something about their past and their future.
Follow me: Philip’s experience with Jesus was a bit different from that of Nathanael and Simon Peter. John tells us Jesus decided to go to Galilee where he found Philip and said to him, “Follow me” (John 143; NRSV). We can’t say for certain, but it appears that Jesus was intentionally looking for Philip, was seeking him out to be one of his disciples.
So, what can we make of these incidents? What lessons would they reveal? Perhaps these incidents serve to remind us of some things as opposed to revealing new insights.
First, these stories remind us that God seeks us out; God calls to us. The good news is that God loves us so much that God entered our human form and lived and walked among us as Jesus Christ, our Lord. But even before the Incarnation, God sought us out as we see from the stories of the Torah and the prophets, e.g., the call of Abraham in Ur, the call of Moses in the burning bush, the commissioning of Isaiah and Jeremiah. Are we listening?
Second, evangelism consists of inviting others to “Come and see.” Philip said to Nathanael, “Come and see.” What did the Samaritan woman at the well say to her fellow villagers? “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he” (John 4.29; NRSV)?
Very few are satisfied with their life; very few are living a life that is fulfilled and meaningful. If you have that life, will you share it? We enjoy a rich and loving fellowship at St. Paul’s—a fellowship of love and grace. Sure, we sometimes have our moments, as does every family, but there is no doubt that God’s love characterizes our relationships.
Will we keep this for ourselves, or will we share it with others? Many churches make the mistake of keeping God’s love and fellowship for themselves, and to themselves. Over time, such churches lose their vitality, for they are no longer bearing fruit. Very often, the death of the congregation results. Our numbers indicate that we are slowly growing. Having said that, our chief concern should not be numbers. More importantly, we need to be concerned that each of us is growing spiritually, is living more deeply into the fullness of God’s love.
When did you last offer to share your faith experience with others by extending the invitation to “Come and see?” As you come to know someone, do you share how you have listened and heard God’s voice? Have you shared how you encountered God? Have you invited others to “come and see” the love we enjoy at St. Paul’s? If not, please do, for as I mentioned, most people are searching for fulfillment and meaning. You may be the one to help them hear God’s call.
Third, when and if we encounter Jesus Christ, our encounter always comes with the invitation, “Follow me.” Of course, we must be careful to actually follow Jesus, as opposed to following our own ideas, or someone else’s idea, of what it means to follow Jesus. A post appeared on South Dakota Forward a couple of days ago in response to some dialogue concerning the racist remarks our president made: "We believe that the United States of America was founded to welcome only citizens willing to honor and extend equal charity, goodness, kindness and peaceful tolerance to all men and women, regardless of faith and to pledge allegiance and loyalty to the United States Constitution which guarantees religious freedom and freedom from violence to all peoples" (Name withheld). I suspect this person believes he or she is following Jesus. In response, I raised the following question, “Would you agree that we extended that ‘charity, goodness, kindness, and peaceful tolerance’ to the indigenous people living here?” I followed with, “If that is a measure of your charity, please do not offer any to me.” The person has since edited their comment.
If we are following Jesus, our actions will reflect God’s love as revealed through Jesus. I know that several of you have been responding to current events from your love for Jesus. Know that I encourage you, and I appreciate your witness. Hopefully our actions will help others to see the Gospel, and to encounter Christ!
This week, I encourage you to ponder, what do you hear God saying to you, where have you seen Christ working in your life and in the lives of others, and when have you followed Jesus?