Sermons That Work

The Text from the St. John Gospel…, Epiphany 2 (B) – 2000

January 16, 2000


The text from the St John Gospel is a quintessential evangelism and mission text. First, Jesus said to Philip, “Follow me,” and he did!

This is remarkable. It is just backwards from the way we are inclined to gather people into the Christian faith. There is a wonderful hymn by St. Richard of Chicester, commonly called Day by Day. It has the line, ” To see thee more clearly, love thee more dearly, Follow thee more nearly. ” This is a wonderful description of a way to lead a Christian life. It describes a growth in understanding, a growth in love, and a growth in obedience. But it is not the way Jesus recruited his disciples. He did not say, “Here are some commentaries on scripture and some books of theology. I want you to study them and get to know me. Then when you know me, I want you to describe, if you love me, what your love for me is like. After that you can follow me.” What Jesus said was much simpler and, in a way, more difficult. He just said, “Follow me.”

The reason this is so important is because it goes to what the heart of being a disciple means. A disciple is not one who studies the teacher. A disciple is a person who actually lives with the teacher.

Jesus asks Philip to come and live with him.

One of the consequences of living with Jesus was that Philip became convinced that Jesus was the one who is described by the language “him of whom Moses in the law and the prophets did write. ” And so Phillip told Nathanael, based on that perception, “Come to Jesus and believe.”

There are studies that show that most people come to church and into a claiming of Jesus as savior because someone invited them. Typically this is a family member or friend. It doesn’t matter a whole lot what the motivation behind the invitation is. It can range from loving someone so much that you want to spend an eternity with them and know that a saving relation with Jesus is essential, to simply being kind enough to invite someone who doesn’t have friends in hope that might be remedied by being part of a church congregation. Whatever brings a person in, the object of that is to spend time with the teacher and become a disciple.

Disciples find themselves doing mission and ministry. In doing mission and ministry they see and hear about lives being saved and changed in a Godward direction. They see and hear of signs and wonders.

Jesus ends the Gospel for this Sunday with this image, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”

All Christians who are disciples, who spend time with Jesus doing mission and ministry, have stories of signs and wonders.

For instance, a group at the Episcopal Church Center in New York meets daily to read the Gospel and ask and reflect upon specific questions in a time of prayer. Three Native American clergy developed the process, called “Gospel Based Discipleship.”

The time gathered for Gospel reflection and prayer has come to give shape to the ministries of the people who participate.

The questions are: “What is Jesus (the Gospel) saying to me?” and “What am I going to do in response to Jesus (the Gospel)?” Each of these questions is preceded by a reading of the Gospel, and is followed by sharing of what those gathered hear Jesus saying.

Sometimes the responses have been very powerful; more frequently they are quiet. But in all cases, in this journey, the disciples have been led, nudged, or sometimes dragged, kicking and screaming, into new levels of awareness, insight, mission, and ministry.

One of the regular participants in the gathering described it this way. “We are called by Jesus to follow him and be with him. It doesn’t mean that we know where we are going or what will happen. I was worried at one time about the effect my following Jesus would have on my family. Somehow, out of that day’s Gospel, Jesus said to me, ‘Do you suppose that I love your family?’ I had to answer, ‘Yes.’ Then it came to me that as I follow Jesus, wherever that path leads, my family will be blessed. The anxiety went away. I realized that I could have spent months in counseling at no small expense, or just lived with the anxiety and been mildly crazy and somewhat ineffective, or I could spend time following the teacher. Following the teacher is the cost effective way.”

This Gospel is calling you to follow Jesus. To spend time with the teacher, to do mission and ministry, and to see signs and wonders. Do it!

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Christopher Sikkema

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