A Call to Discipleship

18 03 2012

This sermon was preached Sunday, January 15, 2012 at St Peters in Key West, FL

Text: I Samuel 3:1-10; John 1:43-51

(pronounce first word very distinctly) DISCIPLESHIP — What does it mean when we say that we are disciples of Jesus? Is it enough to say that we believe in Him? That we are in church most if not every Sunday? That we tithe? That we adhere to a certain set of rules or codes?

Well, it can be argued that many of those things are part of it, but they don’t get to the heart of what it means to be a disciple of Christ. To be a disciple, of course, means that we must demonstrate a willingness to follow Christ and to learn more about him. But first, we must respond to the call of Christ to “Come and see.”

Sometimes it is difficult to hear that call. Many times in the middle of all of our busy lives, when we are confronted with something bigger than ourselves, we can be oblivious God’s call and even God’s presence. Sometimes it takes another to say, “go back and look again.” We have an example of this in our Old Testament reading today, the story of the call of Samuel. The reading is during the period where the time of the judges of Israel is passing. There are no miracles, no pillars of fire, no water from the rocks in the desert, no manna from heaven, and no walls tumbling down at the sounds of trumpets at Jericho. Indeed, much of the future of Israel’s history has more to do with military campaigns and palace intrigue than it does with God’s intervention. The situation in Israel is not unlike the state of some of our churches today. Gone are the Sundays when we could count on the pews being at least half-full. Gone are the children lining up for Sunday School or Confirmation Class. Sometimes things seem rather bleak and we wander, “what on earth are we going to do?” But if you look right there in the middle of the passage you will find something rather amazing. It says “The lamp of God has not yet gone out.” God only seems to be distant, or even asleep, but the reality is God is awake. It takes the voice, the call of God to open our ears and eyes to the wonder of the divine that is all around us. Indeed, when we hear that voice, when we accept that invitation to follow Christ, it turns out that we are the ones that were asleep after all. Our curiosity is aroused, and we want to find out more about who he is.

Now, much ink has been spilt and resources have been spent to somehow prove who Jesus is. Two books that come to mind are Josh McDowell’s “Evidence that Demands a Verdict,” and CS Lewis’ “Mere Christianity.” In these books the authors attempt to logically deduce that Jesus is nothing less than who he and the Bible claims for him to be. But all of the head knowledge and book learning in the world is nothing compared to an encounter with Jesus Himself, a relationship with the Living God, and that is where we enter the Gospel reading for today. Our focus is on how Jesus met Nathanael through Phillip. Phillip approaches his friend and tells him that he has met “Him who the Moses and the Prophets spoke about … the son of Joseph from Nazareth.” Nathanael responds by saying “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” and shows him making the mistake that many of Jesus’ contemporaries did, assuming that Jesus’ origins actually explain everything about him. Quite a few Southerners still do this, or at least they did when I was growing up in North Carolina. Every time I met a new friend or someone had attracted my interest, my mother would ask, “Who are their parents? Where are they from?” as if that mattered just as much, if not more, than who my new friend was or what they were claiming to be. This told my parents all they needed to know and whether or not I was hanging out with the right people. Now, Nazareth was for all intents and purposes a backwater when it comes to where it might be expected that the Messiah would appear, so when Phillip says “This is the One!” Nathanael can only conclude that Phillip is mistaken. And all Phillip can do is to tell his friend, “Come … and see.”

However, when Nathanael finally meets Jesus, he is forever changed. The two have never met, but Jesus can see straight to the man’s heart and he knows Nathanael to be a person of integrity. Jesus greets Nathanael by saying that “Here a man in whom there is no guile or deceit.” Nathanael’s eyes are then opened and he realizes he is face to face with someone who might be more than what he seems. As Nathaniel is beginning to grasp who he has just met, Jesus almost seems to lean in and says with a twinkle in his eye, “Oh, is that all it took? My friend, you ain’t seen nothing yet.”

None of the disciples know exactly what to make of this man who has simply shown up in their neighborhood. They fall over themselves with these lofty words and big names, like “Son of God,” “Son of Man,” King of Israel.” They become his disciples by meeting him and wanting to know more about him, what is he up to and where is he going. Jesus is given a lot of titles here in this passage and while their words are all true, they fall short. You see, they have just started down the path of following Jesus. Having just heard the first part of John’s Gospel a few weeks ago, we know that these newly minted disciples aren’t sitting and talking with just Joseph’s son from Nazareth, but the one through whom Nazareth and everything else came into being. As it says in John 1, “In the beginning was the Word … and the Word was God … through Him all things were made.”

We are in the season of Epiphany, and Epiphany is the season of light. In the Gospels we find that Jesus calls Himself the Light of the World and that He brings this light to everyone. But, not only that, he sees everyone in their TRUE LIGHT, how they really are, just like he did with Nathanael. As we follow Jesus, as we learn more about him, what makes him tick, how he wants us to conduct ourselves, he pours this light and he also pours new life into us and we become more and more every day the person God sees when he looks at us.

Being a disciple of Jesus is a two-way street. It is a relationship, not a set of rules. It is us talking, walking and listening to God as well as God talking, walking and listening to us. It’s kind of like that last bit in the Gospel lesson today which talks about how Nathanael will see the angels ascending and descending, which reminds us of the story of Jacob’s ladder in the Old Testament.

This year, we are celebrating the 100-year anniversary of the Flagler Railroad which connected the Florida Keys to the mainland. It was a long trip, and sometimes it very difficult, just like our walk with Jesus can be. We can then say that our journey of discipleship is like being on a train, which goes in two directions … up there and back again. Now, there will be many times when our journey is hard and difficult and there will be times when we just want to give up. We just simply won’t get it right or say the wrong thing, or act foolish, but the Good News of following Christ is that Jesus doesn’t require us to be right all the time, just to be faithful. To keep at it, even when we want to give up.

“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” We might even ask ourselves, “Can anything good come out of Key West?” God acts and meets people in the most unlikely of places. Sometimes, we might look around and think, “well, we’re not much here at Saint Peter’s. Our numbers are small, there aren’t too many children anymore…who knows what might happen in the future? I can tell you this much, this parish has within it great examples of what discipleship is all about. In this parish, we have people who KNOW Jesus, and whether you realize it or not, Jesus will encounter people using you to point to him, just as Phillip was used to call Nathanael. In my short time here, I have seen and participated in discipleship happening on someone’s front porch and during the hospitality we offer at coffee hour and our monthly repasts. We have a music director who has a knack for drawing gifts out of people they didn’t even know they had and getting people involved.

So, when we get anxious about our small number, or we start to worry about any number of things going on in our lives and we wonder, “I can’t pay my mortgage, I can’t pay my rent, I haven’t been able to find a job, I’ve lost contact with my family and friends, and I feel so lonely and depressed and discouraged, and sometimes I even feel as dead as a corpse.” The Good News I have for you today is that if you read your Bible, you will find that every time Jesus meets someone who is dead, that dead person gets up and walks.

We need to remember just to keep walking with Jesus, because we can rest assured that as his disciples, because we walk with and want to learn more about Jesus, he is most assuredly walking with us.

Being a disciple of Jesus, as I said earlier, is like being on a train. The train of discipleship goes in two directions … to God and then back again. It almost reminds you of the verse in the song, “There ain’t but one train on this track; it runs to heaven and it’s running right back.”

Dear People of God, the Good News I have for you today is that as long as we are faithful in our walk with Jesus, this Great Gospel Train is bound for nothing short of glory. And all we have to do is accept the call to “Come … and see.”

Amen

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