First United Methodist Church
January 14, 2024
Rev. Lauren Hall
God Speaks: Are We Listening?
Every once in awhile, you come across a scripture that at first look doesn’t seem to be very exciting. Today’s passage is one of those times. It’s very straight forward – Jesus goes to Galilee, finds Philip and calls him to be a follower, and Philip in turn directs Nathaniel to Jesus. No miracles, no healing, not much drama. A cut and dry call story.
Let’s take a moment to read the scripture. This is from the Gospel of John, chapter 1, verses 43-51:
The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael asked him, “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!” Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”
Whenever I encounter these types of passages, I like to challenge myself to use my imagination and expand it a bit to see what’s not written, and maybe, if I look deep enough, I might see the message that is hidden between the lines. So I’d like us to take a closer look, and see what we might be missing.
Our scripture says, “The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathaniel.”
Let’s pause here and think about the story. Before I continue, I want to give credit to the author of this illustration, David Bales, who published it on a sermon resource site I use occasionally.
I think he does a great job of adding life to this particular passage.
Philip has just become a follower of Jesus and he is excited, so he dashes down the streets and alleys asking everyone if they have seen Nathanael. Remember, Jesus is not just a run of the mill rabbi. He is the ONE – the Messiah. John, the well-known Baptist, identified him and sent his disciples to Jesus. Finally, someone directs him to the rabbi’s tree – the village’s area for prayer and contemplation by the rabbis.
Philip knows he should be quiet, but he’s excited. When he sees Nathanael under the fig tree, he cries out, “Nathanael! Nathanael! We’ve found him! We’ve found him and he found me and enlisted me as his follower.”
Nathanael, who had been meditating on the scriptures, slowly comes out of his trance and replies, “What are you doing here, Philip?”
“You have to come. We’ve found him – the one who Moses and the prophets wrote about – Jesus, son of Joseph from Nazareth.”
“What? Who? We? He’s a teacher and he found you? Where’s your sense, Philip? Teachers don’t choose their students. And ‘Nazareth,” you said? Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”
“You’ll understand. You’ve got to come and see for yourself. Andrew and Peter, the fishermen from Bethsaida, they were also John the Baptist’s students. Now we follow Jesus. We’re certain Jesus is the Lord’s promised prophet. Come, we must go to him.”
On their way, Philip couldn’t restrain his enthusiasm, “I’ve never been more sure of anything. Never.” (Have you ever had one of these conversations? The other person is so excited about what he is talking about that you can almost see the excitement sparkling in his eyes.) He walked along nodding in agreement to each positive thing he said about Jesus. “From your life with God and your understanding of the scriptures, you’ll see—I know you will—Jesus is the Messiah we have been waiting for.”
Nathanael seldom spoke. He didn’t have much chance, because Philip talked all the way, prodding him to rush so they’d meet Jesus before sundown.
Nathanael’s meeting with Jesus was more than Philip could have prayed for. At first sight Jesus praised Nathanael as the genuine innocent Israelite and told him that he’d seen him under the fig tree before Philip found him. Then Jesus uttered the promise that overwhelmed Philip as much as Nathanael, “You will see greater things than this. You will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”
That signed the deal for both Philip and Nathanael. As often as they could, they left their homes and families to go with Jesus and his twelve chosen students, to learn from him, and to spread his message. Whenever people rejected their message, Philip reassured Nathanael, “you will see greater things than this – further visions to follow.” And everything that Jesus did, though not exactly what the two expected, confirmed that he was the Messiah, God’s love in human form, God’s grace and truth personified. Together they witnessed Jesus healing people, casting out demons, reinterpreting scripture, feeding the hungry, forgiving sinners, resisting the proud.
When Peter, James, and John hinted about a wonderful experience with Jesus on a hilltop, Philip said to Nathanael, “further visions to follow.” Even though the opposition to Jesus increased after he reached Jerusalem, Jesus’ followers shared their conviction of Jesus’ special place in God’s plans for Israel and for the whole world. Philip added his constant declaration, “further visions to follow.”
And then one day, Jesus was apprehended in Gethsemane’s garden and Jesus’ students fled. When Philip and Nathanael heard of Jesus’ arrest, they tried to devise a way to help him. They didn’t know how short the time was. All of Jesus’ followers had deflected his teaching that he was to suffer. Consequently, they were unprepared for his arrest and crucifixion.
They were stunned by Judas’s betrayal and immobilized by Jesus’ death. His remaining eleven students gathered in the home that had welcomed him for Passover. Philip and Nathanael joined them. No one even suggested what to do next. None of them had been able to aid Jesus during his trial, and thus Jesus’ death struck his chosen eleven twice as hard. Nathanael was so defeated that he just sat or laid on the floor. When he walked, he acted as if he wasn’t sure the ground would support his steps. He didn’t eat, barely drank, and occasionally mumbled a prayer of lament.
Philip was undone also. He, however, dealt with his grief by repeating what had happened, reciting the order of Jesus’ last days in Jerusalem and then becoming nearly hysterical when he recalled how not one of them stood by Jesus. Nathanael, wearied of Philip’s prattling, said with a sneer, “Further visions to follow, huh?” That silenced Philip.
On Sunday morning Nathanael woke to Philip’s dragging him off the floor, laughing and crying at the same time. “He’s alive. He’s alive.” He pulled Nathanael to his feet. “Jesus is alive.”
“What?” Nathanael said.
“Jesus has risen from the dead,” Philip said, nearly crushing Nathanael in a hug, at which Peter and Andrew tumbled into the room laughing and shouting that Jesus was alive. He had appeared to Peter. Nathanael shook his head to clear his thinking as the news sunk in. More of Jesus’ students crowded into the room, shouting about Jesus’ resurrection and praising God. Nathanael remained dumbfounded. Philip leaped in front of him, raised his arm high and pointed down at Nathanael, “Haha!” he shouted as he laughed. “Further visions to follow! Further visions to follow!”
And you thought this was just a simple call story…
What this Scripture invites us to see is that we also can be very motivated and excited about ministry when everything is going well. But when we struggle, it’s important that we continue to have faith – that we don’t become immobilized in the Upper Room.
Since tomorrow is Marin Luther King, Jr. Day, I want to remember a little of his journey. Martin’s father, grandfather, great-grandfather, brother, and uncle were all preachers. When he became the pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, however, he still hadn’t had a firsthand experience of God. But then Rosa Parks refused to go to the back of the bus and Martin found himself in the middle of a boycott. Although he had only been in Montgomery a year and he was only twenty-seven years old, he quickly became a leader of the movement. It wasn’t long before his family started getting threatening phone calls. He wondered if he could take it. He wanted out. Then one night, around midnight, another threatening call came: “We’re tired of you, and if you aren’t out of this town in three days, we’re going to blow your brains out and blow up your house.”
Dr. King prayed aloud that night. He reports hearing a voice calling him to stand up for righteousness, justice, and truth; the voice of Jesus promising to be with him through the fight. Dr. King’s life from that moment on is a testimony to his response to that prayer.
What would we hear if we responded to Jesus’ call to “Follow me?”
What does it mean to follow Jesus in Plymouth in 2024?
I may not be able to answer that question for you exactly. But I do know that one thing Jesus calls us to do is to reflect Jesus’ light – God’s love, grace and mercy – to the world by loving and serving people the way he did. This is especially important when we face darkness, or difficult times.
This past year has been one of anticipation. We have overcome some serious obstacles that have been placed in our path. Last week we received our occupancy permit, and we only have a few more weeks to wait until we re-enter our Sanctuary. There is still a lot of work to be done, but it is getting done! And that is why it is so important for us to know who we are and whose we are. Philip and Nathaniel were able to build on their faith, and they, along with the other disciples, were able to share Christianity with the entire world. Martin Luther King, Jr., drew on his faith when he faced difficult times. Jesus wants us to remain faithful, to follow in his footsteps. In John 1, verse 5, it says, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it.” Jesus wants us to reflect his light, or his vision. When people see this light in us, they will see a sparkle of hope. And then we, like Philip, can say, “Further visions to follow!” Amen.