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Second Sunday after the Epiphany, January 18, 2015

I was a chorus kid. Nobody I hung around with was in the chorus, and I felt pretty alone. Then one day a band kid invited me to one of their parties. Come on, it will be fun, they said. And so I went. There were band students and other students who had nothing to do with band or chorus. I came to see and I stayed. I felt part of the group, and these people became my best high school friends. In turn, I invited one of my friends to join the group. She did and also stayed with the group. I was a witness to what was going on in that circle of people, as my friend has been to me.

One time when I was on retreat, I was walking a labyrinth cut in the grass. One of our group came over and whispered to me, “Come and see what I found”. I walked over and saw a robin’s egg in the path. My inviter also issued the invitation to others and we all became part of a community – the group that had seen the robin’s egg. It became a topic of discussion about our walks at a meal that day, and I was happy to be in on the discovery.

Epiphany is the season of revelation – the revelation of Jesus as Son of God, both human and divine. John has already revealed who Jesus is in the poetic language we heard at Christmas – “In the beginning was the word” and now it is time to reveal Jesus to the people he has come to be with, to be one of. Jesus’ gathering of disciples begins with John’s testimony in front of two of his disciples that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Interested by this description, Andrew and another disciple ask Jesus where he is staying and he invites them to “Come and see”. Whatever he said or did during the day convinced at least Andrew that Jesus was the Messiah and he went to get his brother Simon Peter to tell him who they had found. Jesus knows Peter’s name without being asked and this intimate knowledge of him convinces Peter to stay.

The next day, Jesus decides to go down to Galilee from the area surrounding Jerusalem. There he meets Philip and simply says “Follow me” and Philip does. Philip goes and gets Nathanael and tells him they have found Jesus, son of Joseph from Nazareth and Philip believes that he is the one the law and the prophets foretell. Jesus’ human father and Nazarene background is hardly a ringing endorsement for Jesus being anything but a human being, at most a new rabbi. No wonder Nathanael is skeptical. But Philip extends the invitation to “Come and see”. Don’t believe because of me, but believe because of what you see. So Nathanael comes and Jesus again reveals supernatural abilities in knowing about Nathanael’s character. With just that statement, Nathanael turns completely around and calls Jesus Son of God and King of the Jews.

Revelation takes not only the showing of oneself, but an invitation to come and see, otherwise the revelation is like the tree falling in the woods – does it make a noise if no one is around to hear it? There are some things that the invitations to revelation have in common. They are not coercive. Neither John the Baptist nor Andrew nor Philip insist that those they are inviting do what they suggest or else. It is a gentle invitation and respects the individual’s right not to come. The invitations are not judgmental. Especially in Nathanael’s case, Philip does not give him trouble for his skepticism and tell him what an unbelieving fool he is. The invitations are simple, just a few words, They describe Jesus and call the other person to share in the knowledge that the requester has. Often it takes another person to ask you to do something that you would never dream of doing on your own. The invitation is to belong to a community, which all human beings have a need to do. Finally, the invitation is to believe and follow. In John, those are the marks of true discipleship.

Then there is the revelation. Jesus reveals himself in three ways. He spent a lot of time with Andrew and the unnamed disciple and he must have said something to them that made them believe and want to go tell those closest to them about this wonderful person they had found. Jesus also reveals himself through his foreknowledge of the people that are invited to come and see. He knows Peter’s name and he describes Nathanael’s character, having only seen him under the fig tree. Then he promises them and us since the “you” shifts to plural that he is the connection between heaven and earth, that we will see angels ascending and descending on the Son of Man. This metaphor is a reference to the ladder Jacob saw in his dream on which angels were ascending from earth to heaven and back again. Now the highway between heaven and earth is Jesus, the Word made flesh.

I have always wondered about these call stories. I have never met anyone who has the magnetism to convince me to follow him or her with just a look. I have never met anyone whom I might claim great things for if that person knew something about me that I didn’t tell them. I once had a person who didn’t know me address me as Ann, and I was surprised, only to remember that my headband said “Ann” on it. What in the world did these people see in Jesus anyway? Were they empty and looking for something to give their lives meaning. Were they gullible dupes? Were they loners who wanted to belong to a group, any group? I think, like all of us, they longed to be known and accepted. And that is what Jesus did to reveal himself as God. He knew and accepted this bunch of disciples he had gathered. He knew them even before he had any contact with them. He knew where they believed and where they were skeptical. He knew them inside and out, and something in his mannerisms told them that and led them to belief that this man Jesus was also the Messiah, the Son of God.

So God reveals Godself to us and reveals us to ourselves as well. What it our response? It is just as it is in the story. We are called to witness to this revelation of God in Christ. We are to take in the wonderful news that God knows all about us, loves us and forgives us and spread it to others. It doesn’t take any long speeches or proofs of the resurrection or insistence on believing in miracles. A witness is not about doctrine; it is about relationship between ourselves and God. It is about being known and loved and inviting others to have that chance for what we all need – to fill up that hole in our soul that only a loving God is enough for. It is about sharing ourselves with others, even the skeptics, and inviting them into God’s world of peace and love and justice and forgiveness.

The man we remember this week, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., was a witness for Jesus. He proclaimed Jesus’ values of equality and non-violence. He asked people to come and see what Jesus was up to in the civil rights movement and they came. He gave his life for his witness, which disciples are sometimes called to do. He followed Jesus to the end.

Jesus wants us to believe in and follow him. He wants us to be as excited about that as Andrew and Philip were. He wants us to be strengthened by the Holy Spirit to share the good news with others. There are people out there who are searching, wanting to be known and loved. Have you invited any of them to come and see what is going on at St. John’s? Have you shared with them what God means to you? Have you pointed the way to Jesus? Jesus wasn’t always able to convince people to follow him and those first disciples weren’t either. It is hard to ask and even harder to be rejected. But for Jesus to be revealed to someone who needs him, we must be willing to take that risk. It just has to be a short statement, a short invitation. Next time you feel a nudge to witness, take God up on it. Be a part of spreading the community that Jesus began to gather around him in those first few days, and you will be blessed.


     - Rev. Ann Barker