In our liturgical calendar we have taken a leap forward in the life of Jesus. Just 8 days ago we were celebrating the Epiphany and the baby was still in the manger. Last Sunday we saw that baby, now grown, being baptized and commissioned for adult ministry, and today, Jesus is recruiting. Some of John the Baptist´s disciples have already joined him, and now he calls Philip. His recruitment pitch could hardly be simpler: Follow Me.
What is the first thing Philip does as a disciple of Jesus? He goes looking for someone else to recruit. That´s a clue for us: job one for a follower of Jesus is to invite others to follow him. And Philip seeks out Nathanael, who betrays a rather unattractive assumption: Can anything good come out of Nazareth? Apparently Nazareth has a reputation for producing failures, for being a place nobody would want to go, a place lacking in opportunities for growth. It´s not where the Messiah is supposed to come from.
Can anything good come out of Nazareth? With exquisite timing, our lectionary offers us this line in a week when we have heard, from the highest office in the land, similarly unattractive assumptions, in language that I cannot repeat in the pulpit, voiced about the nations to which many of our best and brightest in this country trace their roots.
One of the things that truly makes America great is the commitment to unlimited opportunity for people from every background. Each of us, no matter where our roots lie, is free to pursue our calling: each is owed the dignity of meaningful work and of aspiration to high places. That, of course, is the essence of what Martin Luther King preached and the legacy that we celebrate this weekend.
It is a repeating theme of Scripture, too, that God calls unlikely people, from unlikely places, to do remarkable things. The boy Samuel, still just a child, was serving as a page in the Temple when he was called by the Lord to take a hard message to his mentor. Who would think to ask a young child to tell his aged and revered master that his sons have been condemned for blasphemy? As our Psalm celebrates, God knows us intimately and watches over us, behind and before, from the moment we are conceived and for every day of our lives. God knows our worth, and God calls us into ministry. Everyone has a job in God´s economy.
Jesus says, Follow me. No rules, no entrance tests, no hierarchies, but simply follow. Go where I go. Do what I do. Love whom I love. Feed, heal, reconcile, transform. This is discipleship. This is how we do church. Each of us is called into a vocation of community and service, and no prior experience is required, just acceptance that we are deeply loved by our Creator, that each of us is holy and precious in God´s sight, and that there is meaningful work for each of us to undertake, no matter how young or old we are, no matter where we come from.
Philip invites Nathanael to come and see. It´s a simple invitation that we too can employ when we invite others. When was the last time you invited someone to come and see the work of God we are doing at St. Paul´s? If you don’t know what we are doing, I invite you to come and see. Any day of the week, come and see what we are doing here. There is more going on than you might imagine. I guarantee that even if you are as skeptical as Nathanael, there is a ministry, a calling for everyone. It is our job, the job of the cathedral staff, to equip you and encourage you in discerning that calling, just as the old priest Eli understood that it was his job in his twilight years to guide and form the young Samuel in his prophetic ministry.
What might your calling be? What is your job in the service of God and God´s people? Take a moment now and share with your neighbor, preferably not your spouse, what ministry gives you joy, or if you don´t have one yet, share what kind of ministry would give you joy. Take a couple of minutes to share. Be sure to exchange names first!
Do you know what you just did? You just did some evangelizing. It´s as simple as that, as simple as saying ¨come and see.¨ When we share what gives us joy in serving God, we are sharing good news, and it´s contagious. It didn´t take Jesus long to form his band of disciples because the people he asked brought their friends. Andrew brought his brother Simon and Philip brought Nathanael. None of them were perfect people: Simon denied Jesus and Nathanael insulted him, but they were still called.
A line in our Catechism tells us that the mission of the church is to restore all people to God and each other. We each need to be restored to the fullness of incarnation. It´s a lifelong project. We grow into that fullness by acting like Jesus, by engaging in the lives of those who need to be healed, and in so doing, being healed ourselves. By engaging in the work of healing, you yourself will experience healing, and you deserve to experience it. In the eyes of God and in this community, you matter.
Did you notice that in the story of Samuel, God had to keep on trying to reach the boy? Samuel didn´t understand the first time or even the third time that it was God calling. God keeps on calling us, even when we don´t recognize God´s voice, even when we stop our ears and run away (stay tuned for the story of Jonah next week). Samuel needed his mentor to discern what was happening and to tell him how to respond. That´s one of the reasons we need the church, to help us discern when a call is coming from God, and when it isn´t. The community that surrounds us plays an active role in shaping our vocations, in forming us as followers of Jesus.
The baptismal promises that we repeated last week include a line about respecting the dignity of every human being. One way to offer dignity is to offer meaningful work, to offer an identity, a role, a way to feel needed. There´s a job for everyone, and everyone can contribute to the work of the Kingdom, right here at St. Paul´s. If you are good with numbers you can be a counter. If you are good with parties you can be on our hospitality team. If you love children you can help with Godly Play or children´s chapel. If you enjoy being part of the action in worship, there are lots of roles. If you gain satisfaction from seeing a program laid out clearly and elegantly, come help with bulletin preparation. If you love spending time alone with God, you can sit in the narthex and offer prayer as a docent.
Can anything good come out of Nazareth? We know the answer to that rhetorical question. No matter where you are from, you are welcome at the table. Whoever you are and wherever you find yourself in the journey of faith, there´s a place for you here and a job for you to do. Come and see. Join us as we follow Jesus, and you too will see ¨greater things¨¨.
Second Sunday after Epiphany, January 14 2018
The Very Rev Penelope Bridges