43 The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, “Follow me.”
44 Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida. 45 Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”
46 “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked. “Come and see,” said Philip.
47 When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.”
48 “How do you know me?” Nathanael asked.
Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.”
49 Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.”
50 Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.” 51 He then added, “Very truly I tell you, you will see ‘heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on’ the Son of Man.”
There is a word in the first line of the gospel lesson today that it is easy to miss.
It has a lot to do with the way we come to faith, and a lot to do with what I spoke about last week, and how as Lutherans, understanding the original sin into which we are born, we insist on the primacy of God’s work in our lives: realising that he was at work in us long before we could “Make a personal decision to invite Jesus into my life”.
Listen again to verse 43.
The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, “Follow me.” Did you hear it? It’s the participle phrase relating to what Jesus was doing. It goes, “finding Philip”, Two words is all we hear about it. How long was Jesus looking for him? Did he know where to find him? Of course, it was Jesus. I cannot believe that he just stumbled over him accidentally and said: “He will do”, no this would go against everything we know of God’s plan for us, of his predestination of us, of the part he has for us to play in his eternal plan.
Isn’t it amazing how often our seeking God finds people who are not really even looking for him?
Jonah wasn’t applying for a job as a prophet, David was a shepherd boy out in the paddock looking after the sheep. Noah, Moses, Abraham, Joseph son of Jacob, and famous heroic women of the bible: Ruth, Esther, Rahab, Mary the mother of Jesus. None of them were particularly out searching for God, and were converted because they researched and decided that he was the one they should follow.
In the New Testament in the verses just before those of our Gospel, Peter James and John were earning their daily bread, fishing. Saul of Tarsus was not seeking the Lord Jesus in order to believe in him: quite the opposite. Nathanael was sitting under a fig tree minding his own business when Jesus “Found” Philip, and Philip “found” him. Accident? Of course not.
There are so many other examples. In fact, it seems those that did come and present themselves to Jesus and ask him to take them on as followers were often treated harshly enough by him that they turned away. (Matt 8:18-22, Mark 10:22)
The entry into the kingdom of heaven is not one that comes by audition, but by being found. And once we are found, we are invited. Sadly, not everyone takes up that invitation, to those who do the promise is made “come and you will see.”
This is not an invitation to study, or academia, but to relationship. It is the invitation to join in the adventuring party on their great adventure.
Come and you will see.
The idea of sight is mentioned quite a bit in this reading. What was it that convinced Nathaniel that Jesus was who he said he was?
It was not that Nathaniel had done all the research, studied every religion and decided that Jesus was the way to go. It was the fact that Jesus had seen him.
In Words that echoed Psalm 32, verse 2, Jesus analysed and diagnosed him as having no deceit in his spirit. Jesus saw him, and Jesus knew him, in a way that no-one else could.
The promise Jesus makes to Nathanael reinforces this connection between following and seeing.
Jesus told him that coming with him he would see greater things than these: he would see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.
This of course relates back to Jacob’s ladder, the dream given by God to Jacob, again, not when he was seeking God, being holy and keeping every commandment. Instead, Jacob was tired, exhausted really, running for his life. He was a scoundrel, a cheater, a swindler, and God saw him and God called him and God used him and a nation was born.
This is not just an ancient phenomenon, this idea of being seen and known. I was binge watching a Netflix series the other day and someone stopped someone else in a workplace and simply said to them: “I want you to know that I see you”. And this was an amazing compliment. After “I see you” came “I appreciate you”.
We long for recognition, to be in community and to be considered a part of it, an integral part of it. We want people to see us and know us, and yet, fascinatingly, one of the greatest listed fears that people have these days: Being seen.
We think we know ourselves better than anyone else. We think we know ourselves spiritually better than anyone else. We think we have everyone fooled. But so many people are afraid that people will SEE them for who they really are, and that if they do, they will turn away. Or expose them, or hate them, or dismiss them as not a worthy part of their community.
Imagine being seen, I mean really being seen, for who you really are, with all the things you like to hide from other people, laid bare for all the world to point their fingers at and laugh at, or cringe away from, and NOT having to be afraid?
But can you imagine if there was someone who we would be happy to have see us?
You are seen, inside and out, every dark secret in every hidden corner of your heart, and you are known completely and even if you sometimes think you are an imposter in your own life, you are seen fully and still you are loved, and called, with all of those parts of you that you don’t want anyone to know about or see: God calls the person with all of those faults and failings and weaknesses and invites you to come and see, to come on the adventure of the Christian life, on and off the map, to follow where he leads.
The destination may look nothing like you expect. The journey may look nothing like you expect.
It didn’t, I can guarantee it, for Philip, and Nathanael, for Peter James and John, for Jonah, Rauth, David, Esther, Abraham etc etc.
But then it is not up to us to shape the journey. If it took a known path, then it would not be an adventure, would it? Like Dora the explorer. Look I hate to pay out on Dora, but she isn’t much of an explorer. Because you know what she has in her backpack? A Map! I don’t think yo are an explorer when you are following a map. I think the real adventure is where the map stops, where the ancient maps used to have words like: “Here there be dragons”.
I want to let you in on a little secret. So now you will see and know a little bit more about my particular weirdness: I have this sort of a personal tradition that I have been doing for about 15 years or so now.
Every time I am introduced to a baby for the first time, when someone in my family, or my church family celebrates the joyous arrival of a newborn, a new life, if I get to hold them, or if I lean down next to them in their stroller, I whisper into the child’s ear something they don’t understand, but that is important to me, because it helps me remember what we are doing, and where they are going.
It is what I believe we are saying when we clap at the baptism of anyone, child or adult. It symbolises to me the journey that we are all on together, and how we should look at it, all the things that are out of left field that might scare us, like covid especially in the last few years, or anything else really.
The words are short.
There are only four of them.
But I have said them a lot over the years.
Would you like to know what they are?
“Welcome to the adventure”
Your story will have comedy, it will have tragedy. It will have love and probably hate and a cast of hundreds if not thousands. But it is not just your story. And it is not just theirs. We are part of something bigger, still unfolding like the pages of the greatest epic ever written. And God found you and included you in this adventure because you have a part to play and he needs you.
Some parts of it will be hard, sure. But it has the happiest of endings. The heavenliest of endings. And he walks beside us
Welcome to the adventure.