Second Sunday after the Epiphany
January 15, 2006
The Gospel: John 1:43-51
Sermon: "The Identity of Jesus in Title and Deed"
The Rev. William D. Oldland
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."
The Identity of Jesus in Title and Deed
Second Sunday after the Epiphany - January 15, 2006
How do we know who somebody is? What are the criteria we use to learn about and know a person? These questions might sound somewhat simple, possibly ridiculous, but they do require an answer.
For example, one way we know someone is by title. A principal of a school might have a nameplate on their office door that states the title. A priest might be known as pastor, preacher, or reverend. A medical doctor might be recognized by the title Dr. Jones or Al Jones, M.D. Yet, titles can also be confusing. If the letters do not follow a person's name the term doctor can be very misleading. The word doctor before a name could be a medical doctor, dentist, veterinarian, even a teacher or professor. So, title alone, while it might give clues, can only begin the process of finding out about a person. It gives us an idea of what the person does, and some other. clues about them as well.
What about our names? The names of a person can be very revealing. Our last name tells us our family line. First and middle names can also give clues to families of origin as well. For example, I am named after my two grandfathers. Family names give us a sense of origin, our beginnings. They also reveal these beginnings to others as well.
However, there are other names that define who we are as well. Some of us are known as mom or dad to our children. Similarly, we are identified as the mother of or father of our children. Sometimes I have people come to me and say aren't you William's or Daniel's dad? I am known as husband to one. Aren't you Ellen's husband? Some of the most interesting names are the ones we received as children or as we grew up around our friends. Some of us have nicknames. Some of these names are adaptations of our given name like Bill or Billy. Everyone who knows me from my school days still call me Billy. Some nicknames come from our favorite activities or just from something funny that happened in our lives. Finally some nicknames come from nothing particular at all, just a funny name. Yes, names and titles are two ways that we begin to learn about someone.
There is also a third way and it is the way we probably value the most and is the most important to us. We know people by what they do in their lives. We watch how people act. For when it really comes down to it the names might identify a person to some degree, but the real character of a person is known in what they do. The true character of a person is known by how they treat others. We know someone by the actions they take, the words they speak, the love they share. We know someone as their heart is revealed to us. We want to know if they listen. We want to know if they care. We want to know if they love. The true person is revealed to us when we see if their words and their actions match.
Well, the big question for us is how do we know who Jesus is? I suppose that has been the question for us since the day Jesus' ministry began. In the lesson today we see the writer John attempting to identify for us Jesus Christ. He does it in a most interesting way. First, he identifies Jesus by title. Earlier in the Gospel John the Baptist first identifies Jesus to his own disciples as the Lamb of God. After he baptizes Jesus, he calls him the Son of God. Some of the disciples call him Rabbi, which means teacher. After being with Jesus for a while Andrew goes to find his brother Peter. When he does he calls Jesus the Messiah. Phillip tells Nathanael about Jesus. Nathanael identifies Jesus also as the Son of God and then as the King of Israel. The titles are endless.
Jesus is also identified in other terms as well. He is called the son of Joseph of Nazareth. He is known by his family. He is also known as the one whom Moses and the prophets wrote about. He is known by history. The writer, John, clearly identifies Jesus by title and by family.
He also identifies Jesus by what God and Jesus do. Everyone we've mentioned meets Jesus in a different way. John meets Jesus at the baptism. He sees the Spirit of God descend on Jesus. Jesus' identity for John is confirmed for him in that manner. Andrew and another disciple follow Jesus. Jesus invites them to stay with him. In the invitation and the unknown conversation that follows Jesus' identity is known to Andrew. Jesus invites Phillip with two words and Phillip follows. When he finds Nathanael, Nathanael doesn't believe. Nathanael needed some kind of sign. Jesus provides the sign. Each person meets Jesus in a different way. Each person is looking for the Messiah and needs something to help them see who Jesus is. Jesus provides what they need in order for them to see and believe.
The good news of this entire beginning of this Gospel is that God provides what we need to believe. Are we willing to risk believing? Notice that Jesus extended the invitation to come and see and to follow. The invitation is there for us too. It is not an invitation that occurred to only a few many years ago. It is an invitation to us today. God says, Come and see what is in store for you in your life. Follow me and you will see wonders and marvels of the glory of God. Are we willing to do what the disciples did? They took the chance. They took the risk. By responding they learned the identity of Jesus not only through title, but through his teaching, his listening, his caring and his love. They learned that Jesus is the Son of God who came to redeem the world. They learned he came to offer us the opportunity to experience the fullness of God's love.
Jesus is the same today as he was then. He calls to us come and see and follow me. Are we willing to trust just a little that he is the Son of God?
I would like to pose the question to us in a different way today. Members of the Iona Community wrote this melody to this song (“Will You Come and Follow Me”) and I believe it expresses beautifully the question Jesus poses to us.