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'Follow Me'

“Follow Me”
Lynne Prechel, Assoc. in Ministry

John 1:43-51
We live in a culture of invitation. Television invites us to join complicated story

arcs so that we feel connected to the characters. Commercials invite us to see their product as a cool, new movement and invite us to join it. We are invited to join groups on Facebook and invited into chat rooms and to blog our responses or tweet one another when we agree with an issue. The number of social networks is exploding

as we are invited into ever expanding ways to connect. People talk on cell phones, but they ever-increasingly text. How many of you text? Raise your hands. If you have a teenager or a young adult in your life, you better learn to text if you want to stay
in touch with them. Consider this your invitation to become current in your way of communicating!

Last Sunday we heard about the baptism of Jesus, and today we hear about his process of calling the disciples. It is the same with us: after our baptism we are called to follow him. This morning’s text highlights Philip inviting Nathanael to come and witness for himself the extraordinary person that was Jesus. What was it about Jesus that made people be so affected by him? We know from the Gospels that people were drawn to him, that he had a special magnetism and charisma. What would he have been like to meet, to hear teach? to watch as he healed people? The Bible tells us in Matthew during the Sermon on the Mount that Jesus taught as one having authority. There are many such Biblical accounts of his power and magnetic personality. Philip

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was obviously so impressed with Jesus that he didn’t bother to tell Nathanael details of Jesus’ healings or his skill as a learned teacher. He knew that when Nathanael met Jesus, he would be convinced utterly, just as he himself had been upon meeting and hearing Jesus. “Come and see for yourself,” he invited Nathanael. “Come and see.”

“Come and see.” These words invite Nathanael, and us, to a deeper faith. Notice that Nathanael was skeptical at the start. His initial attitude towards Jesus was based on his preconceptions and his contempt for Nazareth, from which he thought nothing good could come. However, his actual experience of Jesus changed his mind completely.

“Come and see.” We in the congregation should turn to those outside the church and say those words of invitation. Come and see what makes me tick at the center
of my being, what feeds my soul, how I become a better person when surrounded
by like-minded Christians in various acts of serving, giving, and sharing love. Come and see the way people rise and sing songs as one, speaking prayers that nurture us all, hungrily partake of the bread and cup, kneel as one body at the communion rail. Come and see - experience the hugs and handshakes, the shared tears and sorrows, the close-knit community breathing forgiveness with Christ’s breath upon each other and the world. Come... and see. Speaking these words of invitation to those who are outside the church makes sense, just as Philip said them to the newcomer Nathanael. But I believe there is room for us to grow and expand with this invitation of “come
and see,” too. We are meant to respond to the call to come and see in a different


perspective than those who are brand new to the faith. Each Sunday, we come and
sit in our favorite pew and open our hearts to the message of the lessons and the gospel. And in the church we explore afresh the meaning of each gospel story and the salvation to which it points. We, too, still “come and see."

You are present-day followers of Jesus, and I have some questions for
you: What is it that draws you to come to church each Sunday? What is the most compelling thing about your church and church community, that thing or activity that gives you the most life? Would you be willing to invite someone you know to come and see - and share this aspect of our congregational life that you enjoy? Think about how you might invite someone to come with you on a Sunday with Philip’s words. It’s our calling to reach out to the skeptics and unbelievers outside our sanctuary.

Let’s talk about skeptics and unbelievers. There are many who are skeptical about the church today. There are people who find Jesus an interesting person and may even privately admire him, but who reject Christian faith in its entirety. Or are turned off by hypocritical behavior within religious institutions. How can the church convince today's skeptics that Jesus is worth following? Better yet, how can WE convince them?

In some cases, people have been blinded by their preconceptions about the church, just as Nathanael was blinded by his preconceptions about Nazareth. You heard him: “What good can possibly come out of Nazareth, of all places? What


they have heard or seen about the church−from a distance−convinces them that the church is a bad thing. Sometimes these preconceptions are unfair. People prejudge the church without actually getting to know it. But the church must also ask itself whether it has failed to offer people reasons why they should "come and see." Does the church thoughtfully offer people a coherent vision for life? Or does it offer a mixture of entertainment, pop psychology, and superficial spirituality that satisfies in the short term but leaves people empty, when the difficult questions and problems of life arise? If we are convinced that Christian faith holds the truth about human life, then we must show people how that truth makes sense and is embodied in our own lives, both as individuals and as communities.1 To do that, we have to invite them to join us at church, and tell them why we come here week after week. True, it’s not easy to step outside your comfort zone and invite an unchurched friend to join you on a Sunday. It might make it easier if we remember that it’s not solely up to us: the Holy Spirit is the most powerful force behind what brings people to faith in Jesus Christ.

We’ve heard about Philip’s invitation to Nathanael, and now let’s focus on what Jesus says to Philip earlier in the text. Jesus says, “Follow me.” Philip doesn’t really know what Jesus is summoning him to, and we’re not told in the text. It might be to physically follow him from one destination to another in the town of Galilee. Philip was in for a surprise, though. The invitation from Jesus was life-changing for him.

Consider the way Jesus really meant it to be taken. “Follow me.” Now apply it to yourself, for that is what the gospel intends us to do. Take it personally. When it’s not



over-simplified, such a commitment is a near monumental undertaking. Not only does it take prayerful deliberation, particularly when situations are complex or seem different from those we see in the gospels, but also in terms of just what a commitment like this demands. Turning the other cheek, loving one’s enemies, welcoming those who are outcast. Such is not for those who are impatient and expect results quickly or demand a precise timetable, nor for those who are faint of heart, or expect following Jesus to be easily accomplished.2

“Follow me.” Those are words that take courage to live by: to keep plugging along doing what Jesus would do in every situation is sticking with the journey for the long haul. It’s not easy to follow Jesus. To forgive a person who openly resents you, to be helpful to a belligerent, homeless woman, to smile and trade words of greeting with the grizzled man in a wheelchair who sits every day by the Dollar Store. Remember the bracelets with the letters “WWJD?” “What would Jesus do?” And we thought those bracelets were just for the youth groups in our churches. Hah! It takes courage to wear one and live by it.

What Jesus says to Philip, “Follow me,” is an invitation of enormous magnitude. A courageous undertaking. A life-long journey of sticking to the job of responding to every situation in life with the inner question: “What would Jesus do right now if he were in this situation?” And then doing what he would have done.

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One of my favorite authors is Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk of the Gethsemani Abbey in Kentucky, who passed away in 1968. He wrote more than 70 books that included poetry, personal journals, collections of letters, social criticism, and writings on peace, justice, and ecumenism. He lived his life by asking himself “what would Jesus do.” He wrote that every one of us forms an idea of Christ that is limited and incomplete. It’s cut according to our own measure. We make Jesus Christ not only the incarnation of God, but also the incarnation of the things we and our society and our part of society happen to live for. Therefore, it is not enough merely to imitate the Christ we have in our imagination, Merton says. We read the gospels not merely to get a picture or an idea of Christ, but to enter in and pass through the words of revelation to establish, by faith, a vital contact with the Christ who dwells in our souls as God. If we depend on our own ideas, our own judgment and our own efforts to reproduce the life of Christ, we will only act out some kind of pious charade which will ultimately scare everybody we meet because it will be so stiff and artificial. Merton tells us that it is the Spirit of God that must teach us who Christ is and form Christ in us and transform us into other Christs.3 Looking at this from a Lutheran perspective, I remember Martin Luther wrote that our call as believers is to become “little Christs in the world.” So for us to become little Christs, that is, like Christ, is to enter into the life of the whole Christ, which is the mystical body of believers - all of us here and all those who believe - and we become the arms and legs, hands and feet, loving eyes and forgiving mouth of Christ, led by his Spirit, which is alive in the world.

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What would Jesus do. Ask yourself that question everyday, remembering that Jesus is pure love, forgiving and redeeming. Follow him truly and have abundant life in him. May you be led by the power of the Spirit as you follow Jesus, our Lord. Amen. 

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