Sunday, January 14, 2024 – Epiphany 2

Speaker: Chris Paul
Category: Weekly Sermons

John 1:43-51

Epiphany is a season of light, a time to reflect on how our hearts and lives can be a light to others.  

One thing about this light is that it’s not meant for us to keep it to ourselves.  We aren’t meant to hide the light away and keep it a secret.  It is meant for all so that all might see the gifts of creation.

Jesus talks about this when he urges us not to hide the light and put it under a bushel but instead use it to enlighten the world.

Like Nathaniel in our gospel reading today, we tend to spend a lot of time looking around for signs.  We search everywhere, near and far, high and low, for some confirmation that God is with us.  When all we really need to do is to learn to see with our hearts because when we truly open the eyes of our hearts, we begin to see the God that is near and around us at all times.

Our Gospel message today is calling us into discipleship, to follow Jesus, and to use our light for others.  We hear the discipleship call from Jesus when he says, “Follow me.” But it is also more than just a call to discipleship; we are also being called to invite others to follow Jesus, just as Philip invites Nathaniel to “Come and See.”  We all know the familiar passage that says the light will shine in the darkness, and the darkness shall not overcome it.  

When I was a child growing up, I was terrified of the darkness.  I hated sleeping in the dark because the terrifying monsters under my bed would get me once the lights went out. Thank goodness for my daffy duck bedside lamp that always illuminated the darkness for me!! While growing up, we would often visit my cousin’s house out in the Nebraska country.  Now, my cousins consisted of 5 older boys who ran wild.

There was a particular game they liked to play, and the game was, when we arrived, the kids would jump out of the car and run for our lives while the parents went inside to have adult time. You see, the kids were running for our lives because it was like a scene from the movie Mad Max, where once the kids were away from the vehicles, these motorcycles and four-wheelers would come screeching out of the woods with a cloud of dust flying in the air behind them.  You knew you had to run for your life!!

Those riding the motorcycles and four-wheelers were trying to track us down and capture us.  Once captured, we would then be taken to some spot on the farm, typically a grain bin, where we would be shut inside.  Shut In the darkness, all alone, where no light would get in. It was terrifying for us, as you can imagine.  There was not much to do in those grain bins, except try to get out, although you couldn’t see anything, so it was pointless.

Luckily, One thing I could always look forward to, was when that door would open and the light would suddenly rush in, overtaking the darkness.  We always knew we would be rescued from the darkness, but waiting for the light was hard. I know now that God was with us in the darkness, just as God is with us in the light. However, I may not have realized that as a child, I can look back and see that now.

We are given the gift of light, which is the Life of the world in Jesus Christ.  And giving it away, letting go of what we already have, is what gives us life in return. This light is what unites us with God in Christ, and it is meant to give light and life to the whole world, everyone, all people.  Holding onto the lights and our gifts results in a world that is upside down from God’s view of things.

Some may find it difficult to give away a gift such as light.  If we are given a gift from God, then, of course, we want to hang on to it. But, If we don’t share and spread the light, we risk the world running into darkness.  We often pray that Christ will enkindle a light within us and stir it up within our hearts, so we need to believe what we pray.

I recently read a story about a preacher who was going around town yelling at people that they needed to put god into their lives.  It’s kind of like the street corner guy with the microphone yelling as you drive by.  We’ve all seen them. The Rabbi of, the same local town, said, our task is not to put God into our lives.  God is already there.  Our task is simply to realize that.

God is the ground of our being.  The relationship between God and us is sheer grace, and separation from that relationship is not possible.  God does not know how to be absent, even if we sometimes forget God is with us. Today, our epiphany is realizing we are being called to discipleship, which is, first of   all, a willingness to walk with Jesus.  It is not obedience to an abstract set of codes, but consent to a joyful relationship.

What is interesting to me in our Gospel reading today, is we have a cynic among us. 

I’m sure you’ve all heard some cynical quotes in your life, like:

                Change is inevitable…except from vending machines of my favorites is:

                If at first you don’t succeed, then skydiving definitely isn’t for you.

Nathaniel is a cynic in his response when he says, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”

Nathaniel is honest enough to express amazement that God’s messiah could come from an insignificant village.

And when Jesus arrives on the scene in our gospel today, he has not performed any miracles, shown any signs, or engaged in any teaching.  This probably causes Nathaniel to scoff at Philip’s words and his invitation to come and see. Jesus has the power to awaken people and elicit a response, which is evident when Philip simply hears the imperative to “follow,” and obediently, he does exactly that.

Even better, Nathaniel, who has no command from Jesus, comes, sees, hears, and spontaneously follows.   It is the sheer presence of Jesus that draws them both in. We also can’t go through this passage today without looking at the imagery when Jesus tells of the heavens opening and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man. I’m sure this passage sounds familiar to you.  It vividly reminds me of Jacobs’s vision of the angels at Bethel.   Surely, God is in this place.  Like Jacob, who saw God face to face, Nathaniel is seeing the face of God face to face, and Jesus, the son of man, is the ultimate ladder stretching between heaven and earth.

I remember preaching about Jacobs ladder when I was here during covid.  Surely, the presence of God is in this place. Jesus is the point where the heavens are opened, and the divine glory can be contemplated. In the gospel, Jesus finds Philip, and Philip finds Nathaniel.  Philip only makes the sly comment, come and see.  Philip is leading another person to Jesus by a simple invitation. This is exactly the kind of interaction we should expect from Jesus.  It is a disarming encounter where Jesus gets past our defenses to speak to our longings and what is truly in our hearts. 

As my internship ends and my time at Ascension winds down, I am reminded how strongly the presence of God is in this building. I look around at this church’s beauty, the many faces of people that I have met, and the many different services, and clearly know that God is present in this place.  God is working in and amongst everyone here, building the beloved community.

Continue that good work as you go into the future, proclaiming the good news and following Christ as your savior. This may be my last Sunday for this internship, but my time here has been invaluable. Each of you has affected my ministry in some way, and I have to be honest, coming from a small church, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I came to ascension. Would I be welcome?  Would I be accepted into this community?   I can tell you that the love and affection you showed me during my time here has forever left a mark on my heart and will be a part of my ministry forever.

I will take a part of the Ascension with me as I go, but I won’t be far.   I will always continue to pray for you, and I ask that you continue your prayers for me in this next chapter of my ministry, wherever that may take me.  Let your light shine bright as the church of the Ascension and Onward Christian Soldiers!!