On 18th January 2015, the second Sunday of Epiphany, Helene Milena preached the following sermon in the Anglican Cathedral on Epiphany Island in Second Life. The readings were Psalm 139:1-5,12-18, 1 Samuel 3:1-10, and John 1:43-51.
Epiphany is a time when we consider how Jesus was revealed to people. In the time of the Bible Jesus was available for people to touch, hear and see. Yet even then some needed someone else to encourage them to actually take the time to discover who Jesus was revealed to be. This was the case with Nathanael. It took Philip’s invitation for him to ‘come and see’ to cause him to come to faith in Jesus.
Today is the Second Sunday of Epiphany. Churches of various traditions use this time to celebrate the revelation of Jesus to people in various ways.
The churches in the west have tended to concentrate on the visit by the magi or kings to visit Jesus when he was a young child. The magi represent all Gentiles, all non-Jews, who are included in the wonderful event of God coming to live among us.
This is a reminder that there are many people around the world who have not yet heard the Gospel or seen the Christian faith in action. It’s a good time to pray for the mission of the Church around the world, and within SL of course. Next week it is the feast of the Conversion of St Paul, who is often called the Apostle to the Gentiles.
This is also the beginning of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity in many parts of the Northern Hemisphere. If you want to access prayer and study resources for the eight days, they are here http://www.ctbi.org.uk/pdf_view.php?id=965 It’s good to remember that in the end, despite our differences, Christians belong to one family, worshipping the one Lord who was revealed in flesh to all people.
Meanwhile, Epiphany in the Eastern Churches is a time to celebrate Jesus’ revelation as God’s Son at the time of his baptism, an event we recalled last week. The wedding at Cana is also an opportunity to reveal Jesus, this time as one with power over nature, an attribute of God.
Today there is a focus on the way God calls people in order to fulfil his mission on earth. God could no doubt do everything he wants to do with no help at all but he chooses to work with our cooperation. It is we who are called to witness to the reality of the revelation of God. Without our witness, some will simply never recognise God, however obvious the revelation may seem to others.
The story of Philip and Nathanael is an example of how people work alongside God to make revelation more obvious for those who can’t see it. Jesus had already called two disciples the day before, one of whom was Andrew who brought his brother Simon to see Jesus. Andrew was absolutely convinced he had found the Messiah. Simon had followed his brother willingly.
The day after this Jesus called Philip to follow him. We have no idea what Jesus said apart from ‘Follow me’ but perhaps, as Andrew and Simon lived in the same town, the three of them had been talking after those two had spent the day with Jesus. Whatever it was, something really fired Philip up with excitement. As far as he was concerned, Jesus was the one whom Moses and the prophets had promised would come.
It seems that Philip particularly wanted to share this news with Nathanael and went off to find him. He can’t have been too far away as Jesus was able to see Nathanael sitting under the fig tree. Fig trees have wonderfully large leaves, as Adam and Eve discovered, and form a big umbrella. It was common at that time, when houses were small and poorly ventilated, to use fig trees as outdoor chapels, where it was possible to pray and study in the shade and privacy. Presumably, if Nathanael was studying under the fig tree, he was a dedicated Jew. He would have known the prophecies about the Messiah. Perhaps this is what urged Philip to find him. This was exactly the news Nathanael was waiting for.
Unfortunately, Philip’s enthusiasm was not received very well by Nathanael. Nazareth had a bad reputation as a Roman garrison was stationed there. Perhaps Nathanael also expected the Messiah to come from Bethlehem. Philip couldn’t prove to Nathanael that Jesus really was the Messiah. Some things we only know as a gut feeling. However, he did have the sense to encourage Nathanael to ‘Come and see’. That way there was a chance that Nathanael would also be convinced by his encounter with Jesus.
Once Nathanael could see Jesus face to face and talk with him, he needed no more convincing. Jesus had such knowledge of Nathanael that he seems to have been instantly convinced and blurted out: ‘You are the Son of God. You are the King of Israel!’ Philip’s invitation led to Nathanael’s conversion.
God still works with people to help make his revelation real. He will work through each of us if we choose to cooperate. Of course there are some people who have the special gift of evangelism but all of us can do what Philip did: explain what we think we have found and invite others to ‘Come and see’. There is no need to use clever arguments when approaching people. If we have really encountered Jesus, we have something that is very real to share with others. We don’t need to have been Christians for very long. It seems that Philip was barely called when he went off to find Nathanael. Philip did his bit, he was a faithful witness to what he had experienced. God did the rest and won a sceptical person over to faith. Someone once helped us to find faith; each of us is called to do the same for others.
I know for a fact that several members of our community here on Epiphany Island are here because someone has said ‘Come and see.’. I suspect that several people might have been a little like Nathanael: ‘Anglican? Can any good come out of a denomination that emerged as a political convenience? Can God possibly be among people who seem to be unable to make up their minds on so many things? I don’t like denominations anyway!’ But they have come and seen, and stayed because they have had an encounter with God and with his Son, Jesus, through the worship and fellowship.
It has been said that the way to find out what Anglicans believe is to worship with them as our worship expresses our belief. Perhaps Anglicans are the ideal church to ‘come and see’ as that’s the best way to find out about us.
I am always grateful for the wonderful mix of people whom God has called into fellowship on Epiphany Island. We have people from all over the world, from different traditions of Christianity, who would probably argue over many topics but who are happy to concentrate on what we have in common and worship together. This is something really worth giving thanks for in this Week of Christian Unity.