Sermon John 1:43-51 “Gathering the Troops” January 18, 2015
There’s an unusual phenomenon, which seems to be universal among all living beings, at least all living things with working intellects. Confronted by something new, unfamiliar and challenging most creatures will initially show fear, respect, or a desire to flee. Often, when something new confronts our lives, we want to take flight, ignore this newness, be suspicious of its purpose or its intent. We want to question, to raise up arms against it or we simply want to shut down. But what makes us different from some creatures we, as human beings, also have a healthy, lively curiosity. While running away may seem advisable, at the same time we want to investigate this new thing or idea. We want to take control of it and of our fears about it. We want to conquer it or, in some way, to prove our mettle. We want to stretch beyond what we think are our known limits and test the strength of our character or our wiliness to step up and take on whatever challenge might present itself. This is also very human and very universal.
In our reading this morning, Nathanael is immediately on guard when he hears of Philip’s new acquaintance. A friend from Nazareth? Nathanael’s derision is blunt and biased; “Can anything from Nazareth be good?” This little dialogue gives us a peek into the workings of social interaction in the days of Jesus Christ. It reminds reader or listener of the Old Testament prophets and their long ago predication. Apparently, Nathanael’s attitude is pretty universal for the time in which this event occurs. Nothing good could come out of Nazareth. The town of Nazareth was a small enclave of some 200-400 people. It had no significance nor was it mentioned in the Messianic prophecies. Wherever the Messiah might hail from it would not be from a town of such small and meager resources. So how could anything good come out of Nazareth?
Interestingly, Philip doesn’t bother to waste his breath arguing his case with skeptical Nathanael. He simply used a phrase that would be repeated throughout John’s gospel – “Come and see.” Come and test my statement for yourself. Don’t take my word for it. Come and see. Nathanael, still a bit smug and overly suspicious follows the advice, goes to meet this so-called Messiah and is immediately turned from skepticism to faith.
We are always a bit more comfortable when we can test a product or service for ourselves. We may appreciate the endorsements of our friends before we buy something or use a service, but in the end, we want to try it out on our own and gather our own opinions as to the validity of worth in the product or service. Smart marketers, car dealers, would soon realize this very human need to try out a product so they allow their customers take the car out for a test spin. If the test went well, the customer would more likely buy the vehicle. Now, if you are someone like me who tends to buy products on line and you’re smart about it, you make sure it is 100% guaranteed. If the product doesn’t live up to the hype, you get your money back…. a full refund. The best part, you get to try it out and that is far more comfortable than simply buying something sight unseen.
Well, we know some things may be a gamble. I always laugh when I think back to a Seinfeld episode a number of years ago when Jerry Seinfeld has bought some melon from the local grocer. Neighbor Kramer comes into the apartment; sees the melon on the counter and asks Jerry where he’s ought it. When Jerry responds, Kramer gets quite agitated – the fruit didn’t come from Kramer’s favorite and trusted fruit and veggie store – Joe’s. Suspiciously, Kramer takes a bite of the melon and immediately spits it out declaring it bad. He tells Jerry he should take the melon back to the grocery store but Jerry’s response is priceless – “I don’t return fruit. Fruit’s a gamble.”
But is life a gamble? Is faith? Is Christ a gamble? Well, at times, our faith does seem a little like a brisk game of poker. The stakes are high; the outcome may feel uncertain and our own skepticism that anything good can come out of this may stand in our way, may keep us from taking a chance, and may cause us to resist the encouragement of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Will we hear the words “come and see” and even if we hear them, can we overcome our natural fears, doubts, and uncertainties? Can we let ourselves be led into a new adventure, a new walk, a new possibility without a road map insuring the path we are to follow in order to arrive safely at the promised destination.
While Jesus was actively seeking out a community of men and women who would follow Him, he was not averse to laying some of the responsibility on those who had already said, “Yes” to his invitation. Philip had been one of first disciples and he was so excited by the very real possibility that this Jesus, this man from the scorned town of Nazareth was indeed the promised Messiah; he just had to share the good news. That’s exactly what Christ wanted Philip to do…share the good news. And of, course as Christ’s disciples, we are asked to do the same…to share the good news of redemption, grace and God’s love.
In a commentary about this passage, Stan Adamson writes:
“This gospel passage is about the calling of disciples. Calls are made on us regularly to give our allegiance to various people and institutions. For example, if we want telephone service, mobile or landline, we are invited (recruited, cajoled) into a relationship with a provider and a specific set of technologies. Our experience of the world is filtered through the capabilities of that technology, and can be affected by what we take into our minds and hearts through that portal. I wonder if we carefully examine how we are shaped in this way? I had a ‘Discipleship’ instructor in seminary who repeatedly reminded us that ‘We become like the people we spend time with.’” 
It is a grand notion and one in which Christ placed much trust. He gathered his troops, his loyal followers, called to disciple one another and then growing in faith together, he encouraged them to reach out, extend themselves beyond their comfort zones, push past their fears and winsome doubts and together learn how to fully share the good news. It is no accident or coincidence that after forty days of solitude in the wilderness Christ would reenter his life and immediately seek out companionship. His need for a community echoes our need for people in our lives who care for us and about us and who will help us be both mentors and students of the faith. In other words, we need each other…the church, our families, our loved ones, the ones who support our ideas and who will challenge us to move past our natural tendencies to stay in one safe spot, doing what we have always done. Christ wants more and a church alive, a faith alive is the evidence of what we can become if the people we spend time with walk a faith walk of risks and hopes. We are Christ’s gathered troops and our field of action is the world itself. It can’t be any other way since the One we follow has already shown us, by his life and ministry who we are to become. Amen.
 LectionAid, Volume 23, Number 1 Year B, The Reverend Dr. Stan Adamson, 33.