The call of Philip and Nathanael … a modern icon
Sunday 14 January 2018, the Second Sunday after the Epiphany
11.30 a.m.: Morning Prayer, Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, Co Limerick.
Readings: I Samuel 3: 1-10; Psalm 139: 1-5, 12-18; Revelation 5: 1-10; John 1: 43-51.
May I speak to you in the name of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.
Last Sunday, as part of our Epiphany celebrations, children placed the three Wise Men in the cribs in Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, and Saint Brendan’s Church, Kilnaughtin (Tarbert).
Then, in our Gospel reading, we recalled another great Epiphany moment, when we heard about the Baptism of Christ and asked questions about what Baptism means for how God recognises us as his children and calls us into a loving relationship in the life of Christ.
This morning, our readings continue those Epiphany themes, asking us to consider our own call to discipleship, challenging us to think about who is the Christ who calls us to follow him.
God’s call comes to a variety of people, and in a variety of surprising ways.
The Old Testament reading (I Samuel 3: 1-10) recalls the call of Samuel. The boy Samuel is confused about who is calling him. He keeps thinking Eli is calling him. But his confusion does not keep Samuel from being willing, again and again, to respond to the call.
Alongside the Psalm and the readings from the Book of Revelation and Saint John’s Gospel, we are being asked to think of how we know who we are and what we are meant to be doing.
The Psalm prays out: ‘O Lord, you have searched me out and known me’ (Psalm 139: 1).
Not only did God knit us together in our mother’s wombs, but this whole passage reads like we are in God’s womb, hemmed in by God, behind and before. Our life is in God’s womb, which is a peaceful and comforting thought. We cannot go where God is not, and God, in a sense, is also chasing after us, insisting on having a relationship with us.
The saints coming before the Lamb on the Throne (see Revelation … from the Ghent Altarpiece
The New Testament reading (Revelation 5: 1-10) tells us the Church or the saints are ‘from every tribe and language and nation.’ Here we are reminded that Christ, the Lamb on the Throne, has made us ‘to be a kingdom and priests serving our God’ (Revelation 5: 10), preparing the world for the Kingdom of God, inviting the world into the Kingdom of God.
The Church in its ministry, its membership and its life, should reflect the diversity of skills and talents and personalities that God gives to the Church both as gift and as blessing.
That diversity is emphasised in our Gospel reading (John 1: 43-51), telling the story of the call of Philip and Nathanael, which comes immediately after the story of the call of Andrew and Peter.
The back story is that immediately after his baptism by Saint John the Baptist in the River Jordan, Christ begins calling his first disciples. First, he calls Andrew and Simon Peter. Andrew is called first, but before responding to that call, he goes back and fetches his brother Simon and brings him to Jesus (John 1: 35-42).
Andrew and Peter are brothers, but their names indicate the early differences and divisions in the Church. Andrew’s name is Greek ('Ανδρέας, Andreas), meaning ‘manly’ or ‘valorous,’ while Peter’s original name, Simon (שמעון, Shimon), meaning ‘hearing,’ is so obviously Jewish.
It is the same again with Philip and Nathanael: Philip is a strong Greek name – everyone in the region knew Philip of Macedon was the father of Alexander the Great; while Nathanael’s name is a Hebrew compound meaning ‘the Gift of God.’
So, from the very beginning of the story of the call of the disciples, the diversity and divisions within the Church are represented, even in the names that show they are Jews and Greeks, the Hebrew-speakers and those who are culturally Hellenised.
In reacting to false divisions in the early Church, the Apostle Paul tells us: ‘There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus’ (Galatians 3: 28; see Colossians 3: 11).
Christ’s call came to the first disciples as a diverse group of people, from a wide variety of backgrounds, often – as with Philip and Nathanael – when they were least expecting it.
But they responded to that call faithfully. Andrew went and fetched Simon Peter, Philip found Nathanael.
How do we keep that call to follow Christ so fresh in our minds that it still inspires infectious enthusiasm?
Are we inspired with enough infectious enthusiasm to want to go back like Andrew to call Peter, to go back like Philip and Nathanael?
Because, despite what popular preachers and tele-evangelists may say, Christianity is never just about a personal relationship with Christ. It is about a life in relationship with God as Trinity; and it is about a life in relationship with others.
There are no individual Christians. Christianity and Christian discipleship are experiences in community, experiences we share with others.
And sharing with others, sharing in community, moves us from the tolerance of diversity to the respect for diversity and then on to the point of speaking up for diversity as a gift in the Church, so that truly, as the Apostle Paul tells us: ‘There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.’
Later, this Philip who goes back for Nathanael is the first of the apostles to bring Samaritans into the Church (see Acts 8: 4-13), much to the surprise of the other disciples, who had not yet agreed to bring the Gospel to people who were not Jews.
This Philip goes on to baptise an Ethiopian court official (see Acts 8: 26-40), who is an outsider in so many ways, as an Ethiopian and as a eunuch. Before the conversion of Saint Paul, Saint Philip, who is called in this morning’s Gospel reading, is the great missionary in the Apostolic Church, bringing the Good News to those who are seen as outsiders in terms of religion, ethnicity, nationality and sexuality.
The mission of the Church is founded not just on respect for diversity, but on loving and embracing diversity. This is not a matter of tolerance – it is a matter of knowing what the Kingdom of God is like, and knowing how that should be reflected in our values in the Church today.
And so, may all we think, say and do be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.
A traditional icon of the Twelve Apostles: Philip and Nathanael (Bartholomew) are in the middle row, first and second from the left; Andrew is beside them in the middle of icon as the first-called of the Twelve; Peter is second from the left in the front row, facing the Apostle Paul.
This sermon was prepared for the Second Sunday after Epiphany, 14 January 2018
The Penitential Kyries:
God be merciful to us and bless us,
and make his face to shine on us.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.
May your ways be known on earth,
your saving power to all nations.
Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
You, Lord, have made known your salvation,
and reveal your justice in the sight of the nations.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.
in Christ you make all things new:
Transform the poverty of our nature
by the riches of your grace,
and in the renewal of our lives
make known your heavenly glory;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Introduction to the Peace:
Our Saviour Christ is the Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
there shall be no end. (Isaiah 9: 6, 7)
Christ the Son be manifest to you,
that your lives may be a light to the world: