Follow Me – “Accepting Jesus’ Invitation”
September 5, 2021
Today, we begin a new theme for the program year called “Follow Me.”
The Follow Me curriculum will explore timeless biblical practices that are meant for faithful living
in today’s changing world.
Each month, we will explore a different biblical practice that has long been rooted in faith.
The curriculum begins with the introductory theme: Follow Jesus.
And today’s specific focus, the first Sunday of a 36 month journey, is “Accepting Jesus’ Invitation”.
While our spiritual journey may have begun long ago in the mind of God,
our personal relationship with Jesus begins, or begins anew,
when we respond affirmatively to Jesus’ invitation to follow.
In order to explore this biblical practice of responding to Jesus’ invitation,
we turn to the call narrative of several of the disciples in the Gospel of John.
As we listen for the response of Andrew, Simon, Philip and Nathanael,
perhaps we will be encouraged to accept anew our own invitation to follow.
Hear the Word of God from John 1:35-51.
The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by,
he exclaimed, ‘Look, here is the Lamb of God!’
The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus.
When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, ‘What are you looking for?’
They said to him, ‘Rabbi’ (which translated means Teacher), ‘where are you staying?’
He said to them, ‘Come and see.’ They came and saw where he was staying,
and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon.
One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother.
He first found his brother Simon and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah’
(which is translated Anointed). He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said,
‘You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas’ (which is translated Peter).
The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, ‘Follow me.’
Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter.
Philip found Nathanael and said to him, ‘We have found him about whom Moses in the law
and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.’
Nathanael said to him, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’
Philip said to him, ‘Come and see.’
When Jesus saw Nathanael coming towards him, he said of him,
‘Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!’
Nathanael asked him, ‘Where did you come to know me?’
Jesus answered, ‘I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.’
Nathanael replied, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’
Jesus answered, ‘Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree?
You will see greater things than these.’ And he said to him, ‘Very truly, I tell you,
you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.’
The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
These ancient stories, while separated by two millennia and the distance of half a world away,
are so contemporary in their illustration of ordinary people responding to an extraordinary call.
The affirmative response to Jesus’ invitation to follow has happened countless times across the ages.
At some point, you responded to his invitation to follow.
Otherwise, you probably would not be here on a Labor Day Sunday.
You have taken that step in the past.
You took that step this morning when you got up and got out of the house.
What has your journey entailed thus far?
What sacrifices have been involved in your willingness to follow Jesus?
Who or what was left behind when you began to follow?
Whom have you met along the way?
What spiritual blessings have you experienced because you have given your life to him?
As we read the narratives of the earliest of disciples,
we recall that accepting Jesus’ invitation to follow involves the willingness to change primary loyalties.
Andrew was a seeker. We read that Andrew had been following John the baptizer.
He recognized in John that something new was afoot.
He may have received baptism by John in the river Jordan.
It seems that he had made some commitments to alter his life and to follow John.
And yet, when John saw Jesus walk by and exclaimed, “Here is the Lamb of God”,
Andrew and a fellow disciple got up and followed Jesus.
As someone once wrote, “the good is ever the enemy of the best.”
It had been good that Andrew, the fisherman, had been following John the Baptist.
I am sure that he had learned much from John and had been inspired by his example.
But it was better when Andrew began following Jesus.
The willingness to change primary loyalties is often not easy and involves some measure of risk.
Is there some other primary loyalty in our lives that we must leave behind today
in order to free to follow Jesus?
As we read the narratives of the earliest disciples,
we recall that accepting Jesus’ invitation to follow involves the willingness to listen,
even to one’s own sibling, and the willingness to accept one’s role.
We do not know which one was older, Simon or Andrew,
but we do recognize that Andrew lived most of his life in the shadow of his brother Simon.
Simon became Peter became the great apostle, the great leader of men and women,
part of Jesus’ inner circle.
Simon became the Rock upon whom the Church was built.
Andrew is not as well known.
It seems that Andrew’s primary role was to introduce others to Jesus.
Just as Andrew introduced his brother Simon to Jesus,
he also brought before Jesus the boy with the five loaves and fish.
And he brought before Jesus some Greeks who had expressed curiosity about Jesus.
Andrew was not going to be the one in the limelight. He was not to become a great leader, so it seems.
But Andrew was always going to the great connector, the introducer,
one whose role cannot be understated.
Perhaps some of you can relate to Andrew and his role.
Simon knew his brother well enough to know that he should listen to him.
When Andrew told Simon that they had found the Messiah, Simon listened.
Simon set aside any doubts, he set aside whatever else he was doing that day,
and he went with his brother to see Jesus.
Simon not only was willing to respond to his brother, he was also willing to respond to Jesus,
and to accept a new future.
The first thing that Jesus does with Simon in the Gospel of John is to give him a nickname.
Jesus took one look at him and said, “You are Simon son of John.
You are to be called Cephas (which is translated Peter)”.
You are a Rock. You now have a new identity, a new name, and a far different future.
I know where you have been. I know where you are now standing in life.
And I also know what your future will hold, if you but follow me.
And Jesus gave Simon the name, Peter, Rock, that would suit what Peter was to become.
Peter became the Rock at the core of the twelve disciples, and after Jesus’ resurrection,
Peter would become the Rock upon whom the Church would be built.
The willingness to receive a new identity and embrace a new and unexpected future is not always easy.
As you accept once again the invitation to follow,
is there perhaps some new role for you to play, some new direction for you to follow?
Has Jesus envisioned for you some potential future course that you have not yet seen?
As we read the narratives of the earliest disciples,
we recall that accepting Jesus’ invitation to follow involves the willingness to be found.
We know very little about Philip and his discipleship,
but it seems as though Philip had been unknowingly preparing for his role.
Philip had been reading; he had been studying.
He had been preparing himself for some as yet unknown calling.
And when he was found, he quickly responded and then went and found another.
Philip went and found Nathanael and proclaimed to him,
“We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote,
Jesus, son of Joseph from Nazareth.”
Philip’s call narrative begs the question:
As we accept anew the invitation to follow, whom shall we invite to join us?
Who is our current conversation partner who just may be willing to join us on a new journey?
For Nathanael, whom Philip found, accepting Jesus’ invitation involved the willingness
to drop former assumptions and be open to the unexpected.
I love the humanity revealed in these gospel stories.
When Philip tells Nathanael that the one they had been looking for was from Nazareth,
Nathanael responds in such a typical human fashion:
What? Nazareth? Can anything good come from Nazareth?
Today, Nazareth is a sprawling city, covering several rolling hillsides.
But when Jesus grew up, it was just a tiny rural village, not much to speak of.
No one expected anything or anyone from Nazareth to make any difference whatsoever in the world.
Nevertheless, when Philip said to Nathanael, “Come and see”, to Nathanael’s credit, he went and he saw.
Nathanael was not only willing to drop his assumptions and be open to see the unexpected,
he was also willing to be seen.
Jesus saw him and said, “Here is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.”
“Where did you get to know me?” Nathanael responded.
“I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.”
Realizing that he was known, that he had been seen, that Jesus was calling him by name,
Nathanael quickly moved from skepticism to adoration.
These ordinary men were called by Jesus to participate in something extraordinary –
the coming kingdom of God, the presence of God among mortals,
to abide on that thin line between heaven and earth.
At the Table set before us today, we too are invited. We too are called.
We are invited to come and receive grace at this Table.
We are invited to receive sustenance for our journey.
But the invitation from Jesus at this Table is not simply to partake of a meal that reminds us of the past.
The invitation from the Table is not simply for our own comfort or edification in the present.
The invitation from the Table is for us to come and see, to watch and listen and learn,
to follow into an unknown and uncertain future.
Accepting the invitation to follow Jesus anew means that we are called to do the things that Jesus does,
to love the people whom Jesus loves, to participate fully – body, mind and soul –
in his coming kingdom, to abide with him on that thin line between heaven and earth.
Accepting Jesus’ invitation to follow is not something we do once in our life.
It is something fresh that we do each new morning.
So today, this day, will you accept anew Jesus’ invitation to follow?
Rev. Dr. Todd Speed
Decatur Presbyterian Church