Monday, January 19, 2015

Role Models & Invitations

The season of Epiphany is loaded with set themes that we explore week by week in order to discover who Jesus really is.  It begins on January 6th with the visit of the Magi.  They interpret the appearance of a star to be an indication that a new king has been born to the Jews.  On the Sunday after the Epiphany we meet Jesus at the Jordon River where he is baptized by John and proclaimed by a heavenly voice to be God’s Son.  This, the second Sunday after the Epiphany, is an evangelical moment where each year in the three-year lectionary cycle, we hear a story about Jesus calling someone to follow him.  In today’s reading, in two short sentences with a total of just eighteen words, we are told that Jesus goes to Galilee, meets Philip, and says to him, “Follow me.”   

How many movies have you watched where people are trapped in a burning building, stuck on a sinking ship, or surrounded by a hoard of zombies when, out of nowhere, a person bursts on to the scene and shouts out, “Follow me!”?  That person claims special knowledge of how to navigate through a mysterious and dangerous world.  Sometimes the person is the story’s hero, other times he/she is an anti-hero whose credibility and motives are in question, but either way the group must decide to trust that the person can lead them to safety.  Philip is in something of this position.  While his life is not in danger, still he wants to be led somewhere and is willing to allow Jesus to be his guide.

When we are younger we crave role models, people whose lives we can emulate.  We see in them the way that we want to live.  Most often they do not issue an invitation to us to follow them, rather we make a conscious or unconscious decision that they will be our role models.  Eventually we reach a point in life where the quest to find a role model ends.  Like an old dog, it is not likely anyone will teach us a new life trick.  And if someone said, “Follow me”, most likely those of us who are older would reply that we are fine where I are.  We have been a follower for a long time and now our lives, for the most part, are set.  Following is a task for the young.  For many of us the task now is living out faithfully what we learned when we followed others. 

For those of you who are young, you might ask yourself who will you follow and why will you follow them.  For those of us who are older, we might want to ask what have we learned, how are we living it, and what are we doing to pass it on?

Well, Philip does two things.  He decides to follow Jesus, but first he fetches a friend, Nathanael.  He says to him, “We have found him about whom Moses and the prophets wrote.”  Apparently, both are seekers searching for something and Philip believes he has found it.  “It is Jesus from Nazareth,” he says to his friend, to which Nathanael famously quips, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”  “Come and see,” Philip replies. 

“Come and see” is such a beautiful response.  Philip doesn’t argue, he doesn’t coerce, and he doesn’t defend.  All he does is invite his friend to be a part of something he believes to be worthwhile.  “Come and see” is both an invitation offered and invitation accepted.  Each act is deeply spiritual and I, for one, struggle to do both.

I have never been good at social planning and while I would like to have people over to my house for dinner, I rarely do so because I can’t plan that far ahead.  When I do make invitations I enjoy the experience, but I simply do not do it enough.  Many of you are better at this than I am.  Last year St. Paul’s was blessed to have Al Reese’s Virginia Handbell Consort perform twice at our church.  After each concert those of us in attendance said “This was wonderful.  The next time I am going to invite someone to join me.” 

Ask yourself this: “What do I find extraordinary in life?” and then ponder what you are doing to invite other people to be a part of it.  I like that our young people enjoy helping with the Food Pantry on Monday evenings and I especially like that they invite their friends to join them.  They have a great sense of the value of “come and see”.

The other side of “come and see” is accepting the invitation.  It involves saying “yes” to something.  One day when my daughters were younger I had an epiphany about how little I said “yes” to them.  They would ask me to take them somewhere and I would say “no” because I was too busy.  They would ask me to do something with them and I would say “no” because I was too tired.  They wanted me to get something for them and I would say “no” because it cost too much money.  One day it dawned on me how much I said “no”, and almost always because it felt like too much trouble to say “yes.”  I realized that was not who I wanted to be, but it was who I had become. I made a decision to answer “yes” unless there was a very good reason to say “no.”

When was the last time you said “yes” to something that was important; to something that cost you time or money or effort or emotion?  When was the last time you said “yes” to something to which it would have been easier to say “no”, but while costing you something offered the promise of enriching your life and the world around you?

This morning we have had the opportunity to witness something many of us never seen.  We have been able to watch members of the Altar Guild perform their ministry as a part of our public service of worship.  Usually their work is done behind the scenes, but today it is out in the open because they are saying “come and see” what our ministry is all about.  They are inviting you to be a part of what they do.  I hope some of you will say “yes” to them.  I also hope that every one of us will consider how you might like to be a part of our Sunday worship life.  Would you like to usher or to read or to sing or to acolyte or to ring the bell or to present the elements?  Would you like to help fold bulletins or to clean or to serve on the Altar Guild?  Are there other ministries you might want to support: cooking a Sunday morning breakfast once a month or teaching a class or hosting a Coffee Hour or volunteering with the Food Pantry or tending to the building and grounds?  To what at St. Paul’s will you say “yes”?  To what in life will you say “yes”?

I think about how easy it would have been for Nathanael to say “no” to Philip and for Philip to say “no” to Jesus.  Each of us could come up with a long list of our stock excuses: I am too busy, I am already over-committed, I wouldn’t be any good at it, not now, but maybe after the big event coming up in the near future.  Like I said, there are some times when “no” is absolutely the right response, but if your response to “follow me” and to “come and see” is always “no” then that is a spiritual problem.  Nothing new and nothing wonderful and nothing exciting and nothing challenging and nothing invigorating and nothing transformative every comes from saying “no.”  And, based on what we see in Jesus today, our God is a God who always has an invitation for us.