Prepared by The Rev. Dr. Tim Hegedus, Waterloo Lutheran Seminary.
This passage lends itself very well to the themes of 'It's Your Call' Sunday. Ministry is about mission. Pastors and diaconal ministers are engaged in the mission of the church. What does this mean? According to today's text, the mission of the church is about encountering Jesus and enabling others to encounter Jesus as well.
The initiative starts with Jesus himself, who reaches out to Philip and calls him to discipleship. We do well to remember that this is always the beginning of the church's mission. 'The Word became flesh and dwelt among us' (John 1.14). In the Incarnation God took the initiative to reach out to humanity with God's unconditional love. We in the church engage in outreach because first and foremost God in Christ has reached out to us. Similarly, in our text it is because Jesus 'found' Philip (1.43) that Philip goes out to 'find' Nathanael (1.45). This is the proper order in which to understand the church's mission and ministry. The initiative is God's, not ours. And so the focus of our mission is God in Christ, not ourselves.
In today's text outreach takes place through invitation. In 1.46 Philip says to Nathanael 'Come and see'. This is a wonderful way to think of the work of ministry - not just the professional ministry of pastors and diaconal ministers, but the ministry of all the baptized. All Christians are called to invite people to 'come and see' Jesus. We do this through words, but most powerfully through our actions, when we care for others with radical, unconditional love and mercy and acceptance. When people experience our loving actions, when people experience us as loving people, they will naturally be drawn to 'come and see' Jesus. 'By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.' (John 13.35. Pastors and diaconal ministers affirm and encourage all the baptized in this work of inviting people to 'come and see' Jesus through our words and deeds.
Secondly, in today's text outreach takes place through confession of faith. Philip says, 'We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth' (1.45). When Nathanael hears this confession, he responds by coming to see Jesus for himself. Through his encounter with Jesus Nathanael too becomes a disciple who makes his own confession, 'Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!' (1.49) Confessing our faith is also part of the ministry of all the baptized. Most of us do this quietly, in ways that are hidden and unobtrusive: we are all too aware of the damage that has been done to the cause of the Gospel by loud, obnoxious and self-serving preachers. Yet there is also a time to stand up and speak out about what our faith means to us. Pastors and diaconal ministers are called to do this in public, as faithful representatives of our Lutheran tradition, in the context of public worship; in this way we enable all the baptized to bear witness to our faith in Christ.
In the Gospel of John faith in Jesus is confessed in multiple ways. In our text, Philip affirms that Jesus is the fulfillment of Scripture and the son of Joseph. Nathanael says that Jesus is the Son of God and the King of Israel. And the text ends with the picture of Jesus as the ladder in Jacob's dream at Bethel, with angels ascending and descending upon the Son of Man, i.e. Jesus as the One who is the bridge between heaven and earth, bringing God to us and us to God. The whole of the Gospel of John contains many, many more images that express the meaning of Jesus in diverse ways. There is room in the church for expressing the meaning of faith in Jesus in different ways. Pastors and diaconal ministers are called to encourage all people in the church to articulate the meaning of their faith for themselves and to imagine new ways to think about and express the meaning of Jesus for today. What an incredible task this is!
According to our text, the church's mission is to make disciples. This is not a simple or simplistic notion. The call to discipleship cannot be condensed into a neat or easy formula. Instead, the call to discipleship takes place in the context of relationships. People are drawn to Jesus through our loving relationships with the people around us. And in experiencing Jesus, people are drawn into a new life of following in the way of Jesus, which is the way of the cross. The awesome and joyous gift of ministry is to enable people to follow the way of Jesus day by day by God's grace. Thanks be to God for the call to ministry and discipleship!