- Who are some of the people in your life who have had a positive impact on your faith? What did they do that was so meaningful to you?
- Has God ever helped you through a difficult time or situation? What was your experience like?
On the night of January 2, 2015, Larry Wilkins opened his front door to discover a teary-eyed child standing on his front porch. Sailor Gutzler, 7, had just walked away as the sole survivor of a horrific accident. Her parents, a sister, and a cousin had all perished when their small plane went down in a wooded area of western Kentucky. Nearly as miraculous as her survival was Sailor’s journey to Wilkins’ door and her ability to relate to those who responded what had happened. Still dressed in shorts from their Florida vacation, Sailor walked barefoot through the dark Kentucky woods in 38-degree weather.
At a televised news conference on Sunday one of those who responded, Kentucky State Police Lt. Brent White, said of his conversations with other rescuers, “We were talking about that being some divine intervention there, because she absolutely went to probably the nearest house that she could have,” also noting that the path was nonetheless a hard one. Sailor was treated for minor injuries and released into the care of other family members. An investigation into the cause of the crash is pending.
- What do you think Lt. White and the other rescuers meant by, “Divine Intervention?” Where do you see God in this situation?
- Many people expressed support for Sailor in online comments related to this article. Others expressed skepticism that God had anything to do with the situation. What do you think? Do you believe God intervenes or acts in our world? If so, in what ways? If not, why not?
- In Matthew’s gospel, when the angel Gabriel comes to Joseph he calls Jesus, “Emmanuel,” which means “God is with us.” John begins his gospel talking about how God’s Word became flesh in Jesus and lived among us. You may have heard these, and other promises, recently during Advent and Christmas. What do Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection suggest to you of how God acts and/or intervenes in our world?
Second Sunday after Epiphany
(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year C at Lectionary Readings.)
For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.
The way in which we read or hear something can make all of the difference. One way to read these verses, for example, is simply as John’s account of how Jesus called his first disciples. And in this case, the first three words of this passage, “The next day,” clue us in to the fact that we need to go back a bit to understand what’s going on.
As it turns out, this is actually the third “next day” section in the opening chapter of John’s gospel. In the first section, verses 29 – 34, “the next day” after John the Baptist explains his role to those sent from Jerusalem, he bears witness to Jesus as both the Lamb of God and Son of God. Whereas the other gospel accounts describe Jesus’ actual baptism, John, the gospel writer, has John the Baptist relate his experience of seeing the Spirit descend upon Jesus in the moment, testifying to his true identity. The “next day” after this (verses 35 – 43), John the Baptist’s further testimony about Jesus leads two of his own disciples to follow after Jesus. Jesus, seeing them, asks, “What are you looking for?” When they stammer out, “Rabbi, where are you staying,” Jesus invites them to “Come and see.” What, or rather who, they are really looking for is the Messiah, and in their encounter with Jesus the two experience something that leaves them convinced. For his part, Jesus’ invitation initiates an ever-widening circle of discipleship as one of the two, Andrew, goes on to his own brother, Simon Peter, with the news, “We have found the Messiah.”
So it is that we come to the “next day” of this week’s gospel where the circle of followers continues to grow. Deciding to go to Galilee, Jesus first calls Philip. Philip, in turn, invites Nathanael saying, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” Here, “the law and the prophets” means the whole of the Scriptures for these Jewish believers. Brushing aside Nathanael’s remark about the insignificance of Nazareth, Philip offers once again the invitation, “Come and see.” Nathanael does, and his own encounter with Jesus, and Jesus’ ability to “know” and “see” him from afar, not only leads Nathanael to believe in Jesus, it also draws forth a confession of faith: “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”
While Nathanael cannot, at this point in the story at least, fully understand the true meanings behind the titles he gives to Jesus, we have pointers here to what John’s gospel will be about. Indeed, Jesus assures all who are present (both instances of “you” here are plural) that greater things are yet to come: ‘Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.’ By the way, the reference here seems to be to the story of Jacob’s ladder (Genesis 28:10-22) where God comes to Jacob in a dream, promising to be with him. What will be experienced in and through Jesus is the reality to which Jacob’s dream points, that is, what John means when he writes, “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)
So, as the first chapter of his gospel ends, John leaves us with Jesus heading towards Galilee with a growing group of followers. Yet, there is a deeper way to hear this passage than simply an account of Jesus gathering a group of disciples. Jesus’ very first words in John’s gospel, “What are you looking for?” are not simply words for those in the story; they are a question to us, as well. When it comes to life…when it comes to faith, what are we looking for? Deep down in our bones, what is it that we really need?
In these three “next days,” we hear Jesus being called many things. John the Baptist calls him “the Lamb of God who takes away the world’s sin” and “Son of God.” Andrew calls him, “Rabbi” and “Messiah.” Philip says Jesus is the one, “about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote.” Nathanael adds that Jesus is, “the King of Israel.” Is Jesus what we are looking for? Is he the one that we really need? The invitation that John offers to us through the rest of his gospel account, and indeed through our own experience of living as followers of Jesus, is simply to “Come and see.”
- When it comes to the titles and names given to Jesus in John 1:29-51, (Lamb of God, Messiah, Son of God, Rabbi, King of Israel, Son of Man) which one is most important or most meaningful to you? Why? Would any of these titles be meaningful or helpful to friends of yours who may not yet believe in Jesus? If not, are there other titles or ways of describing Jesus that would be?
- If you had been Philip and Jesus had just walked up to you and said, “Follow me,” would you have gone? If so, why? If not, then what further information would you have needed? What else would you have wanted to know before making such a commitment? Do you think we have this information now?
- What does it look like to you to follow Jesus? Can a person believe in Jesus without following him? Can we follow him without believing in him? Why or why not?
- Nathanael first responds as a skeptic: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” What are some of the reasons that people today might have in being skeptical about Jesus or about the Christian faith? How would you answer their skepticism?
- Nathanael came to Jesus because Philip invited him to “come and see.” What do you think would be the best way to invite a friend of yours to “come and see” Jesus today? What are some approaches that might not work so well with your friends or in your setting?
- Video: For further discussion on the sheer grace of being called to follow Jesus, watch Rob Bell’s short video, Dust (Nooma series). Though not specifically about this passage, he presents a great take on what being called to “Follow me,” by a rabbi meant in Jesus’ day, and how Jesus’ invitation to Andrew, Peter, James, John, Philip, Nathanael and the rest would have been most unusual. Talk together about what it means that Jesus calls us to be his followers. What does it mean to you that Jesus believes in you? Does this change the way you see yourself as a disciple?
- Reaching Out: Consider taking a discussion on the invitation to “Come and see,” even further. As a group, explore ways to invite your friends or others in your community to “come and see” Jesus. How would you go about it? Would you hold an event of some sort? Would you invite them to a service project? A retreat? A play or music festival? A specially designed worship service? What activities are you already doing that are, or could be, great places for friends to experience God’s love and grace? How might you use social media or other modern means to invite folks? What “barriers” might need to be overcome? Brainstorm the possibilities – can you make a plan to try one or more of these possibilities out?
Gracious and loving God, before we ever could think to seek you, you have come seeking us, inviting us to know abundant and eternal life. When we doubt your goodness and love, help us to see the many ways that you act in our lives and the grace that you give to us day by day. Empower us by your Spirit to follow, lead us to be living signs of your grace, and give us the courage to invite others to “Come and see.” In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.