Text: John 1:35-51
The Rev. Dr. D. William Faupel
Jan. 18, 2015
Whenever I attend a Diocese Convention, one of the buzz words I will inevitably hear is “Church Growth.” Unlike so many emphases that prove to be faddish, vanishing into the dust almost as quickly as they appeared on the horizon like a Kansas cyclone, the Church Growth Movement has proven to have had remarkable staying power. But while we can point to certain notable exceptions like New Hope down the road from us, for all our talk, most of our churches remain blissfully unaffected.
It is easy to understand why "Church Growth" principles are so attractive to us. At budget construction time, we recognize the need for more givers to help operate the church so that we can expand existing programs and implement new ones. With government at all levels making cutbacks in welfare programs, churches feel the pressure to expand their ministry to the poor. I'm sure, you can think of a host of other reasons besides additional financial support for why the church should grow.
Churches should grow! There are good reasons and there are some less than good reasons why churches do grow. This morning I invite us to reflect on today's Gospel to discover some valid principles for why the early church did grow.
Today's Gospel reading places us at the threshold of our Lord's entry into his earthly ministry. In it we listen and watch as a circle of people begin to form around them. The reading is about "the first disciples," but also is a guide as we think about "the next disciples."
If we want St. Paul's to become larger than it is, it is important for us to understand why the first circle of disciples came into being. In a very real sense, at St. Paul's, we, you and I are that first circle.
Today's Gospel describes four people besides Jesus and John the Baptist. By both words and actions we discover why they came to join our Lord and support Him in His mission.
We know who and what Jesus is by what these people say. At the outset of this morning's Gospel John tells us that Jesus is "the Lamb of God." Then Andrew calls him Rabbi which means teacher. Andrew then tells Philip that Jesus is the Messiah. Philip says that Jesus is the one written about by Moses and the prophets. Nathaniel describes him both as "the Son of God" and the "King of Israel." At the end of today's Gospel Jesus refers to himself as the "Son of Man." Only Peter, who will become spokesman for all the disciples, has nothing to say.
These are the words said as the circle of disciples begins to form around Jesus. They are confessions of faith. There is enough meaning in them to occupy our reflection for at least of month of sermons. We too acknowledge that Jesus is our Savior, our teacher, the fulfillment of God's plan.
This morning, however, I want us to reflect on the actions of these disciples to discover how Jesus' circle grew. These actions are: testimony, encounter, and invitation.
John the Baptist has disciples of his own. They have heard him declare that someone is soon to arrive who ranks ahead of him. At the Divine Moment, He points out Jesus as that person.
For John, it is a decisive moment. His work is now over. Even the simple verbs of this opening sentence imply this. John stood, Jesus is walking, a verb of position and a verb of movement. John is in his place; Jesus is in motion. John's work is over, Our Lord's is just beginning. Here in these two words are the preparation and the actuality, the Forerunner and the Messiah; the preacher and the object of faith, the speaking voice and the living Word, someone to listen to and someone to follow.
At that moment two of John's own disciples leave to follow Jesus. They heard what John said and they followed our Lord. They join Christ's circle because the forerunner prepared the way.
Jesus Christ is the Living Word, but He needs the testimony of forerunners. Not many of us are cold-turkey Christians, people who became one suddenly and without preparation. There are plenty of cold-Christian turkeys, but that is a different matter!)
People came to Jesus because they first heard John speak of Him. John addressed their fears and raised their hopes. They were ready to respond when upon seeing Jesus, John said "This is the one, listen to Him."
Testimony is important. It prepares the way. It raises expectations. It creates hope. But testimony alone, is not enough. No one becomes a disciple, unless they are encountered by the Lord. When John's two disciples followed Jesus, He turned and talked with them. "Rabbi, where are you staying?" they asked. "Come and see." He replied. They did, and stayed with him that day until late afternoon. That afternoon spent with the Teacher was enough to change their lives forever. In the same way, Jesus approached Philip directly and said "Follow me."
Today, Jesus engages us directly, and it is his own person that really makes the difference. He is alive. Through the Holy Spirit he is present with us. How does Christ encounter us? I would suggest four ways.
First, through Scripture. We learn about him in the Gospels, but also in the Old Testament writings which looked for His appearing and in Acts and the Epistles which reflect upon His coming. When we read the Bible He speaks to us through the Word.
Second, we discover Him through prayer, both individual and corporate. I am confident that like me while in prayer, He has spoken to the very depth of your heart.
Third, we are encountered by Him through worship. As we sing together, hear the scripture read and expounded upon, and as we pray together we find the truth of the promise that where two or three are gathered in His name, He is in our midst.
Finally, we experience our Lord as He invites us to His table. When we eat His flesh and drink His blood.
No forerunner, no preacher, will ever be enough. The next disciples will arise and their lives will be shaped only through their own encounter with our Lord.
Jesus' circle of followers grew because people who knew him found their relatives and friends. Andrew found his brother Peter, Jesus found Philip, Philip found Nathanial. The next generation of disciples will arise only when Christ's followers find them. Nothing else can do it as well.
Do we want St. Paul's to grow? It won't come by spending more money, not in the first instance at any rate. It will come the same way as it came then. First, as we listen attentively to the Scriptures through its exposition. Second, as we are directly encountered by our Lord both in and out of Church. Finally, as we find renewed excitement in being's God's people and begin to say to people we know: “I have found Him, Come and see.” Amen.