Called to Faith
Topic: Biblical Verse: John 1:43–51
The Second Sunday after Epiphany
January 17, 2021
“Serving Jesus-Living in Community 2021: Called to Faith”
God calling – will we answer? When we call for God, we want him right then and there. Now. Immediately. Sooner if possible. But how about when God calls us? Do we delay in answering? Do we make excuses? At times, maybe our faith is like our phones: we see who shows up on the caller ID, and if it’s not a number we recognize or if it’s someone we don’t want to talk with, we just don’t answer. Do we do that with God? The truth is that God does indeed come calling. He does indeed seek us out, as he sought out the boy Samuel in today’s Old Testament lesson (1 Samuel 3:1-20) and called him to be a prophet in Israel. In today’s Gospel lesson (John 1:43-51), Jesus sought out Philip and called Philip to follow him as his disciple. Philip then sought out Nathanael and invited him to come and meet Jesus, who called both to be his disciples. Do you see a pattern going on here? Samuel, Philip, Nathanael – all were called by God, whether speaking through a voice calling out our very name like Samuel, or through God-in-the-flesh, the Son of God, calling us to follow him like Philip and Nathanael. All were called to faith, and so are we today. Today, we begin our 4-week Epiphany series that we do each year, Serving Jesus-Living in Community. This year, we are going to explore what it means to join Jesus on his mission through the lens of COVID-19. Especially in light of COVID-19, what does serving Jesus and living in community look like? What’s different in our lives as disciples of Jesus because of this? That is what’s before us over these next four weeks. Today, based on the Gospel lesson, the sermon is entitled, “Called to Faith.” May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.
For about the last five years or so, our congregation has been growing in what it means to join Jesus on his mission in daily life. We have worked with Pastor Greg Finke, author of Joining Jesus on His Mission, to move forward in doing this. Not a program, not another thing to do, but the calling of Christ’s people to see their everyday lives as God’s mission field in our homes, neighborhoods, and relationships. This is about moving us from scholarship to discipleship; from just talking about faith to living our faith. These 5 mission practices are: 1) seeking the kingdom; 2) hearing from Jesus; 3) talking with and listening to people; 4) doing good; and 5) ministering through prayer. But is there anything different about all of this because of COVID-19 and its impact on life over the last year? We’re not gathering with people like we used to do; everything’s virtual. Many feel isolated and alone because we are not gathering in person. What does all of this mean for being called to faith? What does this mean for joining Jesus on his mission? The mission hasn’t moved, my friends; it’s still there. Of necessity, how we accomplish the mission has had to be changed up over this past year. But the mission to bring the good news of Jesus Christ to people is just as needful as it’s ever been. Because nothing is impossible with the Lord (Luke 1:37), what might be viewed as a setback in Gospel outreach has actually opened up whole new possibilities for the call to faith with online worship, Bible study, prayer, fellowship. The Lord has opened a new door of opportunity through COVID-19.
Let’s do a quick review from last Sunday when we celebrated the Baptism of our Lord. Jesus was baptized by John at the River Jordan (Mark 1:4-11), marking him as the Father’s chosen and beloved Son who came to fulfill all righteousness in our behalf; who came to lay down his life as the atoning sacrifice for all our sins. So when we are baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, all that Jesus has done – his life of perfect obedience to the Father’s will; his innocent suffering and death for our sin; his glorious resurrection from the dead – all of this is given to us. It is in Baptism that we are called to faith. Being called to faith means that we are, like Samuel, listening to what the Lord is saying. In faith, we respond when the Lord calls, saying, “Speak, Lord, for your servant hears” (1 Samuel 3:10). When we are called to faith, it is always personal, but it is never private. Being called to faith brings us into relationship with fellow believers. Sometimes it may take someone older and wiser to guide us, as Eli guided Samuel, in how to respond to the Lord who is calling us. That may be needed in order for us to answer God’s call to faith. But it also may be that the Lord would use us to serve as an Eli to help someone else answer God’s call to faith.
In the Gospel lesson, Jesus called Philip with that simple invitation: “Follow me” (John 1:43). Philip rejoiced that they had found the One “whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph” (John 1:45). Unable to keep the good news to himself, Philip invites his brother, Nathanael, to meet Jesus, who gives a very snarky response: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46). And so it is with us today when we try to introduce others to Jesus. We may also get some snarky, sarcastic responses. We shouldn’t be put off by this, but press on, trusting that it is not us, but the Holy Spirit, who will do the heavy lifting. Philip doesn’t get into a shouting match with his brother about it. He just says, “Come and see” (John 1:46). In other words, “Don’t take my word for it. Come and see for yourself.” And Nathanael does; he comes to meet Jesus. Jesus gives him some straight-up talk: “You’re different from your ancestor, Jacob, who deceived his father, Isaac, and stole his twin brother, Esau’s, birthright (Genesis 27:35; 32:28). But there is no deceit in you.” Hmm… Nathanael is not so easily convinced and wants to know how Jesus knows him. Jesus is the eternal Son of God, and he knows Nathanael better than Nathanael knows himself – just as Jesus knows us better than we know ourselves. Jesus then proclaims that what Jacob saw in a dream while he slept – the angels of God ascending and descending (Genesis 28:12) – is now realized in Jesus. It is in Jesus himself that “the angels of God are ascending and descending upon the Son of Man” (John 1:51). As Paul tells us in today’s Epistle lesson (1 Corinthians 6:12-20), we are not our own, but we have been bought with a price – the price of the blood of the Son of Man who was born and lived, suffered, died, and rose again that we might have full and abundant life in him (John 10:10). This is our call to faith.
The call to faith can come in many ways: through in-person conversation with someone we trust who points us to Jesus, as Philip did with Nathanael. It can come virtually through online worship or Bible study, just as we are doing now. It can come through digital discussion on social media platforms or email. This is one of the big takeaways we have learned through the pandemic. There is an absolute necessity for our congregation – for every congregation – to have an expanded and active digital footprint to reach people with the good news of Jesus. This is why we have added a new part-time staff position at St. John’s called a Communications Specialist. This individual is working diligently to enhance our online presence for the sake of Christ’s mission to the world. This is why we are seeking to expand our Sanctuary’s AV capabilities so that livestreaming of worship services can be even better than what we’re already doing. All of this is for the sake of bringing Christ to the nations, and the nations to Christ. We will not just be going back to the way things were pre-COVID. Even after we’ve all received the COVID vaccine and life starts to look normal once again, the impact of COVID-19 will continue to shape and mold life – including our life in Christ as a congregation – for a very long time to come. God is calling us all to faith, whether that is new faith or a renewed faith. And so by God’s grace, we press on day by day to serve Jesus and live in community. May God help us to do this for Jesus’ sake. Amen.