Who Is This Philip, Anyway?
2009-01-15 by Rev. Paul G. Janssen
Philip, I propse, is the gospel of John's version of Rodney Dangerfield, who never gets any respect. Philip appears in four stories in the gospel of John, and none of them make him look good.
In this story, Jesus found Philip and said, “Follow me.” So far, so good. But remember, Philip wasn’t the first. He was the third choice, and as any middle child can tell you, the first and last are the most special places of honor. Anything else is just, well, as it’s said these days, “meh.” So why did Jesus call Philip at all? Apparently Jesus wanted to go to Galilee, and since that’s where Philip was from, maybe Jesus wanted a guide. That would make sense, but Jesus actually ends up going to Cana, which was Nathanael’s home, not Philip’s. So Jesus didn’t need Philip for a guide. And, while we’re on the subject of Nathanael, just trace how the story goes. Jesus finds Philip, and says “follow me.” Philip gets excited and goes to tell Nathanael that he and his friends have found the great PROMISED ONE of God, for whom all of Israel has been waiting for centuries. Not, I suggest to you, a small bit of news. Nathanael spits on Philip’s announcement: “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Philip plays the patsy: “Well, I dunno. Come and see for yourself.” When Nathanael does come and does see, we might expect to hear Jesus say to Philip: “Well done, good and faithful servant!” Instead, Jesus doesn’t mention Philip at all, and throws his arms around Nathanael instead: “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!” Says Nathanael, “How do you know me?” Jesus answers, “Even before Philip talked to you, I had my eyes on you.” Now how do you think this all is going down in Philip’s mind? To make it even worse, this is the only time Nathanael ever appears. Anywhere. He doesn’t even make it to the list of the 12 disciples. Philip – oh, well, Philip is there, good old dependable, work-a-day Philip. But Nathanael gets the praise. Philip gets – well, polite conversation prevents me from saying just what Philip gets.
And each of the other three Philip stories give him just about the same amount of honor. The way John tells the story of the feeding of the five thousand, Jesus asks Philip “How are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” Philip bumbles out an answer: “Uh, even $10.00 couldn’t feed this many people.” Which is a pretty nonsensical thing to say. 5000 people? $10.00? Come on! Enter Andrew, who finds a lad with five loaves and two fish – which is less than $10.00 would buy, but you can probably guess whose offering Jesus prefers. Philip never gets any respect. Now what’s curious about this incident is that all four of the gospels tell the story of the feeding of the five thousand. Only John singles out Philip for such rough treatment. Makes you wonder why, doesn’t it?
On to the next Philip story. It looks like things our good friend Philip is finally going to get the honor he deserves. The time is the feast of the Passover, and as the city swells with visitors, some Greeks single out Philip (he was, after all, from a Greek-speaking part of Palestine), to ask him the most important question of their lives. “Philip!” they say. Our friend is taken aback – no one ever wants to hear from him. “Philip, we want to see Jesus!” And there we go again, like Lucy holding the football for Charlie Brown. John doesn’t even let Philip go and tell Jesus on his own. He has to get his old friend, Andrew (yes, that Andrew) to hold his hand while he tells Jesus of the visitors.
Last one, now, which will finish Philip off with a fitting flourish. You may recall that Jesus once said “I am the way, the truth and the life” He followed that up with a challenge: “if you had known me you would have known my Father also.” Philip offers up his sincerest prayer: “Lord, show us the Father, and we shall be satisfied.” And I hate to say this, but Jesus is not exactly charitable in his response: “Have I been with you this long and you still have no clue about me? How can you even ask what you just asked? Don’t you believe in me? Either believe what I tell you because I tell you, or if that’s too hard for you, think of all the good I’ve done and give me a little credit!” No answer from Philip. Not surprising. He must be feeling knee high to a grasshopper by now.
Question: Why does the writer of the gospel go so far out of his way to paint Philip as such a dunderhead?
Question: In what ways might the ordinary pew-sitter relate to the Philip of high-commitment, low-return?
Question: Where do you locate good news reverberating through the bones of this second-fiddle follower of Jesus?
Hopes and Fears
2009-01-14 by Stephen Schuette
I wonder how long Nathanael had been sitting under that fig tree. Long enough to become a little cynical? At least long enough to become cynical about anyone from Nazareth. Cynicism can be a defense mechanism designed to shield us from what we most hope and fear.
There’s a lot of waiting in the spiritual journey. Sometimes it’s God waiting on us. Sometimes it’s us waiting on God. Often it’s both at the same time. Trouble is that our waiting can often lead to distance, remoteness, and cynicism. Our eyes get groggy, our attention strays, we lose focus.
Lots of parenting – and I believe God is like a parent to us – has to do with waiting. But God’s waiting is never the “out of sight, out of mind” kind. There is a kind of waiting that is itself an investment. And it also involves a wisdom that trying to act beyond the waiting only lays our anxiety on top of things, making matters worse. If you know Garrison Keillor’s story of the Mammoth Concert Tickets, it’s the waiting of that Mother. Or it can be like the waiting for a 16-year old to return home their first night out with the car on their own: full of hope and fear. It’s waiting in the awareness that in all times and places God is present and so every moment is full of the potential to find or lose God. And just because you’ve once found God is no guarantee that will carry through to the next moment.
In those special, sacred hours of Christmas Eve or Christmas Day we sing about that town of Bethlehem where “…the hopes and fears of all the years…” meet. But every moment is full of God, and so full of high promise or if we let the opportunity go, great disappointment. Prophets like Jesus, like Samuel, like MLK, Jr., awaken us to the meaning of our waiting and heighten our senses.
This is the story of a kairos moment where Nicodemus’ hopes and fears come into focus. But Jesus affirms, “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.” In other words, even his (and our) hopes will be dazzled by what’s in store.
Preaching about Racism
2009-01-14 by Brett Younger
On the Sunday before Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, those of us who weren’t in Birmingham in 1956 may not feel like our stories are worth telling, but in order to help parishioners think about the prejudice in their own hearts we need to tell our stories. This story from my childhood isn’t dramatic, but it may exemplify a way to begin a sermon on racism.
The year after Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated I was a third grader in Ridgeland, Mississippi. I lived in a segregated world—separate and unequal. Everybody I knew wanted things to stay the way they were. The white people in my hometown didn’t understand what Dr. King preached. We didn’t hear what he heard God say. We didn’t hear God say anything we didn’t want to hear.
I knew that there were African-Americans living nearby, but we went to different schools, stores, post offices, and saddest of all, churches. Then one Friday afternoon, Mr. Williams, our bus driver, told us to sit down and get quiet.
“Starting on Monday,” he shouted, “there will be two black girls riding on our bus.”
Several boys in the back started booing.
Mr. Williams yelled, “Get quiet! I don’t like it either, but there’s nothing we can do about it. None of you will have to sit by them. They’ll sit in this seat right behind me.”
Then he started the bus. The bad kids said that they would call the new girls names and let them know that they didn’t belong on our bus. The good kids said that wasn’t fair and that the best thing to do was say nothing at all. On Monday and on the days that followed, as far as I know, none of the bad kids ever said anything loud enough to be heard, but something no less tragic took place. The first children on the bus each morning and each afternoon sat on the back row. Every day for the rest of the year the bus filled from the back with every white child sitting as far as possible from the two children sitting in the front seat.
It’s embarrassing to confess that years passed before I realized how evil we were. It didn’t occur to me to sit on the second row, say hello or question our actions. As the good white children of good white parents we didn’t think of ourselves as bigots. We just found it easier not to challenge what was expected.Years later I became what my relatives in Mississippi consider a liberal. The liberal white children of the Deep South who left home are proud of the alienation we feel from the most embarrassing parts of our roots. We’re arrogant about our newfound sophistication, but sometimes I wonder what we would hear if we listened for God’s opinion on the subject of our prejudices.
2009-01-13 by David Howell
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The Other Texts for Sunday (and Monday's MLK Remembrance)
2009-01-13 by Brett Younger
Yesterday’s post dealt with the intersection between 1 Samuel 3:1-19 and Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. The other lectionary texts for Sunday may not have connections that are as obvious, but each speaks to some aspect of Dr. King’s message.
Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18
The Book of Common Prayer contains an echo of Psalm 139, “Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid.” God knows the psalmist’s every movement, word and thought—“You hem me in, behind and before.” The reading raises the question of how worshippers feel about a God who knows us so intimately. God knows the prejudices in our heart.
1 Corinthians 6:12-20
Some church members at Corinth evidently were claiming that sexual relations outside of marriage were not immoral. “All things are lawful for me” sounds like a libertine slogan. Paul argues not only that some actions are not helpful, but are by their very nature enslaving. “Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit” and deserves better. Each individual we encounter deserves better than we usually recognize.
Andrew and Philip, convinced that Jesus is the Messiah promised in scripture, become the first missionaries. Andrew found Simon. Philip found Nathanael. Nathanael is portrayed as a real person—devout, cautious, and curious, but the author has also made him an ideal disciple, to whom Jesus gives the promise of final glory. God calls us to follow and live for the greater glory.
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