Sunday, Jan. 17, 2021

Our Gospel story will serve as a text this morning… but I would like to try and share this in a
little different way. I am going to read the story again, but this time I am going to invite you to
do a contemplative exercise… one of the most powerful kinds of exercises for me. I want you
to use your God-given gift of imagination to enter the story.

First, I am going to be quiet for just a few moments and encourage you to close your eyes and
pray that the Holy Spirit of God will speak to you through this story. Every encounter with the
Living Word—the “Word-made-Flesh”—through the written word is dependent upon the Spirit.

Now, I would like you to choose to enter the story through one of these characters: either Philip
or Nathaniel. … I encourage you to close your eyes and participate in the story as I read it.

John 1:43-51… The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow
me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to
him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of
Joseph from Nazareth.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip
said to him, “Come and see.” When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is
truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?”
Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Nathanael replied, “Rabbi,
you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told
you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” And he said to him,
“Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending
upon the Son of Man.” Thus far our text.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ. Amen.

As we conclude our quick overview of the content of the two main creeds of the Church—the
Apostles’ and Nicene—we come to the third article, which begins with a statement of belief
related to the third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit of God. The Nicene Creed has more
detail. Here’s how it reads: “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life, who proceeds
from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and
glorified. Who spoke by the prophets.”

In his Small Catechism teaching on the Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed, Martin Luther has
this to say about the role of the Holy Spirit: I believe that I cannot, by my own understanding or
effort, believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him. But the Holy Spirit has called me through the
Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, and sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way He
calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it united with
Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian Church, day after day, He fully forgives my sins and
the sins of all believers. On the last day He will raise up me and all the dead and give me and all
believers in Christ eternal life. This is most certainly true.

Although not mentioned, the Holy Spirit is all over our Gospel story. Just like us, the early
disciples were unable by their own understanding or effort to believe in Jesus, to come to Him,
and to follow Him. The Holy Spirit is in Jesus. The Holy Spirit is in Jesus’ words. The Holy
Spirit is in the disciples, calling and empowering them to come and see and believe and follow.

It is also vitally important that we understand that in calling and empowering us into a very real
relationship with Jesus, the Holy Spirit is at the very same time connecting us with the Body of
Christ that is His Church. Jesus’ calling of Philip and Nathaniel comes on the heels of His
calling Peter and Andrew to follow. And Jesus will call more. Jesus will eventually call all.

We are not simply called into a personal relationship with Jesus, but also a communal one with
the Father through the Spirit. We are called to follow together with others… and these “others”
become brothers and sisters. We believe in—and are part of—the holy Christian Church on
earth. Yes, some find it problematic that we sometimes use the term “catholic” instead of
“Christian” because it causes confusion when we associate it with the Roman Catholic Church.

But the word “catholic”, which literal means “universal”, shows how broad our family is. The
Church crosses denominational and others human-created boundaries and is comprised of all
who adhere to the core doctrine of the Church, imperfectly and incompletely summarized in
these creeds. The Church is the family of Christ, those who have come to perceive and repent
of their sin, to believe and trust the Gospel of grace, the good news of salvation won by Christ
and freely gifted to all who believe and follow. The Holy Spirit makes all of this happen.

And the Holy Spirit continues to call, gather, enlighten and sanctify. The Holy Spirit continues
to inspire the Scriptures, to breathe through the written word to connect, to reconcile, us to God
and to one another, and to cleanse and restore us individually and collectively. The Holy Spirit
does not force or coerce, but continues to call, to invite, to inspire and empower us to live more
and more fully in the way of Jesus.

My friends, take this to heart. Don’t just find this to be interesting teaching, but life-changing
truth. Jesus desires for us to be drawn closer to Him and to our Abba Father, to find healing
(perhaps after first being painfully broken), but to truly encounter and be changed by the Spirit.
We are surrounded by people who need to hear and see the love of God at work in our lives,
who need to learn the truth about sin, about grace, and about our calling to live restored lives of
peace, and of love, graciousness, patience, humility, and a desire to build up, not tear down.

As He called His first followers, Jesus invites us to see Him at work-- teaching, healing, washing
feet, turning the other cheek, going the extra mile, giving the extra coat, even willingly laying
down His life in love for those filled with hate toward Him and toward many others. We are not
being called to be religious, but to be real. Jesus invites us, through His Holy Spirit, to join
Him in His ongoing mission. In truth, Jesus is calling us to be Him… to be His hands and feet,
His voice; to be the very embodiment of His being… to be the one holy and universal Church.

I close with these words of Paul: For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family
in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you
with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through
faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the
Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know
this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power
that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations,
for ever and ever! Amen.

 
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