Sunday, January 18, 2009

Second Sunday after Epiphany

John 1:43-51
43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, ‘Follow me.’ 44Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45Philip 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.’ 46Nathanael said to him, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ Philip said to him, ‘Come and see.’ 47When Jesus saw Nathanael coming towards him, he said of him, ‘Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!’ 48Nathanael asked him, ‘Where did you come to know me?’ Jesus answered, ‘I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.’ 49Nathanael replied, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’ 50Jesus answered, ‘Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.’ 51And 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.’

It starts on Tuesday morning when Peter Parker—taking inauguration photos for the Daily Bugle—notices that there are two President-elect Obamas. Something is amiss! Peter realizes “the future president’s gonna need Spider-Man” and quickly becomes his famous alterego. Using the best tool possible to determine the fake Obama (basketball!) the imposter is unmasked and apprehended. If you managed to get a first-edition copy of Marvel Comic's Amazing Spider-Man #583, hold on to it. You may be able to retire on the proceeds some day.

If there is a way to measure excess hype and unrealistic expectations, we’ve surpassed it. If there is a way to determine star power and emerging celebrity, we’re way beyond that now. The President-elect has entered uncharted waters where even the help of superheroes may not be enough to manage the expectations of a waiting world. Thank goodness for the flying prowess of Sully Sullenberger, saving the day over the skies of Gotham and allowing Obama a few moments out of the spotlight.

All the excitement over Tuesday (and the choruses of “na-na-hey-hey-goodbye”) seems to have overshadowed the real accomplishment of the last few months. Never before has a politician mobilized 3.1 million donors and ten million email subscribers toward support on election day. Never before has someone ignored public election money in favour of five and ten dollar donations from people of every walk of life. Again and again the signs point to a distinction that needs to be made: The President-elect wasn’t running a campaign, he was launching a movement.

How can you tell the difference? What turns a campaign into a movement when every politician must ask “will you vote for me?” I think the difference is something like this: In a campaign the candidate says “vote for me and I will do my best to address your particular concern or issue.” In a movement, the candidate says “vote for me and join my team. We don’t know where this thing is headed, but together we can get there.” Campaigns speak to self-interest, movements speak to service. Listen carefully on Tuesday for movement language, at a time when no President (perhaps since Lincoln) has a greater need to get everyone moving together in the same direction.


The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, ‘Follow me.’

The difference between a campaign and a movement can be found in those two little words “follow me.” The ancient Near-East was filled with proselytizers. Ever street corner had a prophet or a seer trying to win people over to a point of view. The man with the “end is nigh” sign that launched a thousand New Yorker cartoons is close to the mark in the period we’re looking at.

So this battle for “hearts and minds” is not new. Much of the moral architecture of the Jewish faith was based on adherence to the Law of Moses: the ability to get the people of God to live according to God’s own direction. Priest or prophet would call people to live differently. Unfortunately, there were different opinions on how to live differently, and the issue became adherence to particular ideas rather than anything else.

Even in the early church we read the same tendency slip into the emerging fellowship: ‘I belong to Paul’ says one. ‘I’m in the Apollo camp’ says another. ‘Count me with Cephas’ says a third. Finally, an exasperated Paul says ‘have we divided the body of Christ into little bits?’ (1 Cor 1.13) He says he was not sent to dazzle people with his particular wisdom on this or that subject, but to lift up the cross of Jesus and point to it’s power (v. 17).

To all of these characters, standing on street corners and arguing in synagogues, Jesus says ‘follow me.’ To everyone who pondered an idea and wondered about making a pledge, Jesus says ‘follow me.’ To all the people casting about for the next big thing, the next big idea, or the next big person, Jesus says ‘follow me.’ It’s not a campaign he’s started, it’s a movement: a movement with only one direction, but more on that later.


Doug Pagitt, pastor of a church called Solomon’s Porch, began to notice a pattern some time ago that seems to speak to our topic today. In his travels, Doug began to see that various Christian traditions tend to be fluid and easygoing in some ways and quite ridged in others. So, for example, within the more evangelical churches there seems to be less stress over the music and the shape of the service and the credentials of the pastor and more stress over defending a precise definition of truth. On the other hand, among the more mainline churches there seems to be a lot of latitude regarding what you believe and the creeds you are willing to repeat and very little latitude regarding the order of service or how ministers are trained.

I would say Solomon’s Porch, like the Obama campaign, is a movement. It is less about following a set or rules or furthering a single issue and more about belonging to something. It is less about maintaining a distinct character and more about becoming something that reflects the people inside. It is less about people meeting the needs of a particular institution and more about the need to love and serve others. I’m not suggesting we become a Solomon’s Porch, although I do like that they replaced the pews with old couches and LazyBoy recliners. I lift them up as an example of the transition from church to movement that I think every congregation will need to make as the institutional church begins to slip into history.


Someone built the biggest mall, but people wanted more.
Someone built the biggest investment bank, but people wanted more.
Someone built the biggest bailout, but people wanted more.
Someone built the biggest megachurch, but people wanted more.
The more people wanted, the less they seemed to get.

The more people wanted, the less satisfied they were with the biggest and the best and the newest. What they really wanted, what they have always wanted, even though they frequently forget, is a connection. They want to be connected, one to another, in something that is beyond need or greed. They want to be part of something larger than themselves, because individual glory is fleeting, and greater glory is calling them.

Jesus made the invitation in a number of ways: One time it was “Follow me and become fishers of men and woman.” Another time it was “Come down from that tree, I’m coming to your house for tea.” In today’s lesson it was simply “follow me.” What he didn’t say at that moment, but implied in every word he spoke, was ‘follow me to the cross.’ Follow me to the cross where human sin and God’s infinite capacity to forgive meet. Follow me to the cross and witness an end to death. Follow me to the cross and join a movement of cross people, redeemed by the death of Jesus, forgiven through the power of the cross, and delivered a new people, new in Christ Jesus, new for all time. Amen.


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