Granting His Peace in Our Days
The Collect appointed for this Second Sunday after the Epiphany has been used since the 7th century. For 1400 years God's people have been gathering to pray for His peace in their days. And God's people come in all shapes, sizes, and personalities. Some are stumbling, bumbling, dimwitted fellows who have to be led by the hand. Philip was this type.
Earlier John the Baptist had pointed Jesus out as the Lamb of God to two of his disciples. They had followed Jesus, and then one of them, Andrew, immediately got his brother and took him to Jesus. Philip could've been in this same mix. He, with Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida. He had heard John declare Jesus to be the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world; he'd watched Andrew and another unnamed disciple follow, and knew that Andrew immediately went to tell his brother, "We've found the Christ." But it takes Jesus personally finding Philip and saying, "Follow Me" for him to follow.
Philip is the first person Scripture records Jesus saying those words to. Later Jesus will call Matthew with those same words, but there the Holy Spirit notes Matthew "rose and followed Him." Here it doesn't say that. O Philip does, but as I said, he's the kind of guy that doesn't get things quite right. To be sure, he's much better than the two others who are recorded as giving Jesus excuses when He said "follow Me," but still Philip is slow.
Philip is the first disciple, first apostle, directly called by Jesus, but what a follower He was. John shows us several other episodes in his life which support my stumbling, bumbling view of him. In the Feeding of the 5,000 Philip is the one Jesus tested with the question, "Where are we to buy bread, so that all these people may eat?" With the Bread of Life standing right in front of him, what does Phil say? "200 denarii would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little." When the Greeks came asking to see Jesus, awkward Phil doesn't know what to do. He goes to find Andrew not Jesus and only then do he and Andrew tell Jesus.
That's not all. In the upper room, it is Phil who drags fingernails across a chalkboard by responding to Jesus' statement that no one comes to the Father but by Me by asking, "Show us the Father and that is enough for us?" Can't you hear the sigh in Jesus' voice when He replies, "Have I been so long among you, and you still do not know Me Philip? Whoever has seen Me has seen the Father. How can you say, Show us the Father.'?"
There is much comfort in knowing that Jesus didn't always select the brightest lights to be His followers. He had dull scissors, C students, mid-level mangers, and practice squad players on His team, but where was God's peace in Phil's days? I mean don't you have those days where everything you do is wrong? Where you just don't see what is as plain as the nose on your face? When the life God has given you seems to be going too fast and furious, when you just can't seem to get what you know you should be getting by now?
There are more than Maxwell Smart, Gomer Pyle, and Charlie Brown-like disciples. Jesus has the other extreme too. We don't know how Philip knows Nathanael. Or why Nate should be the first one Phil seeks out. These two are opposites. Phil is definitely not the sharpest tool in the shed; Nate just might be. Phil struggles to keep up with life; Nate is out in front of it. Phil is an unlikely man to be an apostle, but he was. Nate is a likely choice, but probably wasn't. Nathanael, some think, is the Bartholomew of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Others, Luther among them, think Nate is just like us, no apostle just a disciple.
You know what I think? I think it's the way of our Lord to put side by side two people with radically different gifts thereby showing He is able to use both, but using the least likely one for the greater tasks. And this also makes us pause to consider whether Nate really does have superior gifts to Phil. O that's what you would think. Jesus speaks very favorably of Nate in this account. Jesus says Nathanael is a true Israelite in whom there is nothing false, and then when Nate confesses Jesus to be both God and Man, Jesus further reveals Himself using an incident from Old Testament Jacob's life.
This will become clearer once we study the life of Jacob in Genesis Bible class. For now, know that falsehood, deceit, trickery was the way Jacob made his way through life until he wrestled with God. That's where God changed his name from Jacob which means "he cheats" to Israel which means "he strives with God." So when Jesus says that Nate is "a true Israelite in whom there is nothing false" He's really saying that Nate is an Israel in whom there is no Jacob.
High praise indeed for a highly gifted individual especially compared to Phil. Phil can only say rather nebulously of Jesus, "We have found the one Moses and the prophets wrote about." Nate knows who Jesus is as soon as He hears that Jesus saw him before Phil even called him while he was in a traditional spot where Jews said their prayers: "under the fig tree." He knows that only God could know that, and so confesses Jesus to be the Son of God and the King of Israel. Nate is a superior theologian. He confesses the two Natures in the one Person of Christ: true God and true Man.
Do you know how un-peaceful such a gifted man's life can be? You see that when Phil first approaches him. He knows enough that Nazareth is an unlikely place for the One Moses and the prophets wrote about. He knows that there are always people hyped up about the latest religious buzz. There were the charismatic gifts of the 70's, the spiritual gifts of the 80's, the Promise Keepers of the 90's, the Purpose Driven Life of the 2000's, and now there's the emergent church. Nate sees that good theology, true theology goes begging and good feelings, sappy sentiments, and "rah, rah Jesus" emotionalism carries the day. Not much peace there.
So whether you're a Nate or a Phil where's God's peace in your days? It's given by the Man who is God. As true God Jesus knows your innermost being, hopes, dreams, prayer life and lack thereof. He knows if you're a Philip who will stumble and bumble right on by His peace. He knows if you're a Nathanael who has been disappointed a hundred times by false theology, no theology, or theology that just doesn't address the sin, the death, and the devil you know to be in your life depriving you of peace.
Whether a Phil or a Nate, take all the comfort that is in this text. Jesus doesn't go on with His ministry until He finds Philip. It's not hard to imagine that Philip was close to following Jesus many times, but Jesus doesn't leave Phil's or our salvation in our own hands. Isn't that right? He put you into the hands of parents who would bring you to Him at an early age. Then as you stumbled and bumbled through life, Jesus by Word and Sacrament found you again and again departing you in peace in Communion and giving peace to you in the Benediction.
And Jesus knows you as well as He does Nathanael. Wherever your place of prayer may be, He sees you there as sure as He saw Nate under his fig tree. He knows all about your sins, your shortcomings, and your despair. He knows your sharp theological mind has a way of stabbing you. Yet He won't let you go either. Why did the Lord make sure He got Philip if not to get Nathanael too? He knew the sharp as a tack Nate would listen to the dull but sincere Phil. It's not by accident, by birth, by "luck" you have the peace of God which passes all human understanding. Jesus searched for you as hard as He did Phil and used whoever He needed to as He did with Nate.
What Jesus promised to Nathanael He promises to Philip who was also there and to us who are here now. The "you's" in the last verse of the text are plurals. "You all shall see heaven open and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man." Just like last week heaven is open to you in Jesus. On your own, heaven is closed, locked tighter than a bank vault. It's not your bumbling mind or your sharp one that makes heaven closed. It's your sins. Your sins of doing, saying, and even thinking. Think how many those are. As the Rite of Private Confession says, "My thoughtshave been soiled with sin" (LW, 310).
The angels of God, let alone the God of heaven, will have nothing to do with you. But as we sing in a Christmas hymn, "Today He opens heaven again and gives us His own Son." As true God heaven belonged to Jesus by right; He came from heaven and He had every right to go back. But not us, and God couldn't just open heaven to us like some game of hide and seek where in the end everyone gets to come in free. That would break God's Word to punish sins; that would not fulfill God's eternal laws. So when the True God came out of heaven, He took on the flesh and blood of Man. That means He took on all our obligations and debts. He had to do what the Law required and agreed to pay what the law demanded of sinners.
Jesus did these by living an innocent life and by dying a guilty death on a cross. Having done both, God raised Him from the dead to give the grace, mercy, and peace of heaven to earth in Jesus' name. Jesus is found for you in the Bread that is His Body and the Wine that is His Blood. Jesus clothes you in Baptism and wipes your sins away in Absolution. Every time you look at the font, see the Absolution, or behold the Body and Blood of Jesus on earth again you are to see heaven opened right there and the angels of God carrying your prayers to heaven and God's answers to you on earth.
Right at Baptism, Absolution, and Communion God is granting His peace in your days no matter if you're not the sharpest tack in the box and are continually missing His ways or you're a very sharp tack who sees how many corrupt His ways. No matter if you see you've missed the ways of God again, or see that men have gotten in the way again, you are to see that heaven remains open to you, and the angels are still ascending and descending on Jesus granting you God's peace in your days. This is on of the greater things Jesus promised us we'd see. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Second Sunday after the Epiphany (20120115); John 1: 43-51