The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, "Follow me." 44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45 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." 46 Nathanael said to him, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" Philip said to him, "Come and see." 47 When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, "Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!" 48 Nathanael asked him, "Where did you get to know me?" Jesus answered, "I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you." 49 Nathanael replied, "Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!" 50 Jesus answered, "Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these." 51 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."
I spent 48 hours last week on a 55-passenger bus traveling to and from Crested Butte, CO with 26 students from the University of Texas. And of the 54 movies viewed on our Clark Travel party wagon, Forrest Gump was hands down my second favorite movie. It should have been #1 but someone happened to have She’s All That with Freddy Prince, Jr. Anyway, there’s this great scene in Forrest Gump where Lieutenant Dan starts mocking Christian evangelists. And so he turns to Tom Hanks’ character and sarcastically asks, “Gump, have you found Jesus yet?” Forest Gump doesn’t quite understand where Lieutenant Dan is coming from but he responds as best he can. “I didn’t know I was supposed to be looking for him.” Well, Lieutenant Dan laughs at Forrest. He finds Forrest to be tad naïve. After all, Lieutenant Dan is bitter, and if you’ve seen the movie, you understand why – he’s lost his legs, he’s lost his hope, he’s lost his purpose - and Lieutenant Dan wants to know where God is. Where is God in the pain? Where is God in the confusion? You see, Lieutenant Dan is lost. And broken. And like all of us, he yearns to be whole. But apparently, Lieutenant Dan has encountered some pretty pushy Christians who’ve added insult to injury - people who’ve told him he needs to go find Jesus. And so Lieutenant Dan poses the question to Forrest. “Gump, have you found Jesus yet?” To which Gump says, “I didn’t know I was supposed to be looking for him.”
Today we venture into an uncomfortable territory. Because I’m going to address a topic we Episcopalians prefer to avoid – something we find really, really awkward. I’m talking about the “E” word – evangelism. But if we intend to follow Jesus, we have to venture into this uncomfortable territory – because there is no such thing as discipleship without evangelism. It’s impossible to be a full-fledged follower of Jesus in private. It’s like Paul tells Timothy, “to carry out your ministry fully, do the work of an evangelist” (2 Tim 4:5). And so my question today is, “what does this mean for us? How do you and I do the work of an evangelist?” Does it mean telling our hurting world – people who’ve lost their hope, people who’ve lost their purpose, people who want to know where God is – does it mean telling them they need to go find Jesus? Or is it possible – just maybe – that Jesus is looking for us?
In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus finds Phillip. Jesus doesn’t stumble into Phillip. No, the Greek word translated found suggests that Jesus sough Phillip out. Jesus finds Phillip. And Jesus issues Phillip an invitation. “Follow me.” In other words, Jesus invites Phillip to do the same work that he is doing. And Phillip says yes. But here’s what’s so interesting. In the next scene, Phillip, the brand-new disciple, is alone. Phillip isn’t with Jesus. And the reason Phillip isn’t with Jesus is because he’s off looking for Nathanael. Phillip – the brand new disciple – is already doing the work of an evangelist. Because there’s no such thing as discipleship without evangelism.
It’s important that we notice the pattern. First, Jesus seeks Phillip out. Jesus finds Phillip. And Jesus issues an invitation. “Follow me.” Then, Phillip then seeks Nathanael out. Phillip finds Nathanael. And Phillip issues an invitation. “Come and see.” Jesus finds Phillip. Phillip finds Nathanael.
Now, Nathanael is skeptical. After all, Phillip tells him to “come and see” the fulfillment of the Law and Prophets – a great man who lives in Nazareth? If you’re not familiar, Nazareth was a really small village. Historically speaking, it was a place of little or no significance. As the missioner at UT, I’d have to say the best modern day comparison would be a place like College Station. And so Nathanael is skeptical. “Nazareth? You’ve got to be kidding. Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” But here’s the thing – Nathanael follows Phillip anyway. And the reason Nathanael follows Phillip is because Nathanael knows Phillip. They have a relationship. And Nathanael is told by someone he loves and trusts, “I’ve found something great. I’ve found something life-changing. You need to come and see.”
Well, we all know what happens next. Phillip brings Nathanael to Jesus. And notice, that’s all he does. He brings Nathanael into Jesus’ presence and Jesus takes over. “Here is a true Israelite in whom there is no deceit.” “Where did you get to know me?” Nathanael asks. “Before Phillip even called you,” Jesus tells him, “I saw you under that fig tree.” In essence, what Jesus is telling him is this: “I know you Nathanael. Before Phillip even called you, I had my eye on you. I saw you.”
And so back to the “E” word. What does today’s Gospel lesson tell us about evangelism done well? In other words, how do we do the work of an evangelist?
First, doing the work of an evangelist begins when we acknowledge and rejoice that Jesus has found us. Sure, we all have a different story. Some of us here today may feel like we’ve been the ones doing all the searching. Some of us grew up in the church. And some of us may feel like we stumbled into this gig, and for some reason, we just can’t stay away. But even though our stories are different, the fact that we’re here this morning tells me that Jesus has already found every single one of us – he’s met us where we are – just like he did for Phillip.
Second, doing the work of an evangelist means that we seek out the people we love; we find the people we love; and we invite the people we love to “come and see.” Because we do live in a hurting world. Lieutenant Dan, in all of his pain and confusion and bitterness, is everywhere. Nathanael, in all of his skepticism, is everywhere. They’re at the market, they’re in our family, they’re sitting next to us right now, and at times, they’re in the mirror staring back at us. And our job, as evangelists, isn’t to tell Lieutenant Dan or Nathanael – whoever that happens to be for us – to get up and to go find Jesus. Our job as disciples – and our joy as disciples – is to go to them and to bring them to Jesus. But here’s the thing – to do this work well, we as a church have to become so loving, so compassionate, so kind – that when we do tell people to “come and see” we know in our hearts that we’re showing them something special. In other words, they need to “come and see the love we have for one another; to come and see the way we bless our community; to come and see the risen Christ in our midst.”
Finally, if we’re going to do the work of an evangelist, the grace-filled words Jesus spoke to Nathanael have to guide our every step. Remember what Jesus says - “Before Phillip even called you, I saw you.” Because before we seek anyone out, before we find anyone, before we issue any invitations – Jesus sees the people to whom we go. Jesus had his eyes fixed on the people we love long before we did. Jesus already knows them. And Jesus already loves them.
And so here’s our homework for the week. Let’s put ourselves in Nathanael’s shoes. Jesus found Phillip. Phillip found Nathanael. But we don’t know what Nathanael did. And so let’s let our lives sketch the story’s ending. Because we’ve been sought out – a parent, a friend, a co-worker. Someone has found us. Someone’s invited us to “come and see.” After all, here we are. But, when we leave worship this morning - there’s going to be a Lieutenant Dan around every corner. There’s going to be a Nathanael under every fig tree. They’re confused. They’re broken. And like all of us, they yearn to be whole. I so I really hope you’ll be looking. Because it’s possible – just maybe – that Jesus is looking for them too.