The word hero gets thrown around an awful lot these days. Mostly for good reasons. There certainly are many bonafide men and women who have earned the label hero. War heroes. Athletes. Teachers. Parents......heroes.
May I suggest to you today that one of the greatest heroes in your life – and it’s quite possible that you never quite thought of this person in quite this way before – but may I suggest to you that one of the greatest heroes in your life is the person who introduced you to Jesus Christ. Now I know that there are many, many people who have walked with you in this thing we call discipleship – teachers – mentors – pastors – friends – someone or someones who have helped you to grow in your faith and understanding of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. But I’m here to tell you today that one of the greatest heroes in your life may very well be the person who introduced you to Jesus Christ.
In our Gospel reading today we have one such hero. His name is Philip. This disciple of Jesus Christ is a hero to a man by the name of Nathanael. Philip has already been called by Jesus to be a disciple. With two simple words “Follow me,” Jesus invites Philip to come and be his disciple. Philip immediately goes and gets his friend Nathanael.
“Hey Nate,” he says, “Guess what? We’ve found the Messiah. Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” Of course Nathanael is skeptical. “O yeah? Well let me ask you something Phil, old boy. Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Notice – Philip doesn’t argue with him. He doesn’t use elaborate proofs or convincing words to try to convince him otherwise. He simply utters three words – three of the most beautiful words to be found in the Bible. “Come and see.”
Come and see. There’s not a one of us here today who is a stranger to that invitation. You heard it – or some form of it – at some time in your life. Some of you are here today because you did come – you did see – and you liked what you saw – you believed what you heard. You took a step of faith. You took a step towards Jesus.
Others of you may be here today because you too heard the invitation to come and see. And maybe you’re still wrestling with what this faith thing is all about. Maybe you’re wrestling with who this Jesus person is and what he’s all about. And that’s a good thing. What is it Marv Levy used to say? “Where would you rather be than right here, right now.” So what better place than right here – right now – to wrestle with the things of God?
The thing is – we’ve all been invited. By someone. At some time. And in some place. I have to give credit to my parents. They are the ones who dragged me – I mean, brought me to church and to Sunday School when – if the choice had been left up to me – I would have stayed home on Sunday mornings to watch cartoons. How many of you remember Sunday morning cartoons? If you remember Sunday morning cartoons, then you weren’t in church. Anyway, I didn’t have a choice, and I never raised the question more than that one time. So thanks, Mom. Thanks, Dad for being the heroes who introduced me to Jesus.
So it’s one thing to be invited to “Come and see.” The next step is that all important step of faith towards Jesus. You see, it wasn’t enough for Nathanael to meet Jesus. It wasn’t enough for him to be introduced to Jesus. No. He had to take that all important first step – that first step in faith – towards Jesus.
Now maybe you have your doubts. Your skepticisms. Your reservations. And I want you to know that that can be a good thing. Apparently, Nathanael had his. Truth be told, sometimes I’ve got mine. Does that sound strange coming from a preacher’s mouth? I sometimes still have doubts. I certainly have questions. And when I have those doubts and questions – I go back to the evidence. That’s one of the reasons why I did that series last year during Lent and Easter — “Examining the Evidence: Asking the Tough Questions of Why We Believe.” Not what we believe, but why we believe what we believe. You can find those sermons on Zion’s website under March and April of 2014.
Anyway – when I have my doubts – I weigh the evidence – I ask the questions, “How did we get here?” and “Did Jesus really rise from the dead?” When I weigh all of the evidence used to answer those two questions – when I weigh all of the arguments – all of the evidence – I always come back to saying, “This universe – this world that we live in – it’s just too complex and too precise in all of the hundreds of conditions that need to be in place in order for life to exist. All of this just could not have happened by chance. And all of the arguments I have read about that try to explain away the resurrection just fall flat on their face. So still I believe.”
So all of us are here today – believers – skeptics – or maybe you’re like me – you sometimes have a combination of both. But every one of us is here today because of a hero in our lives. The hero who – like Philip in our Gospel reading – invited us to meet Jesus. The hero who invited us to “Come and see.”
Let me share with you a story. Dr. Gordon Targerson, a Baptist pastor in Worcester, Massachusetts, was crossing the Atlantic by ship some years ago. He noticed on several occasions a dark-skinned man sitting in a deck chair reading a Bible. One day Dr. Targerson sat down beside him and said, “Forgive my curiosity. I'm a Baptist minister. I notice you are a faithful Bible reader. I'd like to meet you.” After introductions, the dark-skinned man told his story. He said, “I am Filipino. I was born into a good Catholic home. I went to the United States as a young man to study in one of your fine universities, intending to become a lawyer. On my first day on campus, a student dropped by to visit. He welcomed me and offered to help in any way he could. Then he asked me where I went to church. I told him I was Catholic. He explained that the Catholic Church was quite a distance away, but he sat down and drew me a map. I thanked him and he left.
“On the following Sunday morning it was raining. I decided to just skip church. But then there was a knock on my door. There stood my new friend and he was holding two umbrellas. He said that he worried that I might not be able to read his map. So, he said he would escort me to the Catholic Church. I hurriedly dressed, thinking all the while what an unusually thoughtful person he was. I wondered what church he belonged to.
“As we walked along I asked him about his church. He said that his church was just around the corner. So, I suggested that we go to his church this Sunday, and then to mine the following Sunday. He agreed. But somehow I felt so much at home in his church that I never got around to finding mine. After four years I felt that God was leading me into the ordained ministry rather than into law. I went to Drew University Seminary and was ordained a Methodist minister. Then I returned to the Philippines to serve in a Methodist parish. My name is Valencius, Bishop Valencius, Bishop of the Methodist Church in the Philippines.”
The hero of the story is not the Bishop, important though he is. The hero is that anonymous young man with two umbrellas. Whether they ended up at the Methodist or Catholic churches doesn't really matter.
So the upshot of the story is this. I’m here to tell you today that YOU can be a hero. And you know what? You don’t have to be like anybody else. You don’t have to exercise your faith the same way that the people next to you exercise theirs. In fact, there is none of us who can be like or exercise our faith like any other member of this church. And that’s a good thing.
You are you. If you are already a believer – if God has given you the gift of faith – then use that faith – exercise that faith – the best way that you know how. God’s given you gifts and talents and abilities. Doesn’t matter what they are. God wants you to use those gifts the best way you know how. Maybe no one will ever know. But God will know.
And you know what? Maybe you don’t want to be – or maybe you don’t feel like being some body’s hero today. But let me tell you something. You CAN be a hero in spite of a heavy burden that might be weighing you down. Or maybe you can be some body’s here BECAUSE of that burden. Some grief. Some illness. Some hardship. Some hurt. Some pain. Because, let me tell you something. Whatever it is you’ve been through – or whatever it is you’re going through right now – someone else will also go through. You can be a hero to them – show them how to rise above their situation.
The bottom line is that YOU can be a hero – a hero who introduces someone else to Jesus Christ. A hero who ministers to someone else in the name of Jesus Christ.
You can be that person with two umbrellas.
You can be like Phillip, and simply invite someone with two simple words, “Come and see.”
You can be a hero to someone by being the best you God made you to be.
I just want you to know that no matter where you are in life – no matter where you are in this thing called faith – maybe you’re still waiting to take that first step towards Jesus – or maybe you’ve been walking with him all along – let me be a Philip – let me be a Philip to you right now. You want to know who this person Jesus is?
Come and see. Come and meet Jesus. Come and maybe even meet Jesus AGAIN for the first time. Right here. Right now. Come and see. Amen