“Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ? I will with God’s help.” BCP p. 205
That summer before high school, when I stepped foot on the hallowed grounds of wonderful, wonderful Camp McDowell—the summer camp for the Episcopal Diocese of Alabama—, I was nervous. I was a shy fourteen-year-old (I know, hard to believe now) who was intimidated by the prospect of putting herself out there to meet new friends. Yet in spite of all of this overwhelming anxiety, I found solace, I found serenity in our camp sanctuary, within the open aired St. Francis’ Chapel. Where I took part in daily morning and evening prayer; where I sang hymns at the tops of my lungs; where I worshipped the Lord in the beauty of holiness.
And on the last night of camp, during our closing Eucharist, as the sun was setting the preacher delivered a homily that forever transformed my life. This middle aged man, this Episcopal priest had tears welling up in his eyes as he preached a sermon about Mary Magdalene. For him this woman was the epitome of discipleship. He spoke on how much Jesus loved Mary and how much Mary in turned love her Lord. The priest reminded those present that this is exactly what discipleship is: the constant outpouring of God’s love. A love we ourselves have experienced, and then can’t help but share with all of those we encounter.
Then during this homily something happened—something I cannot quite explain. It was as if everything else in the room fell silent and the evening sunlight dimmed. Then the fire of the Holy Spirit came over, and there were words written on my heart: “This is what you are called to do, to preach my love to my people.” In that moment that shy, insecure, fourteen-year-old girl knew her vocation in life: to be a priest in God’s church and to try my best to preach that same love of God I had experienced, every day of my life.
Yet the more I have begun to understand what this whole priestly vocation thing means, the more I have realized that my particular calling is not actually solely mine. My calling is truly the calling of every disciple of Christ: lay and ordained; young and old; man and woman; and everything in between. Every disciple of Jesus, every member of the Body of Christ is called to preach God’s love to God’s people—that love that has transformed all of our lives.
As our baptismal covenant, our focus for this Epiphany season reminds us, we are called
“To proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ.” I think I like this word “proclaim” much more than “preach,” because it expands our view of sharing the Gospel to something outside the realm of the pulpit. It says that sharing the Good News, that outpouring the love of God is meant for every time, and place, and people.
Even though as Presiding Bishop Michael Curry once said, “Episcopalians appear allergic to evangelism,” evangelism, sharing the Gospel, proclaiming “the Good News of God in Christ,” is exactly what Jesus is calling us to do in today’s reading from John. For Philip’s response to Jesus’ uncomplicated statement, “Follow me,” is not just to believe in the Christ or to follow in his footsteps throughout Galilee and Judea, but Philip’s response, the call of the Christian disciple, the promise we make in our baptismal covenant is to take action in the world around us.
It involves being so transformed by our encounter with the Divine, so overwhelmed by the love of God that we can’t help but go and share that kind of good news with someone else. And that is exactly what happens to Philip. He is transformed by this man who is more than a man, this Jesus, that Philip has to, he can’t help but go out and encourage others to follow as well; encourage others to experience God’s love; encourage his friend Nathanael to, “come and see.” It is interesting to me that this is the first concrete example of evangelism in the Fourth Gospel. For in all honesty, this is such a great model, for how we can begin to “proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ.” Because this scenario, this call narrative is really so straightforward.
I mean just take a look at the grammar. The initial interactions are composed of simple sentences. Jesus says, “Follow me,” and Philip does. Then Philip encourages Nathanael, “Come and see,” and Nathanael does. Even in our Old Testament reading, the response of this small boy, of Samuel, to the Divine’s calling is not complicated, is not convoluted, but it is a simple statement: “Here I am!”
Our response to God’s love, our response to Jesus’ calling, “Follow me,” does not have to be eloquent, or intelligent, or intricate; it just has to be a simple and authentic, “yes!” And our action out in the world, our proclaiming by word and example the Good News of God in Christ, just has to be a simple and authentic invitation to those around us, “come and see!”
We proclaim by word and example with everyone and anyone we encounter: at the dog park and on the airplane; at the office and on vacation; at the rec center and on social media even. It is a call to action for everyone. For no one is excluded from being a disciple of Christ, a vehicle for God’s love, an extender of the Divine invitation.
If you are doubting the fact of whether or not you are called; of whether or not you are good enough, or courageous enough, or marvelously made enough, just page through our Scriptures and see that God always seems to call the least of these. God has a way of using those whom we would lease expect: from the ancient Abraham and Sarah, to the young child Samuel, to my beloved Mary Magdalene—a woman who was possessed by seven demons and yet the first to proclaim the resurrection.
Everyone is called as part of God’s story in their own wonderful way. I mean even Jesus was underestimated! Consider Nathanael’s question, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Jesus was from some rural, back desert, Galilean town. He was a child with a questionable biological father, and born of a young unwed mother. Yet Nathanael soon found out what Philip knew, and John the Baptist knew, and all of Christ’s disciples knew: that in fact something amazing had come out of Nazareth, someone who would proclaim God’s love by word and example in a new and transformation way—in the Word made flesh walking alongside us in both our joy and our suffering.
So…“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Yes. Come and see. Can anything good come out of Alabama? Yes. Come and see. Can anything good come out of Nevada? Yes. Come and see. Can anything good come out of Haiti? Or El Salvador? Out of Liberia? Or Sierra Leone? Yes. Yes. Yes. And yes. Come and see. Can anything good come out of this small church on a lake tucked away in the mountains? Our answer is always: “Heck yes! Just come and see for yourself!”
As disciples of Jesus, as members of the Body of Christ, as friends of this beloved community of St. Patrick’s Church, each one of us is called by the Divine. We ourselves have experienced the transformative love of God and now we are called to share, to communicate, to outpour, that same love to all of those around us; to “proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ.” To invite those in need of God’s devotion to come and see!