02/04/18 – JV – Who Do We Follow?


A Communion Homily


February 4, 2018
Jazz Vespers
John 1:35-52
Elder Alan Willadsen


John 1:35-51 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

The First Disciples of Jesus

35 The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38 When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39 He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. 40 One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41 He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed[a]). 42 He brought Simon[b] to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter[c]).

Jesus Calls Philip and Nathanael

43 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,[d] you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”

The Word of the Lord.  Thanks be to God.


One of many social media is Twitter, an online news and social networking service where users post and interact with messages known as “tweets.”  It’s all “about broadcasting daily short-burst messages to the world, with the hope that your messages are useful and interesting to someone.”[1]  According to the online Twitter-guide, “Twitter is the place to find out about what’s happening in the world right now.”  Following someone on Twitter means you’ve subscribed to his or her account, will be referred to as the person’s follower, and receive their tweets.  Some people equate the number of followers to one’s popularity.  There are even “fake followers” one can buy.

I am not active on Twitter.  I find more appeal studying the Bible for many reasons.  Usually, I see how much we have in common with people thousands of years ago and how little we’ve changed.  I find the themes of creation, fall, restoration and redemption to be comforting, eternal, hopeful, and true.  However, when I read this Gospel passage and started thinking about how each person followed Jesus, I experienced a significant and unusual (for me) disconnect from today’s Twitter world.

The men in our story, John, Andrew, Simon Peter, Philip, and Nathanael were observant Jews, eager for the Messiah to appear.  They were waiting and watching, for that’s what scripture led them to do.

Jesus tweeted nothing about who he was.  He had no followers.  In today’s Twitter world, he would not have mattered.  Until…  Jesus walks by two men standing with John the Baptist.  John calls the man the “Lamb of God,” and these two men immediately left John to follow Jesus.  They would have associated the term “Lamb of God” with the Passover lamb who would deliver Israel from sin and the powers of evil.  John told them that’s who Jesus was and they left to follow Him.

Andrew and another man started to follow Jesus.  Literally.  In the traditional sense of the world.  They followed Him down the street.  Jesus noticed his followers and asked what they were looking for (instead of telling the followers what was useful and interesting).  After some discussion, one of them went and got his brother, Simon.  Just like that, Jesus has four followers!  And three of them heard about Jesus from someone else.

The next day Jesus picked up two more followers in another village:  Philip, who Jesus simply invited by saying, “follow me;” and Nathanael who, like Simon, heard about this man from somebody who had just encountered Jesus.  Calling new followers can never be that easy, so we understand Nathanael’s skepticism and disdain for Jesus’s background as a Nazarene.  By the end of the passage, Nathanael comes around and Jesus has six followers.  How does he do it?

First, Jesus gains followers through recognition.  John recognizes who Jesus is and others do likewise.  But recognition is not like a mirror, which requires no relationship with another.  Recognition is a two-way street.  Think of how you feel when someone calls you by name.  You know they recognize you and know you.  Most of the time when we are called by name, we are glad to be known and recognized.

Jesus recognizes Nathanael for who he is—a devout Jew, praying for the Messiah’s return under the fig tree.  He recognizes Simon (and renames him “Rock”) for who he is and who he can be.  We learn later in the Gospels who Simon Peter really is—stubborn, dense, and obstinate—like a rock that cannot be moved.  We also see Simon Peter, the rock, as solid, secure, stable, and strong.  Jesus recognizes other people, including us, for who we are.

In addition to recognition, people follow Jesus because he treats others well—with compassion, grace, and love.  When Andrew and the other man left John’s side, Jesus did not rebuke them for their rudeness to John.  He did not discourage them from following him, but simply and gently asked what they sought.  Their question, “Where are you staying?” seems odd to ask of someone they’ve just encountered as the Lamb of God, but he responded kindly with a hospitable invitation.

Nathanael has issues with Jesus’s background but goes to see in spite of them.  How does Jesus respond?  Jesus calls Nathanael a man of integrity and faith.  He does not utter unkind words in response but lifts up Nathanael with encouraging words.  Jesus does not widen the divide between the Nazarenes and Bethsaidans.

We can learn a lot from Jesus and his followers by seeing how recognition and returning no one unkind words for unkind words enhance His following.  Think about who we follow—and why—particularly in light of these followers of Jesus.  Do we get to a point where we can recognize other people for who they are, individually, rather than as part of that “other” group?  Do we follow others in ways that lead us to divide and say, “Nothing good can come out of the Repubcrat or Demolican party?”  Do we use labels that polarize, or do we offer messages of reconciliation, hope, and encouragement?

Recognizing who Jesus is—the Messiah, the anointed one—and choosing to follow Him means changing who we follow, like Andrew and the other man who left John the Baptist.  It means telling other people who we follow.  It means rethinking our long-standing biases.  Following Jesus means unfollowing the ways of the world and celebrating the gift of life given by the one we follow and remember as we are fed at this, the Lord’s Table.

Amen and amen.


[1] Lifewire.com


© Elder Alan Willadsen, 2018, All Rights Reserved
Westminster Presbyterian Church – Peoria, Illinois