The Second Sunday after Epiphany, Year B, Holy Trinity Church, Nashville, January 14, 2024

“The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, ‘Follow me’” (Jo. 1:43).

Jesus called twelve apostles to be his followers, to be his inner circle or small group. He was accompanied in his ministry, not only by the twelve but by faithful women, the group that appeared at the tomb after his crucifixion, and became the first witnesses to the resurrection. John’s Gospel, in particular, shows Jesus in close relationship with Mary and Martha of Bethany, and with their brother Lazarus. Jesus was never a “lone ranger” type, out there on his own. He had his “peeps,” his posse. All the Gospels agree that Jesus shared his ministry with others.

When Jesus called Philip he simply said, “Follow me” (Jo. 1:43). The formula is revealing. To follow Jesus means to be like him; to spend time with him and to learn what he has to teach. It’s a process of assimilation. Following means walking in the footsteps, following the same path and arriving at the same destination. If you walk in a different direction you have chosen a different path: you can’t really be described as a follower. Even if you arrive at the same destination, you won’t be a follower, because you haven’t been Jesus’ companion on the way.

Jesus says later in John’s Gospel that he is “the way, the truth, and the life” (Jo. 14:6): a pretty clear indication that walking with him on the way is crucial to being a disciple. We become friends with him through this process of following him. “I have called you friends,” Jesus says, “because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father” (Jo. 15:15). We call others to “Come and see” (Jo. 1:46), as Philip called Nathanael, widening the circle of friendship. Jesus’ friends are those with whom he shares his heart and mind as they journey together.

“Follow me” also has another meaning: not simply spending time with Jesus, but doing the same work as Jesus. Again, Jesus says later in John’s Gospel, “Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these…” (Jo. 14:12). The primary work is the work of loving service: as he says when he washes the disciples’ feet in the thirteenth chapter of John’s Gospel, “For I have set you an example, that you should also do as I have done to you” (Jo. 13:15). Not the work of turning water into wine (as nice as that would be); not the work of walking on water (which only some of us can do); but the work of humble service. As Jesus says, “If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them” (Jo. 13:17).

When Jesus tells Philip to follow him, he’s laying out the whole pastoral program of the Church. What we do, week by week, is to follow Jesus, by spending time with him, learning to be his friends, and calling others to widen the circle of friendship. We gather week by week to celebrate the Eucharist and to share his body and blood, taking within us the signs of his life. It’s a program of assimilation and imitation, as we follow Jesus by doing for others what has been done for us, in acts of humble service. As Jesus’ disciples today, as members of the Church, we are walking in his footsteps and doing his work.

Those being confirmed today are the visible sign of the widening circle of friendship that Jesus calls us to. All of us are his followers on the way that leads through death to resurrection. Jesus is “the way, the truth, and the life” (Jo. 14:6), which means the journey ends in everlasting life. Today, our confirmands and all of us have the opportunity to reaffirm our commitment to this way of life. Through the prayer of the congregation, and the laying on of hands, they will receive the gift of the Spirit to strengthen them on this journey.

As we follow the way, we should not forget Jesus’ other words to Philip, in the fourteenth chapter of John’s Gospel. This is the last exchange between Jesus and Philip, taking place after Jesus tells the disciples that he is “the way, the truth, and the life” (Jo. 14:6), and I think that’s significant; I also think there’s meaning in them for us. “Follow me” (Jo. 1:43), of course, as we’ve been speaking and thinking about today; but then in the fourteenth chapter, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me?” (Jo. 14:9).

We could look at this as a “glass half empty”: doesn’t Philip get it? After following him and learning from him, after being his disciple, doesn’t Philip know him? But I think this is more a case of the “glass half full.” We’re still on the way; we haven’t arrived. That’s Jesus, challenging Philip and challenging us, to go further and deeper in our friendship with him.

  • The Rt. Rev’d John Bauerschmidt, Bishop of Tennessee