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Sunday, January 15, 2006 

Philip Is Just Not Ablaze!

The Holy Gospel for today was from John 1:43-51. " The following day Jesus wanted to go to Galilee, and He found Philip and said to him, “Follow Me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found Him of whom Moses in the law, and also the prophets, wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” And Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward Him, and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no deceit!” Nathanael said to Him, “How do You know me?” Jesus answered and said to him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” Nathanael answered and said to Him, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered and said to him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” And He said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, hereafter you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” "

My priest’s sermon centered on the fact that Nathanael was, well, easily impressed. Christ knowing he was under a fig tree wowed Nathanael. And who can blame him! I too am often easily wowed and easily distracted, most often by bright shiny objects. But Nathanael missed the big picture and all too often so do we. Anyways, good sermon, no complaints. No, not one complaint. Not one. I mean, if I had to write the sermon, there is absolutely no way I could have done any better. In fact, my sermon would have only ended up with me getting a visit from the circuit counselor. Why you ask? It’s because I tend to be a little more critical than most.

My problem is with Philip. Let's be honest, he doesn’t get it either. You see, he’s just not Ablaze!. Now I know it’s not his fault. Our beloved Lutheran Church Missouri Synod was just not around then. Philip just doesn’t know about the different programs or movements that we are so blessed to have with us today. Philip tells Nathanael about Jesus, he has “found Him of whom Moses in the law, and also the prophets, wrote”. So far, so good. But when Nathanael asks, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip simply screws up!

Philip should have immediately stopped what he was doing and rode his donkey on down to the local Starbucks and logged onto the wireless network. He should have pushed the beret back just a little bit, kicked his Birkenstocks up on the table, taken a long sip of his hot cappuccino and clicked on the Ablaze! link that he had left on the desktop of the ThinkPad he picked up for a steal after Hanukah season sales last year. Maybe he could have asked some of the other customers for some donations to print up some cool glossy pamphlets. Think of the joy he would have had logging in his story and watching that Ablaze counter go up up and away. And just think of the congratulatory call he would have gotten from the local Rabbi. If the story had been good enough maybe even the circuit counselor would have dropped him a line. Or if he had really worded it just right, maybe, maybe, (sorry, I’m getting a little vhklempt here) maybe he would have gotten a call from the district Pharisee. Oh the joy! In addition, maybe there would have been a feature article about his making a difference in the monthly magazine Lutherans Just Need to Witness! Oh, what could’ve been. But sadly, Philip screwed up. Nope, he’s just not Ablaze!.

But instead, Philip points Nathanael in the direction of He who is the Church. He points to the One who is the center of Word and Sacrament. He points in the only direction that faith can, to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. It is faith in the fulfillment of Scripture that drives him to talk to Nathanael. He does not spend any time at all rounding up the biggerest number of people to pack ‘em in. I’d bet a paycheck there are no plans to play “You Got a Friend in Me” or “I’ll be There For You” to appear all warm and fuzzy to the faithfully undecided. He does not go to the Hellenized Greeks and Gentiles, for without the eyes of faith, Christ will seem foolish. He brings the faithful to see the promised Christ. As should we!

Only bad things will happen if we fill our sanctuaries to the brim with unbelievers. Agustana VII states ‘Our Churches teach that one holy Church is to remain forever. The church is the congregation of saints (Psalms 149:1) in which the Gospel is purely taught and the Sacraments are correctly administered. For the true unity of the Church it is enough to agree about the doctrine of the Gospel and administration of the Sacraments.”

Ok, Philip got it right. It’s a shame he’s not running for district president. And it’s probably good thing I’m not a priest delivering the sermon. That’s ok, there is always a need for Sunday school teachers.

Good post! Just wonder, though, what you mean by:

Only bad things will happen if we fill our sanctuaries to the brim with unbelievers.

At one time, members of congs were
unbelievers, no?

Very good post!

And my favorite line (provocative so-and-so that I am) was the one Carl questioned: " Only bad things will happen if we fill our sanctuaries to the brim with unbelievers."

While it's definitely a polemical statement, I also think it's undeniably true.

The Divine Service is something that exists for believers -- it is the time & place where we go to be served by God - to receive His gifts. For that is the only place we can go to get the Means of Grace through which He has promised to speak to & be with us. It's not meant to be an outreach/evangelism program.

This orientation is diametrically opposed to that which drives many (most?) in contemporary American Evangelical theology. In that camp, worship services are where we go to give our works/gifts to God. IOW, it is meant to be an outreach/evangelism program.

So, if we cater to the seeker/unbeliever in how we run the Divine Service, then (as has been seen in "seeker sensitive" Church-Growth churches) we'll end up with programs that have been denuded of any/everything that might possibly cause offense to the unknowledgable/uncatechized unbeliever.

Far more could be written, and I fear that I might have erred in speaking for Frank. That said, I think this is a reasonable overview.


Carl, As GPH said, the church is the place where the believers go to be fed. It is through Word and Sacrament that this takes place. What would an unbeliever see? Nothing because they do not see through the eyes of faith. This is by no means to say that we should not preach the Gospel to a fallen and sinfull world. But filling the Church with those who can't see their own sinful nature or worse than that, reject the Gospel, will only introduce leaven into the Church. That is BAD.

Got it! Thanks much!

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