Pastor Wesley White
Fifth Avenue United Methodist Church
323 Fifth Avenue, West Bend, WI
262.334.2059 - faumc.org
If I were to play the role of Philip in the Gospel of John I would have two major functions. First, I would be a conduit to people coming to see Jesus Christ and through Jesus Christ to see GOD. Second, I would be a witness to the abundance of GOD, not the scarcity of any of many economic systems that separate the rich from the poor (and, yes, that includes American capitalism in our time).
If I were Philip I would be involved in processes that brought people to GOD through the life of Jesus Christ. This begins with Philip back when Jesus was visiting with John the Baptist (chapter 1). Jesus is about to head back to Galilee, the region of Philip's hometown, and says to Philip, "Follow me." And Philip follows. In that following his first act is to go Nathanael (who is sometimes known as Bartholomew) to invite him to also follow Jesus, son of Joseph, in whom Moses and the prophets were recognized. When put off with Nathanael's cutting retort, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" Philip simply says, "Come and see."
If I were Philip I would be going out of my way to invite people to find a way to draw closer to GOD, a way that was important to me. I would be inviting people to follow where life's meaning comes clear, in living the way of Jesus Christ.
If I were Philip I would have to go to the hard nuts to crack, people like Nathanael who have a chip on their shoulder because they come from Cana, not Nazareth, and the two never have gotten along very well. Who has a chip on their shoulder these days because of the church? The poor for whom we pray but don't work for politically? Those oriented toward their own gender for whom we don't even pray? Immigrants or minorities come to our fair city that we actively desire to go away? Are these not the equivalents of Nathanael in our day and are they not the people I would be inviting to, "Come and see," if I were Philip?
Later in John we have Philip being the conduit for more Gentiles to come to Jesus (chapter 12). Philip helps them come and see. And then Philip articulates for the disciples what they have been after with their following of Jesus, "Lord, show us GOD, and we will be satisfied." Philip wants people to come and see Jesus because he understands that Jesus can help us come and see GOD (chapter 14).
At this point, I have to ask whether or not Philip should be my patron saint because of the way in which he is a bridge between people and Jesus, an encourager of people to come and see Jesus and come and see GOD.
In the literature Philip is the patron saint of hatters and pastry-cooks and Uruguay. As you know I like hats and I can roll out a mean pie crust with my grandmother's recipe. I must admit I don't know as much as I could about Uruguay. But I am beginning to think that Philip would be a good patron saint for me and for Fifth Avenue United Methodist Church. We need his encouragement to invite people more widely than we have in recent days. We need to invite people to come and see to see GOD through the eyes of Jesus Christ and in the life of the congregation of Fifth Avenue United Methodist Church.
I know this is a pretty standard appeal invite people to come and see Jesus Christ. It would be easy to ignore if this is all there is to Philip.
If I were Philip I would recognize that I am caught up in the mind-set of my day and culture. Listen to these statistics: the annual pace of personal bankruptcies continues to hold steady at 1.4 million for each of the past five years, an average of 7,000 per hour as household debt topped $7.6 trillion in 2001, a record-breaking 73% of GDP, while home mortgage foreclosures reached a 30-year high. The typical American now works 184 hours longer than in 1970, an additional 4-1/2 weeks on the job for nine percent more pay. [information from Jeff Gates in "We the Unreasonable," Tikkun, July/August 2003]
Ordinary people today, like Philip of old, have a mind-set of scarcity. We live on the verge of financial ruin. We think we couldn't possibly afford one more tax for the benefit of our community schools or infrastructure. If we agree to the slightest bit more for the poor we would slide more quickly right over into poverty ourselves. We would lose what little we have been able to set aside (presuming you are among those who are able to invest while so many are living in a continual cycle of debt those are not credit cards, but debt cards.
In so many ways we live fearfully. Foremost among them is
fear of losing what little financial advantage we have.
When that moment came, Jesus asked Philip to feed 5,000. I am like Philip. I, too, would have yelled at Jesus, "Feed 5,000 out here! You've got to be kidding! It would take half-a-year's salary to feed this bunch!"
Andrew, another disciple, piped up and supported Philip's dismay. "All we can come up with is a little boy with five rolls from the day-old store and two pieces of dried fish. And you want us to feed 5,000 people?"\
I can imagine Jesus looking at Philip, and at me, and at you.
I think Philip had his faith stretched in this moment.
If I were Philip I would have to re-consider the way I look at the world. I would not be able to look any longer at scarcity first, but abundance first.
There is enough food to go around so 24,000 more people won't starve to death today and another 24,000 tomorrow. According to the 2000 census, West Bend's population is 28,152, just a little larger than the number of people who starve each day. Can you imagine losing a West Bend every day because we live in fear of scarcity when there is enough food, but not enough vision or political will to feed people; to help them earn enough to feed themselves?
If I were Philip I would not only say "Come and see Jesus," I would also need to say, "Come and see the hungry." If I were Philip I would have to affirm that GOD's desire for us is to share, not to hoard; to see abundance, not to fixate on limits.
If you were to join me in being Philip, would you be willing to take a second look at your pledge to see what percentage of your resources you are willing to put toward a vision of abundance, that those who have much won't have too much and those who have little won't have too little? If it's not a half-year's wage, could you do a half-day's wage per week? How about two-hour's wage? Or are you so in debt that you are frozen in your ability to give hopefully. Are you willing to adjust your pledge accordingly for the last half of this year?
I think Philip began to see that giving a half-year's wage is pretty good, considering the change in life values when we live from a perspective of abundance (the salary of half-a-year, can be enough it is our inability to see that is the problem).
If you were to join me in being Philip would you be willing to take a second look at our church budget and note that we don't have anything for advertising, for inviting people to "Come and see Jesus Christ alive at Fifth Avenue United Methodist Church." How might we not be afraid to spend money to invite people? How might we see beyond the money to the people in need of Jesus Christ in their life?
So, what do you think? Would you be willing to have Philip be your patron saint that you might live an invitational life and be filled with a vision of abundance? These two qualities will change your life and our life together.
GOD of grace, we want to come and see your abundance. We want to invite others to come along. Give us the wisdom and courage of Philip that we might learn about your abundance and reach out to unexpected people with an invitation to live life in all its fullness by following the way of Jesus Christ all the way to you. Amen.