Holy Trinity Church

Anglican worship in Geneva

Sermon for the second Sunday of Epiphany – 14th January 2024

Title: The mission to follow Christ without unwilling prejudices.

Today we are celebrating the second Sunday of Epiphany after we remembered last Sunday the visit of the wise men to the Christ Child and the importance of Jesus’s physical manifestation to the Gentiles.

In different ways, we are regularly following people, leaders, creators of public opinion. When I was a child, I followed people on TV (black and white), or radio, through books, or by other means. Today, using social media like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter (now Z), TikTok or LinkedIn,  we can follow in real time the insights and actions of famous singers like Taylor Swift; football players like Lionel Messi; politicians like Rishi Sunak or Keir Starmer, or we can follow the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby. We are going to talk about what it means to follow!

In one of our readings today, we have the passage in the Gospel of John, where Jesus is in Galilee, and there, he calls some of his first disciples; he had previously called Andrew and Simon Peter, and now he calls Philip and Nathanael. First, Jesus says `Follow me´ to Philip from Bethsaida. Andrew and Peter also came from Bethsaida, which was a fishing village in the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Philip, who was a humble person, not only followed Jesus, but he also announced the importance of having found Jesus of Nazareth, showing his wisdom.

But the first reaction of Nathanael was unexpected! …‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ he asked. Let us reflect for a few minutes about this.

It happens to us even without any bad intention. We are all constantly battling with different kinds of prejudices, some of which have come with us since our childhood and through generations, and sometimes these can reach unacceptable thresholds of unconscious discrimination. They can refer to forming a preconception, normally of negative variety, of a person or group of people. It could be understood like as unfair opinion or feeling, especially when formed without enough thought, or simply when it is based on incomplete information. Some of them can seem relatively innocent, but others can be particularly severe. 

Just to name some sources of prejudices: sexism (against women and girls); racism (against racial or ethnic groups); homophobia (regarding sexual orientation and gender identity); classism (dislike people of a lower economic status); or beauty, height, weight, among other perceived characteristics.

Sadly, preconceptions, stereotypes, unconscious biases, and negative representation of entire groups of people have led to countless injustices and tragedies throughout history. Despite the statement in the Book of Genesis 1: 27 `So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them´; or the second greatest commandment according to the Gospel of Mathew 22.39, `You shall love your neighbour as yourself´, we are all frequently fighting with some mild prejudices or unconscious biases. As Christians, we know that we can overcome those uncomfortable situations, if we are moved by the power of love, understanding and fairness in all the possible settings. The advance of human consciousness takes time! It is important if we can reflect this on our own experiences as a daily basis.   

Returning to the Gospel of John, Nathanael is expressing a negative preconceived idea against people of Nazareth. However, and regardless of that negative view, he reacts positively to the request of `come and see´ made by Philip.

After the affirmation of Jesus, Nathanael asked him, `Where did you come to know me?’. Jesus certainly knew about Nathanael! The Son of God knows us, God knows us. Just in our Psalm 139 read today, we heard at least eight reminders of God’s divine knowledge of all our thoughts and deeds; all of them, the past , of today and those in the future. Likewise, in the passage of Revelation we easily can reflect about God’s ability to know and to see what happens everywhere `…into all the earth´. Yes indeed, Jesus obviously knew about Nathanael!

After receiving the answer, Nathanael says `Rabbi, you are the Son of God´, so he rightly confesses that Jesus comes from above. After another short exchange about faith, Jesus announces a prophetic gift, disclosing heavenly realms: ‘Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.’

Here, we encounter an image similar to Jacob’s ladder dream found in the Book of Genesis (28.12). The difference is that there are no angels ascending and descending upon the Jacob’s ladder; here, Jesus is the ladder, he is the link between the Father and the world of humankind. There is an invitation to see the Son of Man, and the revelation of the glory of God. If I may, I would say that the metaphor of Christ being himself the ladder, might be related with at least two of the seven “I am statements” or self-identification of Jesus included in the Gospel of John, [the way, and the truth and the life; and the gate for the sheep], linking the idea of following him and revealing his authority in connection with God the Father.

I would say that the expressions of `follow me´ and `come and see´ can be understand as models of discipleship, as well as like an invitation to experience Jesus’s transformative presence in the world yesterday and today. As disciples, we follow Christ! As humble disciples, we are all learners in mind, body and spirit even facing the demanding pressures of our secular society today…but we follow him!

The last Lambeth Conference [ international meeting of Anglican bishops, members of the Anglican Communion in 165 countries around the world] reaffirmed the call for intentional discipleship, bearing in mind the Five Marks of Mission, not only as a set of signposts for learning and following the way of Christ, but also as an Anglican rule of life.

-To Tell the Good News of the Kingdom.

-To Teach, baptise and nurture new believers.

-To Tend respond to human need by loving service.

-To Transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and to pursue peace and reconciliation.

-To Treasure the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth.

Taking into consideration these Five Marks and our Holy Trinity Vision & Strategic Plan 2023-2025, each of us could be greatly involved in some of the current initiatives, and as an Anglican community, we can work together for their implementation. Just to name some of them.  

-Promoting the “On the way” monthly mid-week evening service for those working in Geneva.

-Increasing the participation of young people through the monthly All Age Eucharist and nurturing faith through the Junior Church & Youth Group programmes.

-Reaching and supporting those with whom we currently have very limited contact in person. The quarterly Trinity Teas are good examples.  

-Supporting our existing outreach work, including Jardin de Montbrillant and Samedi du Partage or the refugee programme conducted by Emmanuel Church.

-Working on the Eco Awards collectively, involving our young people on environmental matters at all levels, or setting up an environmental action group at HTC.

Two thousand years later, we have an invitation to follow Jesus Christ, to be witness of his transforming presence in us and in others. You and I are part of that endless chain of generations of Christians, and we are followers of Christ in every aspect of our lives through prayer, through word, and through communion, always renewed by the Holy Spirit. Certainly, we all can pray for the Spirit to work in hearts and minds, so that the message of the gospel would be received and bear fruits. Each one of us here can embrace the calling to be a witness to Jesus, fervently praying for more people -of all ages- might come to faith, and also praying to combat all kinds of prejudices, stereotypes, and discriminations.

I am sure that you, like me, believe that our Holy Trinity Vision & Strategic Plan 2023-2025 with its goals focused on worship, congregation, outreach, and environment goes in that direction, with the mission to grow in faith following Christ as an inclusive Anglican community.