Discipleship

Second Sunday after Epiphany

John 1:43-53

Marian Free

 In the name of God who knows us better than we know ourselves. Amen.

Today I’d like to share with you a little of the story of another Augustine – the great scholar and theologian – Augustine of Hippo.

This Augustine was born in Numidia in North Africa in 354. His father was a pagan and his mother Monica a Christian. As a child he was educated in the traditional classical manner typical for a young pagan of that age. Later he became a teacher of rhetoric in North Africa and then he moved to Milan where he held the most important academic position in the world.  It appears that his academic success was not completely fulfilling. While in Milan he explored the teachings of the Persian religion. After nine years trying to understand the religion he still had not found the answer to his search for religious meaning.

He began to explore philosophy and skepticism. At the time his mother tried to point him in the direction of Christianity, but it was only when a friend read about the life of St Anthony of the Desert that Augustine seriously became to examine the Christian faith.

One afternoon Augustine was sitting in a friends’ garden drinking the best of Italian wine, feeling very depressed by the state of his life and feeling that he was full of iniquity. He cast himself down under a fig tree, burst into tears and implored God not to remember his sins.

He describes what happened that afternoon: “How long, how long, “to-morrow, and tomorrow?” Why not now? why is there not this hour an end to my uncleanness? As I was saying this and weeping in the bitter agony of my heart, suddenly I heard a voice from the nearby house chanting as if it might be a boy or a girl (I do not know which) saying and repeating over and over again. “Pick it up and read, pick it up and read.”

At once my countenance changed, and I began to think intently whether there might be some sort of children’s game in which such a chant is used. But I could not remember having heard of one. I checked the flood of tears and stood up. I interpreted it solely as a divine command to me to open the book and read the first chapter I might find. So I hurried back to the place where I had put down the book of the apostle when I got up. I seized it, opened it and in silence read the first passage on which my eyes lit. “Not in riots and drunken parties, not in eroticism and indecencies, not in strife and rivalry, but put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh in its lusts.” (Rom 13:13-14) I neither wished nor needed to read further. At once, with the last words of the sentence, it was as if a light relief from all anxiety flooded into my heart. All shadows of doubt were dispelled (Chadwick, St Augustine’s Confessions, 152).

Shortly after his conversion, Augustine became a priest and he was later made a Bishop. His writings continue to be influential in the Christian world today.

Augustine under the fig tree. Nathaniel under the fig tree. This week and next, the readings recount the call of the first disciples – those people who joined Jesus in his mission. According to John the first to follow Jesus were disciples of John the Baptist. On hearing John the Baptist identify Jesus as the Lamb of God Andrew and one other left John and went to find out more about Jesus. Andrew then called his brother Peter. The following day Jesus called Philip who in turn found the skeptical Nathaniel. Nathaniel is astounded that Jesus already knows so much about him and comes to faith in the one whom he recognises as both Son of God AND King of Israel.

It seems that people come to Jesus and to discipleship through a variety of means. Augustine is sitting pondering his situation and finds the answer in scripture. Andrew is curious and seeks out Jesus to find out more about him. Phillip responds when Jesus calls him to follow and Nathaniel is impressed by Jesus’ insight into his character. Some seek Jesus out, some come because they hear Jesus’ call, others are introduced to Jesus by their family and friends and still others stumble on Jesus almost by accident.

We can see from even this non-representative selection of people that there are a wide variety of ways in which people come to faith or in which they experience a call to follow Jesus. For some it is a sudden and dramatic moment of conversion. For others coming to faith is a gradual process of deepening understanding. A great many people would say that they have never known a moment when they did not believe – faith was transferred as it were through the umbilical cord and that faith has remained with them throughout their whole life. Some come to faith through an intellectual process of testing, questioning and reading whereas for others their journey to faith is more a matter of the heart.

God is not remote, indifferent and disengaged from the world, but is longing for connection with us, those whom God created. As Jesus sought out the disciples, so the Trinity continues to seek us out, to bring us deeper into relationship. God knows who we are, how to approach us and how we will respond. Whether we are minding our business under a fig tree, mending our fishing nets, studying the scriptures or meeting with friends, God seeks us out, calls us by name and asks that we follow, that we join God in the great task of saving the world.

We have said “yes” to faith, that “yes” is also a “yes” to discipleship, a commitment to serve God in the world?

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