Stop, look, listen

Thousands of vehicles drive past St. Philip’s on any given day – all going somewhere. Dozens of people walk through the Church Yard – parents with young children, students with their backpacks, neighbours walking their dogs. In cars, vans, trucks and buses, on bikes, on foot, geography helps define St. Philip’s.

Pause on the pathway linking the church to the parish hall. Look around at some of the oldest trees. Walk on a bit and stop again as you come to the stream bed. Paved over elsewhere; visible here – a reminder of the many streams that once flowed into the Humber. Stop. Look. Listen. You’ll get some sense of how this land was 200 or more years ago. Its geography and its history.

The people and the land

It’s important to us to remember geography and history – the people and the land. So, as we gather, we remind ourselves weekly. We acknowledge that this land has been the site of human activity for over 15,000 years. That its original peoples offered welcome. That settlement by those who founded St. Philip’s radically altered the land and its waterways, changing the relationship between themselves and those who were here before them. We also celebrate that this land has been a place of Christian worship for 200 years. Today we seek reconciliation with those whose land this was and is. Today we carry on seeking to make this a place of Christian worship, Christian discipleship, Christian witness.

Why St. Philip? Why him?

One thing we seem to have forgotten, though, is why those who founded this congregation named it after Philip. He’s not the most famous, or the foremost, or even the first of those who followed Jesus. But he was among the first and it seems the friendliest. The Gospels only give us three short stories.

Gospel references

Andrew, and another whose name we aren’t given, were the first to follow Jesus. They’d been following another teacher, John the Baptist. It was John who pointed them to Jesus. As they began trailing after him, Jesus turned and asked them “What do you want?” They answered, “Where are you staying, can we stay with you?” “Come and see,” Jesus replied. And they did.

The next day Andrew went and found his brother Peter. Jesus went and found Philip. And Philip went and found his friend Nathaniel. Andrew, Peter, Philip and Nathaniel were all from the same small fishing town in the north. It wasn’t far from the village where Jesus had grown up. All of them had been searching for someone who could lead them into God’s Way of Love and Forgiveness bringing meaning, purpose, and fulfillment to their lives.

When Philip told Nathaniel that they’d found the one they’d been looking for – Jesus from Nazareth. Nathaniel said, “Come off it. We know that place, how can anyone worth following come from Nazareth?”

That’s how Philip became the first follower to share the words of Jesus with somebody else “Come and see,” he replied. And then he added some important words of his own “Come and see, for yourself.” Nathaniel did, and Philip proved himself a faithful friend and fellow-traveler.

We value that story here as we seek to be friends and fellow travellers with all whose walk of faith (and doubt), whose search for meaning and purpose, whose desire to encounter Jesus and to follow him, brings them to St. Philip’s.

As Philip followed Jesus they travelled through villages and towns. Several times we find them in Jerusalem for one of the Jewish Festivals. Philip, Jesus, and the other disciples weren’t the only ones going to Jerusalem. People came from all over the Roman Empire and beyond. Some were Jews, some were non-Jewish admirers and God-worshipers, some were merely curious. One time in Jerusalem some festival visitors – Greeks – wanting to meet Jesus came to Philip and asked him to introduce them. So, Philip became a cross-cultural bridge-builder – approachable, open, receptive. That too is an important story for us who gather here drawn from many places, cultures, races praying that we too be open and receptive to each other and our neighbours.

The third story is also a short one. But, like the other two, Philip’s role is crucial. Large crowds would gather to hear Jesus teach. Then he’d move on and new crowds would gather. One day, Jesus climbed a hill with just his closest followers. Sitting there, talking and teaching, Jesus saw a crowd coming towards them.

“Philip,” he asked, “where could we buy bread so these people can eat?” We’re told that Jesus asked this as a test. Perhaps there was something about Philip that caused Jesus to test him as if he was testing all of them – perhaps Philip always answered honestly, perhaps Jesus found him a good gauge of how the others were learning and growing, perhaps Philip was a prototype for how to follow Jesus. A reminder to us that questions to which we don’t yet know or have an answer are also part of growing in the faith.

It’s important here, at St. Philip’s, to live with each others’ questions and each others’ evolving answers so that each of us has room to grow, and freedom to become, and be, a follower of Jesus.

Why St. Philip?

Philip, faithful friend, fellow-traveller, cultural bridge-builder, honest-liver-with-questions. And us? A congregation seeking to be a people and a place named after him.