The Apostle Philip

Tuesday 22nd March 2005
Tuesday of Holy Week
Holy Trinity, Hurstpierpoint
John 12:20-36

(Sermon prepared but not given)

In this Holy Week we are thinking about some of the people who enrich the passion narrative. One of these is the Apostle Philip. We would know just about nothing about him - although he gets more minor mentions than most of the other Apostles in the New Testament, e.g. in the Feeding of the Five Thousand.  Philip was asked by some Greeks if they could talk to Jesus.  Those Greeks were the bridge to us. In the early years of Christ's church there was an intense debate about whether you had to become a Jew to become a Christian, with the founding Apostles at Jerusalem tending to a narrow view; but St. Paul, the devout Jew, who had lived outside Palestine, championed the cause of the Gentiles; the bridge from Palestine Jews to Greek Gentiles were Greek speaking Jews in exile, part of what came to be known as the diaspora.

Today there is an intense debate about the extent to which Paul's letters sprang from his Jewish faith and how much from Greek philosophy. The general consensus now is that there is very little Greek in Paul but, still, it is significant in our Gospel today that it was Greek Jews rather than, say, Egyptians Jews, who wanted to see Jesus because Greek was the dominant language and culture in the Mediterranean during and after the life of Jesus; and by the time St. John's Gospel was being written, in Greek not Aramaic, the major concern within the Church was to fuse its Jewish origins with Greek culture, a process which culminated in our Creeds.

As happens so much in the rest of our lives where joy and sadness are fused, we are called upon today, in the midst of our Holy Week sadness, to celebrate the birth of the universal Church. Some people may argue that you can't have women priests because the 12 Apostles were all men but the remarkable thing about the early Church was that it soon got over the tradition that because the 12 Apostles were all Jews that all Church leaders should be Jews; we have St. Paul to thank for that. As far as we know, the twelve were all relatively simple, provincial people but many of them, according to Acts and tradition, were adventurous internationalists, none more than Philip.

Philip and Andrew, Peter's brother, asked Jesus if he would see the Greeks but, sadly, we do not know His answer to this rather mundane question. Instead John describes how Jesus makes a powerful statement about his own forthcoming death and Resurrection and shows how this is the template for his followers, Jew and Gentile alike.

Jesus gave His life for us and we, He says, must give our lives for Him. Let us, then, thank God for sending His Son to save the whole world; and thank Him for Philip and those in the early Church who, in the power of the Holy Spirit, turned it from a Jewish sect into Christ's universal Church on earth.