Sermon preached by the Reverend Eleanor Rance at St Mary’s Orcheston, on Sunday 18th January
The passage from our Gospel reading today (see below) tells us about being called by Jesus… Who does he choose? He chooses local people, ordinary people, people of faith. And he shows them that he is different, and then promises things to come… but it’s not a dramatic beginning really… Nathaniel utters those immortal lines ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’
I like the sheer humanity of this passage; the normality of it. There’s this chap wandering about asking people to join him and go on a big adventure. And at that moment, although they are hooked, interested, they are probably only following after him because of curiosity. Perhaps sitting under a fig tree and fishing are things that can be easily left… we don’t know
The passage is all about beginnings. And it’s particularly apt that we have this passage today, a week after we have marked the beginning of Christ’s ministry by his baptism in the Jordan. I’ve said this many times before, but here more than anything it is important to read this passage acknowledging that these men did not know what was coming, what they were getting into. It is important to take seriously that idea that Jesus was regarded by them as just a bloke from down the road.
So often in our own exploration of faith and in sharing our faith with others we tend to assume some sort of all or nothing change. That we ‘get it’ immediately. And similarly in our shared ministry across this community it is always a risk that we will think that our acts of outreach and sharing of our faith will garner dramatic results which we can immediately see. But faith, and development of community, of course, are not quite like that. For some it is an immediate experience. Next week, we mark the Conversion of St Paul. He is one for whom a sudden life changing experience moved him from persecuting to active faith.
This week we heard from Bishop Nicholas his vision for the diocese in 2015. He is speaking to all churches across the diocese using the theme ‘Renewing Hope’. And he set before us three questions. He began by reminding us that whatever our personal hopes and plans for sharing our faith, we must always begin by focussing upon our relationship with God. Without a life of prayer we risk being rootless, and becoming exhausted by trying to reach out always in our own strength. And so, Bishop Nicholas asked us, ‘What will you Pray for?’
His second focus is upon service. For if we wish to reach out into our community then we should do it with the intention to serve. And his question this time is ‘Whom do you serve?’
Finally, he comes to challenge us on that question which has obsessed churches for a very long time. Growth. But it is significant that word… especially when we reflect back to what I was saying about Jesus’ first disciples. Because growth in church circles so often implies numerical growth and development, becoming more, doing more, fuller buildings, bigger funds.
And yet growing is so much more than that. It is about each individual one of us. It is about depth as well as breadth. About us knowing God more, understanding his way more clearly, depending upon him and each other, being shaped individually and as a community more and more as God longs for us to be. Just as Jesus walking beside his disciples, teaching and inspiring them, helped them to grow in faith, and love.
How will you grow? Is Bishop Nicholas’ final question for us.
And we are invited to respond to his three questions with answers on a postcard, letter or email. So if you would like to reflect upon them, please do, and feed your answers back to him, or through me to him.
The gospel of John, chapter 1, verse 3 to the end
Jesus Calls Philip and Nathanael
43 The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, “Follow me.”
44 Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida.
45 Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”
46 “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked. “Come and see,” said Philip.
47 When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.”
48 “How do you know me?” Nathanael asked.
Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.”
49 Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.”
50 Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.”
51 He then added, “Very truly I tell you, you will see ‘heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on’ the Son of Man.”