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Who are you staring at?

January 18, 2015

Second Sunday of the Year                      18 January 2015

1 Samuel 3:3-10, 19             1 Corinthians 6: 13-15, 17-20                John 1: 35-42

Today’s Gospel has important messages for all of us Christians, whatever Tradition we come from. It’s important because we can sometimes feel things are getting a bit difficult. As churches in this part of the world, we can begin to worry that our numbers are dwindling. There seem to be more funerals than baptisms; And as individuals it can get a bit lonely being a Christian. What do I mean? Well, for example, I’m the youngest of four children. I’ve always gone to Church. My parents didn’t go to church. My two brothers and my sister are not religious in any way. In fact, I sometimes get the impression that they think I’m a bit peculiar. It may be true for you too. Why am I the only one of four children to be an active Christian? I must add that I am blessed – my wife and our three grown-up children are all practicing Christians. But generally, us Christians are surrounded by a disbelieving world. You may sometimes ask yourself – “Why me? Why do I choose to be a Christian?

Here’s the link with today’s readings. The reality is, we don’t choose to be believers. God chose us. Why? Don’t ask me. But it’s surprising who God chooses. And those being chosen don’t necessarily realise they are being chosen by God. Sometimes it takes other people to help us realise our calling. Think, for example, about the little boy Samuel in the first reading. He was called, and eventually Eli, the wise old priest, discerned that it was God speaking to Samuel; Eli told him what to do. When Samuel heard the call again, he replied, “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.” Note that……. The young man needed advice on how to pursue his calling from God. And it didn’t come from his parents, brothers or sisters.

God works in mysterious ways. When I was about 12, preparing for confirmation (in the Church of England, incidentally) the priest instructing me, a marvellous man called John Mead, discerned something about me through the Holy Spirit. He told my mother, “One day, I think your son is going to be ordained.” I’m a bit slow. It took another forty years for his prophecy to come true. John Mead, that priest, remains a role model for me. And then, four years ago, suddenly, without warning, two people I know and respect, independently and unexpectedly surprised me by asking, “Have you considered being ordained?”

No we don’t choose God. He chooses us. That’s true for all of us. Of course we’re not all marked out for ordination, but we all have a particular purpose, a mission, a role to play. What might that role be for us? As Christians, we believe in the power of the Holy Spirit working in us as individual Christians and as communities of Christians.

For we are all members of the Church of Jesus Christ. It is through prayerful discernment that we come to a meaningful relationship with God and a relationship with each other that binds us together in a way that is mutually supportive. Otherwise we would indeed be very lonely, isolated individuals. We are not alone. We are the Church.

And if we are a Church, we have a mission to bring others to Jesus.

Now, Let me remind you briefly that last Sunday we celebrated the Baptism of Jesus. That baptism marked the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in the world. Through the actions of a human being, a person called John the Baptist, a man who through Faith co-operated with God, the Holy Spirit burst forth into the world and Our Lord began his astonishing mission to save humanity from sin, to establish His Church in the world and then give us eternal life.

Similarly, a faithful Church will only win people for Jesus Christ if we are bold enough to work with Our Lord to bring people to the Christian faith. And the Church will only get leaders and ministers if we trust in God, grasp the nettle and actually tell people if we think they have a calling.

How are we supposed to do these things? How are we supposed to carry out our role of spreading the Good News, working with God to build His Church here on earth, when it just seems so hard because people don’t seem to want to know about Jesus?

The answer is there in today’s Gospel. In that Gospel we see Jesus embarking on his mission. He is recruiting disciples. The way Jesus and His first disciples go about this task is an example to us all.

When you get home, have another look in your Bibles at the Gospel. As Christians we believe that the Bible is writing that is inspired by God. It’s beautifully written. Full of meaning. Full of delightful stories that carry tremendous significance. Have a look at the passage immediately before today’s story about Philip and Nathanael, because it’s the story of Andrew and Peter becoming disciples. The pattern of events is exactly the same as the way Philip and Nathanael became disciples in today’s gospel.

What do I mean? Well, in John 1, verse 35 we hear that John the Baptist “stared hard at Jesus” and says to Andrew, ‘Look, there is the Lamb of God’… The next day, in verse 42, Andrew goes to his brother Peter and says, “We have found the Messiah”. Actually, Andrew is mistaken – he has not found the Messiah, the Messiah has found and CHOSEN Andrew! When Peter is taken to meet Jesus, guess what….. Jesus “looked hard” at Peter…

Why all the staring and looking hard at one another? If someone looks you in the eye, what do you think? Well, eye contact with someone important can make you feel good, it certainly suggests that a bond, a personal relationship is being forged. It might make you think, “What’s up? What do you want? What am I supposed to do? It might suggest someone is being ‘weighed up’.

After looking hard at Peter, Jesus gives an insight into his character, and then gives him a new name – Peter, the Rock. Jesus uses His discernment, that gift of the Holy Spirit, to weigh up Peter’s character, and to tell him who is really is. Peter responds by becoming a disciple.

Now look at the part of the story we have just heard. Jesus meets Philip. Philip, just like Andrew, goes off and shares the good news with someone he knows. Philip tells Nathanael that he has found the Messiah. Actually Philip is wrong – it is the Messiah who has found AND CHOSEN Philip!

Nathanael wants to know more about Jesus, and he is curious about where he comes from. From Nazareth! “From Nazareth? Can anything good come from that place?” Can anything good come off the Gospel Farm Estate?

That remark by Nathanael is oh so typical. It reveals an attitude that Nathanael has. It’s the sort of thing we might encounter if we say to people, ‘Why don’t you come with me to Church and learn about Jesus?’ People are likely to say things like, “Huh, why should I come, the church is full of hypocrites?” or, “Don’t you think religion has done enough harm by causing so many wars?”

Incidentally, when Andrew has met Jesus for the first time the previous day, he had asked Jesus where he came from, saying, “Where do you live?” Jesus didn’t go in for a long, complicated answer about his lifestyle that would have raised more questions than answers. He simply said, “Come and see”.

So, what do we learn from this? What should we do when we tell friends about God and Jesus? We too are likely to meet bad attitudes. We could try and convince them that they are wrong by logically presenting the facts, the theology, the bible study, the Truth. But in reality what is more than likely to happen if we do that is that we will just antagonise the bad attitudes, and get all bogged down in arguments and confusion. The problem is that people will change the subject by having an argument with you! The best response to awkward, sceptical, difficult questions, as used successfully by Jesus and then copied with similar success by Philip, is to simply say, with complete faith in God, “Come and see.”

And it worked! Nathanael was intrigued and came to Jesus. And Jesus looked at Nathanael and did something that astonished Nathanael. Jesus revealed to Nathanael the power of the Holy Spirit by saying something that sounds rather curious to us today. “I saw you under the fig tree. What does that mean? Well, there are various suggestions. It might simply be that Nathanael had indeed been under the fig tree, but only he himself knew. The expression ‘being under the fig tree’ was also used to mean ‘studying scripture’. Personally I like that explanation, because it shows that Jesus has discerned that Nathanael was a God-fearing man who knows his scriptures. And that is why the Gospel ends with what is clearly a reference to Chapter 28 in Genesis – the story of Jacob’s Ladder, when Jacob saw angels going up and down from Heaven, a text that was apparently a subject of much debate amongst rabbis at the time. Either way, Nathanael was astonished with what he saw and heard, and became a disciple.

So, my message is one of encouragement to you. Don’t feel disheartened. Just round the corner is my church, facing many of the same issues as you.

Through today’s Scriptures you are fed by God with His Word, that shows us how to go out and convert the world around us; through your celebration of Holy Communion you will be fed and receive the grace that is both the source and the summit of our mission in the world – building God’s Kingdom here on earth. Through your shared dinner after this service you will grow together as a Christian community, a beacon to the people around us in Hall Green.

So let’s not forget that in reality we did not choose God – God chose us, chose us to undertake His work in this world. And God has not left us helpless: He came to us as Jesus, a perfect role model for us, present in His Church whenever two or three of us gather together; He has given us the Holy Spirit to help and inspire us, to grant us the wisdom to achieve those things that we might otherwise think are beyond our capabilities; He has given us the Holy Scriptures to guide us; and we have the powerful tool of prayer to call on God for help. All these gifts from God go together to make up the Church, the sum of which is our Churches Together here in Hall Green.

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