43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, ‘Follow me.’ 44Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45Philip found Nathanael and said to him, ‘We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.’ 46Nathanael said to him, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ Philip said to him, ‘Come and see.’ 47When Jesus saw Nathanael coming towards him, he said of him, ‘Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!’ 48Nathanael asked him, ‘Where did you come to know me?’ Jesus answered, ‘I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.’ 49Nathanael replied, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’ 50Jesus answered, ‘Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.’ 51And he said to him, ‘Very truly, I tell you,* you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.’
The operative phrase in this passage is “Follow Me”. It is an exciting passage, right at the beginning of John’s Gospel and Jesus is calling his disciples…. but what is ha calling them to?
They are called to be part of a loving, growing, spirirtual community, centred on Jesus.
As we are. The ripples that started way back then, distant in time and space have come and overtaken us too. We are called to part of the same loving, growing, spiritual community… and we call it “church”.
Church is not a building
Church is not services
Church is us – this community – we are church.
Church is exciting – Jesus said we would see great things – church is healing, it is challenging, it changes us.
Church is a place where we are free to be ourselves.
Let’s face it. Nathanael was a bit mouthy. What would I say to my kids if they said “Aldershot, can anything good come from Aldershot?”
No guile, but tactless too.
But Jesus commends him, he knows him, he loves him, he speaks words of affirmation over him – in Christ’s church Nathanael is free to be himself.
I was on retreat at the weekend and I think God was challenging me about this.
How authentic am I? Am I free to be myself in church? Are others?
I began to get a general feeling that things go unsaid….
I watched a film the other day where a twelve year old boy called Gabe in Manhattan finds his first love and the film is beautifully observed, all the pain and trauma he goes through. And his parents are divorcing but living together with Gabe in an apartment, and Gabe turns to his dad for love advice, he says:
Gabe: Dad, what’s the deal with girls? I mean, why are they the way they are?
Dad: You’re talking to the wrong man.
Gabe: Well, how come all love has to end?
Dad: Let me tell you something about me and your mom. Once upon a time, we really loved each other, but as time went by, there just got to be all these things, little things, stupid things, that were left unsaid. And all these things that were left unsaid piled up, like the clutter in our storage room. And after a while, there was so much that was left unsaid, that we barely said anything at all.
Gabe: Well, why didn’t you just say them then, dad?
Dad: I don’t know, Gabe. I kind of wish I had.
In the end his dad does say some things and the marriage is restored. But it got me thinking about myself and in particular the way people are in churches, is there a lot of stuff unsaid, and what would happen if we said some of it?
This can affect our marriages, our churches and our relationships with God. I became a Christian when I was 14 and I was full of joy, full of hope, delighted to be part of the community that is the church. But I had a no-go area where I wouldn’t let God in, a bit like some couples have no-go areas, subjects over which they always fight,so they don’t go there…. But it can be like a disease, slowly infecting the rest. And that was how it was with me and God… slowly I lost my joy until when I was 19 I was really just a nominal Christian… until I had a spiritual experience where I could confess this thing, for it was something about which I was deeply ashamed.
And in our communities we have a magic gift that Jesus gave us to help our communities, our marriages, our relationships heal…
..and I’m not going to say the Holy Spirit, although we have that too
..it is the teaching on forgiveness.
Central to Jesus’ teaching.
Central to the Lord’s Prayer
“Lord forgive us our sins” and that is what we need so often, it is what I needed as a teenager
“as we forgive those who sin against us” – this is what heals our communities.
Forgiveness is like having broken glass in our hands (clench fist)
It hurts so much we can’t look at it, we can’t open our hand…
And if anyone comes near to us we go “Grrrr” because it hurts so much.
But to get better we have to unfurl our fingers and look at the wound and take out the pieces of glass, and sometimes we need someone to help us…. And forgiveness can take a long time, it can be a long and painful process because there may be many shards in there and it is no good to just get one shard out and leave the rest in…
But then it feels so good when we can use our hand again.
And this community, this church is meant for fruitfulness….
If we go back to the passage we find that Jesus says that he saw Nathanael under the fig tree, and as it is John’s Gospel we can probably take all the details as symbolic in some way. The fig tree represents Israel in the scriptures. The unique thing about the fig tree, unlike all other trees, is that the fruit appears before the leaves. My mum had a fig tree and although the fruit appeared before the leaves, it took all summer for the fruit to ripen. But the point is that as soon as you see leaves on the fig tree you can look and see the fruit ripening too.
I believe the fig tree is a sign of Israel because the Jews were not just meant to be showy about their religion, not just observe the feasts and worship and pray, but they were also to bear fruit – to love one another and reach out to the poor and the widows etc.
Hence when Jesus sees a fig tree without fruit he curses it. Our religion, our feasts, our festivals mean nothing without us bearing fruit and loving one another and the stranger in our midst.
So what does it mean to you, to us when Jesus says “Follow me”? What is he calling us to?
And are we free to be ourselves, in our churches? Are they, are we loving like Jesus sufficiently that we can be known and loved as we are?
And do we forgive, do we need to know that God forgives us? Do we have areas where we need to forgive others?
And can we be fruitful as a church? Can we respond to the call on our lives to love God and love others too?
- Sermon – John 1:43-end (parishsermons.wordpress.com)