Sunday 14th January 2018
John chapter 1 verses 43 – 51
Will you come and follow me if I but call your name
In today’s gospel Jesus has encountered Philip and Nathanael. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Nathanael has some opinions, some assumptions, about Nazareth. Do we ever make any assumptions?
“We’ve seen his type before he’ll never change.” “She’s always so negative; I know what she will say.” “He won’t understand; he never does.” “It’s always been like that; it will never get any better.” “Nothing good can come of that situation.”
People of faith, people like Nathanael, people like you and me, make these and all sorts of other assumptions every day. Sometimes our assumptions are about other people; how they will behave, what they will say, what we can expect, what they think or believe. Other times we look at particular situations, marriage, the state of the world or the church, a teenager trying to grow up and we declare all this hopeless. We are sure nothing good can come out of those situations.
Then there are those times we look at ourselves or a part of our life; maybe it is a secret we have carried for years, the illness we face each day, the hurts we have caused others, the loneliness and isolation of grief, and we say it will never get any better. How can anything good come out of this? We may or may not speak our assumptions out loud but they rattle through our heads and influence what we do.
John gives us a great drama in this story. Jesus is in the process of organizing his disciples, and after Peter and Andrew, he calls Philip. In response, Philips seeks out his neighbour Nathanael. He says "we have found the one we were looking for." He lays out a list of expectations that were filled, but adds one unexpected quality - Jesus is from Nazareth.
In response to this information Nathanael says - Nazareth? - give me a break. Philip says yes, but come and see test the waters to see if they are good. He has repeated a mantra of Jesus of “come and see.” It is the experience that confirms the words. It takes a jumping in, not a holding back with a default position. No half- hearted and tentative response.
Nathanael decides to test the “come and see” process. And it is interesting how John uses the tradition to make a point - there is no deceit in Jesus which would resonate with the story of Samuel who, the text says, was listening.
John’s teaching is that God is experienced in the person of Jesus. Jesus is the focal point of the community’s experience and they have experienced a moment of creative transformation where reality is seen to be full of God’s beauty, compassion, and justice.
What it takes to see this is to “come and see,” to live out of the sense of God within this world, and that “come and see” is the process that helps us grow in wisdom and hope. Participation leads to knowledge.
We move beyond first impressions by involvement. It is true there is always a hint in first impressions but that has to be tested. We see this in the exchange of Jesus with Nathanael when he says "I saw you under the fig tree." It is like one of those moments when across a crowded room a stranger is seen and a connection is made. It is impressive when a mentor says "I saw this potential in you before you did."
Jesus responds to Nathanael being impressed by, "Oh by the way that was only a party trick. There is a deeper experience waiting for you when you actually come and see." We know that first impressions get tested by actually walking together, and the more we get to know the other by deep conversation, the more we experience depth of relationships.
And there is another side, the deep encounter sometimes tells us the first impression was incorrect - there was no depth in what we saw. So to really get the quality is to come and see.
Our scriptures are about being known, and the process of growing in the knowledge of being known. For when we are first recognized as having quality by others there is a moment where we begin to accept ourselves as worthy.
We flourish when we are seen as having qualities that will make reality seem better. Self- understanding begins in a call from that which is beyond us and that call is reinforced by those who care for us. This external reality then is internalized and our sense of self worthiness grows.
In our Old Testament reading Samuel gets called and does not understand where the call is coming from. It takes Eli to help him claim his vocation, to point out that God knows him. As psalm 139 points out God’s knowledge of us is "too wonderful." The fact of being known in our fullness in the present moment, both in terms of the heights and depths, allows us to know and accept ourselves.
According to process theology, divine knowledge is always defined by love. God is not about keeping score or punitive damages, but acceptance, confession, and transformation.
God is the one who is in the redeeming business, working towards the common good, where life flourishes. Now the meaning of flourishing is both easy to understand and easy to live. We know that life is about quality. Too often, though, we seek to quantify our living.
We set goals and then check them off and then say this is a life lived well. To make mission worthy by quantifying it, is to miss the point. What is crucial is the quality of our mission - our living.
Quality is an emerging reality. We learn from how we have flourished in the past and seek to enhance that flourishing in the present and the future. We judge the outcome by how we participate in making room for the flourishing of all life.
Each particular form will have its own flourishing, and what we do is create open space where this happens. Come and see is very pragmatic. It is to look at what we have done in the creation of a better reality now and seeking to make sure that good will continue. It is to move from self- referencing to see how flourishing for all enhances each. We are better we when all of life experiences a better reality.
Come and see is an invitation to live the fact that we belong one to the other. Notice how the narrative moves us into this next level of community. Philip invites Nathanael. This is an invitation approach - he is saying, "I learned about flourishing why don’t you come and see if this is for you." This is an invitation of try this, live this and if you find quality in this community for flourishing, then you too will see that come and see is how we grow. No fear, no- you are wrong, no lists, only come and see.
These words are an invitation to embrace the wonders of life. There is within this action of come and see a mystical reality, for we see in the contours of experience the beauty of God. We may have been unaware that we have been standing on holy ground, and in the come and see we know that we are standing, sleeping, praying, and eating on holy ground. God is here, but we see only the surface of life.
We are called to quality. Today’s readings call us to "pray with eyes wide open" as we cultivate God-filled spirituality; but also to pray in silence, listening to what J. Philip Newell describes in his book as "The heartbeat of God."
And so, in this passage from John, Jesus is perceiving in Nathanael, the obedience of a well lived Jewish life. He says, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” meaning that Nathanael has known the peace and blessing of God on his life.
But, in a relationship with Jesus, there is even more for Nathanael to receive: far more than obedience to the Jewish law could ever give him. Jesus says to him: “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” I think Jesus is commending him for having been an obedient Jew - but he is calling Nathanael into a deeper place of peace and blessing through a relationship with him.
And, as Christians, we know that peace and blessing can only derive from our relationship with Jesus. The more we allow Jesus to be the centre of our lives, the more we know peace in our hearts.
So this is a seemingly very simple passage, a lovely story about the calling of Philip and Nathanael - but it is full to the brim with deep teaching on the nature of discipleship.
We did not choose God – he chose us from all eternity.
We are called by him primarily to tell others about the good news of Jesus.
We are not to be discouraged by the response we may get from others but trust that an encounter with God will be life-changing for them too.
We are called into a life of peace and blessing with God: Jesus sees us, he knows everything about us and perceives our deepest needs. And if we follow him, as he says to Nathanael, “[we] will see heaven opened…”
Jesus Christ is, indeed, a Saviour to be followed - and it is a lifetime’s work for us to live out these two simple instructions: “Follow me!” and “Come and see!”
Today, we follow.
Today, we come – and we will see.
This come and see defines a way a community is formed and lives. It is one of honouring the gifts of each. It is one of welcome. The German theologian Deitrich Bonhoeffer once said that Community is simply our life, in Christ. Bonhoeffer said "We belong to one another, only through Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ." Come and see.