Sunday Sermon 17h January- The Invitation
The chosen hymns for this week, Will you come and follow me: and How can i keep from singing can be found below along with a transcription of the sermon for those who prefer to read.
John 1: 43-51 & Genesis 28: 10-17
Welcome to our time of reflection for Sunday 17th January.
There is something important I want to start this reflection with.
It is the idea that the Bible was a book of limited paper. So they took shortcuts.
We are used to this, in films we are limited by time so the film directors take short cuts.
Instead of giving the bad guy in a western a whole back-story so we know they are the bad guy then have him wear black and come into town with a open gun in view and a scowl on his face, maybe a scar as well. You know just by looking at him that he is a badun.
The Bible hasn’t the paper or time to give us the whole back story of everyone. So it presumes we will be reflective, that things that happened in the past will remind us of things and help us to understand things.
Today is a case in point.
In our first reading there is a weird thing said at the end that reminds us of something, so the second reading will be what that passage reminds us of.
And our reflection will show how these two passages are connected.
John 1: 43-51
Let us pray
That is what you offer us an invitation to live life with you.
To see the world, to see ourselves through your eyes.
To see all the possibilities and the wonder.
To see the injustice and long to do something about it.
To see the hope that life brings and walk towards it.
In the world we often find ourselves we find that too hard at times.
We just want to hide and let others do the hard work, we just want to cower in a safe place and hope that the problems will just disappear.
We want to pretend that everything is fine and that we can carry on with lives uneventful and unfulfilling.
But it causes an emptiness within us.
We long for something better and know in our hearts that that better isn’t just more up to date material things.
We are creatures of dreams and visions and we long for a vision to follow that completes us.
We long for relationships that bring our souls alive.
The truth is, we find no peace, until we find our peace in you.
So help us to glimpse the world through your eyes, to see for a moment the possibilities that our live offers, and to accept the hand you offer us and follow where you may lead us.
This we ask in Jesus name, and in his name we say the words he taught us to say .
Which art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy Name.
Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil;
For thine is the Kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever.
Genesis 28: 10-17
So our reading is kind of short in detail.
Jesus goes to Philip and says, ‘Come with me’
Philip goes to his mate Nathanael and says, ‘Found this wonderful rabbi.’
Nathanael palms the guy off as useless.
Jesus then sees Philip and says, ‘Here’s an honest guy.’
Nathanael says, ‘You don’t know me.’
Jesus says, ‘I saw you under the fig tree.’
And Nathanael is suddenly convinced and follows.
Why? Maybe seconds before Philip had said to Jesus, ‘I brought my mate Nathanael, he was doing nothing else anyway just sitting under a fig tree.’
To us this seems a bit too quick to change our opinions of a complete stranger from useless guy to Messiah.
And you would be right.
There is a lot more going on here.
The writer John is using a lot of shortcuts, which the people of his time would know and use all the time. But we need to reflect a wee bit more before we grasp the meanings.
The first short cut is when Jesus said, ‘I saw you under the fig tree.’
You see in those days there weren’t many libraries or places to study, if you studied you studied outside. And if it was a hot day with the sun blazing down then you studied under shelter, and a fig tree was the perfect place to find shade.
So to be ‘under the fig tree’ was to be studying. And what Nathaniel would be studying was scripture.
Well it is safe to presume that as Jesus mirrors the passage in Genesis of Jacob and the angels ascending and descending from heaven that that is the passage that Nathanael is reading and reflecting on.
Now Nathanael’s reaction makes more sense.
Jesus isn’t just saying that he saw him under the fig tree, Jesus is telling Nathanael not only what he was doing, but what he was specifically doing.
‘I saw you reading that passage on Jacob.’
But that isn’t the end of it,
Why was Nathanael reading that passage?
The obvious reason was that he was looking for guidance and help.
So to get more out of this we need to understand what is happening in the passage Nathanael is reading.
It is a passage about Jacob.
Now when we read Jacob’s story we get the idea that he was a nasty piece of work.
His father believes that he is dying and needs to pass on the reigns to the next generation. The obvious choice as next clan chief is his eldest son Esau, big tough guy who can look after everyone when he is gone.
Jacob, the younger brother doesn’t want to live under his brother’s rule.
Now passing on the authority of the clan to the next generation has to have some ritual, and part of that is a meal. So Isaac the father tells Esau to go out and hunt something so that they can have a meal and at the meal he will pass on his blessings.
Now everyone lives in tents so Jacob overhears what is happening. So while Esau is our hunting Jacob cons his nearly blind and deaf father that he is Esau and so gives him the blessing.
When Esau finds out he is furious and in a rage threatens to kill Jacob.
Jacob then runs off thinking to find safety hundreds of miles away with his uncle.
And during that first night on the run, with no provisions, miles away from anywhere, completely unsure of what to do, he falls asleep...and in a dream sees this ladder with angels going up and down into heaven.
The place that Jacob is, is not just any place, it is a holy place. It is not a place of fear, it is a place of hope, because God is there and if God is with him, things can get better.
At the very moment that Jacob thinks he has nothing, he realises that God is on his side, and with that change in mindset, he can go forward in faith.
This isn’t the end, this is a new beginning.
Why is Nathanael reading this passage?
I suspect that he is reading it because he is in the same place that Jacob was.
He has done something incredibly stupid, and he doesn’t know what to do to fix it, his world is falling apart.
Or something has happened to him that he has no control over but it is devastating his life.
Nathanael is reading this passage because somehow Jacob survived his disaster, and he wants to know how.
And it is to that Nathanael that Jesus is saying, ‘Jacob found hope because he realised God was with him. Come and see, follow me, and you will see that God is working away. And if God is working away then there is hope.
This may not be an end, maybe it’s a beginning.’
That is important because maybe that is a message we need to hear for ourselves.
It has been an amazingly tough year.
If we thought that the vaccine was going to arrive and then the next day everything was going to be fine then we were sorely mistaken.
The truth is that harder times are ahead.
We are still vulnerable to COVID-19 and will be until we have herd immunity and that may take up to a year.
The economic after-effects of all the lockdowns and the Brexite negotiations are still to really kick in but for some folk already they are feeling the long term effects of a great depression that is about to hit us.
It can feel bleak to many people. We may feel we don’t have the strength or resources to cope with what is ahead.
But maybe we are wrong.
Maybe this place we find ourselves in is not a place of disaster and failure.
Maybe this place we find ourselves in is a holy place.
Maybe this place is where God is meeting us, telling us that no matter what we have done, no matter how bad things seem to be, that he is with us;
that this is not an ending, this is a beginning.
That if we trust in God, we will see that he will always be with us, and we can see him working in our lives, guiding and helping and strengthening and encouraging and forgiving and caring.
Today is not just some other day.
Today is the day God invites us to share our lives with him.
To have him as our companion on our road.
I don’t know about you, but I know my future looks unpredictable; I would enjoy having someone to help me along the way.
Let us pray
There are so many uncertainties out there, and so many people that need your help.
All those war torn areas of the world where people are fighting over land and influence and power and resources. And in the middle of all of that are simple families grieving and wishing they had a safe place for their family to sleep and play
All those places where politics have changed relationships between nations and so many people wondering about their jobs and their future, the paying of bills and the wondering where the next meal may come from.
All the family homes where the relationships are not safe and children are abused.
And then there are those that are asked to pick up the pieces.
The social workers and the doctors and the nurses and the teachers and they all feel so overwhelmed and stressed our and overworked.
The politicians with incredibly hard decisions to make when they world is so unstable and everyone is looking for answers and their may ot be any that make sense.
In our world, in our life, remind us that where we are is the place you are.
That we sit and stand on holy ground.
That we find you in this place and time in our lives and you come to us with a hope and chance to make a difference.
May we see your light, may we see your direction, and may we have the courage to follow where it leads.
And as the light shines in our lives, may we give hope to others that they too make see the wonder of your presence in their lives.
This we ask in Jesus name
Remembering God’s faithfulness and love, accept his embrace.
You are engraved on the palms of his hands,
He holds you and protects you in all situations, always.