Saturday, January 13, 2018

Come and See: Reflections on John 1.43-51 (2nd Sunday after Epiphany, 14 January 2018)

Come and See
Reflections on John 1.43-51

RCL Proper 2B
14 January 2018

Saint Faith’s Anglican Church

John 1.43-51

            1.43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee.  He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.”  44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter.  45 Philip 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.”  46 Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”  Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47 When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!”  48 Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?”  Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.”  49 Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God!  You are the King of Israel!”  50 Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree?  You will see greater things than these.”  51 And 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.”

         Twenty-five years ago I spend six months as the priest in charge of Saint Anselm’s on the University Endowment Lands.  Shortly after I began my tenure, the Altar Guild offered to re-carpet the entire worship space.  Their offer gave us the opportunity to consider some significant changes to the worship space itself.  We moved the font from an invisible side chapel to the raised sanctuary platform itself.  The over-sized pulpit and the under-sized lectern were disassembled and re-combined into one, so that the reading of the Scriptures and the preaching could take place in the same place.  The altar platform itself was enlarged and the altar moved ever so closer to the congregation.  Then the new carpet was laid.

         About a month or so after all this work was done, I was working in the office.  I heard some voices in the church, so I went out to see who was there.  At the front of the church was a couple in the early forties and two teenaged children, clearly a family group.  The father told me that he and his wife had been married at Saint Anselm’s in the late 1970’s.  They no longer lived in Vancouver but were in town to visit family and thought that they would show their children were they were married.  I cheerfully welcomed them and invited them to spend as much time as they wanted.

         As I turned to return to the office, I heard the man say to the children, ‘Come and see.  It’s just the way it was when your mother and I were married here.’  I was tempted to say, ‘Well, not really.  It’s just been re-modelled.’  Common sense and good manners prevailed.

         Vision is not as objective as we like to think.  On the one hand, because of the blind spot we all have in our eyes, what we see is partially a projection in our minds of a picture that includes some bits that our brains ‘creates’ based on what surrounds our focal point.  On the other hand, we sometimes see only what we are looking for and we do not see what we are not looking for.  This is what magicians count on to make their tricks mysterious.

         When my colleague Harry Maier taught the Gospel according to John, he encouraged his students to pay attention to how John used certain words and phrases that, on the surface, seemed to be simple but actually pointed to a deeper meaning.  One such word or phrase is John’s use of the verb ‘to see’ in its various forms.  Philip’s invitation to Nathanael to ‘come and see’ is just one of several times in the Gospel when someone has the opportunity to look beneath the surface to ‘see’ the signs that in Jesus we meet the living God.

         Nathanael’s blind spot is that Jesus is a Galilean and his mind fills in the blank spot with a common slight directed at the country bumpkins from the northern region around the Sea of Galilee.  He is not looking for anyone of significance to come from this backwater and so, when his friend invites him to ‘come and see’, he responds with sarcasm that rings clearly over the centuries to this day. 

         But Jesus is more than willing to deal with a sceptical Nathanael.  He’s even willing to banter with Nathanael.  If anyone ever tries to tell you that there is no humour in the New Testament, then share with them this conversation and a few others in the Gospel according to John.  Nathanael is drawn into Jesus’ circle and he will soon discover that there is more to this itinerant rabbi from Nazareth than meets the eye.  ‘Come and see,’ Philip says to Nathanael and so Nathanael comes.  ‘Come,’ Jesus says to Nathanael, ‘and you will soon see far more than you ever dreamed of seeing.’ 

         Come and see.  A wedding disaster just waiting to happen will become a sign of God’s generosity. 

         Come and see.  A Samaritan woman of questionable reputation will have her thirst for dignity and hope slaked.  

         Come and see.  A blind man will have his sight restored. 

         Come and see.  Two sisters will receive their brother back from the dead. 

         Come and see.  A dispirited community of women and men will suffer a great loss and then be transformed into a movement that will change human history.

         Do you know a Nathanael?  I know many, some of whom are in my own family and within my circle of friends.  We will be talking about something difficult and I’ll say, ‘I have found my way by following Jesus.’  And they respond, ‘Can anything good come out of Christianity?’  And I say, ‘Come and see.’  Sometimes they take the risk; often they keep their distance. 

         Whenever my ‘distant’ friend or family member brings up a reason to stay away, I remind them of things past and present that might draw them nearer.  I tell them stories about what we are doing here at Saint Faith’s and what our Diocese is doing throughout the Lower Mainland and beyond.  And just once and a while, I catch a glimmer of something in their eyes, a change in the tone of their voice, a relaxation in their posture that tells me that I’ve captured their attention.

         My friends, the challenges to religious communities such as ours have multiplied in the past fifty years.  We are not the same institution that we were.  We are finding ourselves recovering what Bishop Michael Curry, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, calls the ‘Jesus movement’.  In this new but ancient movement our buildings are not attics preserving treasures no longer valued but living, breathing mission stations taking care of our neighbourhoods.  And to our friends, neighbours and family members, we say, ‘Come and see.’  In this time of renewal our gatherings for the Word and around the Table become places that bring together those who have never crossed the threshold and those who have left but now dare to return to find what they are seeking.

         Now is our time to replace blind spots with windows into the reign of God making itself known, day after day, in our lives and in the lives of all who follow the way of Jesus.  Now is our time to share what you and I have seen of God’s love and compassion that is sometimes obscured by the shadows of everyday life. 

         Come and see.  Here in this place and in other places throughout the world we have met the one of whom Moses and the prophets have spoken.  Here in this place we have seen the one who makes the invisible God visible and who makes ordinary people extraordinary.  Come and see.


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