Epiphany 2 - Just get over it - and be yourself, the person God has made and called you yo be!
First Reading 1 Samuel 3:1-10 [11-20]
Samuel was only a boy, and did not yet know God, but he was called by name to serve the Lord: God does not always choose the most obvious candidates.
Second Reading Revelation 5:1-10
Jesus reveals the mystery of salvation, dying to free people of all backgrounds into the priestly service of God’s eternal kingdom.
Gospel John 1:43-51
Despite Nathanael’s prejudice against his background, Jesus already knew this honest man had the potential to be a disciple.
HOMILY “Nathanael asked him, ‘Where did you come to know me?’ Jesus answered, ‘I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.’” (John 1:48)
The feeling of being called to do something – having a sense of purpose is such a wonderful thing. We may want to say that finding our vocation in life is one of the great human experiences that helps us to feel whole. That call can manifest itself in many and various forms: Right now, we should celebrate the dedication of many people in our society and local community who follow their vocation in the service of others, such as medical staff and teachers, council workers and public servants. As a family we are exceptionally grateful for the work of Thorpe pre-school nursery, mandated to remain open – and as I understand it, with no additional support from the government – they are angels, and without their dedication and time, I wouldn’t be able to do what I do here as your Vicar. The same is true of the staff, not just academic, but all at Thorpe Primary and TASIS, and we must keep them all in our prayers, along with those who run Runnymede Foodbank and many others. Whoever you are – thank you from all of us for your vocations, call and service.
Vocation is more than a sense of duty and is often an occupation or voluntary work to which we are especially drawn, perhaps trained, or qualified. Though now often used in non-religious contexts, the meaning of the term vocation originated in Christianity and we use it in church as we think about the many and various roles that make up the family of faith, including those called to be ordained. Please use this time of lockdown to pray about your own sense of vocation and call, whatever that may be, at whatever age or time of life you are at. Nathanael, sitting under the fig tree, hears a call, when Philip tells him news about the Messiah, Jesus – and something inside him changes, like a seed that sends forth a first shoot of life. He is intrigued, but he is also drawn into a new relationship, out of the shade, the darkness of disbelief, into the light of faith. Now we wouldn’t have known anything about the fig tree if Jesus hadn’t mentioned it, as recorded in John’s Gospel which is full of theological detail. Jesus finds Nathaniel and in return Nathaniel finds his faith and calling to follow the Lord. We can’t be sure of Nathanael’s state of mind when Jesus called him. Philip says: “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” (John 1:45) Nathaniel’s reply is interesting; “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46) A call, a vocation can be exciting and challenging all at once. For like us, Nathanael is on a faith journey and it will take time for him to understand what his new vocation really means. He must work at it hence Philip responds, “Come and see.” Does Nathaniel believe, or even understand that the promised Messiah could be an ordinary person, from an unremarkable town like Nazareth? You see, our Lord was born among the poorest, his parents refugees from Herod’s slaughter and they settled in Nazareth where Jesus was brought up and learnt his trade as a carpenter – so yes this was as ordinary as it gets, but none the less fitting for God’s dwelling place. Now the Lord is starting his ministry and out and about calling people to service, but can this Nazarene really be the one foretold?
Friends, what do we really believe about Jesus? If we were Nathaniel today, sat under that fig tree in the theological shade, and a member of our family came and asked us if we wanted to follow Jesus, would we? Or the other way around, are we willing to be the person that shares our faith with others, that leads people out of the darkness of disbelief into the light of faith? For I have to tell you this is our vocation as Christians – to tell of Jesus, to share faith. God calls unlikely people in the service of the kingdom, now as ever, whether it’s a boy Samuel as we read in our first reading, a shepherd King like David, a reluctant Moses … or you and I! God certainly had a sense of humour when he called me to ministry and service - I can tell you! You see God knows us, in our weakness as well as our strengths, and God sees our potential and calls us, either directly or through family like Philip, friends, work colleagues… We all have a vocation to serve. What is God calling you to do or be in the life of St Mary’s post this time of pandemic, as we seek to renew our church and re-build our congregation?
In following Jesus, Nathanael would learn not to discriminate against the humble and the ordinary whom God calls to extraordinary things – just look at many today as they live out their vocation at great cost to themselves but in the service of the greater good. At this time of pandemic when we hope we have reached the peak of infections and may begin to move towards a more normal way of life once more, we must work hard at our vocations and the support of others in theirs. I suspect that sometimes we find it difficult to see Jesus in “ordinary” people and all those we may be tempted to judge or worse set aside.
Worse still, we may be tempted to expect Jesus to conform to our pattern, our expectations, and our sense of what is right and proper – as we choose to sit under that fig tree of darkness and disbelief. Sometimes like Nathaniel, we want Jesus to come from somewhere better than Nazareth - along with those who serve in many ways, from Bishop’s to road sweepers. Yet our Lord is not only the Son of God: he’s one of us, the Son of Man, ‘Emmanuel’; God with us. That’s why he laid down his life for all of us, unworthy and sinful as we are – regardless of our background, status, ability or vocation. And he calls each of us to service, to a vocation as Christians. Use this time of lockdown to emerge from under your fig tree. Take time to pray that you may know more fully your call to service, your vocation as we celebrate those gifts of others. Amen.
Fr Damian Harrison-Miles, January 2021.