Sermon for Sunday 15th January 2012

Rev Jan KeartonSermon for Sunday 15th January 2012

Given by Revd Jan Kearton

Do you believe in the North/South divide? It’s an idea that rears its head from time to time and can be promoted equally by both the north and the south - the south thinks that all civilisation ends at Watford Gap and the north thinks that all southerners are soft. I’m sure you’ve heard many, many variations on the theme!

In the reading from John we can catch a glimpse of the Biblical equivalent - this time it’s Bethsaida and Nazareth. Bethsaida, the important fishing town on the shores of Galilee, a place favoured by kings and their consorts. Nazareth, a small town of less than two hundred, remote in the bowl of the hills, seeming foreign. Yet Jesus, the Nazarene, receives the reluctant and critical Nathanael, from Bethsaida, into his group of disciples. Not without a cutting remark, perhaps, a quick riposte for Nathanael’s rudeness, but the offer is there for Nathanael to ponder.

The calling of Philip and Nathaniel

God calls the least likely people to his service. Samuel, the child ministering under Eli, the young person who wouldn’t have been thought old enough or important enough to receive the rare and sought after word of God. Samuel, the one chosen by God to give Eli a distasteful and hard message. Samuel, who will become known from Dan to Beersheba, throughout Israel, as a great prophet. And now Nathanael, the one standing away from the light, in the shade of the fig tree, the sceptic of anything from Nazareth.

Eli and Samuel

                                                 Samuel tells Eli the Lords message

And so Nathaniel meets Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus, humbly born in Bethlehem, with irregular parentage, his father, or adoptive father, a craftsman and not a rabbi. This is the background of the man who is now being hailed as the fulfilment of all the law and the longings of the prophets. Nathaniel might well be sceptical. It’s hardly what he’s expecting. Jesus, the new ladder, both divine and human, the one whose nature bridges the gap between heaven and earth, ‘lift earth to heaven, stoops heaven to earth’ as we said of Christmas Eve.

Nathanael is overwhelmed, over-reacts and makes an embarrassing fuss of Jesus. He has a lot to learn about the ways of God before he can be the disciple he is being called to be. But Jesus is continuing the pattern of divine calling, choosing his team from some pretty unpromising material, just as Samuel was chosen, Abram before him and so many more of the flawed characters in the Old and New Testament stories. God doesn’t make obvious choices, but chooses the people with the character and attributes he needs for his plans. And God knows us through and through, as the psalmist so vividly describes in psalm 139, as Jesus knows Nathanael.

John shows Jesus as an unlikely Messiah - not obviously of royal blood, not from Jerusalem, the centre of religious and spiritual power, the place of God’s special choosing. The subject of rumours about his parentage, with a tradesman father and no rabinnical  training. There was no reason to see Jesus as anything other than one of the many misguided religious fanatics who in those restless times set themselves up as messiahs. And yet – Philip, Andrew, Peter and the others, even eventually Nathaniel, recognise Jesus as different. His teaching has the ring of truth. He has an air of authenticity and authority about him. People who meet him feel they are encountering the God they have known through the scriptures.

John of Patmos knew that Jesus was different. Called by God to witness to Christ in his apocalyptic Revelation, John shows this unlikely Messiah to be the Lamb of God, perfect and fit to offer sacrifice, risen, living and the only one fit to open the seals of the scrolls which set in train the vivid process of God’s judgment and salvation. We’re used to the idea of a Messiah from Nazareth. But perhaps we need to rediscover the shock of it and the shock of God’s choices. God doesn’t make the easy or obvious choice. Instead, God chooses the youngest, the worst equipped, the foreign, the poor, to be his servants in the world.

This is an Epiphany of Jesus Christ as an unlikely and yet perfect Messiah. Samuel and Nathanael are unlikely and yet the right choice. How then are we to see ourselves? We might feel that God’s choice of us is unlikely, that we are flawed and fall short of the glory of the perfect Lamb of God. Yet God chooses us to be the bearers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to our own time and place. It’s reassuring to know that God has always called unlikely people knowing that they’re exactly what he needs. There is no need for any of us to feel unworthy of the role. God knows each of us through and through, and has always known us. Flawed and imperfect we may be, but God’s call to each of us is genuine and to be trusted. AMEN.

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