Weekly Lectionary Reflection: Sunday January 15th 2012

nathaniel under a fig treeLectionary (Year B): 1 Samuel 3:1-10; Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18; John 1:43-51; 1 Corinthians 6:12-20

Theme: Letting Go of Our Comfort Zones

Message:  Called to Venture

In the story from John’s gospel we find Jesus going up to Galilee, where he meets a man named Philip and invites him to become a follower. Philip accepts, and in the story the first thing Philip decides to do is seek out his friend Nathaniel to tell him “I’ve found the man Moses and the prophets said was coming, a man from Nazareth called Jesus.” In response, Nathaniel utters the famous line “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Philip, probably grinning at his friend, retorts, “Come and see.”

It’s a good evangelism story, isn’t it? Classic, even. So much so that we can probably all think of hundreds of times in our lives when this “come and see” narrative and others like it in the New Testament are used as a basis for exhorting church-folk to invite others to church so they can “come and see.”

If you’ll forgive me, I must say that to me, it’s become a cliche. Honestly, I seriously doubt I’d ever accept an invitation to a church where someone says to me, “Hey, I found what we’re all looking for, and it’s at church!” In fact, I bet I’d respond in my best Nathaniel imitation, “Can anything good come out of CHURCH?”

And if the person inviting me were to reply with “Come and see!”, then unlike Nathaniel, I’d almost certainly still take a pass. I’ve heard it too many times. It is what it is.

But then I am given opportunities like this, to write an Evangelectionary reading, and I actually go in and read the passages and do some research and all the cliches go away and I find rich and wonderful nuggets of newness to ponder.

The first thing that became clear to me in reading this story was this: Jesus was not inviting Philip to church. And Philip, in turn, was not inviting Nathaniel to church. Both of them were in fact being invited to follow Jesus – and Jesus wasn’t hanging out at the local synagogue rehearsing a sermon hoping to bring in enough folks to fill up the place – he was out traveling, talking, relating, healing, building community … and making trouble.

So here we have Nathaniel, a man who at this point sounds like a big jerk thanks to that “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” zinger. But in spite of his sass, he decides to follow his friend Philip and go see this Jesus guy.

Then, as Nathaniel arrives and walks toward Jesus,  before even meeting him, Jesus loudly greets Nathaniel as a “true Israelite in whom there is no deceit.” Essentially, Jesus is saying that Nathaniel is an honest, forthright Jew who doesn’t go around saying or doing things just for appearances’ sake. In context, that very likely means Nathaniel is an openly practicing Jew who isn’t in the business of hand-waving his piety for the sake of his fellow Jews NOR tamping down his faith for the sake of the Roman oppressors. This is someone who says what he thinks, and in the world in which these folks are living, that can get a person into trouble. When you think about it, he’s just Jesus’ kind of guy. In my imagination, I see the two men lock eyes and share this knowing glance, the kind that only kindred spirits are able to manage.

So when Nathaniel asks “How do you know so much about me?”  Jesus tells Nathaniel “I saw you under your fig tree before Phillip came to talk to you.” I’d always assumed – and I think most people in my experience probably assume – that Jesus ACTUALLY saw Nathaniel hanging around under a fig tree, either in a vision or with actual sight. While this may be true, my preparation for this reading  brought up a whole new notion I’d never heard before – that “standing under your fig tree” is a Jewish metaphor used throughout the Hebrew Scriptures that basically means “being in a comfortable, safe place of contentment”. So perhaps Jesus is saying, “You look like the kind of guy who plays it safe and close to the vest – but you came here to see me anyway, even though you know in your gut that hanging around with me is going to be neither comfortable nor safe.”

I know a little bit about being the kind of guy who has an inner-personality of blunt honesty and a desire for wrestling with big important stuff but who has timidly remained under a shade tree playing it safe for most of his life. And I know that meeting a guy like Jesus in this situation would easily be the thing that could convince me to take the risk, step out of my safe place, get away from my comfort zone, and follow the man who came to show us what God wants us to be.

I guess what I’m saying is, if you want to be an evangelist to a person like me, don’t bother inviting me to your church. Church in North America these days is pretty much just another safe and comfortable place for people to go and act like faithy-folk in safe, comfortable ways.

Instead, invite me along on an adventure of high-risk, small comfort, and little thanks. Invite me out into the world to be Jesus-like with you, invite me to follow Jesus and help build the Kingdom.


Call to Prayer:
Arise, shine, for your light has come; and over you the glory of the Lord has dawned. Let us pray
Almighty God everlasting, whose loving‐kindness is shown to us in Jesus Christ your Son and whose touch is compassionate towards those for whom life has been cruel, we come to lay our lives before you in worship, imperfect as they are, often distraught and perplexed. In your mercy receive us in our human state and condition. Your nature is love and mercy, grace and truth. These you bestow upon us without our asking, again and again, for your gifts are as beyond measure and we are utterly undeserving creatures. As you have formed our hearts to love and serve you, look upon us now and enlighten our whole being to respond to your call; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
God of love and compassion, who has called us to confess our sins, our presence in this place is not only an act of worship and praise: our coming her speaks of our needs and the wider needs of the world. Each day we burden ourselves with things that do not matter. We bewilder our minds with problems of our own imagination. We are frightened by complexities that do not exist. Now we acknowledge our dependence upon you, our need of your presence here and of your reassurance in every circumstance. We try to understand your purposes, only to be bewildered by the state of the world and the life of Man. Then we look into the face of Jesus Christ and find that his life brings meaning and purpose into ours. In our willingness to be guided, so take our uncertainties and clothe them with your Holy Spirit, the Spirit who is our strength and our power.
God, forgive us: pardon us: cleanse and renew us: and impart to our lives that inner light and strength which take away such burdens; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
God of constant love, mercy and forgiveness, as we remember the powerful and effective faith of your servants down the ages of time, we acknowledge that we are not always people of faith. As your promises always contradict the vague assurances of the world, so open our eyes to see what you are able to do with us and through us when we place ourselves at your disposal. Help us to hold firm to your promises, to laugh at what seems impossible, and to believe that all things are possible; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Almighty and everlasting God, in whom we live and move and have our being, who has created us for yourself, so that we can find rest only in you; grant to us such purity of heart and strength of purpose, that no selfish passion may hinder us from knowing your will, no weakness from doing it; but in your light may we see light clearly, and in your service find perfect freedom; for the sake of Jesus Christ your only Son our Lord. AMEN.
Most blessed God, as your Word shines as a light to the world, in faith and wonder, may we perceive its radiant power and find in it the way in which to walk, the truth by which to live and the life in which to rejoice.
In the name of the Triune Mystery, AMEN

– from the Church of Scotland

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