John 1.43-51 & 1 Samuel 3.1-20
What are you doing here? Why do we come to church? Why aren’t you sitting comfortably in the warm? Do you realise that you’re missing Countryfile on BBC1 at the moment?
We could be like Eli and crawl back under the covers, or at least stay in the warm. His is an interesting reaction to the God, who in theory he has served all his life and he recognises as calling Samuel. Rather than wait with Samuel he tells him what to do and seems to go back to bed. Possibly he’s got used to God not disturbing him too much after all we heard ‘the word of the Lord was rare in those days, visions were not widespread.’ Maybe he knows that God will be giving Samuel a message that he is not pleased with Eli and that his sons have behaved badly in the past, a past he doesn’t want to face up to.
Perhaps that’s one reason that keeps some people from going to church to engage with God, that they will have to face up to the past and are not ready to do so or unsure of God’s reaction to it.
I’m hesitant to try and explain why anyone comes to church but for most here this evening I imagine that at least in part church time has become a habitual space reserved for worship, prayer and engagement as an element of a mature faith.
It made me think about people who tentatively step inside a church only once or twice a year at major festivals. Or what about the person who just feels the urge to see what it’s all about, stepping inside for the first time, what should they expect?
You may be thinking to yourself yeah yeah we’ve explored all this stuff before but the reason it seems relevant today is because of conversations which aligned with something I read this week which made me think how faith is nurtured, how it grows and also how accessible it is.
If we were to continue all the way through John’s gospel to the last but one chapter we read at chapter 20 verse 31…’these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.’
One possible explanation of the reason John makes this statement almost at the end of his gospel could be that John is very aware that faith is a journey. Faith can build up in layers gaining depth as we live it.
One of the reasons we keep coming here is because we want to hear Jesus story but also because we want to live it, share it, be challenged and changed by it. Like children testing the boundaries we sometimes want to find out how real it is and over time it becomes part of who we are, often mixed in with doubts, regrets and fears. Our imperfect faith continues to live and evolve for as long as we remain engaged with it.
Only after making space for it in our daily lives are we able to benefit from looking back on our faith journey.
John knows this as he wants his readers to go on a journey with Christ before his statement towards the end.
In today’s reading John gives us a glance of Nathanael who is called enthusiastically by Phillip who effectively says ‘you’ll never guess who I’ve found, come and see!’ You would have to be made of stone to not accept an invitation like this, so Nathanael, having put aside his prejudice against the neighbouring village of Nazareth, excitedly decides that this is the one who has come to fulfil the promises of the prophets and Moses, a new king.
He is expecting the spectacular from Jesus but is soon put straight that this is not about magic or entertainment but something far more important.
It’s quite an old film now but in Crocodile Dundee there is an aborigine character and the reporter wants to take his photo in the outback. He tells her that she can’t and she asks ‘why, is it because you believe it will take away your spirit, to which he replies no it’s because you’ve still got the lens cap on.’
Jesus is similarly witty when asked by Nathaneal ‘where did you come to know me?’ Perhaps he hopes he will say that he saw him in a dream or that angels guided him but he replies ‘I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.’
Some of us may have taken our first step so long ago that we can barely remember what inspired us to do so at the time. I preached on the Sunday immediately after Christmas and only around 20% of the numbers at the main Christmas services were present. Admittedly some may have been tipped off that it was my turn but the more intriguing question is what motivated so many to attend over Christmas? Sentimentality, curiosity, need? Do some go away disappointed at the lack of theatre, the spectacular or instantly spiritual? Sometimes our challenge can be to value the occasional visitor and try to be sensitive to their needs.
I do know of one person who seeks quietness, stillness and time for reflection but deliberately spreads their attendance over several churches because as soon as they attend for a few weeks in a row they are asked to join a committee or gift aid scheme.
It’s a difficult balance for us all but John implies that Jesus doesn’t demand belief at the beginning of a faith journey and part of our role is to make space where people can just ‘come and see’, come and see what Jesus is like.
18th January 2015