Sermon for the Second Sunday of Epiphany
17th Jan 2021
Sermon for the Second Sunday of Epiphany Year B
“Come and see”. John 1.48
Nathaniel said “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.”
It is meaningful for us to compare the infant Samuel in the Old Testament and Nathaniel in the New. The account of Samuel and Eli’s sleep in the sanctuary of the temple alongside the ark of the covenant and with the faint light waiting to be extinguished is very lovely. They old man and the boy share a time of sleep in the place of the divine presence, in which the child hears the voice of God - and yet thinks it’s the old man calling. Eli knows after a while that it is no longer right to tell the Samuel to ‘go back to sleep’ but to instruct him to respond: ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening’. The Nathaniel account is a distinct contrast. It takes place in the great outdoors and in day time. But the issue remains the same, and it is one of the divine call and of human receptivity. Jesus has been found by Philip who now claims that he has met the Messiah, the promised one, and he names him as the son of the carpenter Joseph from Nazareth. “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Nathaniel says offhandedly, to which Philip then replies ‘Come and see’. The call of God is one which tests our human perception. In the case of Samuel and Nathaniel comes the prompt not to see the presence of God as something incidental and distant, but one which may come calling…
Our worship of God involves a gentle challenge to our receptive capacity. Our lives and their meaning and destiny are bound to the life of the God we worship. The two are inseparable. We recognise our need of God, not from the point of view of a defensive and distracted mentality, but in the one whom we know has loved us beyond our telling. Philip’s reply ‘come and see’ is an invitation to come to God in whom to know is to truly be. To inhabit God is to inhabit the true reality. “Come…..and see…” Philip says, “Come, and receive...”
But receptivity doesn’t always come to us naturally. Henri Nouwen knows this when he says,
Long before any human being saw us, we are seen by God's loving eyes. Long before anyone heard us cry or laugh, we are heard by our God who is all ears for us. Long before any person spoke to us in this world, we are spoken to by the voice of eternal love. Claiming and reclaiming our chosenness is the great spiritual battle of our lives, for in a competitive, power-hungry and manipulative world, it is all too easy to forget that God has always known us, and God has chosen us – even when we slide into self-doubt and self-rejection. Knowing that we have been and are known by God, and that we have been chosen, is the first thing we need to claim as we behold what we are and become what we receive in Him.
We are in fact and in deed, “blessed.” The word “blessing” comes from the Latin word, benedicere, which literally means to speak well of someone, to say good things about someone. We all have a deep need for affirmation, to know that we are valued not just because of something we did or because we have a particular talent, but simply because we simply are. This is for many of us a difficult realisation; because we so often place ourselves in the way of our own healing.
In a modern society where there is so much acquisitiveness, the idea of receptivity may save us from what is ephemeral. The experience of receptivity, channelled in God, is creative and fruitful. What then might a receptive Church look like? A receptive Church is one which has learnt to discern what remains true for us from what is suspect and counterfeit. This is particularly true of those situations where the language used and the assumptions made about our world turn out to be manipulative and lacking in human respect. A receptive Church is one which practises thanksgiving for what has been received. Thanksgiving as a gift and a necessity – preventing us from becoming casual and unthinking in our dealings with one another. A receptive Church is one which has learnt to listen, not only with the ear, but to listen to persons in the fullness of their being, no matter whom they may be and no matter how difficult this may be. A listening Church is one which can include and can hold together difficult elements in the one work and witness. A receptive Church is one which continues to learn what it is to practise the Christian Faith not as something completed and finished but as something which is continually being worked out and which will have no ending in this life. A receptive Church is patient. It has to be!
A spirituality of receptivity is one which is capable of inhabiting places of silence and even of disonance with composure. It is a spiritual practice which acknowledges God before all else. In John’s Gospel he speaks of God as not just pertaining to love but of actually being love itself. And love is not divided. A receptive church is undivided. To receive God is to be in receipt of a love which has already been freely granted to us. To be receptive in this way is to respond naturally to what God already is and to what God already gives – his own being. Our hope is to come to know this. But we place so many things in the way and we are all too aware of how we blank God out of our existences. Even so a receptive church is not discouraged; it lives in hope which is the Christ of mercy; He the One in whom we can see ourselves as we really are in the promise of his forgiveness. He remains present.
Nathaniel has said that “nothing good can come from Nazareth”, but indeed something has come from Nazareth – goodness itself. In fact, its very incarnation. This is a part of his Epiphany; his and our glory.
To ‘come and see’ in this instance is to come before God as receptive beings, to inhabit that place and that love which is above and beyond all other considerations, and which makes it possible to reach beyond ourselves to that place of witness which is proved real. And in all this God lies before us to guide us in the right way.
Here is a well-known poem by George Herbert; a celebration of joy in response to God’s freely given grace in the repetition of summoning and receptive phrases:
Come, my Way, my Truth, my Life:
Such a way as gives us breath;
Such a truth as ends all strife,
Such a life as killeth death.
Come, my Light, my Feast, my Strength:
Such a light as shows a feast,
Such a feast as mends in length,
Such a strength as makes his guest.
Come, my Joy, my Love, my Heart:
Such a joy as none can move,
Such a love as none can part,
Such a heart as joys in love.