‘Can anything good come out of?’ – 17th January 2021 – 2nd Sunday of Epiphany

Fig tree

Image by Maahmaah

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The Readings

1 Samuel 3.1-10

Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.

At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was. Then the Lord called, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’ and he said, ‘Here I am!’ and ran to Eli, and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’ But he said, ‘I did not call; lie down again.’ So he went and lay down. The Lord called again, ‘Samuel!’ Samuel got up and went to Eli, and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’ But he said, ‘I did not call, my son; lie down again.’ Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. The Lord called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’ Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy. Therefore Eli said to Samuel, ‘Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” ’ So Samuel went and lay down in his place.

Now the Lord came and stood there, calling as before, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’ And Samuel said, ‘Speak, for your servant is listening.’


John 1.43-51

The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, ‘Follow me.’ Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, ‘We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.’ Nathanael said to him, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ Philip said to him, ‘Come and see.’ When Jesus saw Nathanael coming towards him, he said of him, ‘Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!’ Nathanael asked him, ‘Where did you come to know me?’ Jesus answered, ‘I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.’ Nathanael replied, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’ Jesus answered, ‘Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.’ And he said to him, ‘Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.’


The Sermon
By the Revd Canon Dr Matthew Rhodes.

Last weekend I had an unexpected phone call. Stephen was someone I helped in my last parish. He had been homeless and we managed to get him settled in London with a job and somewhere to live. Unfortunately, that didn’t last and he was getting in touch to ask for some support. My last parish where Stephen and I had met is in a leafy suburb of Birmingham. Stephen seemed a bit surprised that I had moved to Sheffield. He thought it must have been a big change of context. ‘It’s a bit rough isn’t it?’ he asked.

Many of us have rather skewed perceptions of different parts of the country, or indeed the world. I used to get slightly pitying expressions when I said I lived in Birmingham. The family of a friend of mine sometimes say that something is a bit Barrow in Furness if it’s a bit down at heal. They have never been to Barrow in Furness but once read the name on pencils that are made there.

In Jewish culture, Galilee in general and Nazareth were often looked down on. They were close to areas occupied by Gentiles and the brand of Judaism that Galileans practised was seen as a bit suspect. And like the north in many countries Galilee was seen as remote and parochial.

We get a glimpse of this snobbery in our Gospel today when Philip goes to Nathanael and tells him about Jesus of Nazareth. Nathanael is sceptical. Can anything good come out of Nazareth? he asks. We all need to let go of our preconceptions and broaden our minds sometimes. The world is full of surprises.

Thank goodness for Philip in this story. He is not easily put off. Philip is clearly excited by his encounter with Jesus and he knows that Nathanael will benefit from meeting Jesus too. ‘Come and see,’ he says. And what an amazing effect that has on Nathanael’s life. We know that lots of people have preconceptions about Christianity and the church. Some have never crossed the threshold of a church building. ‘Can anything good come out of St Mary’s Walkley?’ they might ask. Well, we can be Philip to them. We can say, ‘Come and see’. We don’t have to have all the answers. We don’t need to be able to explain everything about the Christian faith. Or even justify all the things that Christians do. We just need to give people that nudge, that invitation, that welcome.

Crossing the threshold of a church can be daunting for some people. There are lots of things that we do that many people would find strange and unfamiliar. For me I guess it would be a bit like going into a bookie’s to place a bet for the first time. I wouldn’t know where to start. But when someone new comes to church we can be a friendly face. Helping them to find their way. To know when to stand and when to sit. And inviting them to coffee afterwards. Remember coffee after church?

The thing that first impresses Nathanael about Jesus is that Jesus saw him under sitting under a fig tree before they even met. In spite of the fact that Nathanael was rude about Nazareth, Jesus welcomes him as an Israelite in whom there is no deceit. Jesus sees Nathanael. He sees deep into his soul. And Nathanael feels really known and understood. And that’s important for all of us. We all want to be known and understood. And that’s as important now as it ever was. In this third lockdown when many of us are feeling lonely and isolated; we want to know and be known. We aren’t able to gather in church at the moment but we can still be in touch with each other. We might see someone else, not under a fig tree but on zoom at home. Or we might just remember them and think about them for a bit. And perhaps pick up the phone and see how they are. Ask if there’s anything we can do. Or just bring them to God in prayer.

The season of Epiphany is jam packed with stories and themes. And one of those themes is the theme of mission. Of God’s mission to the world. The birth of Jesus as a human being is an expression of God’s mission, of God reaching out to humanity. And throughout his life, Jesus reached out to the world, demonstrating God’s love and healing and forgiveness. And we share in that mission. As members of the body of Christ we share in the miseo dei. There are lots of things that we cannot do at the moment but we can still play our part. I’m really grateful to all those who contributed to the Foodbank and baby Basics on Wednesday and to those who have donated laptops for school children. The mission of God is incredibly broad and all of us can share in it.

In these very challenging times I think our first reading is also important for us. It’s one that is very dear to me and my own sense of calling. The calling of Samuel. Samuel was just a boy. An apprentice in the temple at Shiloh. Not someone with any authority or standing. The human equivalent of Nazareth. We are told that the word of the Lord was rare in those days and visions were not widespread. No one seemed to be hearing much from God. But God spoke to Samuel. And he became God’s mouthpiece. A great prophet. Samuel did not understand this at first. He though Eli was calling him. But eventually, Eli realised what was happening and helped him to listen to God. Sometimes we need to be Eli for other people. Helping them to hear what God is saying to them. And we all need to be like Samuel. Open. Listening. In this strange time when things keep changing and we are not sure what to do, we need to spend time waiting on God and say, ‘Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.’ Amen.

The Prayers
Prepared by Barbara, adapted from Common Worship copyright 2000 The Archbishop's Council

In the power of the Spirit and in union with Christ, let us pray to the Father.

O God, the creator and preserver of all, we pray for people in every kind of need; make your ways known on earth, your saving health among all nations …

We pray for all of those affected by the Covid-19 epidemic. 
We pray for all those who have lost someone they love and ask that you comfort them in their grief. 
We pray for those who are struggling with their own illness: please bring them healing.

We pray for those suffering from loneliness and isolation: please help us to be your agents in bringing them contact and comfort.

We pray for those affected by any sort of relationship breakdown at this loneliest of times: couples who are no longer couples; housemates who can no longer bear each other’s company; young people who feel that they are not able to grow into independent adults; people who find themselves at risk of abuse. Please help us to notice when people need help and to bring them the help they need.

We pray for all our children: please help us to work out how to balance their education and need for face-to-face friendships with our need to keep those more vulnerable to the virus safe.
We pray that we can understand the lessons that you want us to learn from this pandemic, thinking particularly of how you want us to care for this wonderful world, so that we can stop destroying it.

We pray for all countries facing elections and changes of government. Please bring all our leaders the skills needed to lead us wisely, in peace and good will.
Lord, in your mercy
hear our prayer.

We pray for your Church throughout the world; guide and govern us by your good Spirit, that all who profess and call themselves Christians may be led into the way of truth, and hold the faith in unity of spirit, in the bond of peace and in righteousness of life …

We pray for all Christian communities in this country and around the world, as we strive to find new ways of being your family that do not put each other in danger during this pandemic. 

We pray especially for our worshipping community of St. John’s Ranmoor, St. Mark’s Broomhill and St. Mary’s Walkley as we learn new ways of joining together in love for you. Please help us to feel your presence in a world turned upside down and to share that presence with others.
Lord, in your mercy
hear our prayer.

We commend to your fatherly goodness all those who are in any way afflicted or distressed, in mind, body or estate; comfort and relieve them in their need, give them patience in their sufferings, and bring good out of their troubles …

In moments of peace and contemplation, we name to you all those known to us who are suffering. Please care for them and for all those of whose suffering we are unaware.
Lord, in your mercy
hear our prayer.

We remember those who have gone before us in the peace of Christ, and we give you praise for all your faithful ones, with whom we rejoice in the communion of saints …

We name to you in our hearts all those known to us both near and far, asking that you bring your comfort and healing to their families and friends at this time of grief.

Merciful Father,
accept these prayers
for the sake of your Son,
our Saviour Jesus Christ.