20.1.15

Coming out from hiding under fig trees

This week particularly across the Anglican Church we think about our calling, each and every one of us, into a unity in Christ. 

It is the week for Christian Unity.

Unity in Christ is a very distinctive unity. 

A unity in Christ is a movement into the body and for the growth of the body – it is a call that is not always easy because it is often a very sacrificial call.

It is an invitation into Christ where he decides what it is that makes for peace, where his peace is the right reign of God – God's shalom. God's rule is a biblical peace.

Unity in Christ often calls people to tough decisions, to a putting of Christ and the growth of the body ahead of their own assumptions and agendas. It requires our submission to Christ's vision for the church which bears his name.

In our scriptures for the beginning of the week for Christian Unity we read of God's call to each one of us in our psalm, to Samuel in the Old Testament and to Philip and Nathanuel in the Gospel of John. Each of them are to bring in the Kingdom of God. Samuel will be called to a win his people back for God, tasked with anointing the future King David. Nathanuel and Philip will each take up their cross and be challenged significantly along the way.

The Christian life presents difficult questions and situations and it is a measure of our Christian maturity how we handle them. Some questions we struggle to give answers to, such as those regarding suffering and where God is when we are in the middle of it.

Our bible stories can cause us problems too when we are trying to explain them to one another. Learning that Eve had been formed from Adam's rib at a church youth group, one teen said to his mum later that week – 'I have a pain in my side, perhaps I am having a wife,' He was joking but profoundly demonstrating that it really is very important how we tell the stories of God to one another – to acknowledge that we can read the Bible badly and be left with lots of questions. 

This is why we don't get to be church or Christian on our own because it takes a whole community to discern carefully what God is saying.

In our scriptures for the Week of Christian Unity we begin with Nathanuel confused and rude! “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” he protests. 

Nathanael has opinions and certainly assumptions. 

Do we ever make any assumptions? About what church should look like or not look like – about what Christianity should look like or not look like. We return then to the beginning of this circle of reasoning because the Scriptures teach us what Christianity should look like and this sets our standard. We must therefore read them together, no matter how hard we find them. We must discern together, reason together.

In the Anglican lectionary we will next turn to Acts and the conversion of Paul. The book of Acts is about the birth of the church and reveals to us afresh God's vision for his church. The book of Acts teaches us what the church should look like.

The Bible teaches us what discipleship should look like. 

God decides what God looks like. 

The I am who I am describes who he is – indescribable  - and so this is why it's not supposed to be easy. And Nathanuel is beginning to grasp this and laden with assumptions, he is being made ready for an encounter with the one who shapes reality. 
'Did anything good ever come out of Nazareth?' Jesus will melt all his assumptions away.

Nazareth, small-town, provincial, and unknown – could God really show up in a place such as Nazareth? This is the assumption that Nathanuel harbours in hiding. Similar assumptions are made today – the church down the road, so different to us – is that really God who is showing up there? And, of course, similarly others make assumptions in return.

People of faith, people like Nathanael, people like you and me, make assumptions everyday: about people and what we can expect, what they will do, how they will behave. We decide before we have heard – make our minds up before we have seen – fix people into shapes that are hard to break free from. We also fix ourselves into unrelenting shapes. In dwelling on our secrets, our difficulties and our past hurts we say with Nathanuel as he does about Nazareth – God, how could any good ever come out of this? 

But assumptions tie us up, hold us down, dwindle hope. 
Assumptions always act to cut short possibility. 
We live out of our assumptions rather than truth, when the Truth, of course, came to set us free. 
Assumptions limit love and life and the new. 
Assumptions restrict and reject and reduce. 
We think we know more than we really do.

Our faith is flattened: we box God in. 
We limit room for our God to do anything new.

And there Nathanuel sits under his fig tree.  
The fig tree Jesus curses because it does not produce fruit. 
With leaves from such branches Adam and Eve hide their shame and think they are protected when this isn't the case. 

In our assumptions we are hiding and we think we are protected – really it would be healthier for our assumptions to be exposed, for us to come out from beneath the tree and face what we're afraid of, the church down the road, the new ministries that might be calling us, the new people asking us to take notice of them, our hurts and addictions, our fears and our prejudices, those things holding us back from horizons so new.

But the great story, the good story, the God-story, of course, is that God sees us through Christ, his perfect Son, sees that version of us perfected through his work on the cross, sees the person being purified through his labour of love, sees us as the bride being made right for the Christ, God sees us shaped and configured for him. 

He sees us past, present and future – human beings, 'human becomers' – a you made right through his righteous Son. 

Because this is so – we're already naked before God and Christ has dealt with our shame – this then is really how we come before God – with secrets exposed, with assumptions forgiven, taken on a journey, and brought into the light, and so when God does meet us in our Nathanuel moments – he can surprise us out of our very assumptions.

Nazareth might be a blind spot but God opens blind eyes.

God manifests himself in the least and the lost.

God manifests himself in us, each one, through his Spirit, as he did in a baby refugee on the run to Egypt, as he did in a blood soaked man outside the city gates. 

God will not be limited by any of our assumptions. 

For every Nazareth-moment, He asks we “come see:" these words said by Philip so that Nathan meets his Saviour. 

Over and over our Saviour confronts our Nazareths, shows up with his love, calls us out from the tree.  

We're called out of our Nazareths, our blind spots and comfort zones so that we really might reach for unity and see our Samuels, our Elis, our Philips and Nathanuels with their challenging questions, each keen to explore. 

Our unity comes when we make room for the other and reflect on the uniqueness of each God-crafted call to come and see. Really see. "Come and see," say our scriptures to all our Nathanuels. Gaze on your Saviour so your assumptions can be melted. Forgiveness and joy are found where we thought nothing good could ever come. 

Come out from under the fig tree, give it space and a little water, step back and behold the blooms on the wonderful tree. 

The one who is very good comes with love and comes from Nazareth. 

Let's hear him call us on to follow where he leads.

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