Instinct vs Analysis

by | Jan 14, 2018 | Sermon

John 1:43-51

Calling of Philip and Nathanael

There were about 40 of us who all started working for Airbus at the same time. Initially I lived with some extended family, but it was only a temporary arrangement. I knew I would be off travelling in the first 12 months. Then I would need to find something more permanent. As we got to know each other in the first few months, I knew I needed to suss out who I wanted to go into a house share. It was a bit like when you first think you fancy somebody, but you don’t know if the feeling is mutual. But there was one guy with whom I just clicked. It wasn’t that we had anything particularly in common. Or that we spent much time together. But over a few conversations I just got the feeling, and apparently so did he, that we would be able to live together without getting on one another’s nerves too much. So while I was working in Singapore we arranged to move in together with another friend of mine who was about to move to Bristol as well. It was a pretty unscientific way of putting together a flat share. But it worked brilliantly. Sometimes we know people instinctively. Sometimes we just click.

When I was a child I can remember making difficult decisions by creating a lists of pros and cons. Of course, once I’d finished my lists  and come out with a preferred option, it would almost invariably be my gut which would prove whether it was actually the decision I preferred. Today in the age of social media. I would have been able to check up on any potential room share candidate and find out anything they had ever done and ‘facebook stalk’ them for a couple of months before making a decision if I wanted to flat share with them or not. Of course, the thing that makes social media so popular is the perception that we get people’s own unfiltered personal opinions and recommendations. Their own immediate and honest judgements. And PR firms will do anything to make sure those opinions are wooed in the favour of their client.

I used to get a PR update each month from the PR firm responsible for generating more interest in the shops local to where we lived. It was all about key influencers and how many of them had mentioned the ‘village’ as they called it. But this is because a personal recommendation counts. When I hear about a new film or play or book, I’ll go and search out other people’s opinions, especially the opinions of people who I trust. Recommendations count for a lot, whether it’s a celebrity, somebody a bit like you or a complete stranger – it’s good to know we aren’t alone.

In today’s Gospel we have John’s account of the calling of Philip and Nathanael. Philip knew of Jesus because he was from Bethsaida, where Andrew was from, and Andrew, only 8 verses earlier was a follower of John the Baptist when he pointed at Jesus and said ‘Look,  here is the Lamb of God!’ So Philip probably already knew Jesus entourage, but is quickly convinced of Jesus himself. So Philip goes and tells Nathanael, who is understandably, and brilliantly realistically, sceptical. But Jesus knows Nathanael already, and we then have this bizarre conversation where Nathanael jumps up to follow Jesus. Even Jesus seems surprised by how quickly Nathanael has perceived him. Of course he’s had a chance to mull over Philip’s invitation to ‘come and see.’ Sometimes it is with our heads that we understand who Jesus is and what he means to us. Reading the bible, thinking about the meaning of what we do in our liturgy is not only the preserve of the clergy. We can all get to know God more deeply through reflecting and thinking more intentionally about what we believe. But our faith is also instinctive, it is inexplicable. Sometimes our understanding can’t be put into words. At times even the church puts too much emphasis on whether we can explain what we believe.

Even at the time of Jesus, he was dependent on those who followed him to tell others what they had seen, what they believed. Even when Jesus’ calling was much easier to discern than it is now, his followers needed to know they weren’t alone. I have witnessed people start coming to church simply to get to know other people in their local community. Simply because it was an opportunity to hear good music, or give their children some kind of grounding in religion. Because they were told it would be somewhere safe and welcoming and friendly. But having visited, and come back a few times, they continued coming, unsure why, but realising there was something unexpected, something transformative about a relationship with Jesus. Not that they would even put it quite like that.

Jesus knows us and loves us each by name. He calls to each of us to follow him, like he did to Philip and Nathanael. Our response,
whether it is the result of careful reflection and consideration of the evidence before us, or the result of hearing others speak of their experiences, or it is altogether more instinctive and spiritual, or it is a combination of all of these is to share that love God has for us with others. In effect, by what we say and what we do, saying: ‘Come and See’

The Reverend Robin Sims-Williams

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