|'Girl Under Tree' by Kirsten Nolte|
Some research was done in the US into the nature and location of accidents 20% of all fatal accidents occur in cars. 17% of all fatal accidents occur at home. 14% of all fatal accidents occur to pedestrians. 16% of all fatal accidents happen in planes, trains, or boats. Only .001% of all deaths occur in church and these are related to previous physical disorders. So the safest place to be anytime is in church. So welcome back! It could save your life!
This morning we hear Jesus having a bit of backwards and forwards with a man called Nathanael. We know very little about Nathanael in real terms. Was he a close follower of Jesus or is it more likely that he was an outsider? We just don’t know - what we come to discover throughout the story of Jesus’ life contained in the Bible - is that Jesus is ready to speak about to, and reveal to anyone, the love of God, it didn’t matter who you are: rich or poor, faithful or uncertain, male or female, Jewish or not.
Jesus sees Nathanael sitting under a fig tree. Such trees could be tall and obviously provided fruit. They also acted as shade from the blazing sun. The spreading branches and thick leaves were an ideal place of shade and shelter. It was a common occurrence for a person to sit in the shade of a fig tree to reflect, to think and to wrestle with the issues of life. John in his writing makes us aware that Jesus makes reference to the fact that he saw Nathanael under the fig tree. These may be a clear indication that Nathanael was troubled. Is he seeking guidance? Was he feeling a bit lost? Was Nathanael wrestling with who this man Jesus really was? Somehow in the conversation that Jesus has with him, the penny drops and the light of faith comes on for Nathanael.
I’d like to think that Nathanael was pondering the big stuff of life under the fig tree that day and I warm to him because he wrestled with life and faith. Is it because of this honest wrestling, this element of doubt that Jesus is able to say that Nathanael is a true son of Israel.
As I made way to church on a Sunday in another parish, I would sometimes encounter a neighbour either tending his garden or loading his golf clubs into the boot of his car. ‘Off to church?’ he’d ask. ‘Yes,’ I’d reply, ‘Cutting the grass/Off to the course?’ I’d ask in reply. ‘Yes, and you can worship God in the garden or on the golf course as much as you can in church’ he said. ‘Yes, but do you?’ I asked back...
Yes, Jesus does come to meet us where we are, whether in church or on the golf course. Wherever He meets us our lives are never all sewn up. As we sit here this morning, we bring with us all sorts of things playing on our minds, things troubling us, causing us grief. We may be here not really sure what we believe about Jesus or what he taught or anything else for that matter. We may be concerned about the health of a loved one, the future of a job, how we’ll put food on the table this week. These worries can bring us down and often we may feel that church is the last place we want to be, coming burdened with all of this. But far from it.
The Eucharist that we share in this morning is sometimes called the Mass. That name in turn comes from the Latin word ‘Missa’, which means ‘I send.‘ As Jesus meets us here as we are, with our joys and sorrows and offers forgiveness, healing and hope, speaking to us in the words of the scriptures and offering us himself in bread and wine as food for the journey of life, He sends us out into life - equipped for the week and for whatever is thrown at us. The more worries and stressed we are about life, the more I am convinced that we need this service.
The thing is, no one is judging you as you come here. The church is not made up of the good, holy and the true, but broken and failing people, lovely as they are - in fact far from it.
When I was a Curate I remember going to a meeting in a local school whose head teacher was a keen Baptist. In the course of the meeting he was verbally assaulted by someone who accused him and all religious types of going to church because they thought they were better than everyone else. To which he calmly replied, with great dignity, “the reason, sir, that I am a Christian is that I know that I as much a sinner as the next man.” And this Jesus meets us where we are, sinners, under the metaphorical fig tree and here in this Eucahrist - and from here He sends us out resourced, renewed, forgiven and restored.
Under that tree, Jesus reveals to Nathanael greater insight as to who He is. No longer is a ladder needed between heaven and earth with angelic messengers traveling to and fro. Now the Messiah Himself is the meeting point of our questioning human need and divine blessing.
Our places of meeting, our church buildings can be places for us to sit and shelter from the pressures of every day living. They can offer that space and safety to consider the questions of life. Jesus is happy to engage with all, those who are sitting under a fig tree or in a church or where ever.
You may be feeling like Nathanael with doubt and questions whether you are here for the first time or if you are regular member of the congregation. Are you seeking to connect with the Jesus who is the meeting point of our human need and the divine blessing of God?