I love the story of the calling of Nathaniel. I love his sense of humour, and his honesty, wondering aloud whether anything good could ever come out of Nazareth (and we can substitute whatever place is the equivalent now!) but also his openness – he does, after all, come and see for himself.
But mostly I love the fact that Jesus picks him out, and seems to know him, perhaps even better than he knows himself. There’s a painting of Nathaniel by a contemporary artist, in fact, which depicts Nathaniel under the fig tree naked – a symbol that he has nothing to hide, that Jesus sees him simply for who he is, without pretense.
Undoubtedly, Nathaniel’s call by Jesus is very personal. And because being called is something that happens to us, personally, we might think of vocation as being a very personal thing in the sense of being about us as individuals, even a private matter.
But actually God doesn’t call Nathaniel in isolation. One of the jobs I have done in the church is to be a vocations advisor – accompanying people as they reflect on their understanding of God’s purpose for them, so Nathaniel was helped by others to hear Jesus’ call.
Think for a moment about your own understanding of God’s call on your life – the purposes that he has for you. Now think about those who led you to be able to listen to what God was saying to you. If you were Nathaniel, remember who was your Philip. Remember those who were around you when you first heard the voice of the Lord speaking to you. Give thanks for them, and give thanks for those who are alongside you as you hear his voice today. Pray for them, and pray that you might be a Philip for those who have yet to hear, who have yet to follow.
This is true for us as individuals, and it’s true for us as churches. It is when we listen together that we stand the best chance of hearing what God is calling us to do, and when we act together that we stand the most chance of being able to fulfil our vocation as God’s holy people for God’s needy world. Often God calls us into something that we can do only when we do so together – and often that we can only work out we need to do when we do our working out together.
When churches work together (locally or nationally or internationally) each church, through that church’s own life and witness and ministry, reveals something slightly different about what God’s mission is in this place, and how we as his churches might be part of that mission. Just as Jesus’ disciples in their individual gifts and foibles each brought something unique to Christ’s earthly mission and ministry.
So one of the other things I love about this story of calling is the way that it (I think along with pretty much every calling story in the bible) illustrates that God calls unexpected and ordinary people – the fisherman, the tax collector…
I was once asked by someone if God called everyone, or if he only called special people. I said, ‘God only calls special people, but everybody is special’. There is a poem that I often use with my vocations people, which goes like this:God sends each person into the world With a special message to deliver, With a special song to sing for others, With a special act of love to bestow. No-one else can speak my message, Or sing my song, or offer my act of love, For these are entrusted only to me.
If any of us fails to speak our message or sing our song or offer our act of love, then the world is a poorer place. Each church also has its song, its message, its act of love – just as God graciously uses our uniqueness as human beings, and even our foibles and our weaknesses, as witnesses to his love and glory, so he also is willing to use the unique and special attributes of his many churches to reveal his love, if we will only let him! Complete unity between all Christians may well be only a dream this side of heaven, but unity of purpose could be a reality, if each church is to fulfill what God is calling us to do in and for the world.
We – all of us together – are the body of Christ, and in the words of Teresa of Avila, Christ has no body on earth now but ours. Ours are the hands by which he is to bless, ours are the feet by which he is to go about doing good, ours are the eyes through which he looks with compassion on the world.
We can be those hands, those feet, those eyes, in the places where we find ourselves, and we can do it, through the grace of God, if we really are diverse in gifts, but one in purpose. Amen.