We are a small Episcopal Church on the banks of the Rappahannock in Port Royal, Virginia. We acknowledge that we gather on the traditional land of the first people of Port Royal, the Nandtaughtacund, who are still here, and we honor with gratitude the land itself and the life of the Rappahannock Tribe. Our mission statement is to do God’s Will in all that we do.

Sermon, The Second Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B

“As Gail O’Day says in her commentary on John’s gospel, Jesus becomes the bridge between heaven and earth. Knowing Jesus is to see the way to heaven opened for us.”

Have you ever had this experience?  You’re in the grocery store in the produce section.    

Someone comes up to you and says with great intent, “I know you from somewhere.”  This happens to me more than it used to, since there are many short women with gray hair and glasses pushing carts through the grocery store aisles, trying to remember what exactly was on that grocery list that they can’t find—now which pocket did I stuff that list into? 

So there you stand with this person who is sure that they know you from somewhere, and you’re thinking, “I don’t think so, but maybe….”and the person names various places that might have been where they knew you, and then, at last,  there’s an epiphany and the person  says,  “Oh, wait, weren’t you at Christ Church (or wherever) for a while?”  And then the dim lightbulb in your mind gets brighter and you remember–“Oh yes!  I remember now!” and you have a little chat next to the bananas, which yes, you remember, ARE on your grocery list, and then you part ways, hopefully both happy that an old acquaintance has been found and acknowledged even if only for that moment.

So here’s Nathanael, minding his own business when his friend Philip comes running up with some news.  (Remember that people have been fervently hoping for the Messiah).  “We’ve found him!”  Philip says with great excitement—”the one we’ve been waiting for, Jesus of Nazareth!”

Nathanael starts wracking his brain.  Nazareth, hmmm….that certainly doesn’t ring any bells…..but he goes with Philip. 

And there’s Jesus.  And as the two walk toward him, Jesus takes a long look at Nathanel and says, “I know you.” 

Not, “I think I know you from somewhere.” 

Instead, “I know you.”  The kind of knowing that God has, knowing Nathanael’s sitting down and rising up, discerning Nathanael’s thoughts from afar, the one who traces Nathanael’s journeys and his resting places, and is acquainted with all his ways. 

Nathanael, though, being a rational human being, still isn’t convinced.  “So where did you get to know me?”

And Jesus says, “I saw you under the fig tree, before Philip called you.” 

Here, I can only imagine. 

Nathanael suddenly knows who this is.  “Yes, I DO know you!  You are the One I have been waiting for and praying for all these years.  You are the Son of God!  The King of Israel!”

In this short exchange is the whole meaning of this season after Epiphany.  In this season, the church invites us to remember that yes, Jesus already knows us, that Jesus has already chosen us, and that our privilege is to get to know him more and more deeply if we choose to follow him.   This is the season in which we remember that Jesus invites us to walk in the light, HIS light. 

But sometimes we have trouble doing that.  And here, our friend Nathanael’s life is instructive.  When Jesus said to Nathanael that “here is an Israelite in which there is no deceit,” Jesus would have meant that Nathanael was a model of faithfulness, a righteous believer. 

One of the ways that Nathanael became a righteous believer was to spend time under the fig tree.  As a person right with God, he wanted to spend time with God, and so he was already doing what Jesus would do during his ministry. 

As Brian McLaren has written, “Every day, Jesus would follow the same rhythm:  withdraw for solitude but then come back to engage by feeding, healing, caring, welcoming….” 

In other words, Jesus found time to sit under his own fig tree every day, to spend time with God, and then to go out and meet the needs of the world. 

I would say that a fig tree here at St Peter’s is the Wednesday Bible study.  We come sit together in God’s presence, and pray and study, finding inspiration in God’s word and support for one another.

This time of worship every Sunday is another fig tree here at St Peter’s.   It’s our time as this community to gather, to praise God, to sing, to learn and to pray together. 

Where is your fig tree?  Where do you go, or what do you do each day to have some time with God?  That time with God every day helps us to be with our neighbors in welcoming, healing, and caring ways. 

And sometimes, things happen in our lives that demand a deeper level of faith.  When these things happen, finding time to sit under the fig tree is of the utmost importance, because in those times of silence and seeking God’s direction we open our hearts to God.  We draw near to God, and when we draw near to God, we become more deeply aware that God has already come alongside us, supporting us and upholding us.    

We become aware that Jesus comes to us in our times of deepest need.  Jesus already knows what we need, even before we do.  When we need direction, Jesus shows up as our teacher.  When we need correction, Jesus shows up as our judge.  When we need love, Jesus is there.  When we get stuck in the dark, Jesus is the light we need to see the next step.  Jesus is the one we lean on to risk stepping out in faith.  

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said that “faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”  King’s life is an example of one who walked in faith with Jesus. In doing so, he changed our country for the better.  

His kitchen table was Martin Luther King’s fig tree.  The Montgomery Bus Boycott had been going on for a little over a year, and King could feel his energy flagging and his soul sinking into a pit of despair.  King started receiving death threats.  After one particularly hard day, King was alone that night sitting at his kitchen table.  It was there that he opened his heart to God.  He admitted that he was losing courage and becoming weak.  He prayed for strength. 

Jesus saw King sitting under his fig tree, filled with despair.  And so Jesus came to King.  King heard God remind him that he was to stand up for justice and for righteousness.  In that moment, King found the strength to go on, there as he sat at his kitchen table fig tree.  As the psalmist said, God was pressing Martin Luther King behind and before, giving King the strength he needed to continue his work for justice for all.     

At the end of his conversation with Nathanael, Jesus says, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” 

As Gail O’Day says in her commentary on John’s gospel, Jesus becomes the bridge between heaven and earth.  Knowing Jesus is to see the way to heaven opened for us.  When Martin Luther King put down the script for the speech that he made at the Lincoln Memorial and just opened his heart to God’s presence working in him, he talked about this very bridge between heaven and earth, which he identified as his dream.  “I have a dream,”  he said.

As I hear King’s words again today,  I can see the heavens opened, and the angels of God descending to earth, the angels of freedom, equality, justice, peace, and love.  “I have a dream,” King said, a dream of God’s reign of peace, here, at last. 

And so, as Martin Luther King opened heaven that day, all who heard him could see those angels of God’s perfect freedom descending that ladder of Jesus’ perfect love and coming down to earth, coming to them.   

Jesus calls not just the Martin Luther Kings of this world, but all of us to serve as bridges from this world to heaven.  God calls us all to be people who show in our lives what the reign of God’s peace, love and justice will someday look like on this earth, when God’s will is done on here on earth, as it is in heaven.    
The story of Nathanael reminds us to take the time to sit under our fig trees each day and to wait on the Lord, for that is where we will find Jesus, the one for whom we have been hoping.  Jesus already knows us.   Jesus has already chosen us.  Our privilege is to get to know him more and more deeply so that we can follow more faithfully in his light and become, like he is, bridges that bring heaven to this earth.