17th January 2021, Revd Tim Calow, John 1:43-end & Psalm 139:1-10


Revd. Tim Calow – 17th January 2020

John 1:43-end & Psalm 139:1-10

May the words of my lips and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord.

We are now in the season of Epiphany. Last week we heard about the Baptism of Christ – when the Spirit descended on Jesus and his years of Ministry began. In her sermon, Marion encouraged us to look for the ways that the Holy Spirit might be at work on our lives.

Today we have the example of Nathanael to ponder upon.

Malcolm Guite reflected on this in his poem ‘Nathanael’s Epiphany’. He looks back to Jacob’s ladder – the ladder which Jesus is clearly alluding to in his promise to Nathanael – where Jesus himself becomes the ladder linking heaven and earth.

A fugitive and exile, Jacob slept,
A man of clay, his head upon a stone
And even in his sleep his spirit wept
He lay down lonely and would wake alone.
But in the night he dreamt the Heavens parted
And glimpsed, in glory, as from Heaven’s core,
A ladder set for all the broken-hearted
And earth herself becoming Heaven’s door.

And when the nameless Angel named him Israel
He kept this gift, whose depth he never knew;
The promise of an end to all our exile,
For now a child of Israel finds it true,
And sees the One who heals the deep heart’s aching
As Jacob’s dream becomes Nathanael’s waking.

We heard today of Nathanael’s awakening. We heard of that moment when the course of his life was changed and he became a follower of Jesus.

I’m sure that many of us have had moments like this, moments of Epiphany. For some of us that might be moments of falling in love. “It’s not unusual” (as Tom Jones sang) – and think of the number of songs that have been written about falling in (and out) of love. Between two people the possibilities of misunderstanding or misfortune are endless – and there are many possible outcomes (not all good). There are hints of that in the Tom Jones song – if you look at the lyrics – or listen to it. 

We still may remember the voice – or a first kiss. In the Radio play ‘Under Milkwood’ the tragedy is summarised in a few short lines 

Alone until she dies, Bessie Big Head, hired help, born in the work house, smelling of the cow shed, snores base and gruff on a couch of straw in a loft in salt lake farm and picks a posy of daises in Sunday meadow to put on the grave of Gommer Owen who kissed her once by the pig sty when she wasn’t looking and never kissed her again although she was looking all the time.

We still however cling on to the fairy tale ending “and they lived happily ever after” in spite (or because) of the complexities of our lives.

But we do have a very different kind of divine promise. Our Psalm reminds us of this ‘O Lord you have searched me out and know me’. There is no escape from God’s love – wherever we go – for we are fully known – and loved. Later in the Psalm the writer says “For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb”


In our gospel reading Nathanael is at first sceptical “Can anything good come out of Nazareth” (I’ve heard similar comments in Skipton – along the lines of “Can anything good come out of Keighley”!).

This all changes when he sees and hears Jesus. To Nathanael’s amazement Jesus seems to know him already – and affirms him as a true Israelite. In response (we know not how) Nathanael has seen the Son of God and King of Israel. This moment of recognition is the start of his time following Jesus – and changes the rest of his life. It isn’t going to be ‘happily ever after”. There are tough times as well as celebrations (like the wedding at Cana which follows on directly in John’s gospel). 

George Herbert’s poem ‘The Glance’ reflects on this moment of Epiphany for Nathanael. May we be alert for that moment which may change our lives.

'The Glance'

When first thy sweet and gracious eye
Vouchsaf’d ev’n in the midst of youth and night
To look upon me, who before did lie
Weltring in sinne;
I felt a sugred strange delight,
Passing all cordials made by any art,
Bedew, embalme, and overrunne my heart,
And take it in.

Since that time many a bitter storm
My soul hath felt, ev’n able to destroy,
Had the malicious and ill-meaning harm
His swing and sway:
But still thy sweet originall joy,
Sprung from thine eye, did work within my soul,
And surging griefs, when they grew bold, controll,
And got the day.

If thy first glance so powerfull be,
A mirth but open’d and seal’d up again;
What wonders shall we feel, when we shall see
Thy full-ey’d love!
When thou shalt look us out of pain,
And one aspect of thine spend in delight
More then a thousand sunnes dispurse in light,
In heav'n above.


We are living through difficult times when many of our human relationships are being disrupted by the need to keep physically apart. “Stay home, stay safe and save the NHS” as the slogan goes. 

It can feel as if we are not only cut off from one another but also from God. But we do have hope.

We can remember – as the Psalmist did – that we are lovingly made by God who knows each of us better than we do ourselves – and who loves us. Looking forward – we can remember that we are known by Jesus – who is calling us to new relationships with himself, with God and with each other. These relationships are not just for the moment, not just for our lifetimes, but for all times.