January 18, 2015

Epiphany II-B

1 SAMUEL 3:1-10 ; PSALM 139:1-5, 12-17; 1 CORINTHIANS 6:12-20; JOHN 1:43-51


Often people ask me to pray for them - people I have never before met and do not know. Some time ago a person asked me to pray and I said, "Certainly, what do you wish to pray about? What is it you wish to talk with God about?" The person excitedly replied, "Oh, YOU are the one who talks to God and God talks to you, I am sure. I can't do that."

I was taken aback by this conversation and wondered if this person never prayed herself, or did she not understand that praying is a means of "talking" with God, that it is a 2-way conversation?

Sometimes in news stories when a person has committed some terrible act, they, being usually somewhat mentally unsound, will say, "God told me to do that." And often the public's reaction is not that God would not ordain such an act, but that God would not talk to an ordinary or crazy person. However, we have much evidence to the contrary in today's Scripture lessons.

At the time of the story of the boy Samuel, we are told that the word of the Lord was rare or precious, meaning Israel had fallen away, again, from reliance upon and worship of God and had stopped following God's commandments. Eli was an old temple priest to whom Hannah, Samuel's mother, had entrusted the boy when he was quite small. She did this to fulfill her promise to God in return for his gift of the child to her when she believed she could never bear a child.

Samuel has been learning, sort of interning, with Eli and serving him. So when in the middle of the night, he hears his name called, he naturally assumes it is Eli calling. "Here I am, says Samuel," but the old priest denies calling and sends Samuel back to bed. This scene is repeated, for God is always determined to have his way, however long it takes.

Finally, the third time, Eli realizes it is God calling to the boy and instructs Samuel to reply, "Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening." LISTENING. And the lord spoke, saying, "See I am about to do something..." It is truly amazing what we can hear when we really listen.

The Gospel lesson is about Jesus calling men. "Follow me" is what we are told he said to Philip. Just that - "Follow me."  And that seems to have been enough for Philip in turn to urge Nathanael to join them.

Now we do not know if Philip had heard about Jesus from Andrew and Peter or if Philip and Nathanael had known him before this. We read only that Philip followed Jesus and then told Nathanael that “we” had found the one promised in the Old Testament. Was the “we” Philip spoke of other people who were following Jesus? We don’t know that either. What we know from this story is that God used one person to relate to another person and spread the news.

Now it seems that Philip listened and responded by following Jesus right away. But when he told Nathanael that this Jesus was from Nazareth, the latter was skeptical - "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" That was a town considered to be unsophisticated, to put it euphemistically, and clearly not a place from which one would expect a learned holy man to emerge. Rather than engage in any debate, long lectures or bouts of persuasion, Philip simply says, "Come and see." That's it - "Come and See."

Nathanael did go and Jesus (God) spoke to Nathanael, letting him know he had seen him, known him, before Philip even called him. Whereupon it is Nathanael who proclaims Jesus is the Son of God.

"But," you may say, "that was the old days when life was simpler and people did not understand reality as we modern people do." And I say, "Although I have lived quite a few years now, I have never read or heard of God having lost his voice.  No Heavenly laryngitis has been reported in modern times."  There was a "God Is Dead" movement in the 60's, but it turned out to be way before its time.

Now these stories are about individual relationships with God. God who longs to be in relationship with us and who has shown through these and other examples that once that happens, blessings too numerous to count fill our lives. The little boy Samuel grew to be a great leader for God's people. Those first apostles not only brought many others to Christ in their lifetimes, but bequeathed to us their faith. We, each one of us, are called to do no less.

The invitation to come and see is to join Jesus as he walks in the footsteps of the poor, weeps with those who are bereaved, heals the sick and stands in solidarity with those who suffer from systems of injustice. By following Jesus, all disciples are asked to look with care into the eyes of the neighbor whom God loves unconditionally.

You may say, "Now wait a minute, Portia, I am an Episcopalian, not an evangelist. I am not Mother Theresa." Or if you are visiting or new,  you might be thinking, "Well, I certainly did not expect a sermon on evangelizing from the frozen chosen Episcopalians."

Hmm. Let's see. Webster's New World Dictionary defines evangelize: to convert to Christianity; to preach the Gospel. And it defines evangelical (adj): of or according to the Gospels or the New Testament; also: of those Protestant churches that emphasize salvation by faith in Jesus. And just in case you still think you are exempt, may I remind you that at the 10:30 service in this very room just last Sunday, all present - many of whom were, I believe, Episcopalians - renewed their baptismal vows. Two of those vows, printed on pg. 305 in the BCP in your pew say,

"Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?"
"Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?"

And the people answered,

"I will with God's help."

The greatest way each of us can love our neighbor is in those words. Being an example. The only way we can exhibit the Christian way is to maintain a relationship with God, to listen for his call, his voice, and then follow. If we do that, we will serve Christ  wherever we are, in all our activities and in our homes and neighborhoods. And if we are doing that, some will say to us, "How do you do that?" "Where do you get your will to persevere?" "How can you be so happy when the world is falling apart?"

The Christian's answer is, "Come and See. Come hear what I hear. I follow Jesus and I invite you to come, too. Come and see what Jesus has done and is doing for you."

This is how it has always been - person to person; Eli to Samuel; Jesus to Philip; Philip to Nathanael. People become Christians because they have seen what the Christian faith has done for those whom they know. The saying passed down from the early years of the church still rings true: “See those Christians, how they love one another.” AMEN