Sunday, January 17, 2021

Sermon During a Troubling Epiphany Season

 

Sermon for St. Thomas
2nd Sunday After Epiphany (MLK Jr./pre-inaugural of Biden/Harris)
January 17, 2021
Readings Ps. 139; 1 Sam 3:1-10; John 1: 43-51

 

Welcome to the season of ‘A-ha!’

That’s what it means to have an “Epiphany.” An “A-ha!”

What we didn’t fully understand, now we get it.

What we didn’t see clearly, now comes into focus.

All of that is certainly true for the prophet Samuel in our Epistle reading and it is also true in our Gospel. Samuel doesn’t fully grasp that God is calling him; Nathanael doesn’t believe there’s a great one coming out of Galilee.

In fact, he scoffs at Phillip’s “A-ha” and declaration: “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph of Nazareth.” 

Nathanael’s answer?

“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

 

Understand that Nazareth was a tiny very rural village in Galilee. So this is a little bit like saying, “Can anything good come out of Metcalf?”

Nothing of great importance could possibly come out of such a place. Undaunted Phillip responds: “Come and see.”

Phillip has already heard the call and experienced his epiphany. He’s insistent that Nathanael must meet this new Moses. 

When Jesus lays eyes on Nathanael, he exclaims:  

“Here is truly an Israelite with no deceit!”

We can almost see Nathanael’s jaw drop, and his eyes get big. We sense that his heart must be pounding a little faster. This Jesus, who he was so ready to dismiss as a nobody from Nazareth, has sized him up as an Israelite of great stature.

Nathanael stammers, “How do you know me?”

Great question, since the two had never met before. And yet Jesus has more knowledge of Nathanael than Nathanael has of himself. It’s as if he knows Nathanael’s “sitting down and rising up” (Ps.139:1) Suddenly it is starting to dawn on Nathanael that this man, who tells him “I saw you under the fig tree,” is someone he must respect: he is a Rabbi. He is God’s Son. He is a king of Israel. The one moniker he has yet to utter is that he is meeting the Word made Flesh…the one who had come to earth to dwell as one of us. What he knows is his life is changed in this encounter.  

These epiphanies…and “A-has” are wonderful, and finding God is amazing. But we also see how hard it is to perceive God. It takes a nearly blind Eli to interpret this voice calling for Samuel…and it takes Nathanael getting past his skeptism to meet Christ. We don’t always get the message the first time, and once we do, the challenge is how do we respond to a call. Once called by God, there is no other option but to follow and walk in a new path with no guarantee about the outcome. Now, the church likes to talk of “call” as applying to those of us who seek to enter ordained ministry. I have been asked countless times now to tell my “call story” to committees or groups of strangers.

But God calls more than those who are entering the sacramental priesthood. The call of God extends to everyone to “do justice. Love kindness and walk humbly with God.” (Micah 6:8). Serving God and living into following Jesus is not a spectator sport. God seeks out true disciples to love and serve in their communities, to do the work of lifting up the poor, proclaiming release to the prisoner, and liberating those who have been oppressed. This is the work of love…and it is not easy. But just like the prophet Samuel and the disciple Nathanael…it is the proper response when one has made a true commitment to follow God and respond to that commandment to “love God, love neighbor, and love yourself.”

I can’t think of a better time for us to hear that call of Love than right now. Amidst the anger and destruction and the violent attempts to overthrow the government…there is still a call from the One who knows us completely to live in Love. 

I’ve been reading Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s book “Love is the Way.” It’s an autobiography with lots of reflection and Christian teaching. He has a chapter called “The Real E. Pluribus Unum”… our national motto of “Out of many-one.” In it, he speaks of the division we’ve had in the country, where we are more “pluribus” than “unum.” And he acknowledges the Anglican Communion has had its own share of in-fighting.  

A few years ago, when Bishop Curry was in England for the Royal Wedding, there was a press conference featuring him and the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby. As you might expect, one of the reporters wanted to know how these two men could be sitting together and participating in such a high-profile wedding while there was still disagreement between them on the topic of same-sex marriage. And Bishop Curry without missing a beat told the journalist, “We follow Jesus. He teaches us the way of love; he didn’t teach us the way of agreement.”

Jesus…the Prince of Peace who specifically calls us to love our enemies…seeks a specific type of love. As Curry says, this call of Love is deciding to commit to do what is best and right and good…as best as you can figure it out…for the other person. You don’t have to like your enemies. But you do have to decide that working toward a common goal of civic order that reflects goodness, justice, and compassion ultimately reflects the will and love of God for all people.

Goodness. Justice. Compassion.

This is the way of love that has been missing for too long. The call to us now in this season of Epiphany is to tune our ears and listen and follow the command to love and respond like Samuel to that call with “Here I am.”  The Word of God from John’s Gospel is still with us. We are to remain open to those “A-ha” moments when we find Christ in the other and stand for goodness, justice and compassion.  

To be Christ’s disciple isn’t about being a cheerleader for our Savior. It’s about Christ stirring us into the action of bringing heaven and earth closer together, and rejecting the attempts to draw us into isolation, selfishness, and greed.

The hymn lyricist Cecil Frances Alexander says it best:

Jesus calls us from the worship
of the vain world's golden store;
from each idol that would keep us,
saying, "Christian, love me more."

 

In the name of God…F/S/and HS.