“Considering God's Call”

1 Samuel 3:1-20 and John 1:43-51

2nd Sunday Following the Epiphany, January 18, 2015

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, pastor

East Rochester & West Walworth: Zion United Methodist Churches

 

1 Samuel 3:1-20

Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread. At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was. Then the Lord called, “Samuel! Samuel!” and he said, “Here I am!” and ran to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call; lie down again.” So he went and lay down. The Lord called again, “Samuel!” Samuel got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call, my son; lie down again.” Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. The Lord called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy. Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place. Now the Lord came and stood there, calling as before, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

 

Then the Lord said to Samuel, “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make both ears of anyone who hears of it tingle. On that day I will fulfill against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. For I have told him that I am about to punish his house forever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them. Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be expiated by sacrifice or offering forever.” Samuel lay there until morning; then he opened the doors of the house of the Lord. Samuel was afraid to tell the vision to Eli. But Eli called Samuel and said, “Samuel, my son.” He said, “Here I am.” Eli said, “What was it that he told you? Do not hide it from me. May God do so to you and more also, if you hide anything from me of all that he told you.” So Samuel told him everything and hid nothing from him. Then he said, “It is the Lord; let him do what seems good to him.”

 

As Samuel grew up, the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was a trustworthy prophet of the Lord.

 

John 1:43-51
The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.”

 

When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”

 

Prayer.

 

In today’s Hebrew scriptures we hear the story of the call of Samuel.

In our Gospel lesson we experience the calling of Nathanael.

It makes us wonder if our lessons are asking us to focus on the call of God.

Can we use them to give light to God’s call on our own lives?

 

The call of Samuel brings back memories of my own Sunday school years.

It is a story that energizes the imagination

Because it is so real and down to earth.

Each of us can see ourselves in Samuel’s shoes:

Hearing God’s voice speak three times

And innocently assuming it was Eli calling out to him in the night.

Eli, the Temple priest,

Had taken in the boy, Samuel,

Whose birth he had prophesized,

And whose mother, Hannnah,

Had presented the child to the Lord,

And left him in the foster care of Eli.

The young boy, Samuel, did not yet  know the Lord;

But his foster father did.

 

As the temple priest,

He was charged with the stewardship of the Temple

And the ark that resided in it.

Eli shook the cobwebs from his sleep

and recognized the fact that it was the Lord calling out to Samuel.

He coaches Samuel, saying:

“Go, lie down;

and if he calls you, you shall say,

‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”

Samuel obediently does so,

And the word of the Lord is revealed to him.

 

Unfortunately, the word was not so kind.

The word was punishment that would come to Eli

For the sins of his sons

And for Eli’s failure to restrain them.

Ouch.

 

Moving forward to the Gospel of John and

The call of Nathanael;

We are also drawn in because of its real world connections.

Each of us can see ourselves in Nathanael’s shoes;

Making fun of neighboring communities

- like, can anything good come out of Red Creek? –

- like, can anything good come out of the City of Rochester? -

Each of us can see ourselves in Nathanael’s shoes;

- such as, responding to our overly religious friends with skepticism,

 “yea, OK, I’ll come and see… If I have to”

 

Jesus almost sound as if he’s a fast talking politician:

‘Now here is an honest man; good to meet you, old chap!’

<Pause>

‘You know me from somewhere?’ Nathanael asks.

Jesus replies, ‘I saw you under a fig tree, before Philip invited you to come and see.’

 

Jesus demonstrates knowledge that he should not have had.

This lifted the blinders from Nathanael’s eyes

And he saw Jesus for who he was:

Rabbi, (a teacher)

You are the Son of God! (God and human … talk about an epiphany!)

You are the King of Israel! (finally, God’s has thrown us a life line)

 

Jesus asks, ‘You believe just because you see me?’

Baby, you ain’t seen nothing yet!

Almost reminiscent of Jacob’s ladder,

Jesus paints the canvas

Of himself (the Son of Man)

being the connection between heaven and earth,

The conduit through which angels go up

and come down to rest upon him.

In retrospect

We, 21st century Christians, can also

Look back and see that Jesus

Is connecting the dots,

Planting the seeds

For his death, resurrection, and ascension.

 

Incarnation

Flips skepticism on its head.

And Nathanael believes.

A simple, friendly invitation was all it took.

Jesus did the rest.

Not only does Nathanael believe

He is promised

“You will be my witness

- who I am and why I’ve come -

to the world.”

 

So where does it leave us?

Where do these two Biblical passages intersect with our lives today?

A few thoughts:[i]

 

 

1. Skepticism is normal and natural; it should be expected.

 

We are no different than Nathanael

When it comes to skepticism.

Truth is, skepticism

Is natural,

Instinctive;

It’s about self-preservation.

It can cause the release of hormones that cause fight or flight.

We learn to be a skeptic in this world to stay alive,

When that same skepticism is translated to faith

It can protect our vulnerabilities.

It can also lead to a disproportionate resistance to God.

We want to believe.

That makes us open to every huckster, scam artist, and snake oil salesman on the planet.

That makes us vulnerable to gambling, abusing drugs, and peer pressure.

Yet, skepticism tells us to hold back,

Wait and see,

And let someone else go first.

 

The second, often unmentioned portion of skepticism,

Belief and skepticism are not mutually exclusive.

It is an abrupt wake up call to the new believer

That once they believe,

Skepticism remains.

Belief and skepticism are mutual partners

On the journey of faith.

It allows one to say, “I believe. Lord help my unbelief!”

 

Are you a skeptic when it comes to faith?

Welcome. So am I. So is everyone else.

You’re normal.

You’re in with good company.

 

2. It is easy to miss God’s call, or attribute it to others instead.

 

God speaks to us all the time, but, oh, how we like to deny it.

We call it kismet, luck, or coincidence

When actually it is God hard at work

Attempting to hurdle our efforts at disbelief,

To touch and bless our lives.

 

Do we really think this is all there is?

What can be seen, touched, and felt?

Then explain to me the characteristics of the cosmos

that cannot be experienced by our natural senses:

radio waves, gamma radiation, dark matter, and energy.

 

God is the cosmic God,

And we haven’t even scratched the surface

When it comes to our awareness

Of God’s presence

And intervention

In our daily lives.

Life is a God-incident;

Not just one event, or one occasion.

All of life is lived in God’s presence.

 

3. Sometimes we get it wrong.

 

Judgment and preconceptions may be incorrect.

It is human nature to want to divide and exclude people,

To place everyone into categories

Based on our values and beliefs.

This is the lifeblood of stereotypes and prejudice.

It is also how our brain works;

All in the attempt to organize and categorize our world.

 

Whether it be race or religion,

other genders or sexual expressions,

other abilities or disabilities

other area codes or dialects,

the way we dress or how we look or act

– we tend to judge people and make assumptions about them

before we even say,

“Good morning, welcome to Zion / East Rochester United Methodist Church.”

 

You come from Nazareth? We ask with a sneer.

Perhaps it would be better to say,

“I don’t know much about Nazareth.

Tell me what makes it special for you?”

 

Nothing good can come from Guatemala / Nicaragua, we proclaim with arms crossed.

Until we visit and experience human need as if there were no borders,

No walls or fences,

And acknowledge the fact that

All people

Are God’s people.

 

4. God doesn’t always call the expected ones.

 

In fact, God has a long history

Of calling the unexpected:

Jacob, Joseph, Moses, and David were all unlikely choices.

God took Saul and turned him upside down and inside out!

God must have had a sense of humor, because He calls me.

(Go ahead and laugh, because God calls you, too!)

So, before we dismiss

The lowly

The despised

The homeless

The last, the least, or the lost;

Before we say, “Let them rot in jail,”

Or “they got what was coming to them,”

Perhaps these scriptures will cause us to stop and pay attention.

 

That one individual we’re jeering and learning to hate

May be one called and sent by God

To accomplish God’s greater will.

Be they terrorists from Yemen,

Refugees from the Syria,

Or homeless tent dwellers under the 490 bridge,

May we be mindful that

God calls who God choses, often times people we would never approve.

 

5. God call to serve does not mean it will be easy.

 

Bad news, Samuel.

God has called you to proclaim judgment,

Which is going to make you an unpopular guy.

Same is true today.

Being a faithful disciple of Jesus

Means that we are not going to always be following the crowd.

We may not always be in the majority.

We may not be popular.

But being faithful is more important than being nice.

Most of us are sufficiently aware and well experienced to know that following Jesus doesn’t grant an exemption to anyone from life’s earthy trials or pains.

Often times, following Jesus will put us in the epicenter of the earthquake.

Like firemen who are crazy enough to run into a burning building while everyone else is running out,

So too is the Christian

Called to serve

Sometimes in the most difficult of circumstances

One can find on the planet.

 

6. Does the Church help people to see Jesus clearly?

 

Come and see, Philip invited the skeptic.

Come and see for yourself

What being a part of the community of faith can do for you.

Attach yourself to the body of Christ.

Don’t become another sucked in by the flesh and sin of the world.

Come and see what you can do

and how you will benefit

By attaching yourself to the body of Christ.

Problem is,

Many of us create the illusion

That this means joining the church,

Following doctrine,

Or becoming religious.

 

This has nothing to do with organized religion.

It has everything to do

With eliminating the barriers

That keeps people from becoming attached to the Body of Christ.

Do our efforts help people see Jesus clearly?

Or do we give evidence to their stereotype?

 

There is so much more to the call

Than what is found in these short passages this morning.

It can fill a book or two or three.

May this make you pause and consider

God’s call for your life.

Allow beliefs and values to surface and undergo self-examination.

Re-evaluate where you’ve been, where you’re at, and where God is leading you to go.

Socrates said that the unexamined life isn’t worth living,

So examine yourself

Watch for the movement of God.

Expect his presence, even when it feels like God is absent.

Give yourself freedom to

Become comfortable with doubt,

even though,

at the same time,

you truly believe.

And become the blessings

- the hand that brings healing –

- the voice that brings justice –

- the arms that embraces peace –

- the heart that spreads God love -

That comes from being attached to the body;

The Body of Christ.

Amen.

 

 

[i] All six of these reflections come with thanks to Beth Tanner, Assistant Professor of Old Testament, New Brunswick Theological Seminary, New Brunswick, NJ and to Stephen Hultgren, Assistant Professor of Theology, Fordham University, New York, NY