Year B — The Second Sunday after the Epiphany

Commentary for January 15, 2012
Click here for today’s readings

1 Samuel 3:1-10, (11-20)
As is the case in so much of the Hebrew scripture, we have some skillful storytelling in this account of God’s appearance to Samuel. There are a number of “visual” clues as to what is happening: 

  • God’s words are rare, there are very few who have “visions”
  • Eli, the priest of God, suffers from failing eyesight
  • the lamp of God in the temple is dimming, as well, though it has not yet gone out

All of which might well lead us to excuse poor, young Samuel from understanding on the first try — or the second — that God wanted his attention. Third time was a charm, with the help of the old man.


Does God ever have to try again and again to get our attention? Who is present to help us listen?

Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18
It’s a fairly common occurrence when I speak with someone in the parish about accepting a place of responsibility or service: “Oh, Pastor, I don’t think I’m qualified for that! Surely there’s someone else who could do a better job than me!”

Whether motivated by false humility or genuine concern, we need to be pretty careful when it comes to being “called” by God for faith and service. Psalm 139 makes a strong theological assertion — God KNOWS us! God has searched us (a term of intense scrutiny) and has peered into every possible nook and cranny of our existence. And God still finds us to be “fearfully and wonderfully made.”


God’s work is good work. We must always remember that our lives are the handiwork of the Creator, and that God’s calling and gifting are sufficient for any task God would have us undertake.

1 Corinthians 6:12-20
“Whatever, I do what I want!” might well be the contemporary equivalent of the argument Paul is seeking to broach with the Corinthians. (if you are unfamiliar with the idiom, you can check it out in the Dictionary of Urban Slang.)


As those who belong to Christ, can we do whatever we want? In a sense, Paul says, “Yes, we can” — and that’s not a campaign slogan! But that is not to say that we should do whatever we want.


The issue here is not keeping a checklist of naughty and nice ways for Christians to occupy our time; rather, what is it (or, more properly, who is it) that rules or controls our lives? To make Jesus Lord — to say yes to God’s will and way — means to say no, sometimes. (The contrary is true, I am sure.)


Our bodies, minds, and spirits belong to God; Christ is Lord in every inch of our existence.

John 1:43-51
Everybody needs a good, healthy skeptic in their lives. Jesus called Nathanael, whose name means “gift of God.” Interesting, isn’t it, that Jesus welcomed Nathanael’s searching honesty into his intimate coterie of disciples?

We often focus on more well-known followers of the Lord, like Peter or Paul and the particular gifts (and foibles) they had to offer. But, Nathanael is an excellent case in point: Jesus really does want and need ALL of us in his church!

One of my favorite rejoinders when I meet someone who says, “I’m just not so sure I believe in all that God stuff” is “Great! You’re just the person I’m looking for — we really need you here!”

Sermon
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

I have been deeply confused over the concept of hearing the voice of God ever since an incident that happened when I was a little boy.


I grew up next door to my Grandparents and ate breakfast with them 3 or 4 times a week,

which was good, because Aunt Mildred lived with them and was a great cook and made especially wonderful biscuits;

but it was bad because you could not talk during breakfast because the folks, Grandpa and Grandma and Aunt Mildred, had to listen to their favorite program while they ate:
THE MOODYS OBITUARY COLUMN OF THE AIR.

It started with somber, funereal organ music, then a deep, basso profundo voice would intone,


John Doe of 334 Mockingbird Lane passed away last evening at Northern Surry Hospital. His is survived by . . .He was employed by . . . .He was a member of . . . . Funeral to be held at . . . conducted by the Rev. . . .Memorials may be sent to . . . . etc.

for about 5 to 10 names, all read with great dignity by that deep, deep voice.

I was about 5 or 6 at the time and concluded that the voice on the radio was the voice of God.

Who else would know all those things about a person, all those details?

And the Church we attended then put a lot of stress on the Second Coming and the Rapture and the “He Will come Like A Thief In the Night” and stuff like that.

They really talked a lot about whether or not you’d be ready to go when the Man Upstairs decided it was your turn to face the Final Judgment.

So, I decided the voice on the radio was God sending out a message: “These are the ones I took last night. Are you ready to meet your maker?”

One day, my Daddy dropped me off at Elmer’s Barber Shop to get a haircut while he ran over to town to get a truckload of fertilizer.


I had just learned to read a bit and was very happily looking through the Boys Life magazines when I got scared out of my skin.

The man in the chair opened his mouth and out came that oh so familiar voice:

Elmer, could you take a little more off around the ears?”

Oh my God, Yes MY GOD was there, right there with me in that Barber Shop.

Oh no! My time had come! He had come to take me home. It was time for me to face the Final Judgment.

And of one thing I was never more certain; I was not ready to go. So I hid in the bathroom until he left, cowering in the dark under the sink.

So, this whole audible voice of God in the night thing is a little unsettling for me.


I have never heard another audible voice that I thought to be the voice of God, and yet I believe God has called me into the Christian life and that God has called me into ordained ministry and that God has called me to various churches, and that God has called me into my present position and that God has many more calls left for me before my call to stand before the Judgment Seat.

And the words of I Samuel 3:8 have been very helpful to me in all these calls: “Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy.”


God lives in community, perhaps God only lives in community, I don’t know.

But I do know that I need community to live in God. I need the encouragement and correction and opportunity to love others and to let them love me.

And I especially need them to help me hear the voice of God, to perceive with me that God is calling me.

In the Gospel lesson Jesus calls Phillip and Phillip “passes on” the call to Nathanael, inviting him to come and see this Jesus of Nazereth, and the community which he has called together.


We sometimes talk about Jesus going about preaching and teaching as if he were mostly doing this all alone with a group of silly disciples/fishermen/tax collector groupies around for comic/foil purposes.

We often fail to see that Jesus came out of his wilderness experience realizing his deep need for community in the life he had been called to live out in the world. His first act was to gather such a community of love, support and companionship. Just as Jesus needed community, so do we.

We have a tendency to want to go it alone; to fly solo. Too often our religion has a “me and Jesus,” feel to it. If we have no one to talk to, to pray with, to listen to about the activity of God in the world and it our lives we might not hear or understand God’s call to us, and we could get confused about who’s calling and end up hiding from the wrong voice.

God’s call to us today comes to us in community and calls us to community, to the community of Christ, the people of God.

Most of us will never hear an auditory voice calling our name in the middle of the night, but God has called each and every one of us.

The call comes to us like it came to Nathanael. Someone has been our Philip, seeking us out and inviting us to come and see, to come and be a part of those who seek to follow Jesus.

And all of us are called to be a Philip for someone else. We are called to seek out and find those persons who are trying to go it alone and invite them to join with us in the company of Jesus.

It’s really not all that hard; just ask someone to come and see the thing that which made all the difference in your life. God will do the rest.

Amen and amen.

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