Points for Preaching and Teaching
by the Rev. Dr. John Fairless
In Samuel, we have the “call” story of the young boy who would become Israel’s priest, prophet, and prelude to a king. The visual and aural clues are important; the lamp of God is dimmed, as is the eyesight of the old priest, Eli. However, neither has gone out yet. Also, the young boy, Samuel, has trouble understanding the voice that keeps haunting him. The old priest is a bit muddled, as well, but finally figures out what’s going on (“the third time’s a charm?”) We may have our own spiritual perception dulled — for any number of reasons — but this episode reminds us that God doesn’t give up, doesn’t leave, and will always keep working until the message is received, one way or the other.
Psalm 139, of which we have a portion for today’s reading, speaks of the thorough ways in which God “knows” each of us. Sometimes, we say that a person “knows us better than we know ourselves.” Well, that most certainly may be true when thinking of God’s view of our innermost being. While at first, this might seem a frightening prospect, it is ultimately more “good news.” God’s intimate knowledge of us is the basis for the never-give-up presence of God with us. We can’t ever mess up enough to drive God away; we can be completely honest in our thoughts, feelings, and even our prayers to God. God already knows it all, anyway!
Paul writes to the Corinthians of the deep bond that is formed when our lives are united with Christ. Using some very tangible physical illustrations, he answers questions for new Christians about what is “allowed” and what is “beneficial.” Don’t get too sidetracked by the sex language; the larger issue is the stunning idea that we have all been “bought with a price” by the very life of Christ. We certainly don’t want to cheapen that relationship by committing to anyone or anything lesser.
John‘s gospel features another “call” story — this time illustrating that Jesus is often the one in search of us; notice that he “found” Philip. Not an accidental stumble-upon kind of finding, but a purposeful effort, most likely. Similarly, Philip mimics the action of Christ and “finds” his buddy, Nathanael. Philip’s friend is a classic skeptic — he’s pretty sure this stuff about Jesus being the Messiah is a load of hooey, but Philip nevertheless invites him to come and see. There is an awful lot of power in both the personal invitation to friends and acquaintances, and the individual experience of the Holy at work in the midst of the community.
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton
In the part of the world where I grew up, the southern Appalachian mountains, a minister is expected to have a “call story,” the more “Damascus Road” dramatic the better. When I started seminary I did not have such a story and was therefore a bit of a disappointment to many of my more pious neighbors and relatives. So I made one up. Instead of my usual lame, “Well, I’ve just always felt like it’s what God wants me to do,” I started saying, “I was in the tobacco field on a hot and humid day in late July. There had been a thunderstorm in the early afternoon so I had red mud up to my knees and there was steam coming off the tobacco leaves. I was hot, wet, and muddy when I looked across the creek to the paved road and saw a Ford Fairlane drive by with the windows rolled up and the air conditioning on. The man inside was wearing a white shirt and a thin black tie. He has patting the steering wheel and singing along to whatever music was on the radio. I looked up at the sky and said to God, ‘Yes Lord. I can do that. I will do that. I will become a preacher.’ ”
I don’t think anyone ever believed me but they did quit asking.
In today’s Gospel lesson we have two overlapping call stories. First we read that Jesus found Philip and said, “Follow me.” Then we see that Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found him who Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote.” Now, occasionally when you find something you just stumble upon it by accident, but most of the time we use the word to indicate locating something you want after a considerable amount of searching. Which indicates Jesus was looking for Philip, Philip was looking for Nathanael, and Philip and the others were looking for the Messiah.
I remember some years ago when a major American denomination had an evangelism campaign with the theme “I found it!” Many people, myself included, stood outside that campaign and somewhat snidely and archly said, “Oh, we don’t find God, God finds us.” Well from the evidence of this text, we were all half-right at least. When we find God it is because God has been looking for us all along.
But Nathanael’s response to Philip reminds us that the divine/human encounter is a very personal one – we cannot meet God by proxy, or by inheritance; it is always an individual and unique moment. Nathanael scoffs at Philip’s discovery. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” What he means is something like this: “This man is from the wrong part of the country, from the wrong social class, he has the wrong accent, he has no real education or training. Seriously, why should I listen to him?” Many people today question Christianity in much the same way, “Can anything good come out of the church?” “It’s antiquated, behind the times, speaks the wrong language, it’s pre-scientific and irrational, it’s judgmental and full of hate, etc. etc.”
I’m sure Philip was tempted to argue with Nathaniel, was anxious to convince Nathanael of Jesus’ Messiahship – but he resisted the temptation and instead did exactly the right thing. He invited him to “come and see,” for himself. Somehow Philip realized that you do not argue someone into
a new religious understanding. All one can do is help someone encounter Jesus. The rest is up to the action of God in Christ. Our calling is to be like Philip and invite others to “come and see” what God is doing in our lives and in our congregation, to “come and see” what a difference knowing Christ has made in our lives, individually and as a community, “come and see” how Christ could make a difference in their lives too.
Nathanael does come and see. Nathanael meets Jesus. Nathanael is convinced by his encounter that Jesus is the Christ. Nathanael affirms his new-found faith, “You are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel!” Nathanael was found by Jesus and found both God and his own true self in the process.
I actually do have a call story, we all do. My call story is about being raised by believing parents who took me to church when I was two weeks old and never quit taking me. My call story is about Mrs. Gammons teaching Junior High boys Sunday school and putting up with our antics and misbehavior and somehow leading us to love Jesus and each other. My call story is about going to a little mountain Presbyterian Church for evening services and hearing the retired missionary pastor tell stories about God was changing lives in Africa and Asia and thanking that maybe God could change my life too. My call story is about being invited by many different folks to “come and see” what God in Christ was doing, is doing, and will continue to do in many different people and places.
What’s your call story? And who do you know that needs to know that God is looking for them? Who do you know that needs a little nudge, who needs you to invite them, saying, “Come and see.” You are Philip – who is your Nathanael?
Amen and amen.