We certainly have an interesting set of readings in today's lectionary. A story from the Old Testament about the boy, Samuel, who kept hearing someone calling him in the night. It took Eli to figure out that the Lord was calling Samuel, and Eli told Samuel what to say in response. Samuel didn't even know God, but God knew Samuel. In the Psalm we hear that God knows us intimately, maybe even more intimately than we want. The reading from Corinthians seems harsh and judging, to some. The Gospel from John seems hard to break open. Is it a story about Philip, to whom Jesus said, follow me. It is a story about Nathanael, who seems to know whom Jesus is, the Son of God.
Our Epiphany stories have all been stories that show and tell us what incarnation looks like, they are stories that show and tell us about how incarnation changes everything, and how then we must go home by another way. I think the collection of stories we hear today follow the same theme, they are all stories that illustrate how different the story of God is from the story that the world in which we live tells us, whether that world is hundreds of years before Christ, whether that world is first century Israel, or whether that world is 2009 years after Christ. Samuel was a trustworthy prophet of the Lord. The job of a prophet was to tell people what they least wanted to hear. That they need to shape up, change their ways, and turn to God.
What we hear in these stories is the invitation to live another way, not the way of the world. The story in Corinthians is not a story about judgment so much as it is a story about belonging. We belong to God. The author of Corinthians wonders, don't you know that you are not your own. You belong to God. And in John, we hear clearly the invitation to live by a different way, to be a part of the story of God, who is here in our midst.
What is so powerful in this set of stories today is that we hear about God's activity in the lives of God’s people in and through history. And at the same time, we are invited to be part of God’s mission. Today, we are invited to be a part of what God is up to now. Unfortunately, sometimes we are like Samuel, who couldn't figure out it was God calling, and sometimes we are like Philip and Nathanael, wondering how and where Jesus gets to know us so intimately, although we know God knows us intimately because of Psalm 139. Each one of us is invited to step into the unknown, and live this radical life in relationship with God, without knowing really what to expect, except that we are called to be faithful.
When we say yes to God’s call we don’t know what that will bring. Like Samuel with the mentoring of Eli before us, it is our turn to respond to God with here I am, here we are. It is our turn to respond to Jesus who says, follow me. What does our response look like, our response as a church? We must imagine that, we must begin to see the possibilities. Come and see, Philip says. Maybe we need to picture the people populating these pews. Who will they be? Maybe they are young families. Maybe they are Episcopalians, but probably they are not. Maybe they are people disaffected from other denominations for various reasons, maybe they are just people looking for love and acceptance in a house of God. Maybe they are people seeking Christ; maybe they are people seeking meaning. I’m hoping they are people finding Christ and finding meaning here, finding love and acceptance at this table, and in this body. Maybe they are people who want to understand who they are and who they are called to be, they are people who want to seek and serve Christ in all persons, here behind these walls, and out there, in the community. Maybe they are people who will challenge you to grow and develop in your own spiritual journey, because you will accompany them on their journeys and be changed by them.
But on some level they are people who want to be a part of the story, and not bystanders. The story we tell about how God created humanity, how God blesses the creation, how God promises to always be God. This is the story about how we turned away from God, about how we worship so many things other than God, and it is the story about how God calls us back, calls us back, about how God will not let us go. It is the story about how God loves us so much, that God came as one of us, as Jesus, and lived and died as one of us, and brought us back into relationship. We can belong to God, because we know God is right here, right know, in the midst of us, in ways that are evident, and in ways we can only imagine and dream about. This is our story; this is the story that makes us a people.
What does your response to Jesus’ call, follow me, look like? It is timely that we hear this call of Samuel, and of Andrew and Peter, Philip and Nathanael, on this day, so close to the anniversary of the birth of Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. A man who answered a call, and risked everything to respond to Jesus’ call of equality in the new covenant. Sometimes we make the mistake of thinking that responding to Jesus’ call has to be to the ministry, but that is not true. Responding to Jesus’ call is to live out loving God and loving your neighbor in every aspect of your life. Responding to Jesus’ call, follow me, is to live out your baptismal promises in your work, in your school, in your play, in your family, and in your business dealings.
We receive the church newsletter from St. Luke’s, the church we came from in Minneapolis. In the latest issue was a letter written by a young woman, Emily, who just graduated from college. Emily was in the Sunday school classes that Rick and I taught at St. Luke’s. Emily is currently living in Lima, Peru. Emily writes, "Perched precariously atop a sandy hill, La Encantada peers down on the sprawling slums of Lima. Most outsiders see only La Encantada’s grinding poverty: no running water, poor sanitation, and shanty homes, But look closer and you will discover a spirit of camaraderie and a commitment to social justice that battle back poverty with inspiring intensity. So it is here in La Encantada that I am helping to build the Center for Development with Dignity, an innovative resource center that houses grassroots development projects and community education." Emily finishes her letter, "While I’m far from St. Luke’s; I’ve kept the St. Luke’s community close. Without the seminal influence of the church and its lessons of compassion, justice, and service, I would never have found that path that leads me up the dusty hill to La Encantada every morning." Emily is living out her response to Jesus’ invitation, follow me.
A challenge to you today to live out Jesus’ invitation to follow. Some of you have read or heard me talk about an effort by a group of pastors to build fund and build one Habitat for Humanity house each year, beginning this Lent. We are calling the effort, Faith Builds. As congregations of faith we want to respond to Jesus’ call. Come and see. I would like for St. Andrew’s to participate in Faith Builds,
beginning with a donation from our outreach budget followed up matching that donation with our Lenten offering, and volunteer building hours. Follow me.
The Lord has shown forth his glory: Come let us adore him.
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