Readings: 1 Samuel 3:1-10, Psalm: 139:1-6, 13-18, John 1:43-51
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God, our rock and our sustainer. Amen.
“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 fulfil 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 for ever, 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 for ever.’”
How incredibly difficult it must have been for Samuel – not just to realise that the voice of God was calling him – but also the message that he was to hear – the apparent down fall of the one who had nurtured and guided him throughout his life. How on earth can we ever think that the calling of God is an invitation to an easy life?
Both our readings today are about calls to follow – Samuel hearing God’s call in the night and Nathanael hanging around under the fig tree and responding to Jesus even in his cynicism.
In both cases there is an invitation and a response – and a realisation that this call is not ordinary nor is it safe. There is a sense that there is an epiphany happening for each – an encounter that somehow transcends and turns upside down all previous invitations to relationship. What was it that made a young boy and a cynical man centuries apart both take notice, enter into this life changing moment where belief in God becomes engagement with God?
In my reading I came across this statement: “that on this, the second Sunday after Epiphany, the church stands between Christology and discipleship, between the wonder of the Word made flesh and the gritty joy of our attempts to respond.”
It comes after the baptism and before the long painful journey to the cross, and is all about answering the call to discipleship from one who invites us to step out on a journey of faith.
As we consider that call on our lives it might be helpful to learn a little more about the two people we heard of in our readings today.
Samuel was a young boy – one who had already had trauma in his life, given away by his mother to this man Eli for a life of priestly upbringing. And he was still in a vulnerable position, subject to Eli as his master, one who had full authority over him and his life. He hadn’t imagined anyone other than Eli commanding him hence his constant and immediate response being to run to Eli. He must have felt a bit of a chump afterwards, like we do when our brain just doesn’t engage and we get things so wrong. And it took courage to pass on the message, that, because of the sins of his sons, Eli’s priestly line was to come to an end. Yet he did it.
The encounter with God instilled in this young boy something that was life changing – some sense of urgency and courage for what was to come. Some anchor to see him through a topsy turvey life. For there was no instant wisdom or perfection suddenly gifted to Samuel – his own sons were equally to be labelled scoundrels and he too was put aside – but there was fuel for the journey – a journey that couldn’t be denied.
Nathanael too found something in that moment of invitation that allowed him to respond unequivocally and urgently – one minute he was muttering that nothing good could come out of Nazareth – and yet his feet were taking him towards this man - and it wasn’t good argument or persuasive rhetoric that convinced him – it was the man standing before him, his very presence that somehow convicted him.
And it wasn’t that Nathanael was looking for a lifeline – he was an upright faithful man – one lacking in any guile we hear. It wasn’t that he needed adventure in his life or that he didn’t have a healthy dose of scepticism when it came to extraordinary claims, it was that something happened that called him into something more, something he couldn’t walk away from. God knew his name and called him to follow.
I have come from a fairly traditional faith experience, brought up in the local church, a bit chary about overt expressions of worship and a reluctant or non-existent proselytizer. Any call I had on my life was well supervised by self and my relationship with God was contained and measured. But all the while there were little bits of excitement - you could say my ears tingled! There was something greater, a hint of a presence, a wind of the spirit that said there was more. I totally relate to Samuel – Margaret, Margaret, oi you! Deaf as a post I reckon. Till now.
What was it that changed – that encourage me to step out from under my fig tree, muttering all the while, but somehow drawn towards this new journey with unknown future (now if I’d have known Opoho was the future I wouldn’t have worried so much would I?). There are no clear words that I can offer you except a sense of rightness, of empowerment, of presence with me in whatever I would be faced with. It didn’t mean sudden perfection (trust me on this) nor did it mean a smooth path – but rather a deep relationship of trust and faith in the midst of the realities of life and a sense of urgency and an ability to step into places and spaces that normally terrified me with some small confidence in the presence of Christ there too.
So it is in our very ordinariness that we are called to discipleship – if a somewhat dozy youth and a slightly cynical but good man and a rather reluctant (what me) woman in her fifties can respond to God’s call, recognise the faithful presence of God in their lives and be empowered therefore to walk in new place with courage and hope – what might that look like for each one of you.
For there is no magic formula – no definitive path – no one experience that all have to follow. Each of us has our own story to tell and our own path to walk. But we do all need to understand that the journey is not made to be suddenly easy, that we are called to trust in the presence of God wherever we might be and that we are to be the presence of Christ in our love for one another, our care of one another and our deep desire for justice, equality, mercy for all people of the world and for the world itself. They will know we are Christians by our love.... This is what discipleship is about and this is what Christ offers us when he invites us to join with him on the way. We each of us have our own response – take some time now to consider what this means for you. Amen