As we journey through this liturgical season between the feasts of the Epiphany and Ash Wednesday, the readings we hear from the Bible each Sunday call on us to focus on who Jesus is for the life of the world and then decide how we will respond. Traditionally, the church begins the Epiphany season by recalling significant events in Jesus’ life. There is the story of the wise men, and Jesus’ baptism, and the wedding feast at Cana. Each of these events reveals one insight into Jesus’ ministry: the visit of the wise men – Jesus is the savior of all – Jew and Gentile alike, Jesus’ baptism – he is God’s son, living in our midst, changing water into wine at the wedding banquet – Jesus uses his gifts for the good of others. These events prompt us to celebrate Jesus as a light to enlighten the Gentiles, as the manifestation of God’s love made flesh among us, as an invitation to participate fully in God’s great mission of reconciliation.
Today’s readings from the Bible focus on (our) listening for the voice of God and (recognizing) God’s movements within our lives. God is constantly speaking in our lives through insights, encounters, hunches, dreams, bursts of energy, and inspirational thoughts. Our calling is to listen to the many voices of God, often hidden in everyday experience, and then follow God’s guidance, … 1
Eli and young Samuel lived in the Temple in Jerusalem, in close proximity to God’s enshrined presence, the Ark of the Covenant. This “Holy of Holies” was part of their everyday lives. We could spend considerable time this morning exploring why “The word of the Lord was rare in those days; (and) visions were not widespread.” But suffice it so say, it was not just due to Eli’s advanced age and failing eyesight.
Young Samuel was eager to please his mentor, Eli. So when he heard a voice in the night, he presumed it was his mentor’s voice. His presumption was right on point. It was his mentor who was calling, but not Eli, it was God instead. How was he to know? He was young, and just learning the ins and out of serving in God’s temple. So of course, Samuel went to Eli first.
With his advanced age and priestly experience, we might think that Eli should have known who was calling Samuel. But while “the lamp of God had not yet gone out” in Eli’s life, the wick was sputtering and the oil level was low. So, it took Eli awhile to figure out who was calling Samuel. Is Eli any different from you and me? When was the last time you headed God’s voice the very first time you heard it spoken in your heart of hearts? When was the last time you felt God’s call stirring within you and didn’t pass it off as indigestion? When was the last time you had a sudden, intuitive perception and did not doubt?
Eli was a good mentor. He knew to keep listening, for he knew that God was persistent, especially when we are not so attentive. And so he could counsel Samuel to keep listening and to respond the next time he heard the voice by simply saying: “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” Samuel followed the directions of Eli. He responded to the voice. He listened intently to what God had to say. And then told Eli the hard truth of God’s judgment. That took a lot of courage for a young boy who was being raised in a “church” environment, without the care and compassion of a mother. Yet Samuel trusted his human mentor, Eli, and he trusted his divine mentor, God.
“As Samuel grew up, the Lord was with him …” He became a great prophet and a wise leader of his people. It fell upon his shoulders to select Israel’s first king. Eli trusted that God would reveal the proper choice. All he had to do was listen. Are you listening?
The Apostle Paul wrote: “…do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own?” In a world of rights and choices, he taught the Christians in Corinth that Christian freedom is lived in relationship to God.2 … and to one another. What an epiphany ! What an insight ! Christian life is a gift from God, for faith is a gift from God. And God gives us all the help we need, all the grace we can use, to live out our lives as faith-filled disciples. We are given grace to not only care for ourselves but to also care for one another. We are given grace to use our personal gifts and talents for building up the body of Christ. We are given grace to move beyond our individualism and self-centeredness and to focus our lives on praising God, on reflecting God’s love, on listening to God’s call to holiness.
How do we Christians best use our bodies – our gifts? Do we care for our own bodies by healthy eating, Sabbath keeping, prayer and meditation, appropriate exercise? Do we care for others by insuring that they have sufficient food, shelter, and safety? Do we speak out against sexual misconduct, police brutality, racism, nationalism? Do we care for “dreamer” children and their families? Do we care for the bodies of others by providing safe working conditions and living wages?3 How is God calling you to use your body, your gifts today? Are you listening?
Soon we will sing, “I have decided to follow Jesus.” That fits well with today’s reading from John’s Gospel. Jesus called Philip to follow him. Philip tells his brother, Nathanael about that encounter and then invites him to “Come and see.” But Nathanael is a bit hesitant. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” If you are anything like me, you too have those moments in which you doubt someone else’s experience. I have never heard of such a thing before. Can anything good come out of Sacramento…or Washington? We hear someone else’s story, their witness, but are we really listening? Is the message lost because of our past history with the messenger? Are we so caught up in our own little world that we are unable to hear about theirs?
Jesus broke through Nathanael’s shell with just a few words, by sharing an insight not only about where Nathanael was, under the fig tree, but perhaps more importantly, who Nathanael was….a person “in whom there is no deceit.” Whatever Jesus meant by that phrase, it resounded deeply within Nathanael, so deeply that Nathanael burst forth with a proclamation of faith: “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Now that was an epiphany!
What epiphany will you have today? What new insight will you gain from what someone says to you? What will make you decide to follow Jesus more closely? Are you listening?
The Reverend Thomas Hall
2 Epiphany 2018
St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, El Cajon
1 Samuel 3:1-10(11-20)
1 Corinthians 6:12-20
Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17