January 14, 2024

The Second Sunday after the Epiphany

January 14, 2024

The Rev. R. Allan McCaslin

Readings: I Samuel 3:1-10; Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17; I Corinthians 6:12-20; John 1:43-51

From the Gospel according to John, “Philip said … ‘Come and see.’” I speak to you in the Name of God, our Creator, our Redeemer, and Sustaining Sanctifier, Amen.

     Let me begin by affirming my admiration for Philip in today’s gospel reading. Rather than debate Nathaniel who asked, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” He chose to invite Nate to “come and see:” to observe and decide for himself. And in so doing, he affirms that old adage: Seeing is believing. And that’s a timely message for us, for the Church right now.

     See, one of the lessons I have learned in life and as affirmed time and again in scripture, is that every ending is always followed by a new beginning. God is always doing something new is this world – something unexpected. And during this time of transition in this parish that reality of God’s ongoing work within us, God’s new work in us, is something we need to remember so that someone who does “Come and See”, a visitor to this parish, finds new life and new direction in their lives. Today’s scripture lessons challenge our perceptions of what we believe God should do and how we should live; challenge our perceptions of our world today, challenge our perceptions of the future of this community of faith.

     Now the story of Samuel responding to God’s call as told in this morning’s Old Testament reading is one of my personal favorites. I mean whose heart isn’t touched by Samuel’s response, “Speak, for your servant is listening”? A response echoed in this morning’s Gradual Hymn “Here I am Lord.” And yet, this truncated text from 1st Samuel is misleading. See there is this sense that Samuel’s response was the end of the story. But it isn’t. It is only the beginning. Read the next 10 verses and you’ll learn that what God was calling Samuel to do was very difficult and hard to swallow. Samuel has to confront Eli, his beloved mentor and protector, and tell him his days are done. Eli and his family are about to die and be forgotten. The setting of this story is equally difficult. Israel was in the midst of dreadful social upheaval brought about by the gradual rejection of God’s values as far as how one speaks to and treats their neighbor: whether citizen or alien; whether known or unknown. To make matters worse, they were about to be invaded and, even worse than that, their religious leadership – the people they looked to for guidance and direction – were corrupt and self-serving. No wonder our text begins “The word of the Lord was rare in those days (and) visions were not widespread.” Samuel responds fully to God’s call and brings bad news to Eli. And yet, this is where our perceptions of why God calls us to service or our perceptions of how and what God should do can blind us to the deeper message here. If we focus solely on the judgment against Eli and his household, we can lose sight of the fact that this story is actually good news: God was already doing a new thing in the midst of a terrible situation. God was raising up Samuel to be a new prophet and priest to lead God’s people. This story is a reminder that God is forever doing new things and inviting the whole world to “come and see.”

     I find that one of the tragedies rife in the Christian Church today is the perception that being born again or having a conversion experience is, somehow, an ending. Christians might think that like Samuel, all we need to say is, “Speak, for your servant is listening,” and everything will be just fine, that we will never have to make difficult choices. Or, like the Church at Corinth, all we need to do is “get saved” because we want to believe that’s all God requires of us. Otherwise, we might have to do something different and live differently. But the Christian faith has more to say about beginnings than endings. What was accomplished at Calvary with the forgiveness of sins was only the beginning of God’s new work in us and that work will not end until Christ returns.

     That message is at the heart of St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian Church. See, the members of that church could point to the very moment when they found Christ, that moment when they were “saved.” But, for all their wonderful stories of conversion and profession of faith, Christ’s teachings and example of how to treat other people had little to no impact on how they lived throughout the week. They could tell you what they were saved “from,” but had not grasped that they had been saved “to” something; that they had an important role to fulfill in God’s on-going and new work in the world; that each of them was called to a new way of life that clearly demonstrates God’s values – not just at Church but at all times in every thought, word, and deed.

     That is why Paul keeps driving home the message that the Christian life is an on-going journey of continuous conversion; a lifetime of being reshaped, reformed and recreated into the very image of Christ. In today’s excerpt from his letter, Paul says that all things may be lawful, but they are not necessarily beneficial. How we live – what we say, think, do, post online, or value directly affects our bodies, our minds, and ultimately, the body of Christ – the Church - into whom we have been baptized and through whom we have been adopted as God’s sons and daughters. So, Paul says, to abuse anyone or anything is to sin not only against yourself, but even more detrimental, sin against the body of Christ. Certainly, recent scandals that have rocked church denominations in this country and throughout the world, are a reminder that how we conduct ourselves – how we choose to live every moment of every day – is more than a reflection on our personal values: it is a reflection on the Church and on our Lord. So, Paul says, remember you are not your own: you are very precious to God and called to glorify God in all things: our bodies, our speech, and our actions and discern God’s voice at all times; so that our lives invite others to come and see not only what God has done, but what God desires to continue doing in us as individuals and as a community of faith.

     Tomorrow, our nation celebrates the birthday of the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Dr. King was a prophet of God, who answered God’s call to confront the racism and inequity that was rampant in our day and in the midst of our people who had pledged to live as one nation under God. God raised up Martin just as God has raised and continues to raise up prophets to confront the sins of society and insist that our leaders, our communities, and even our own selves uphold God’s values. Dr. King was eventually killed for his witness to God’s kingdom of justice and mercy. Nevertheless, God’s message of wholeness continues to go forth calling the world to “come and see” what life in God’s kingdom can be like.

     If we focus solely on the past, if we think that because our parish is in a time of transition our journey is ending, we risk missing the signs of God’s resolve, God’s plan to do something new and life-changing in our hearts and minds, something new in our lives today. God is forever doing new things. And I suggest that God is always calling every member of the Church to new prophetic ministry – to be, like Dr. King, living examples of God’s grace and mercy, God’s welcome and forgiveness. We are called to invite the world to “Come and see.”

     Yet, even with the knowledge that God is forever active in the world and forever doing new things and calling or raising up new leaders, Nathaniel still asks Philip, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Certainly, based upon his perception, he would think, “No.” Historically, Nazareth was not a place to vacation or to even think of as a place where God might do anything. But he is invited to come and see. And he does come. He meets Jesus face to face and his life, his purpose in life, his perception of life is forever changed.

     As we continue to seek diligently for Christ, to listen for his voice, may God grant us the grace to be open to the reality that not only might God do something, but that God is always doing something new around and within us. May God continue to challenge how we think and how we live, challenge us to be prophets in our homes and communities, to be Christ’s redeeming presence wherever we go. Nathaniel asked, Can anything good come out Nazareth? Some today might even ask, Can anything good come out of Holy Cross? Can anything good come out of us? By God’s grace let us be living proof that the answer is “Yes, Come and see.” Amen.