Todays readings for the 2nd Sunday After Epiphany 1 Samuel 3:1-10 Psalm 139:1-5, 12-18 1 Corinthians 6:12-20 John 1:43-51
Transcript of the Sermon given by Reverend Roberta Hamilton.
Epiphany, as I said last week, means revelation. This is the season, following Christmas, where we think about God revealing God’s-self to us.
And it follows Christmas because of the great revelation of God in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, revealed to the world in the manger in Bethlehem, revealed to the world in the visit of the Magi, revealed to the world at Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan.
This week we see the revelation of God in the calling of the disciples. And we are blessed this year to have John’s account of that revealing. “Come and See,” says Jesus of Nazareth, to the first disciples, Andrew and his brother Simon Peter. Then Philip invites his friend Nathaniel to “come and see”. The thing with revelation is that it is more effective when we show others than when we tell others about it. It is also something that has to be experienced personally.
Sometimes however, even a personal encounter with God can go unrecognised or be hard for us to understand. Samuel’s experience was personal, but puzzling to him.
I have always loved this account of child Samuel being called by God. I heard someone, another priest, say that after they read the story as a child, they were constantly waiting for God to call them. I have to say that I just felt very envious of Samuel, how wonderful to be called by God so directly! And it was much harder to hear my own call, though God was preparing me for a long time. But the call of God isn’t always to ordained ministry- God is like a parent constantly calling us to something- sometimes a job and sometimes a joy and sometimes, of course, both at once.
Samuel heard the call clearly but wasn’t sure of the source, and even Eli, God’s representative took a little while to get it. But God had work for Samuel to do and he obviously needed long training in the art of listening to God.
And what about the disciples? They are invited to “Come and See”, but they may or may not have known what it was that they were looking at. This revelation is a strange business. Jesus was in the region of the Jordan and John the Baptiser sees him and announces that he is the one they are waiting for and two of his disciples, one of whom was Andrew, Peter’s brother, asking him where he is staying and Jesus invites them to “Come and See”, and they spend the day with him. Now this word, ‘staying’ is very important in John’s gospel. It means abiding, or dwelling or sojourning, or perhaps even pitching a tent. And John uses the word extensively, particularly in the final discourse. He has already used it in the preface to the Gospel when he says that the word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth. So when the disciples ask Jesus where he is “abiding’ it is somehow, much more significant than asking which BnB he is in!
Andrew and Simon conclude right here and now that Jesus is the Messiah. It is interesting that in John’s gospel this revelation is right at the beginning, but in the synoptics it takes a lot more evidence before they come to the same conclusion. John is, perhaps, pre-empting the revelation, it is hard to say. As humans we can be aware of something and yet still take a lot of time to process it.
There is also something about recognition here in today’s section of the gospel. Jesus says that he “knows” Nathanael, “here is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit”, and this recognition of him as a person leads Nathanael to put his faith in him as the Son of God! This is like the psalm that we read, God knows us from before our gestation! Jesus, I think smiles, and says to him, “Do you believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these… You will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” Jesus is promising him, as a precious and known person, revelation that is connected to the covenant of God. There are two references back to the OT covenant here. First a bit of a play on words. When Jesus says Nathanael is a true Israelite he is referring to Jacob or ‘Israel’ as he was renamed when he wrestled with God. Now Jacob was a trickster but nonetheless God revealed God’s covenant or agreement to him. And the second reference is also to Jacob and his vision of angels ascending and descending, which is something to do with the traffic between God and man, or the heavenly realms and the earthly. This complex series of references would have been clearly heard by John’s listeners as referring to the promise that God had made to bless his people Israel. God has revealed God’s-self through this nation. The question is, of course, why cannot God just reveal God’s-self to humans- to all humans all the time? Well, it seems to me that the answer is something about free-will. God gives us the opportunity to see and hear and experience God but God doesn’t force it upon us. It would be much easier if God did, but for some reason which is hard for us to understand God has given us free will. God could compel us but God chooses not to, and so the revelation is there to be seen and heard and experienced, but we have to choose it. And God is always preceding us. God is there, waiting for us before we sit under the fig tree.
And so we see God, and then we have to choose to follow. Jesus found Philip and called him to follow him. Philip follows, or becomes Jesus’ disciple. Philip could have refused, he could have first refused to see and then refused to follow, but like him Jesus calls us to follow. Part of that following, is in the getting to know God and seeing the greater things than these that Jesus promises. Like Samuel we have to choose to get up and listen to God, and then like Samuel we will be used by God for great things. And it is not only the ordained who follow and are trained and then call others to “Come and See”. All of us, each one of us in this room, are called to come and see ourselves and then draw others in to relationship with God, just as Philip did with Nathanael.
In order for us to perceive God’s revelation of God’s self we need to develop an awareness, and practice our listening to God. Samuel had no trouble hearing God, but he needed to learn that it was God he was hearing, and some of us are like that. We need to practice, that is we need to keep doing the ‘listening to God’ that will allow us to hear. And some of us are like the disciples who, at least here in John’s gospel, recognise who is speaking to them but still have a long journey with Jesus before they are fully aware of who he is, before the revelation is complete.
We are the same, it takes us the whole of our lives to fully recognise God.
This is a process for us- the Psalmist tells us that God knows us and loves us from the very beginning of our creation as individuals, and yet it takes us a life time to process this.
So what can we do about it? Well, let me encourage you to make this a year when we strive together to understand and know the revelation of God. I will be providing opportunities for us to grow in our spiritual awareness of God through quiet days, meditation groups and reading groups. And, of course, people can pursue this on their own as well. The constant practise of listening to God is open to everyone. The important thing is to be open to Epiphany- open to God’s revealing of God’s self. The other thing that we will all find is that in bringing others to come and see our own relationship with God, our own experience of God will grow and we will be blessed in the process. God will be revealed to us.
“You will see greater things than these,” is Jesus’ promise to each of us.
“Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening”.