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Sermon for Sunday 17 January 2021

First Reading                                     1 Samuel 3:1-20

1The boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord in the presence of Eli. And the word of the Lord was rare in those days; there was no frequent vision. 2At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his own place. 3The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was. 4Then the Lord called Samuel, and he said, “Here I am!” 5and ran to Eli and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call; lie down again.” So he went and lay down. 6And the Lord called again, “Samuel!” and Samuel arose and went to Eli and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call, my son; lie down again.” 7Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. 8And the Lord called Samuel again the third time. And he arose and went to Eli and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy. 9Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down, and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant hears.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place. 10And the Lord came and stood, calling as at other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant hears.” 11Then the Lord said to Samuel, “Behold, I am about to do a thing in Israel at which the two ears of everyone who hears it will tingle. 12On that day I will fulfill against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. 13And I declare to him that I am about to punish his house forever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them. 14Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be atoned for by sacrifice or offering forever.” 15Samuel lay until morning; then he opened the doors of the house of the Lord. And Samuel was afraid to tell the vision to Eli. 16But Eli called Samuel and said, “Samuel, my son.” And he said, “Here I am.” 17And Eli said, “What was it that he told you? Do not hide it from me. May God do so to you and more also if you hide anything from me of all that he told you.” 18So Samuel told him everything and hid nothing from him. And he said, “It is the Lord. Let him do what seems good to him.” 19And Samuel grew, and the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. 20And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba knew that Samuel was established as a prophet of the Lord.

Psalm                                                         Psalm 139:1-9

1Lord, you have searched me out and known me; you know my sitting down and my rising up; you discern my thoughts from afar. 2You trace my journeys and my resting places and are acquainted with all my ways. 3Indeed, there is not a word on my lips, but you, O Lord, know it altogether. 4You press upon me behind and before and lay your hand upon me. 5Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain to it. 6Where can I go then from your Spirit? where can I flee from your presence? 7If I climb up to heaven, you are there; if I make the grave my bed, you are there also. 8If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, 9Even there your hand will lead me and your right hand hold me fast.

Second Reading                       1 Corinthians 6:12-20

12“All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything. 13“Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food” — and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. 14And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. 15Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! 16Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.” 17But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. 18Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. 19Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, 20for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

Gospel                                                         John 1:43-51

43The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” 46Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” 48Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” 49Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” 51And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

Call of God to Service

           Last week we celebrated the Baptism of our Lord.  And part of us remembering our Baptism, is the reminder that in Baptism, God has called us each of us into service in His kingdom.  I really appreciate something Cody said in his sermon last week.  It’s spot on, and helps to emphasize our lessons for this week.  Cody said, “Baptism is the start of our war with sin, death and the devil.  We’re marked as an enemy of the devil and a target is placed on our backs.”  “Our identity is found in Jesus Christ in our baptism, where we die to ourselves and are raised [anew] in Jesus Christ.”  Our call to discipleship comes in baptism where we receive the forgiveness of sin, are given the gift of eternal life, and are grafted into the church, the body of Christ.

            In baptism we receive a new identity, the old is replaced with a new life in Jesus.  So, the question for us today is, what does it mean to be called by God?  And a follow-on question is this, is this call something that affects our lives for a short period of time, or, does it change our lives forever?  The answer to both these questions is an emphatic, yes. 

Our Baptismal call can and does affect in both the short term, and, has an impact on our entire life, and this call can be manifested in a variety of ways.  For example, our call to discipleship can affect us for a specific period of time, so that we can respond to a particular need, person or situation, or to volunteer, or to assist a friend in a time of need.  In other ways, we’re called to serve God in a manner that changes our entire lives.

Examples of our lifetime call to discipleship includes our call to serve God faithfully, to study God’s word diligently and to pray daily.  This life-long call might also include a call to the ministry, a call to teach Sunday School or to serve with our youth.  It might even be a call to share our talents as music director, or as the Sexton of our parish.  The important thing we need to remember is, whether our call to faithful service is for a short amount of time to meet a specific need, or is a lifetime of service, our openness to that call, and how we respond, are something that we, as God’s children, need to remain open to.  In both our First reading and Gospel text for this week, we see examples of God’s call to Eli, Samuel, Philip and Nathanael and how it helps us understand God’s purpose, in our own lives.
            Our Old Testament lesson from 1st Samuel is set early in the life of the Hebrew nation.  Israel had known strong leaders in Moses and Joshua.  Then, after God settles His people in the Promised Land, the Israelites are led by a series of judges, whom God calls to serve for relatively short periods, during difficult times.  The Judges, most of whom were military leaders, were called by God to meet a specific need. 

These Judges were called for a particular reason; usually to take care of some enemy that was threatening God’s people.  Israel to this point wasn’t organized as a nation under central leadership.  The focus of leadership was centered on tribal leaders.  In fact, as the book of Judges comes to an end, tribal wars threaten to tear the Hebrew people apart.  

            Civil unrest came to a head, when, because of their sin, the tribe of Benjamin was almost wiped out.  The problem was that the people would obey God for a period of time, usually, when they needed God’s help, and then when times were good again, they would turn their backs on God, forgetting the covenant God had made with them, and were doing whatever they wanted.  Over and over again, the Hebrew people, in times of peace and prosperity, would turn to worshiping idols and the false gods of the peoples around them. 

The books of Joshua and Judges demonstrate that things were far from what God intended, even though God had, time and time again, listen to their cries and delivered them from their troubles.  But as I pointed out, as soon as the trouble that they had gotten themselves into was over, the people would forget all God had done for them, and would soon turn away and stop listening.  Look at the closing verse of the book of Judges, it reads, “In those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes” (vs. 25).  Sound familiar?  This was the situation the people were in, in our Old Testament lesson.

The people had once again forgotten what God had done for them and their ancestors; they were ignoring God’s covenant, His laws, and will for His people.  I’ve brought this up before; each time I read Israel’s history, I can’t help but ask, are we, here in the US, falling into the same pattern of behavior as the Hebrew people?  Are we guilty of turning our backs to God’s will, and instead simply doing what is right in our own eyes?  I believe history is on my side in answering these two questions with, yes. 

Our country today is deeply divided, bent on doing what’s right in our own eyes.  We have turned our backs on God and if we don’t reverse course and return to God, we are destined to live the mistakes of the past.  This is something we must acknowledge and certainly pray about.  The closing verse of Judges sets up the opening to the book of 1st Samuel. 

Chapter 1 of 1st Samuel opens not in the halls of power, but in the house of a man remembered only here.  Elkanah is married to two women, and Hannah, his favorite, is barren.  This is a familiar theme, and reflects another time when barrenness put God’s promise in question with the matriarchs, Sarah and Rachel.  Now Hannah, also unable to conceive, begs God for a child, and during her prayer, she encounters the priest Eli, who is less than comforting.  Eli, seeing a distraught Hannah praying silently, accuses her of being drunk.  Despite this initial encounter, Eli tells Hannah, that her prayer will be answered.  Satisfied that God has heard her prayers, Hannah leaves and soon she has her long-awaited child; then she honors her promise to give the child back to God.  The boy, Samuel, is turned over to Eli at the holy place in Shiloh.
            Hannah’s decision to give up her son may seem odd to us, but it was common for the time.  The dedication of Samuel to the LORD not only fulfilled Mosaic law, it’s akin to the sacrament of baptism or the dedication of an infant.  In baptism, we confirm God’s blessing and call upon the life of a child.  We affirm that our children do not belong to us, but are given to us by God.  We also affirm that each child will develop their own relationship with God, and that it’s our responsibility to nurture that relationship, so that it grows as the child matures.  So fulfilling her promise to God, Hannah leaves Samuel to serve the LORD and live in the Temple with Eli.
            At the beginning of our text, we read that Samuel lived in a precarious time, when “the word of the LORD was rare”.  This situation continues the problem from the end of Judges, where “all the people did what was right in their own eyes”.   Indeed, if we were to look back to chapter 2, it speaks of how Eli’s sons did what was right in their own eyes in their work as priests.  Eli’s sons, instead of offering the sacrifices that were brought as prescribed by law, were instead stealing the choice parts, threatening the people that came to the temple and were sleeping with the women that served at the entrance to the tent of meetings. 

In short, they abused their position, their power, and the people, therefore their sin was considered great in the eyes of the LORD, since “they treated the offerings of the LORD with contempt”.  The times were dark; even those set aside to serve the LORD, failed to faithfully follow God’s commands.  So as God promised, He raised up a dependable priest in Samuel, one that would serve Him faithfully and do “what was in God’s heart and mind”.
            This future prophet, the boy Samuel, was bedded down in the temple with the Ark of the Covenant, while Eli slept in another room.  Samuel hears a voice calling, and three times goes to Eli to ask what he wants.  Meanwhile, you and I know that God is calling the boy, but Samuel does not.  Even Eli doesn’t immediately understand what’s happening.  Maybe the reason for Eli’s confusion, is that he, long ago, quit listening to God’s voice.  It appears that along with Eli’s physical sight becoming dim, so had his spiritual and moral sight.  Whatever the case, eventually Eli realizes that it’s the LORD calling Samuel, and tells Samuel to answer the LORD.  Samuel does, and God reveals to him what will happen to Eli and his sons for their sins. 
            Consider if you will, some interesting aspects of this story.  First, is the ease with which we may miss God’s call, or attribute God’s call to a human instead.  In speaking of their call, most people won’t describe a major disruption in their lives.  Instead they speak of a quiet, slow awakening, perhaps to a life of service or an injustice that needs to be addressed.  Like Samuel, they often tell about a period of uncertainty regarding what they are being called to do, or to be.  Second, Samuel needed Eli to explain to him what these stirrings meant.  The same can be true for us.  It often takes others in our lives to help us understand the call God places before us.
            Another aspect of this story is to see the consequences on a person for their decisions.  Eli’s and his sons are from the priestly line of Aaron; it’s their birthright to serve in the Temple.  Yet, they’ve failed acted justly, and worse yet, Eli their father failed to put a stop to their disrespectful and sinful behaviors.  They used their position as priests for personal gain instead of service to the Lord.  And for their sins, God said, they, no matter what, would not be forgiven.  We really need to let this part of the story sink in.  We, as parents, have a responsibility for our children and their actions. 

Proverbs tell us to “raise up a child in the way they should go; even when they are old, they will not depart from it” (22:6).  This is the reason for the promises we make in Baptism.  We make promises to God and each other to remind us and help us raise our children in how to honor, obey and respect the Lord.  Eli and his sons are an example of what can happen when we fail in our duties as parents.  But the Lord is always faithful to His promises, so God now brings the boy Samuel onto the scene. 

As I’ve mentioned before, throughout the Bible, God didn’t always choose the people we would expect.  Jacob, Joseph, Moses, and David were all unlikely choices.  Jesus, as we read in our gospel lesson, called fishermen and laborers to serve as disciples, instead of the priests and religious leaders of Jerusalem.  Power, prestige or position in the church or community, doesn’t guarantee a similar place in God’s kingdom.  Everyone who is willing to serve, even the apparent outsiders, are given tasks in God’s kingdom.
            The third point of this account comes in the last 11 verses of the chapter.  If we were to stop reading at verse 10 with Samuel answering God’s call, we’d miss an important lesson.  Just as moving into the Promised Land didn’t guarantee a perfect life, neither does God’s call to serve.  God’s words to Samuel were hard to hear and even harder to speak to Eli; they involved a confirmation of the judgment, that had been pronounced against Eli and his children.  Like Isaiah, and Jeremiah who would come after him, God’s call often involves working to change human systems that are broken, leading one down difficult paths; a path that can change our lives forever.  And just as God’s call to Samuel initially confused the young boy, so was Christ’s call to Nathanael in our gospel reading for this morning. 
            God’s call often comes when we least expect it and frequently to those we least imagine.  It seems that God is always full of surprises.  And what can hinder this call is that often we’re guilty of judging the book by its cover.  Too often we’re guilty of making decisions based solely on appearances.  God’s call can come from any number of sources and some of those sources might surprise us.  This was the case with Nathanael; he was surprised at what Philip was telling him. 

            Jesus decided to go to Galilee and there He found Philip.  Philip answered Jesus’ call to follow Him and in turn went and found Nathanael.  When Philip told his brother about Jesus, Nathanael was surprised and asked, “can anything good come from Nazareth?”  So why the disparaging comment about Nazareth?  And, how often are we guilty of this same problem? 

How often are we guilty of making a decision about someone or something based on some preconceived notion?  Or worse yet, coming to a conclusion based on prejudices?  This is proof once again, that God’s wisdom, is not our wisdom.  This story is yet another reminder that God, throughout history, has done some surprising things and worked though some very unexpected people.  As with our Old Testament reading, God chose to speak and work though the young boy Samuel, all because Samuel was open to God’s call. 

            Now Jesus chooses to reveal Himself to the disciples through Nathanael.  At first, Nathanael was like many of the skeptics; those who refused to believe that Jesus is the Messiah based solely on His hometown.  For Philip to suggest that the Messiah could come from this detested town, seemed ridiculous.   Nathanael had, like many others, fallen prey to the offense of the incarnation: God chooses to come to us through the lowly and the despised.  Because of Nathanael’s skepticism, Philip then invites him to “come and see.”

            Whether it was out of pure curiosity, or whether Nathanael was open to God’s call, or both, he accepts Philips invitation.  And after witnessing Jesus’ powers of perception, he believes that Jesus is indeed the “Son of God and the King of Israel.”  And because of his belief, Jesus tells Nathanael that he will see greater things than these.  
            Philip invited Nathanael to “come and see”.  Nathanael at first was skeptical, yet he responded.  His initial attitude toward Jesus was based on his prejudices.  However, He answered the call and his actual experience of Jesus changes his mind.  How often do we miss or ignore God’s call because of our preconceived notions?  Or, how often do we hear the call, yet attribute or dismiss it because we think it’s from human origin? 

Too often this is the problem, people become blinded by their preconceived notions and miss God’s call, just as Nathanael was blinded by his narrow-mindedness about Nazareth.  Thankfully God is patient and often calls us several times, as He did with Samuel, giving us an opportunity to answer.  Sometimes we’re like Samuel and need others to help us discern God’s will in our lives.  Or we may be like Nathanael, and we need to “come and see” and explore the call for ourselves.  Sometimes we’re called to invite others as Philip did.  Whatever the situation, our Baptismal call is to be open to God’s will in our lives. 

We, as the church, need to be encouraging everyone to be open and ready to listen to the voice that calls us into service, into all we were created to be.  At the same time, we need to remember our baptismal promises and responsibilities to our children and of our need to encourage each other to tell the truth, even when the truth may be hard for us to hear.


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