Lectionary Reflection for the Second Sunday after Epiphany January 18, 2015
The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” John 1:43-45
So here you are…following the call. Well, presumably you are attempting to faithfully follow God’s call to you. Maybe you wonder. Perhaps you even doubt what you hear or sense. Are you where you had envisioned you would be at this point in your life, or have your travels-to-date been sprinkled with surprises or marked by mystery? Were there any roadblocks along the way, any compass alignments, perhaps a few “corrections” to your course? Most people I know, whether called to vocational church ministry or to the priesthood of all believers, have not experienced a straight, easy path of discipleship. Smooth sailing and clear skies of discernment haven’t been a part of my reality. A teacher and writer, I had no intention of following a call to ordained ministry. Obviously God had other plans.
What about your call? When did you first hear, or feel, or sense a call to follow Jesus? Maybe your call was more akin to simply ceasing to run from God or maybe just finally showing up and listening for instructions. Were you like Samuel of this week’s Old Testament lesson, a church brat, who knew the language of faith and who lived in the shadow of ministry? Did the Divine call cut through all the church-speak and religious noise to rouse you from your slumber? Were there more seasoned saints along the way to guide you and help clarify the voices you heard?
Maybe you were more like Philip in John’s gospel: You were just minding your own business and the irresistible face of Christ got all up in your daily doings. The next thing you knew you’re telling others all about it and inviting them to the improbable party. Perhaps you’re a bit of a skeptic like Nathanael who asks (I imagine more than a bit sarcastically) whether anything good can come out of Nazareth. You can just as easily replace “Nazareth” with the name of your own town, faith community, etc. and speak the line with heaping helping of disdain or at least a smidge of suspicion.
The point is–you are here. Something got a hold of your heart, your mind, your hopes, and your soul. For some reason you keep coming back (I hope it’s more than a paycheck or a personalized family pew.) Jesus the Christ reached right across time, space, and eternity to make himself real to you in some form or fashion. The King of the Universe, God wearing skin and speaking your language, named and claimed you and KNOWS you–intimately.
Yes, friends, you can run (hard and fast) but ultimately you cannot hide from the one who desires a relationship with you, who loves you, and who has a thing or two to show you. The word of the Lord may be as rare in our time as it was when Samuel was a boy, some might even argue rarer still given the state of religion in North America and most other “highly developed” nations, but God is still speaking (thanks United Church of Christ). Our job is to listen. And then, when we hear that call to follow. As we follow, it seems we are to share, to tell, and to invite. After that we repeat the cycle: listen, follow, tell, invite. It’s the hardest simple thing you’ll ever do, but that’s the job of the disciple, the one who is called to bear the good news to a hurting world in whatever way God calls you to do it.
It doesn’t matter whether God got your attention as a tot, pursued you across decades of decadence, or found you through the witness of your friends, you have been called. You stand in the company of Samuel, Philip, Nathanael and a great cloud of witnesses. So if you still wonder whether anything good can come out of all this, rest assured that it can. Listen for the whisper of the Divine One who is still calling, guiding, and equipping you to follow.
We are called by God in the company of a great cloud of witnesses. If we question our calling, if we feel unworthy or ill-equipped to follow God, we can look at those who have come before us and followed faithfully–some to be martyrs, some to give all, all to follow paths they could have imagined for themselves. Consider sharing photos and quotes from some of these “saints.” The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King is commemorated in the United States on January 19. His birthday is January 15. Make sure that he is among those you lift up. Here’s a wonderful quote to consider using:
“One of the great tragedies of life is that men seldom bridge the gulf between practice and profession, between doing and saying. A persistent schizophrenia leaves so many of us tragically divided against ourselves. On the one hand, we proudly profess certain sublime and noble principles, but on the other hand, we sadly practice the very antithesis of these principles. How often are our lives characterized by a high blood pressure of creeds and an anemia of deeds! We talk eloquently about our commitment to the principles of Christianity, and yet our lives are saturated with the practices of paganism. We proclaim our devotion to democracy, but we sadly practice the very opposite of the democratic creed. We talk passionately about peace, and at the same time we assiduously prepare for war. We make our fervent pleas for the high road of justice, and then we tread unflinchingly the low road of injustice. This strange dichotomy, this agonizing gulf between the ought and the is, represents the tragic theme of man’s earthly pilgrimage.” ”• Martin Luther King, Jr. in Strength to Love
Talk with youth about calling and vocation today. If you have the opportunity talk about Martin Luther King, Jr. Here’s an example of a person called to vocational church service, who was called into a very public leadership role. What other examples of this can youth identify? You might share briefly the stories of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Oscar Romero, or Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Consider taking your youth to see Selma, the recently released film about Dr. King and the March on Selma. Click here for the trailer. Click here to read an interview in Christianity Today with actor David Oyelowo, about playing Dr. King and about his own Christian faith.
We learn from the Psalmist that God knows us inside and out. In fact, according to the writer of these words, God has “knit me together in my mother’s womb.” Some people in the congregation will probably remember a time when it was tough–if not impossible–to predict whether a baby was going to be a boy or a girl. There were no kits to tell if you were with child, no 3-D ultrasound photos, and before birth photo studios. Now people share pictures of their babies on Facebook before they are born. If a tiny baby is sick, doctors can often operate on them while they are still inside their mother’s body. It’s amazing. But how much more amazing is it that God knows every atom and molecule in our bodies, knew us before we began to grow into this world?
Give children some shower trinket for “It’s a Boy” or “It’s a Girl” baby shower. Tell them that even though we can now figure out whether a baby will be a boy or a girl, or even have 3-D or 4-D pictures made before the baby is born–God knows us when we were not even a twinkle in our mother’s eye. The psalmist tells us that God knows all about us and loves us dearly. That’s how amazing God is. Read a little bit of the psalm, perhaps from the ESV version. Make a party favor that says “I’m a Child of God!” and give each child one of those. Maybe this is the kind of party favor we need to pass out at baby showers. Finish with a simple prayer.
Photos: Moritz Haase, Marc Gascogoine, and Very Quiet, Creative Commons. Thanks!