Epiphany II - 18th Janaury 2009

Holy Communion – Address

Preached by Lay Leader David Fuller

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Collect for Epiphany II
ALMIGHTY God, who in Christ makest all things new: transform the poverty of our nature by the riches of thy grace,
and in the renewal of our lives make known thy heavenly glory; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord,
who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit,one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Old Testament lesson: 1 Samuel, 3, Vv 1 - 20
Epistle: 1 Corinthians 6, Vv 12 - 20
Holy Gospel: St John 1, Vv 43 - 51

I suggest that our Propers, our readings this morning, show a common theme. That theme is about being called by God. We all know the tale of Samuel being called by God, as told us in our Old Testament lesson. The story properly begins with a man from the tribe of Ephraim named Elkanah. Elkanah had two wives, as was common in those ancient times, named Peninnah and Hannah. While Peninnah was the mother of several of Elkanah’s children, Hannah was, as we see in many Old Testament women, called barren. Worse than that, Peninnah taunted her for her barrenness and made her very unhappy. Each year the family went together to pray to the Lord. Some translations mention the Temple of the Lord, but this was some years before a permanent Temple was built in Jerusalem by King David’s son Solomon. This temple, probably a tented enclosure for the Ark of the Covenant and was based at Shiloh, a township in what was later called Samaria, west of the River Jordan. Hannah prayer earnestly to God for the gift of a child and her mouth moved though no words could be heard. She prayed that she might have a son, and if God so rewarded her prayer, she would offer the child back to God. The priest of the time, an old man called Eli, thought that she was drunk and castigated her for her improper behaviour. Hannah replied that she had been pouring her heart out before God and Eli, repenting of his harsh words, prayed that God would answer her prayer. As we know she was delivered of a son and called him Samuel, because, she said, ‘I asked the Lord for him.’

   Samuel became a Nazarite, a child dedicated to God. This form of dedication could be for a fixed number of years or for life. A Nazarite never cut his hair and never consumed alcohol. I am sure there were other requirements but those are the main two. As soon as he was weaned, Hannah took Samuel to the temple and presented him to Eli. It is a few years late in the saga that we get our Old Testament lesson about God’s call to Samuel. Three times God called to him in his sleep and each time he awoke and thought that it was Eli. On the third occasion Eli realised that it was God who was calling Samuel and told him to answer, ‘speak, Lord, for thy servant hears thee.’ Then God disclosed to Samuel what he would do to Eli and his family. I have not thus far mentioned it, but Eli’s sons, Hophni and Phinehas, who helped him in his religious duties, were what the Bible calls ‘scoundrels’. Among their heinous crimes they stole for their own consumption from the meat offered as sacrifice to God. Together with their father they were a thoroughly bad lot. It was about this reprehensible behaviour that God spoke to Samuel that night. He told him that he would manifest his divine retribution on Eli and his family for their many blasphemies. The following morning Eli asked Samuel what God had told him in the night and Samuel explained the reasons for God’s wrath against him and his sons. In the fullness of time, Samuel became the priest of God’s people and his word was heard across the entire nation. It was Samuel who anointed David as King to replace Saul. So, we have the tale of Samuel being called by God.

   Our Gospel was the story of the calling of Philip, and Nathaniel, sometimes called Bartholomew. Saint John, in the early pages of his gospel, puts the details of this encounter very starkly. Jesus found Philip and said to him, ‘Follow me.’ Imagine how Philip must have felt. Do we think that this was a peremptory and spontaneous request from Jesus? Did he just walk up the street of Bethsaida and pounce on poor, defenceless characters? We are told earlier in the chapter of the Baptism of Jesus at the hands of John the Baptist. On the day after the Baptism, John is reported talking to two of his (that is, John’s) disciples. Jesus walked past and John explains that this is no less than the Son of God. The two men followed Jesus. When he asks what they are looking for they address him as Rabbi, or Teacher, and ask where he is staying. The Gospel tells us that they stayed with him until late in the afternoon. We learn further that one of John’s disciples was Andrew – who is, of course, the Patron Saint of Scotland and was, according to Saint John, the first disciple. Andrew brought his brother Simon to Jesus and Jesus immediately renamed him Cephas, which is the Greek equivalent of Peter. Then our Gospel story starts. Jesus found Philip and said to him, ‘Follow me.’ We are only given the extra fact that Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Since they all shared the same home town, had Peter and Andrew seen Philip beforehand and alerted him to what was going on? We’re not told. All we know is that the Saviour found Philip and invited him to follow him – and he did.

   In this story there are two characters, apart from Jesus. In Philip we see a believer who confessed his faith to others. Chosen by Christ and led to know Jesus as the promised Saviour, Philip was anxious to broadcast the news. The fact that he quickly sought out Nathaniel shows us a type of missionary zeal. So we could say that the life of following Christ is a life which understands the importance of confessing Christ to others. How do we do that? Perhaps the most direct way is by doing what Philip did – telling somebody face to face about who and what Jesus Christ is for us and for them. I would guess that some of us have had such opportunities. Perhaps we have also had the privilege and joy of watching the Gospel which came through our witness take root in another person’s heart and bloom in faith. But then again, maybe that’s not been the case. Perhaps we have shared the message with seemingly little or no results. It’s important to remember that it is God, not us, who is responsible for the results.

   Before we move on, there is something in this first verse that could easily escape our attention but is very significant, and also has deep implications for each one of us. It is the fact that Jesus found Philip, and not the other way around. In other words it was Jesus who made the first move toward Philip in establishing what would soon become a close spiritual relationship. Later in this Gospel, Jesus would tell all of his disciples that they did not choose him, but rather he chose them. And it is the same for all of us who gladly call ourselves his modern day disciples. We did not choose him; he chose us. What does this mean for us? Some of us – most of us – never have been chosen to be Head Boy or Girl at school or captain of the football or netball team. We may never have been employee of the month or mother of the year, and consequently may never have received all the accompanying recognition that goes with those accolades. In fact, just the reverse may be true for many of us. Some have had that rather crushing experience of being the last one to be picked when the games teams were being chosen or being the one who wasn’t invited to this party or the one who was passed over for this or that promotion. Whereas the world celebrates what the chattering classes call ‘the movers and the shakers’, many of us have to rank ourselves as being nothing other than average or ordinary.

   But does it matter? With God there are no ordinary people. With God, we are all chosen ones. Let us think about this. Regardless of name, rank, serial number or native ability; regardless of whether we have an OBE, MBA or a PhD after our names; regardless of whether we live the high life or just scraping by – we have been chosen by God to be his own. Through the redeeming work of his Son, through which he has called us to faith, we will someday live with him forever in his kingdom. I guarantee that that bit of information, kept in mind for when we’re having a bad day or just feeling rather ordinary, will surely lift our spirits.

   What has Saint Paul to add to our story? The New English Bible heads the few verses that we heard from the first epistle to the church in Corinth as, ‘Lust and Fornication’. How do these subjects fit in with our theme of being called by God? The whole of chapter six of this epistle is all about how Paul’s Corinthian converts should behave themselves in relation to the society in which they lived. Corinth was perhaps the most modern and cosmopolitan city in the Roman Empire. An earlier Greek city had been destroyed in the year 146 BC and it was not until 44 BC, shortly before his death on the Ides of March that Julius Caesar ordered its rebuilding. It was thus a truly Roman city, albeit in Greece. By the time Paul visited it in the early 50s it was well on its way to becoming the largest and most prosperous city in all of Greece. The Corinthian Christians persuaded themselves that their new religion gave them freedom in all things, more-or-less carte blanche to do as they liked. Paul reminded them that they must not live dissolute and corrupt lives; their bodies are temples for the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. His concluding command to them in our reading was, ‘For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body’. In other words, you were called by God; behave as if God lives within you.

   We have, then, seen God the Father call Samuel to be, perhaps, one of the greatest of the Old Testament prophets. We saw God the Son call the first disciples, Andrew, Peter, Philip and Nathanael. Finally, we understand from Saint Paul that we are all called to be temples for the indwelling of the Holy Spirit of God. Just as God called numerous men and women down the aeons of time, so he has called us. We may be removed from the times of Samuel by about 3,000 years and from Jesus and Paul by some 2,000 years, yet each of us has been called in no less personal or dramatic fashion than those we heard of in our lessons. Through the waters of baptism Jesus found us and brought us into his kingdom. Through Word and Sacrament he strengthens and sustains our faith. We are his disciples. As with the individuals about whom we heard, God says to each one of us, ‘Follow Me.’ And, by his grace and through faith in his Son, gifted to us through the power of the Spirit, we can do just that.

Copyright © David Fuller 2009

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