Sunday, January 24, 2021
Third Sunday after Epiphany / Lectionary 2, Year B
(This lectionary was originally assigned for January 17th. We switched the readings for the two Sundays for the sake of a desired preaching narrative.)
Prayer of the Day
Thanks be to you, Lord Jesus Christ, most merciful redeemer, for the countless blessings and benefits you give. May we know you more clearly, love you more dearly, and follow you more nearly, day by day praising you, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Readings and Psalm
1 Samuel 3:1-10 The calling of Samuel
Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18
1 Corinthians 6:12-20 Glorify God in your body
John 1:43-51 The calling of the first disciples
Title: Called to Stay Close and Stay Together
Were you intimidated last week? Even a little bit? It would be understandable. There we were talking about being called to be disciples and who were our examples? Peter and Andrew, James and John who, according to the gospels just dropped their nets and all responsibilities to walk the countryside with this unknown teacher and learn a whole new way to look at life and death, look at God and each other. I mean really, could anyone see yourself doing that today? The list of what would hold us back is long: jobs, bills, rent, mortgage, family, health concerns and limitations, pets, and that is the short list.
And then if that wasn’t intimidating enough, our modern example of discipleship was Dr. King, who seems to have done exactly what those four fisherman did as well. He courageously and faithfully put aside self and his inner sphere for the sake of bringing the gospel to a broken world, speaking words of liberation, and working to end oppression.
If you weren’t feeling intimidated maybe you do now, having heard me recap it like that. Well rest assured, it is a new day and there is a new man on the scene that, maybe, we can relate to a bit better. As we hear the gospel writer John start, it is the next day. Yes, this is a different gospel from last week, however, what precedes today’s reading in John, is the same story of Jesus calling the four fishman that we heard Mark speak of last week. So, it is the day after, Jesus has four fishman following him. They see Philip, from the same town as Peter and Andrew. We read that Jesus found Philip. (Jesus does that well. Finding people.) Now, I’m guessing that before Philip could just join the growing pack and begin to follow, he must have said something like: “Wait a minute, I have to go get my friend Nathaniel. He’s gotta meet you.”
And so enters the man who is going to make this Sunday a lot easier on us than last Sunday – Nathaniel. Picture the most sarcastic person you know. The one who has a sharp comment for anything and everything that is said to them. Perhaps on the hyper-critical side. Jokes, but means it. They say they don’t, but they do. That is Nathaniel. You have to wonder what got the two, Philip and Nathaniel, separated. I mean, Jesus finds Philip by himself. But Philip knows exactly where Nathaniel is. Did they have a friendly spat and need to take a time out from each other? Were they on a hike and Nathaniel needed to rest but Philip wanted to keep walking, so he did? Maybe Nathaniel whined that he was hungry, and Philip was heading off to get Nathaniel some cheese to go along with that whine. Whatever the situation, Philip does not just drop everything like those four fishman the day before. He goes back to get his friend to come along with him. But, good old Nathaniel is not impressed. He speaks one of the funnier lines in the Bible, especially since we know who he is talking about. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”
A quick sidebar – There are numerous times in scripture where an opinion is expressed based on an undeveloped reference. It always leaves us wondering just what the person or group of people was implying. I enjoy the speculation. Like when Jesus goes back to that town of Nazareth and his follow Nazarenes are even less impressed with him than Nathaniel is with their town. They proceed to dismiss any suggestions of Jesus being special with lines like: But he’s Mary’s son. OR Here’s Joseph’s kid. As if to say, that family couldn’t produce what you are suggesting. And here we have Nathaniel expressing an opinion about Nazareth. Was there something truly wrong with Nazareth? Or was Nathaniel just being a Bethsaida snob? Like a New Yorker being introduced to Jesus of Elizabeth, New Jersey. Can anything good come out of Elizabeth? We’d ask.
But back to our relatable hero Nathaniel. Regardless of his possible tiredness, crankiness, hunger, snobbishness, or whatever else was pinning him to the shade of that tree, Nathaniel responds to Philips “Come and see” by getting up and heading to see what all the excitement is about. Probably with a well-placed yawn for emphasis.
Of course, Jesus knows with whom he is dealing, so he plays along. (Yet another episode that testifies to the fact that Jesus exhibited a good sense of humor while he walked the earth. Many of us are counting on him having it still now as he walks with us.)
There is another bit of banter from Nathaniel. “Oh, and how did you get to know me so well,” he says. But Jesus stops him in his tracks with “I saw you under the tree.” And suddenly Nathaniel sees this guy is to be taken seriously. Is it refreshing to see someone be human when encountering Jesus and rquiring a little proof? Be human as in, someone we, evidence craving moderns, can relate to.
When it comes to classic call stories, it’s Samuel that I am most envious of. There he is in our first reading, a young kid, growing up in the temple, under the tutelage of old Eli, and the young boy hears a voice from heaven. Clear as if Eli were calling him. Took a few times to understand what was going on, but Samuel responds, and his journey in faith is beautifully articulated to him. There you go. He’s young enough so he hasn’t accumulated all those things that can weigh us down, demand our undivided attention, require our unshakeable commitment. And he gets a clear message from heaven.
Regardless of how we hear or receive it, regardless of how we react, repel, or retreat, we each are called to follow, to be disciples of Christ, to walk in his ways and bring the gospel, the good news of forgiveness, healing, and new life to the world. And the call stories are as varied as the people who receive this call of Christ to follow. The responses are even more varied. Some will have multiple or even evolving responses.
Whether you drop the net on yourself and are immediately caught, or you lie there in the shade confused, or are like our good friend Nathaniel, who just wants a little more proof, the answer seems to be stick around and stick together. Impulses can be strengthened, confusion can be clarified, and even sarcasm and doubt can be transformed into faith when the Holy Spirit is working in us to reveal the mercy and grace of God, and is working through us to build up the community of faith. And while those first disciples saw those faith-strengthening sights on a regular basis as they followed Jesus, of course culminating with that greatest sight of all – the resurrected savior; for others, for us, it takes time, takes small steps, takes listening to the stories of others, listening to our own story develop.
Nathaniel’s ancestor-in-guile Jacob – a character from the Hebrew scriptures who was known as a superstar of guile – did see angels descending and ascending (think Jacob’s ladder) just as Jesus is promising Nathaniel. But God’s promise to Jacob through his grandfather Abraham to build a great nation would be delayed by nearly 500 years of slavery in Egypt. Yet, the promise was remembered and fulfilled. Stick around, the timing is a mystery. Nerve-wracking at times, yes, but a mystery none the less.
And our call is also to stick together. Later when Jesus will send disciples out to spread the word, he will send them two by two. Philip does not leave Nathaniel behind when he sees that this is something to share. Samuel’s call is affirmed by Eli, and further instruction and guidance comes from the old wise one. Paul is reminding us that we are joined together as the body of Christ. Another mystery that is witnessed to in different ways from the different body parts. One part caring for, encouraging, and strengthening another part. A variety of gifts, a variety of stories, one Spirit working in all and through all.
So, hear the call that is going out to each and every one. Called through the waters of baptism to live our new life in Christ; staying close so as to hear the word of God calling and experience the sacraments strengthening. And staying together to live that word in community and be the presence of Christ for the sake of the world. Our response is simple: Here I am, Lord.
The Rev. Mark Erson,