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Be Ye Doers of the Word and Not Hearers Only

Epiphany 2 – Year B

Samuel was just a boy. His mother Hannah had offered him as a worker in the Temple while he was still very young. Samuel worked for Eli, God’s old and powerful prophet. Samuel lived and worked in the temple, he even slept there. He knew little about religious matters; rather, he was quite content to do only what Eli commanded. We are told that the word of the Lord was rare in those days. No one seemed to have visions or hear God speaking to them in dreams. No one seemed to experience God much at all. Even old Eli hadn’t had a fresh revelation in quite sometime. Samuel was very unprepared for what was to happen to him as he slept on the Temple floor. Three times out of the darkness he heard a voice and three times Samuel ran to the old prophet Eli to see what he might need. As our lesson tells us, “Samuel did not yet know the Lord,” he had no experience of God and the voice he heard in the darkness could only be that of Eli’s. But the old prophet was smarter than that. After the third time Eli knew what was happening and he ordered the boy to stay where he was and answer the voice. Samuel did as he was told and from that mystical vision he received his calling to replace Eli and become one of the greatest prophets in the history of Israel.
When he met Jesus, Philip probably wasn’t all that much older than Samuel. Tradition has it that he was a Galilean and probably a follower of John the Baptist. We don’t know how much he knew about Jesus or even if he had ever seen him, when our Lord walked up and said – “follow me.” All we know for sure is that, like Samuel, Philip responded, he did what God asked of him. Jesus found Philip and Philip went and found Nathanael. Now Nathanael was no body’s fool. When Philip explained to him that he had just met the Messiah, the Christ, the person proclaimed in scripture who was to save Israel, Nathanael was skeptical. Nathanael thought it a little far fetched that the Messiah could be an unknown young carpenter from a little back-water town like Nazareth. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” he asked. But all it took was one encounter with Jesus for Nathanael to know the truth, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” he said. Like Samuel and Philip, Nathanael didn’t know at first that it was God who was calling him. But like the first two, when he knew the truth, when he knew who it was who was speaking to him, he answered the call and followed his Lord.
Annie Dillard in her book, Teaching a Stone to Talk, notes the curious way in which we come to church each Sunday morning. Here we sit in comfortable pews in a beautiful sanctuary where everything is orderly and respectable, neat and tidy. And yet if we really knew much about what the Bible says happens to those who meet God and answer his calling then we might behave very differently. Answering God’s call and living as God would intend is almost never a neat and tidy process. She writes, “Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? The churches are children playing on the floor with chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT…. It is madness to wear ladies straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews.”
What Annie Dillard so aptly points out is that being faithful to God is very often not a safe thing. Worshiping God, following God, encountering God, answering his call, can change our lives in ways we never imagined and never prepared for. Being a Christian can have dangerous consequences, we are involved with powerful stuff and we may be called to live and act in ways we would not necessarily choose for ourselves. Encountering the risen Christ isn’t always as polite and respectable as coffee hour. Sometimes it is as upsetting and life altering as a house fire. The point is, we shouldn’t get too comfortable or fool ourselves in believing that our faith is easy.
Samuel, Philip and Nathanael all had their lives shaken and changed by the call of God. Samuel went from being Eli’s “house boy,” living a comfortable life in the temple, to being the prophet of God to a great nation. Philip and Nathanael were both called away from their lives as simple, faithful Jewish men to follow a young carpenter who called himself the Messiah. Eventually, they would both pay with their lives – Philip was crucified and Nathanael was beheaded. For each of these men, following God was not a safe and civilized venture. Rather, it was a life altering experience to place their lives in the hands of a living God, but in the end it was the only experience that gave their lives any satisfaction.
Tonight at 5:00 we will celebrate another man who gave his life to answer God’s call. Martin Luther King wasn’t a perfect man. He was as fragile and flawed as any of us. But he believed that the power of love was stronger than the power of hate and he was willing to put his life on the line to prove it. He never intended to be anything other than a simple church pastor but God had other plans for him. He stood up for his people, his country and his God – daring to believe that we could be more than a society defined and cursed by racial bigotry and hatred. He answered God’s call to speak the truth and he paid for it with his life.
My question for all of us is – are we willing to risk anything for our faith? All of us are here because in some way, like Philip and Nathanael, we have responded to Christ’s invitation to “follow me” to “come and see.” Something draws us here even if some of us are not quite sure what we believe. But each of us must realize that to live as people of faith we are required to risk. I’ve said it before. Without risk faith remains purely theoretical. Without risk faith is just wishful thinking, a nice idea. In the weeks ahead you will be hearing about the many ways you can put your faith into action here at St. James’s and within the wider community. On Easter morning you will be invited to claim a ministry for yourself and offer it to God. Because it is only when we put ourselves out there, only when we make ourselves vulnerable for the sake of the Gospel that we give life to our faith. It isn’t enough to believe in Jesus. We are called to live like Jesus. To follow Jesus means to walk in his footsteps – to do as he did – to love as he loved, to serve as he served. All of us are called. God calls to us by name even though we may not know God. God invites us to follow, to come and see, to have our lives changes and our souls set afire for the sake of the Kingdom. We are all called – but will we answer. Amen.

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