St. John's Episcopal Church

Sermon for January 14, 2018

The Second Sunday after the Epiphany

The Rev. Carol Hancock


St. John's, Centreville
January 14, 2018
2 Epiphany B
John 1:43-51
     In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
     Our lessons this morning all have to do with calling - God's calling - and with God knowing us better than we know ourselves; knowing us before we were born; knowing what strengths we have to be used for God's service, even when we don't recognize those strengths ourselves.
     In our Old Testament lesson, we hear about the calling of Samuel by God. Now Samuel is only 12 years old. His birth was an answer to the prayers of his mother Hannah who was barren. In thanksgiving, she dedicated her son to the service of the Lord. So Samuel serves Eli, the priest at Shiloh. Eli's own sons were scoundrels, taking advantage of others and using all they have for themselves.
     So Eli, now an elderly man, takes Samuel under his wing and teaches him. In the middle of the night, God calls Samuel. But Samuel thinks it is Eli who is calling him and he rushes to his side. By the third time, Eli realizes that it is God who is calling Samuel and he tells Samuel to respond, "Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening." Then God tells Samuel that Eli's house will be destroyed because of the disobedience of Eli's sons and Eli did nothing to stop them. Samuel is reluctant to tell Eli what God has told him, but Eli insists. Eli's response to the news is, "It is the Lord; let him do what seems good to him." Eli's faith is strong. He and his family and his tribe will be destroyed, yet he trusts in God.
     Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord. Yet God chooses Samuel to be his prophet, to speak on God's behalf. God can use anyone, no matter their age or circumstance. If one has a willingness to be open to God, God can use them.
     Our psalm for today talks about God knowing us before we were born, of knitting us together in our mother's womb. "You have searched me out and known me, " says the psalmist. You know my sitting down and rising up and you can discern my thoughts." Everything about us is known by God.
     In our Epistle lesson, Paul is instructing the people of Corinth that, if they are Christians, they cannot do whatever they want. Their behavior is important. What they do with their bodies is important because they are members of the body of Christ. Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. Even though something may be lawful does not mean it is best for the community of faith.
     In our gospel lesson, we hear about Jesus calling Philip to come and follow him. When Philip sees Nathanael, he is excited to tell him that they have found the One about whom the law and the prophets were written, Jesus of Nazareth. Nathanael is curious. "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" he asks. Nazareth is a small, indistinct, working class village. If the Son of God was to come to earth, wouldn't he come to a place like Bethlehem or some other bigger city? Wouldn't he come from powerful, well to do parents? Wouldn't he have a first class education? Why would the Son of God come from Nazareth? Philip says to Nathanael, "Come and see." So Nathanael does. Jesus tells Nathanael that he knew him long before now. He knew him when he was sitting under a fig tree. Immediately, Nathanael proclaims that Jesus is the Son of God, the king of Israel. Jesus tell Nathanael that he will see greater things than this.
     Philip is known as one of the first evangelists. He must have had some relationship with Nathanael prior to this story so Nathanael trusts him. Philip brings Nathanael to come and see Jesus. He doesn't argue with Nathanael. He doesn't twist his arm, or tell him all the reasons that Philip thinks Jesus is the Messiah. Philip says to Nathanael, "Come and see." Come and see for yourself and make your own decision. See how Jesus changes lives, hear what he says, watch him heal the sick and raise the dead and feed 5000 men with five loaves and two fish. Come and see.
     Much of our evangelism, of inviting others to come and see, is about relationships. Those who are called by Jesus, in turn, call others. In this first chapter of John's gospel, there is a long list of relationships from John the Baptist to Andrew to Peter to Philip to Nathanael, each having a relationship with another who calls them to come and see.
    And that's what evangelism is- inviting someone you know to come and see for themselves. Come and see what you think. Evangelism is not about convincing someone they should believe in God. It's not about twisting arms. It's not about having all the right answers. It's about invitation - inviting your friends, your neighbors, people who know you, to come and be a part of a supportive community of faith and see and decide for themselves.
     That is why we make promises in the sacrament of baptism to help those being baptized to know who Jesus is. It is not up to one person to do that. It is not just the work of the parents and godparents. It is the responsibility of the entire community of faith.
     In just a few minutes, we will witness and participate in the baptism of Julia Marie Hadfield, daughter of Angela and Russ Hadfield. They have brought Julia here to "come and see". Although at this point she is to young to see for herself, the time will come, hopefully at her confirmation, when she takes on the baptismal vows for herself, that because of the witness and relationships with her parents and godparents and this community of faith and other Christians who have shown her and taught her in various ways who Jesus is, that she will make her own mature commitment of faith in Jesus Christ.
     Come and see. Tell others, particularly those who may be having an especially difficult time, to come and see for themselves. See what Christ is doing in our lives. Be open to the work of the Holy Spirit. Listen for the calling of God to be God's hands and feet in this world. And then go and tell others about the great love of God for all of God's children. Amen.
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