Second Sunday after Epiphany – Year B
Grace, mercy, and peace to you – from the God who calls us all.
When we are picking someone for an important job, we look for the most qualified person. Ideally, we find someone who is already experienced, who will work for whatever we can pay. We want a person who is mature and responsible. We want someone who can be trusted, who has a good work ethic, someone who is not out for their own selfish interests.
Whether we are looking to call a new pastor or elect a president, we want to make sure we know what we are getting. We want a thorough background check. No skeletons in the closet. We want someone who puts our interests first. Someone like us who can relate to us.
We would expect God to do the same thing – to call only the brightest and best, the ones who are proven leaders. We think Jesus would be especially discriminating in choosing disciples. After all, these are the people who are first entrusted with passing on the faith.
God does things differently. God is more into “on the job training” and it seems that even children get assigned important tasks. God doesn’t care how old people are or where they come from either.
We have heard two wonderful Bible stories this evening/morning. In our first lesson, we hear the story of the call of Samuel. We learn that God doesn’t just call adults. God calls children.
I have always loved that story, perhaps because I was blessed to know I was called to serve in the church ever since I was a little girl. At a very basic level I knew that God calls little children, because the Bible tells me so. This story was very affirming for me.
You remember, Samuel is the son of Hannah. She was barren for many years. The other women bullied her because she didn’t have any children. Hannah promised God that if she had a son, she would give him back to God. She would bring him to the Priest to serve the LORD all his life. So that is how Samuel came to serve Eli, the priest at Shiloh.
It was bed time and Samuel thought Eli was calling him. Three times he goes into Eli and asks him what he wants before Eli finally figures out that the LORD is calling the child. Notice how persistent God is about it. When Samuel goes back to bed the LORD calls him again. The child Samuel is entrusted with an important message from the LORD.
In our gospel today, we hear the story of the call of Nathanael. Jesus has already called Andrew, who had been a disciple of John the Baptist. Andrew invites his brother Simon Peter to follow Jesus. The next day, Jesus finds Philip, who lived in the same town as Andrew and Peter.
Philip found his friend Nathanael and invited him to follow Jesus. Nathanael’s response is interesting. He is somewhat sarcastic and asks if anything good can come out of Nazareth. It seems that the idea that “my hometown is better than your hometown” goes back at least to Bible times.
If we are honest with ourselves we must admit to some level of this attitude today. The Onion News, a satirical online newspaper, offers a t-shirt for sale that says, “the sports team from my area is SUPERIOR to the sports team from your area”.
Unfortunately, the attitude often goes beyond friendly sports rivalry. We are suspicious of people who aren’t like us, who haven’t had the same experiences growing up in the same place. We feel the need to make them prove they are good enough to associate with us.
This weekend we observe the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., the famous civil rights leader. This Baptist preacher knew the Bible was not just about personal individual faith. Dr. King knew following Jesus leads to public ministry. Following Jesus meant very concrete things for the world, society, and government.
Dr. King knew Jesus came to call all people, no matter where they came from. Even if their ancestors came from Africa on slave ships. He knew following Jesus meant that we must work to reform our country and our communities so that all people have equal rights and opportunities, no matter who they are or where they come from.
We have made great strides since Dr. King’s death, but we still have a long way to go before all God’s children are free to follow their dreams. White people still enjoy privileges that we take for granted. People in our community and in our country are still being oppressed because of color, class, religion, gender, and sexual orientation. I even hear people categorize each other based on which Northern European country our grandparents immigrated from.
Nathanael was a man who said what he thought, even if he was being sarcastic with the remark about Jesus’ hometown. Philip must have known Nathanael would say something like that. So he doesn’t argue about it. He just says, “Come and see”.
Jesus tells Nathanael he saw him under the fig tree. Rabbis sat under fig trees to study the scriptures, so Nathanael is an intellectual, a scholar. Jesus is calling a disciple who will ask hard questions and debate the scriptures.
I think perhaps, God also wants us to use our brains and study the scriptures and ask the hard questions.
God calls us no matter how old we are, no matter where we come from.
But we hear lots of voices and plenty of competing messages. How do we know which voice belongs to God?
One thing we know from Samuel is that God is persistent. Samuel went to Eli to ask about the voice he heard. Eli had been a priest for many years. It is good to ask for advice from someone older and wiser.
Nathanael followed a trusted friend, but came to see for himself. He was a student of the scriptures and asked the hard questions. It is good to talk and pray with people you trust, study the scriptures, ask the hard questions, and come see for yourself.
God calls us no matter how old we are and no matter where we come from.
So what do you do when God calls you?
You listen and you follow Jesus.
Dr. King followed Jesus when he worked for justice, peace, and equality for all God’s children. One of the promises we make when we affirm our baptism is to work for justice and peace in all the world. We are doing this through our advocacy work with the ELCA and our contributions to Lutheran World Relief. We work for justice and peace when we speak up for someone who is being bullied. We speak up for justice when we stop someone who makes an insensitive comment about people who are different from us.
What did Andrew and Philip do when they heard Jesus calling them? One of the first things these disciples did was invite others to join them.
God is calling you. Listen, follow Jesus, and invite others to come and see. Amen.