Called Out

1 Samuel 3:1-20 | Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17 | 1 Corinthians 6:12-20 | John 1:43-51

Back in November (Proper 28) was when we had to opportunity to look at Judges as our Old Testament reading, when Deborah is named as a prophet of the time and when Jael made a surprising move involving a tent peg and Sisera’s skull (and that’s not even the worst thing accounted for in the time of the judges). Now, in the season after Epiphany we hear a bit of Samuel’s story. I say “a bit” because his life from before conception to after his death is accounted for in the Bible, which is quite a rarity. This also the transition from the period of judges (which wasn’t working out so well for the Israelites) to the rise of the monarchs.

Today we have this opening sentence setting the scene for us, a brief yet telling commentary of the time.

“Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.”

Samuel, a young lad, ministers to the high priest Eli, who is all but blind and depends greatly upon Samuel. And the word of Lord–revelations of God–were rare; visions or prophecies were equally sparse. Since we’re reading the Word of God, a God of abundance and in our season when Christ Light is manifest, our sense of anticipation builds. What happens next? We know it’s the LORD calling out to Samuel in the night, but Samuel, naturally thinks it’s his master.  Even the High Priest isn’t aware of the LORD’s voice, as infrequent as it had become, until the voice has called out three times. The faithful master gives his “son” instruction on heeding the voice of the LORD, little does he know it will indicate his own ruin. For Eli’s sons had blasphemed God, disobeying laws regarding how fat and meat are separated and offered to God before they are consumed. It seems a little outrageous to us, to be judged for such a minor offense, but these were the commandments the faithful were to abide by, and Eli as a High Priest has standards against which to be held. He, like most parents these days, loved his kids, and probably chided them like I do mine for their transgressions, but things were different then. The LORD proclaimed what he was going to do, and Samuel was to be the one to deliver the news. Samuel, who has heard the voice of God is, as his first task as prophet, to deliver the news to Eli. Was this call a joy to Samuel? Was this something he looked forward to? Don’t you know the weight and dread he carried to the next day when Eli convinced him to share? And Eli, good and faithful as he was, accepted the LORD’s judgment, not arguing or protesting, showing us the way of obedience. Similarly, we see Samuel assuming his call, and we are told that he becomes a trustworthy prophet as he continues to heed the voice of the LORD, bearing the burden of responsibility faithfully, obediently.

Our gospel shows us a different call commencing. Jesus decides to go to Galilee and finds Philip, telling him to “Follow me.” I’m sure it was Jesus’ charisma and presence that compelled Philip to follow, but Philip finds Nathanael and tells him that they need to follow Jesus of Nazareth, the one of whom prophecies have been told. Nathanael protests: “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”

Now, in the news lately there’s been lots said about countries from which the outcome would be questionable. I’ve seen memes already generated calling Nazareth one of these kind of countries.

Philip doesn’t react much, though. He just says, “Come and See.”

Isn’t that what we have to do? We can’t tell someone how they’re going to experience Jesus. We can love our experience at church and feel like it’s helping us live a godly life, but we can’t describe or even pretend to know how someone else will experience Christ here. They have to come and see for themselves. First, they have to be invited. (That’s our ongoing responsibility, to invite others to come and see the presence of Christ in our midst!) Thankfully, Nathanael does go with Philip, and what happens next? Nathanael calls Jesus “Rabbi,” “Son of God, “King of Israel.”

What happened in the point between saying “What good can come out of Nazareth?” to “Rabbi, Son of God, King of Isarel”? Nathanael encountered Jesus and something transformative happened, something we can’t understand except that it was some kind of epiphany, some kind of realization about God being manifest before him. That’s the kind of thing we expect in the presence of Christ, but where do we see that around us today? Maybe we are attuned to see it all the time, but maybe not.

A couple of weeks ago, comedian Sarah Silverman was called something profane on Twitter. It would have been completely normal for her, a witty comedian, to fire back an intelligent insult, invoking the supporting rage of her followers and erupting a flame war of epic proportions. No one would have thought much about it.

But she didn’t.

Sarah said something to the effect of: “Behind all your hate and rage, I see pain. I see you just trying to get kicked off Twitter.” She took a moment before quipping back to him to look at his profile and saw that this was a desperate, pain-riddled guy who was on the path to further isolate himself and seek further into despair. And she wasn’t having it. She identified with him and invited him to see a different way, to choose love, to have a little hope. And she offered tangible hope to him, helping him out tremendously, networking him with resources in his community. She didn’t have to. When he asked why she was offering him hope, why she was offering to help him, she basically admitted that she didn’t know but that maybe it was something in his eyes. I looked at the guy’s profile. I’m not sure that I would have reacted the same way she did. I might have just chosen not to react at all, turned a blind eye.

But that’s always a choice we have when we are called out. How do we react? Do we hear it at all? Do we understand what’s being asked of us? Do we reply with a smart-alec response? Do we choose love? It’s up to us, but however we reply, I’m not sure we always perceive that we are in the presence of God or that we have the eyes of many paying attention. We just don’t realize the importance of our lives in the scheme of things. It takes someone who knows us fully, intimately, someone who knows our rising up and going down, someone who knit us in our mother’s womb, someone like God. God knows us intimately, loves us deeply, and calls us always to live fully into the life for which we were created. It’s up for us to discern how we are to do this, and it’s not going to be easy. But it’s up for us to decide what it looks like to choose to heed the voice of God, to follow Christ, and to choose love.

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Light & Spirit

Epiphany

Isaiah 60:1-6 | Psalm 72:1-7,10-14 | Ephesians 3:1-12 | Matthew 2:1-12

Baptism of our Lord

Genesis 1:1-5 | Psalm 29 | Acts 19:1-7 | Mark 1:4-11

The 12th Night party was both delicious and fun, a beautiful way to mark the end of the Christmas season and turn to the light of Epiphany. Last week we were reminded of the Word made flesh, and I emphasized that the Word was Light: what’s born in Jesus Christ is Light. So it’s appropriate that a celestial star guided the three magi from the East to the birthplace of Jesus, though they checked at the palace in Jerusalem first–the likely abode of a newly born king–surprising King Herod who thinks he’s the only king in town. The star guides the magi to the true King of kings, and they pay him homage, bringing gifts decidedly not for a baby but perfect markers of royalty. And these three from afar are not Jews but gentiles and are part of the manger scene we see as complete, for Jesus Christ is the Lord of all nations, a Light for all. Epiphany commonly means a realization, an a-ha moment. Our Epiphany is when Christ was manifested to the gentile magi, as our gospel tells it. Christ’s manifestation for all is reaffirmed in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. The Light of Christ knows no bounds.

This Sunday marks the feast of the Baptism of our Lord, instantly not a baby but a grown man, arriving just as John the Baptist, the witness, said he would. Jesus, just one of the crowd. John, obedient unto death, baptized Jesus as he had so many others. But at Jesus’ baptism, the heavens broke open, and the Spirit descended upon him, proclaiming him as the Son, the Beloved, with whom God is well please. (I truly kind of anticipate this happening at every baptism, and it only increases the excitement of the event!) There had to be some at Jesus’ baptism who heard the voice of God and decided to ignore it, others who missed it, and still others who heard it and couldn’t shake off what happened. So they followed the one, not fully understanding why. We, too, will follow Jesus into his ministry this season of Epiphany as he calls his disciples and does that risky thing of living into who he is–one of Light and Spirit.

As Christians, as faithful people, we seek after Christ, his Light and Spirit. In our baptism, we confess our belief in Jesus Christ and receive the power of the Holy Spirit. To keep our faith strong, we look for affirmation in the world around us, or we use tools at hand to strengthen or renew our faith. Think about what you do to look for the light of Christ in the world. Where do you look for strengthening of Spirit or even the presence of Spirit?

I asked a few of my friends so that my experiences wouldn’t be all you hear, but in their responses I heard my own answers. Maybe you hear yours, too.

  • A candle during meditation
  • Music
  • Being with others, especially connecting with their humanity
  • Poetry
  • Sitting in the sunlight
  • Reading holy words about light

All these energize the Christ-light within for us and maybe for you, too.

And when we’re looking for strength and presence of Spirit, you can probably guess our go-to’s:

  • Meditation,
  • Church, especially to sit alone,
  • Silence,
  • A retreat,
  • A garden, and
  • The outdoors in general.

As much as these are ways we seek the Christ-light or discern the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, sometimes–a lot of times, actually, especially if we have an active prayer life–light and spirit have a way of showing up and finding us. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that where they appear are often the same:

  • Places of good word: food banks/pantries, social justice events, social service agencies/organization,
  • Times of birth and death and other significant life events,
  • Relationships, be they brief encounters or long-term, and
  • Difficult situations.

These name just a few instances, and these are just times we actually notice.

Truthfully, the Light of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit are with us all along, anxiously waiting for us to cooperate in this “divine dance,” as Richard Rohr calls the Holy Trinity. How much more could God invite us into divine relationship than by offering us the only Son and giving us the power of the Holy Spirit? We’re not here just to follow the example of Christ; we’re here to live into Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. And like our church calendar, it’s cyclical, repetitive, and hopefully enriching and truly enlightening, deepening our relationship with the Holy Mystery that draws us near and holds us in perfect love, even when we ourselves are far from perfect.

So we can be like the moon, planets, and comets and merely reflect the light of the Son. (I hope you saw the full moon this past week!) Honestly, I’m a lot like the moon, the strength of my faith and spirit waxing or waning, depending on the day or season. But we are more like stars ourselves. For stars radiate their own light “through nuclear reactions, using energy stored in the tiny nucleus at the center of atoms.” Our sun is a huge star. Who’s to say we can’t be like tiny stars, trying to shine as brightly as the sun? Where is that Christ Light and power of the Holy Spirit if not at the center of our being? Why do we feel the need to be still and quiet or seek out others who radiate a light and power we sense as familiar, if we didn’t already know it in the center of our being?

Whoever we are, wherever we come from, the Light of all ages shines for us and within us, and by the power of the Holy Spirit we shine brightly in our lives through not just the extraordinary but also in the ordinary things we do. Living into our baptismal covenant gives us guidance on how to keep living into the Light and reminding us that we do all things with God’s help, thanks to the power of the Holy Spirit. It could be that our star is one that might lead others to Christ.

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Glory & Prayer

Exodus 34:29-35 | Psalm 99 | 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2 | Luke 9:28-43a

There’s a lot of energy buzzing around with it being Super Bowl Sunday, with racing season underway, and with Mardi Gras beads all around. Even the daffodils and hyacinth are blooming around the church. There’s lively spring energy everywhere, life and light shining all around us. To top it all off before we enter the coming season of Lent, we get a glimpse of the glory of God revealed in the radiant transfiguration of Jesus, as Luke would tell it. And as Luke would tell it, “Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray” (Lk 9:28).

If you’ve been doing Bible study (especially with CB) for any length of time or have been in Christian ed these past few weeks, you know that the gospel writers usually have a slightly different account to give for the same event. Such is the case for the account of the Transfiguration. It’s mostly the same, but little things are different between them. For instance, Luke is the only one to say Jesus and all were going up on the mountain to pray and that it was while Jesus was praying that “the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white.” In all three synoptic gospels, however, there’s the voice from the cloud that tells them to listen to Jesus.

We’ve spent these past weeks in Epiphany highlighting Jesus’s life, giving witness to the works of the Son of God, the Light of the world, in what we might call ordinary time. After all, today isn’t the Feast of the Transfiguration (which comes in early August). Today’s gospel is a glimpse into Jesus’s life at the very basic level of who he is–the beloved, chosen Son of God, full of greatness and glory–and of what is to come–his departure.

OptimisticHikeWanting to dig deeper in the text in a different kind of way, I took advantage of this beautiful weather we’re having to go for a hike . . . up a mountain. I hadn’t yet been on any of the trails on West Mountain, so I thought I’d give it a go.

First of all, I didn’t listen to the directions I was given very well, and I ended up at the trailhead on Blacksnake Road, at the Sunset trail.

Second, I had realized earlier in the morning that not only had I forgotten the rest of my coffee but I had also forgotten my water bottle on the kitchen counter at home.

Third, I had no snacks or bars with me, and it was the noon hour, over four hours since I’d eaten breakfast.

For consolation, I told myself that I didn’t have to go far, that the steps would be good for me, and that if I got tired, I could turn back.

As I walked along the uphill trail–for it starts out uphill right away–I had to watch the rocky path and pay attention to my footing, but I also imagined following Jesus up a mountain, not knowing exactly where we were going or what we were going to do. Those thoughts drifted to noticing the trees around me, tall and skeletal, the scurry of something in the dead, dry leaves, my heart pulsing in my ears, and the white hot sun.

Directly over the top of the mountain, there shone the sun, so white it made me wonder why we color it yellow when it’s high in the sky. It shone so brightly that even the shadows of the trees weren’t very dark, and I was grateful for the cool breeze that kept me from feeling too hot, though my body had already begun to sweat. The sunlight was strong and all-encompassing. I could turn away from it, but it was always there, shining all around me and drawing attention to the nakedness of the woods in wintertime.

NotQuiteThereWhen I got to the sign that said I had 1 ¾ mile left to get to the lookout, I was thirsty and tired and wished I had been better prepared. I risked a glance at the sun, and then with spots in my vision, I turned back the way I came, downhill all the way.

No, I didn’t have any grand epiphany on my partial-mountain hike, but through the bare trees, I took in some beautiful views. Up on the trail, the air was fresh and cool, and there was a sense of clarity of thought and vision, helped along, I’m sure, by the bright blue sky. It makes perfect sense why Jesus would go to a mountain top to pray, putting for the effort to escape the crowds that surrounded him below.

It also makes sense that Jesus brought three of his apostles with him, to witness what happened, even if they didn’t understand it, and to hear the voice command them to listen to Jesus. For Jesus had already told them once that he would be killed and rise again. He would tell them again, more than once. He had already told them to take up their cross and follow him at great cost. He would reiterate the cost of discipleship and continue to tell them more about the kingdom of heaven. More than tell them, he would show them, and he would continue to pray with them.

Jesus doesn’t become some esoteric hermit in a mountain top cave. He does everything he sets out to do, with us and among us, before us and beyond us.

And he tries to get it through our thick skulls and our hardened or broken hearts that all of His life here on Earth is to bring us into the glory of God, to bring us into the kingdom sooner or later. I think Luke gives us a hint here today that prayer is a surefire key to tap into the glory of God, which is all-encompassing and strengthens us to make it through the peaks and valleys of our lives. The glory of God gives us strength because it is assurance that love and life prevails.

A great crowd was anxious to get to Jesus when he got back from the mountain top. One of them was a father who had a child who needed to be rid of a demon. Luke shows us an annoyed Jesus who even then is able to heal the boy and show the greatness of God. In Mark’s account, though, which has a kind of private debriefing with the twelve, Jesus tells his bewildered disciples that the kind of demon the boy had could “come out only through prayer” (Mk 9:29).

When darkness descends, when the demons fill our mind, sometimes our only recourse is prayer. Prayers our faith has taught us. Prayers we speak spontaneously. Prayers we repeat again and again because they give voice to our deepest longing, our greatest hopes, and biggest fears. It can be the words of prayer or our place of prayer or our very mindset that we have when we are deep in prayer that recall for us the real presence of Christ in our midst. Prayer can be a soothing balm for our souls or a suit of armor as we live into that hardest prayer of “God’s will be done.”

I think it is in times of prayer that Jesus aligns himself with God’s will. We might like to think he’s going apart to find a little peace and quiet, to get away from the loud and demanding masses. I imagine he is seeking peace and quiet, the kind of stillness that comes from being fully aligned with the will of God. As humans, living into God’s will is our ongoing struggle, one we persevere through with unceasing prayer.

The former admissions coordinator for Sewanee had a saying: “Stay prayed up.” She told me in her Tennessee twang, “If we’re all prayed up, we’re never far from His will.” If we’re prayed up, we realize we don’t have to hike to mountain tops to witness the glory of God. If we’re prayed up, we have the assurance of faith to see us through the valleys. If we’re prayed up, we are ready to traverse some darkness and do some soul clearing and renewing before reaching the Easter Light. Even if we know the glory of God is with us all along, we keep praying.

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