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Holy Communion
8:00 AM to 9:00 AM
A quiet service of Holy Communion.
Holy Communion
10:00 AM to 11:15 AM
A service of Holy Communion with hymns and music.
Bible Search
Sermon for the 2nd Sunday after the Epiphany - January 14 2018

Sermon for the Second Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B
January 14, 2017
The Rev. Evelyn Wheeler, Rector

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

Chicago theologian and preaching professor Jan Schnell Rippentrop noticed something in this passage from John’s Gospel that – I must admit – I had missed.

Nathanael was a complete sceptic.  He didn’t believe Philip – he dismissed his friend’s report right from the get-go.  “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”  The implied answer is “Never in a million years.” It’s like saying, oh, “Can anything good come from Iraq?”  Or, “Can anyone from Mexico be worthwhile?”  Or maybe, “Can any politician ever be trustworthy?”

The implied answer to questions like these is, clearly, No.  No they can’t be good, worthwhile, or trustworthy.  It’s obvious on its face.

But after two seconds of meeting Jesus in person, Nathanael does a complete about-face.  “Rabbi!”  He gives him the title of a respected religious teacher.  And then he goes further – a lot further:  “You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”

He goes from one end of the spectrum of doubt and faith to the other in a New York minute[1] - with two, not one, exclamation points!

He’s had what we like to call an “epiphany.”  No gradual process of a faint light dawning and slowly increasing; just one step into an entire ocean of light.

Sometimes our conversions happen in this way; and sometimes they don’t.  Rippentrop summarizes a moment in Martin Luther King’s life, when he was sorely tempted to give up the battle for civil rights.  She quotes from his book, Stride Toward Freedom¸ about a moment in time he called his “vision in the kitchen.”

I was ready to give up. With my cup of coffee sitting untouched before me, I tried to think of a way to move out of the picture without appearing a coward.  In this state of exhaustion, when my courage had all but gone, I decided to take my problem to God. With my head in my hands, I bowed over the kitchen table and prayed aloud.

The words I spoke to God that midnight are still vivid in my memory. "I am here taking a stand for what I believe is right. But now I am afraid. The people are looking to me for leadership, and if I stand before them without strength and courage, they too will falter. I am at the end of my powers. I have nothing left.  I've come to the point where I can't face it alone.

At that moment, I experienced the presence of the Divine as I had never experienced God before.  It seemed as though I could hear the quiet assurance of an inner voice saying: "Stand up for justice, stand up for truth; and God will be at your side forever."  Almost at once my fears began to go.  My uncertainty disappeared. I was ready to face anything.[2]

King moved from darkness to light in a moment, with just one simple word from God: “I see you, I am with you.  Stand up.” 

Just as Jesus told Nathanael, “I saw you” and “there is no deceit in you.”  It was enough to change everything for Nathanael.

I’ve had a few moments like that – and it changed my life all around, too.  I wouldn’t be standing here telling you about it if it hadn’t.  I have no idea what I would have been doing, but I sure never expected to be doing this!

It took Eli a while to figure out what was going on with Samuel, but once he did, everything changed.  Instead of dismissing the boy as a nuisance who kept disturbing his sleep, he suddenly realized that God was present and had called Samuel to something new.  Eventually, Samuel grew up and was a noted prophet.  He found a new king – young David the shepherd – to replace Saul, the first king of Israel, who just wasn’t up to the job and was unfaithful to the Lord.

Samuel’s moment of call changed everything, not just for Eli or Samuel, but for Israel and its future.  And we can find so many occasions in the Bible when the call of God changed everything for someone, and for the people of God.  It happened all the time.

John the baptizer was called; Zechariah and Simeon and Anna and Elizabeth and Mary were called.  Andrew and Peter and Philip – and Nathanael were all called. Their lives changed.  The world changed.

Right down through history, there are thousands upon thousands of people who have been called.  Saints, missionaries, teachers, pastors, lawyers, doctors, explorers … called to be more, do more, become more than perhaps any of them ever would have thought possible.

I’d like to invite you to consider your own calls.  Those occasions when you felt moved to a new venture, a new career path, a new relationship, a new stage in your spiritual life.  Think about how your life changed when you responded to that call, that sense of direction. 

It didn’t – and it doesn’t – have to be overwhelming.  It doesn’t have to be an instantaneous change, stepping from deep darkness into an ocean of light, the way Nathanael did.  It just had to move you off the place you were into – or at least toward – the place you are.

God is always calling.  Sometimes it’s loud and unavoidable and unexpected; sometimes it’s quiet and subtle and smooth, almost un-noticed.

But if you look for those moments in your past; you will find them, I guarantee it.  If you don’t, you’re not looking hard enough.

I had a conversation last week with my auto mechanic, because the heater died in my car and the battery gave out, and we like to talk.  Anyone who has a pet toad is an interesting person in my book, and she brings me her questions about the faith. 

She said, “There are signs.  My toad is a sign.  When I come home from a wild day at the shop, my toad is sitting in his aquarium, and he is calm and at peace, and sometimes he sings.  And it just soothes me.”

If you look, you will see.  If you listen, you will hear.  If you have a toad, it will sing.

And if you let God have God’s way with you, you will go, and do, and be more than you ever thought possible.  Just as Samuel did, just as Paul did, just as Nathanael did.  Just as Martin Luther King did. 

And to God be the glory!


[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3529

[2] Martin Luther King Jr, Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story, 1st edition (Harper & Brothers, 1958), 124–125.