Second Sunday after the Epiphany
1 Samuel 3:1-10; Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17; 1 Corinthians 6:12-20; John 1:43-51
Why do we still read scripture? It’s old, right, written, some of it, nearly 3,000 years ago! The newest books are 2,000 years old and the people were very different from us. We have been hearing the story of scripture for a long time. Why keep reading and listening?
Well, we still believe that God speaks to us through scripture, even though the people were in a different place and time, they are still very much like us. God’s voice springs up from the pages of scripture, revealing a God who is daunting, profound and amazingly intimate who calls us in ways both personal and communal. Secondly, God extends an invitation to be in relationship with Him through Jesus Christ, inviting us to come and see, and draw near. We are invited, in Holy Scripture, to listen to God, for God is speaking to us.
So, God speaks to us in a way that is at once powerful and at the very same moment, intimate. Psalm 139 express the reality that
LORD, you have searched me out and known me; you know my sitting down and my rising up; you discern my thoughts from afar.
You trace my journeys and my resting-places and are acquainted with all my ways.
The Psalmist goes on to say that God knew us even before we were created, while we were growing in the womb. So, scripture tells us that God knows us intimately. 1 Samuel goes further, and says not only does God know us intimately, but God calls us personally, as by name. “Samuel … George … whoever you are.” God calls to us out of the darkness and light of our lives and, after speaking us into life, then speaks us into action, into acting in the world that He has made and brought us into. What is God saying to us, as God speaks our names? How do we find the strength to say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening”? How can we be sure that God is speaking to us at all? Particularly as we find ourselves in places of challenge?
While I have been convalescing after a procedure (that is what we call minor surgery as we get older, folks), I watched the Martin Scorsese film, Silence. Has anyone seen that? And then there was silence … it is a film based on the 1966 novel of the same name by Shusaku Endo. And the film can be difficult to watch. It is set against the persecutions of Christians that began in Japan in the 1640’s, a Japan that had previously been very tolerant of Christians. A new emperor arose who gave power to the Tokogawa Shogunate to eradicate Christianity in Japan. The suppression of Christians would last for 200 hundred years during which time Jesuit missionaries would be martyred and/or driven out of Japan.
But the conceit of the film is that two missionaries go from Portugal to Japan to find their missing mentor, a fellow Jesuit priest, who rumors say has denied Christ, under torture, during this persecution, and is now living as a Japanese man with a wife and children. Jesuit priests and poor Christians were, in the beginning, tortured and killed for refusing to deny their faith but later the Japanese inquisitors began to torture and kill peasant Christians in front of the priests, until the priests publicly rejected Christ by stepping on an image of Jesus that was put in front of them.
The two young priests come to Japan and see what is happening to Christians and are grief-stricken and horrified until they are captured and forced to watch people who believe in them be tortured and killed, unless they deny Jesus Christ. And the central character, Fr. Rodrigues, prays constantly and struggles with the silence: not hearing God’s voice speak to Him in ways that it used to, when he wasn’t being tested in this way, when life was easier, back home in Portugal.
Later, he realizes, as He hears the voice of God, in the silence, say that He did not speak to Rodrigues because He was right there with Him, suffering with Him, being present to Him. Sometimes, listening for God is not easy and hearing God may be even harder. But, if we don’t understand the intimate nature of God’s knowledge of and love for us, it can be hard to hear God any time, but in the worst times of our lives, to hear God at all.
“Speak Lord, for your servant is listening!” Are we listening? Are we putting ourselves in a position to hear God’s voice? And do we see the suffering of others that may make it difficult or impossible for them to hear the voice of God? How hard is it to hear God when we have no home? Or are chronically ill? Or are caring for our children alone with no one to help us? When we are poor or are in a situation of violence or the threat of violence? Sometimes, it is hard to hear God’s voice when we are struggling to survive. How do we hear it times of challenge? How might we help the other with the same difficulty?
Come and see, Jesus says to Philip and then Philip says to Nathanael. Come and see what is behind the words and ministry of Jesus Christ. Let us say, speak Lord, for your servant is listening and create space to hear that voice we long to learn from, draw strength from, and be saved by. Japanese Christians in the 17th century held onto the notion that Jesus was real and present to them. They understood Jesus in terms of the life eternal, where the suffering that they were enduring would be wiped away, and peace and light would be there lot.
But we are called to live into the life and ministry of Jesus, too, which is more than the life eternal only. He said come and see and what did his disciples see and hear: not only miracles and healings, but they heard Jesus say, “Love one another, as I have loved you.” They heard Him say, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and mind and soul and your neighbor as yourself.” The voice of Jesus was calling the disciples into new relationship with God, deeper than anything they had ever known but also more open to the world than they had ever imagined. But they had to be in a position of listening or nothing would ever happen. Only after Jesus’ Resurrection did they really begin to believe Jesus’ narrative and to see what the possibilities were. Jesus said, “Come and see this new life that I am offering to you. A life that is filled with the promise of peace, hope, and full communion with God and your fellow humans. Come and see what this life might become. Come … and see.”
Today we embark on a process of renewal. We begin by asking folks to take a spiritual life inventory available online (you should have received a link this morning) or you can get some assistance taking it if need be). What the process called RenewalWorks will be asking us is this: what kind of relationship do we have with our Lord Jesus Christ? What kind of relationship would I/we like to have? How will that impact our relationship with each other in this community and our work in the world beyond? I do not know where this will lead us but if we listen, if we can find some time for silence, maybe we will hear the voice of God speak. And maybe that voice is calling us to a broader conversation about how the love of Jesus and His will for us here and now might bring a sense of vitality to us that we may have never experienced before. Let us take courage, and come and see.