By the Rev. Darren Miner
In today’s readings, we get a kind of biblical sandwich: two stories of God’s call to ministry with a teaching about sexual morality stuck in the middle. The focus of this sermon will be on God’s call and our response, so let me deal with St. Paul’s teaching on sexual morality right up front.
Paul is writing to the church in Corinth. They have got it into their heads that, since they are saved, nothing they do here in the material world is of ultimate importance. Consequently, a fringe group in the church has begun to advocate the abandonment of sexual morality. They argue that nothing that they do with their bodies affects their souls. St. Paul thinks otherwise. In short, his teaching is that what we do here in the material world does indeed make a difference.
Now, let’s look at the stories of God’s call to serve. In the story from the Old Testament, we hear about the calling of Samuel to be a prophet. The boy Samuel hears God calling him in the night. Three times, he hears the call, but each time he mistakes it for his master Eli. It is the priest Eli who eventually recognizes the call for what it is and instructs the boy how to respond appropriately: “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” Samuel does as his master bids him, and the rest is history!
What strikes me in this story is how the discernment of Samuel’s call took place. Samuel was unable to figure out the meaning of his call on his own. He didn’t know how to respond appropriately. It took some consultation to make that clear. Often, I think, that is the case when God calls us to his service. We need others to help us understand what is being asked of us.
How about you? To what ministry is God calling you at this very moment? And what steps are you taking to recognize God’s call? I would encourage you to consider these questions, if you haven’t already. Sometimes God’s call is a voice in the night, or a blinding flash of light on the road to Damascus. More often, it’s something much more subtle. I can’t tell you what your call might be, or exactly what it might sound like or look like. But I can assure you that God is calling every one of you to some ministry in the world, and if you give it the chance, this faith community can be a valuable help to you in discerning your call.
In the Gospel reading from John, we actually get two stories of God’s calling someone to serve. The first is when Jesus says to Philip, “Follow me,” and Philip follows—but not right away! First, he goes and shares that call to discipleship with his friend Nathanael. He invites Nathanael with these simple words: “Come and see.” And surprisingly, Nathanael agrees, despite his prejudice against people from Nazareth. When Nathanael meets Jesus, Jesus looks into Nathanael’s heart and discerns that he is a true Israelite in whom there is no deceit or guile. And he says as much. When Nathanael asks how Jesus knows him, Jesus displays a miraculous clairvoyance. He says that he had seen Nathanael sitting under a fig tree before his conversation with Philip. Now, we are told that Nathanael is guileless, but frankly based on his over-the-top response, I would be tempted to say that Nathanael is just plain gullible! Nathanael exclaims, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” (Now, as it turns out, Nathanael is right on both counts, so perhaps I shouldn’t be so quick to judge him.)
In this story of Nathanael’s call to discipleship, we see yet another aspect of how God goes about calling us to ministry in the world. Sometimes, perhaps most of the time, the call is mediated through a friend or neighbor who says, “Come and see.” Recently, Marilyn Saner encouraged members of this parish to participate in feeding the homeless at St. Mary’s Cathedral. In other words, she said, “Come and see.” The holiday bazaar, the annual book sale, the Shrove Tuesday pancake supper, and the Sunset Music and Arts program are all ways that this parish says to the people of the Sunset district, “Come and see.” Now it’s your turn as an individual disciple of Jesus. Figure out whom God wants you to call to his service, then go to them and say, “Come and see.”
The Gospel reading ends with Jesus’ promise of greater things to come. Jesus says, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” It’s a reference to the story of Jacob’s ladder. Recall in Genesis how Jacob once fell asleep and dreamt of angels ascending and descending a ladder connecting earth and heaven. Jesus is reminding his audience of this same Bible story, but with one major alteration: Jesus is the ladder! The angels will ascend and descend upon Jesus, the Son of Man, who is himself the ladder that connects earth and heaven. The point of Jesus’ mysterious saying is that the world’s connection with its Creator is mediated through Jesus himself.
Now, let me sum up. From St. Paul, we learn that what we do here in the material world with our material bodies has ultimate spiritual consequences. From God’s call to Samuel, we learn both how to discern God’s call and how to respond when we have discerned it. From Philip’s invitation to Nathanael to join him in discipleship, we learn that we may be asked to serve as God’s voice and to invite others to come and see what God has in store for them. Finally, from Jesus’ own lips, we learn that Jesus is the world’s Mediator with the Divine.
Now, that’s four things, and four things are a lot to remember. So let me summarize today’s message even further. Take-home message #1: When God calls you (as he is even now!), turn to God and say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” And take-home message #2: When God asks you to relay his call to serve to someone else (as he is even now!), go to that person and say, “Come and see.” Now, I ask you, “What could be simpler than that?”
© 2018 by Darren Miner. All rights reserved. Used by permission.