Time to get real

The Second Sunday after Epiphany

Vivian Lewin, Spiritual Director in the Diocese of Montreal

“Time to get real. ”

Last Sunday, Dean Bertrand pointed out the dizzying pace of our readings as we swooped from Epiphany–when the wise ones were led by a star to visit and give gifts to the baby Jesus,  to Jesus’ Baptism, thirty years later in his life.  This took us about 20 minutes!  And now he is gathering disciples around him.  We have moved from his being recognized and confirmed in his identity, to his modelling the kind of relationships he will have, really, with almost everyone he comes into contact with in the next three years of his life.

And because this is also the model for our relationship with God–our spiritual life–it bears some close observation. [You can hear this sermon delivered here; it begins about 24 minutes into the YouTube video.]

We started today hearing the wonderful story of the child Samuel, who is being called by God in the night.  He doesn’t know what’s happening.  He runs to Eli, the priest to whom his mother has brought him to be raised up as a dedicated youth, a Nazarite.

After he wakes Eli the third time, Eli realizes that Samuel is being called by God, and tells him:

Say “speak Lord, your servant is listening.”

Nobody who is being called knows what they will be asked to do.

Nobody who is being called will be left high and dry without ongoing guidance.

The relation is intimate and loving, not remote and judgmental.

And yes, we are corrected when we miss the mark.

Look at Nathaniel, in our reading from John 6.

His first reaction, when Philip tells him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” is to exclaim, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

yet he does “come and see” and the subsequent conversation answers his question… he ends up acclaiming, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”

But we are modern people, right?  Does God talk to us?  How?

I recently introduced somebody to the Examen prayer, and this refreshed my own practice. Basically, it means I take 10 or 15 minutes at the end of the day to ask Jesus for light to see where I was closest to the mark and where I had fallen away. Let’s be honest, it takes courage, because it can be scary… but also needful…. to know where I’ve  fallen short (so I don’t keep doing that thing) and where I’ve been on target (so I can persist with that even if it’s not easy).  This clarity only happens when I’m brave enough, or quiet enough, or confident enough, or loved enough, to get real.

One of the reasons we read scripture every Sunday right here is because Bible stories are nearly always about what happens when things get real.

Getting real is when I take a break from the FB version of my life–whether it’s smiles or other effects for the world camera–and as Jesus says, “go into your chamber”.

Marcus Borg, in The Heart of Christianity (a book I recommend) is grappling theologically with the question of whether God is personal, or person-like, or transpersonal, or (his choice) more than personal.  He quotes Frederick Buechner:

“Listen to your life.  Listen to what happens to you because it is through what happens to you that God speaks … It’s in language that’s not always easy to decipher, but it’s there powerfully, memorably, unforgettably.”

Borg goes on to caution that “Buechner does not mean that everything that happens to us is the direct will of God.  Rather, in, with, and under the events of our lives, we are addressed by God.

Getting real is also what seems to happen whenever Jesus is around, isn’t it? Just look at what happens in the New Testament whenever he met somebody new. And look at how things got real for Nathaniel!  Jesus didn’t so much “put him in his place” but lifted him into a place of truth, and it was from that place that he said “Teacher, you are the Son of God.”

The first invitation, before FOLLOW, is COME.  SEE.

Listen, See, Connect.

Preachers are often cautioned against attempting to connect up all the readings assigned for a given Sunday.  I have always been a little contrary, because I know that so much, much work … in some cases, generations and generations of devoted work… went into assembling the readings we are being given.

Today, I want to observe that Psalm 139 and the reading from the letter to the Corinthians both emphasize the integrity of the body, our human bodies, our physical selves, as God’s creation. The sense in Paul is that belonging to God calls us to use our bodies thoughtfully and respectfully.  The form this takes is personal, but the implication is corporate–we are together in this life.  Our call is therefore both personal and collective (political). The fate of our planet, country, city, neighbourhood, congregation really does hang on our individual choices.

And these are not always easy.

Consider Samuel’s first conversation with God. God wants Samuel’s attention for a reason not just to chitchat.  He says, “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make both ears of anyone who hears of it tingle. I will fulfil against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house … I am about to punish his house for ever. He knew his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them. Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be expiated by sacrifice or offering for ever. Samuel was afraid to tell the vision to Eli. But Eli called Samuel and said, “Samuel, my son.” He said, “Here I am.” Eli said, “What was it he told you? Do not hide it from me.” Samuel told him everything.   Then [Eli] said, “It is the Lord; let him do what seems good to him.”

Samuel has been obedient, despite being afraid.  Eli does accept God’s judgment. And as Samuel grows into adulthood, all Israel knows he can be trusted.

What started out like a personal prayer experience becomes the story of how the whole community needs leaders who are connected with God… with loving the truth and being unafraid to share it.

I will now venture to add that the state of Israel (which is truly not the kingdom of the Hebrew Bible) does have truth tellers today, who speak out at considerable personal cost.  This news appeared in the Guardian yesterday:  An Israeli schoolteacher was suspended by bringing in an article from the mainstream newspaper Haaretz about casualties in Gaza; another, a history teacher who showed his students photos of a dead Palestinian family, was bundled off by the police and thrown into solitary confinement.

Nobody who is being called knows what they will be asked to do.

Nobody who is being called will be left high and dry without ongoing guidance.

The relation is intimate and loving, not remote and judgmental.

And yes, we are corrected when we miss the mark.

Thanks be to God.

Preached at Christ Church Cathedral, Montreal. The lections for this Sunday, January 14, 2024, are: 1 Samuel 3:1-10, (11-20), Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18, 1 Corinthians 6:12-20, and John 1:43-51

Illustration: Tissot, James, 1836-1902. Nathanael Under the Fig Tree, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. https://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=56456 [retrieved January 16, 2024]. Original source: https://commons.m.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Brooklyn_Museum_-_Nathaniel_Under_the_Fig_Tree_(Nathana%C3%ABl_sous_le_figuier)_-_James_Tissot_-_overall.jpg.





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