January 14, 2018
1 Samuel 3.1-20; John 1.43-51
+ In May of this year, it will be thirty-five years since I received my “calling” to be a priest. Now, don’t work the math too much. I was a young—very, very young (I was thirteen). And, as many of you have heard, I had a very distinct calling in, of all places, a cemetery. Most of you have heard this story.
But, as I think back to my calling to the priesthood that day so very long ago, I realize that I don’t think I understood then what my “Yes” to God would mean. I don’t know if I knew that saying “Yes” to God would also involve heart-ache and set-backs and difficulties and doubts. I seriously doubt I knew those things thirty-five years ago. But saying “Yes” to God in such a way was huge step. In fact, it changed my entire life. Nothing was ever the same again in my life.
But, as I look back on it from this perspective, I can say this: If I could go back to 1983 and hear that calling anew, even knowing what I know now, even after all the heart-aches, I can say with all honesty that I would say “Yes” again. Without hesitation. OK. Maybe with a slight hesitation. But I would say yes.
Since I received my calling form God at such an age, I always related to the young Samuel we encounter in our reading from the Hebrew scriptures this morning. I could relate to his calling. I understood it in a unique sense. And my simple, very non-eloquant “Yes” was essentially the same as Samuel’s
“Here I am. Do with me what you must.”
And for Samuel, his life changed too with that “Here I am.”
That’s not the only calling we hear about in our scripture readings for today. In today’s Gospel, we also find another calling. We find Philip saying to Nathaniel,
“Come and see.”
And we find Jesus telling Nathaniel,
“You will see greater things than these.”
For most of us, who are not mystics, we have still seen our share of miracles in our lives—at least if we kept our minds and hearts and eyes open. No doubt, there have been many miracles in your lives. No doubt, there have been saints—true, living saints—that you have met—and still continue to meet—and walked beside.
And although you probably have not seen heaven literally opened or angels literally “ascending and descending,” you’ve probably, once or twice, seen the veil between this world and heaven lifted. I hope you have, anyway. And you probably have seen angels ascending and descending in the guise of fellow travelers along the way.
Like Nathaniel, who would have a series of low points in his own life (legend says he would die a particularly horrible martyr’s death of being flayed alive, forced to walk, skinless in the desert, before being beheaded), through it all, he kept looking. And in looking, he saw.
This is what it means to be a disciple—a follower of Jesus. Despite the setbacks, the illnesses, despite the people who are out to trip you up, there are also the rewards—the high points that are better than any other high points. Being a Christian—a real, genuine Christian, and not a phony, hypocritical one—is probably our greatest vocation. Being a Christian means being a follower of Jesus and a loved child of God. Being a follower of Jesus means being a disciple of Jesus.
Disciple and discipline both come from the same root word. And being a follower of Jesus, being a disciple of Christ, means we must be disciplined, we must be well-trained and well-versed. We must be well-informed on who it is we are following and what teachings we are embodying in our lives.
And being a follower, a disciple, is a difficult thing at times. No one, when we became Christians, promised us sparkling, light-filled moments and rose gardens every step of the way. If anyone did, sue them!
Actually, when we became Christians, we became Christians—all of us—in the shadow of the Cross. We need to remember that when we were baptized, we were marked with the Cross. That was not a quaint, sweet little sentiment. It meant we were baptized into following Jesus wherever he led us in his life and ours—the good times and the bad.
Yes, even to the dark, dank ugly place of the cross. And as a result, we have faced our lives as followers of Jesus Christ squarely and honestly.
This is no cult we belong to, that promises us that if we do this and that we will be freed from pain and suffering. We’re not being brain-washed to believe what we believe. As followers of Jesus, we know that, Yes, bad things are going to happen to us. There will be illness, there will be setbacks, there will be broken relationships and conflicts with others, there will be despotic, racist leaders in the world, there will be loss and there will be death.
When we follow Jesus we need to remember that he will not be leading us toward comfortable places. He’s not leading us to the country club. He’s not leading us to glitz and glamor. He’s not leading us to fame and fortune in our lives.
He will be leading us through places that might not be safe. We need to remember that one leading us came from Nazareth.
Can anything good from Nazareth?
The President no doubt would have a derogatory word to say about Nazareth, and he certainly wouldn’t want anyone from there immigrating to this country. But Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus of that place from which nothing good comes, is leading us. And we must believe that he will show us greater things than we can even imagine.
That following of Jesus is a hard thing. We know that there will be many, many people out there who want to trip us up and who want us to fail. We know that there are people out there who do not want the best for us. We know that there will be people who are jealous of us and envious of us, and who despise us simply because of who we are. There’s no way of getting around such things in our lives.
But following Jesus means being able, in those dark moments, to look and to see, like Nathaniel. When surrounded by darkness, we can see light. Following Jesus means remember, again and again that, like Jesus, we are loved and beloved children of a loving, living God.
When stuck in the mire and muck of this life, we can still look up and see those angels descending and ascending. As I look back over these past 35 years, I realize they have been the most productive and fruitful years of my life. More than anything, as I look back over these last years, I find God weaving in and out of my life.
As I look back, I find God, speaking to me, much as God spoke to Samuel. God, whether I was listening or not, was calling me again and again by name. God is calling each of us also by our name. God is calling to us again and again.
And what is our answer? Our answer is a simple one. It simply involves, getting up, looking and seeing, and saying to God,
“Here I am.”
Here I am.
And when we do that, we will find that, like Samuel, God is with us.
God is with us.
God loves us.
God knows us.
And—in that glorious moment—we will know: this God who does know us, who does love us, will never allow one of our words to fall useless to the ground.