January 17, 2021
1 Samuel 3.1-20; John 1.43-51
+ This past week I had a great Zoom conversation with my very, very dear and long-time friend, Leslie Rorabeck.
Some of you may remember Leslie, back when she was a Leslie Flom and was a member of Gethsemane Cathedral.
Leslie was an incredible singer, soloist and was in the choir there.
About 17 years ago, Leslie and her family moved back to North Carolina, and over the last few years, with her children pretty much grown, she decided to heed her life-long calling for ordination as a priest.
She is getting ready to graduate from Virginia Theological Seminary and (God willing) be ordained a transitional deacon sometime this year and hopefully a priest six months after that.
Talking to Leslie this week about her vocation and all the potential opportunities she has as someone about to be ordained, I suddenly had a real warm and wonderful memory of when I was first heeding my call to ordained ministry.
I remember that feeling of the future seeming so bright and so wide open.
And I also was reminded how truly wonderful it is to say “Yes” when God calls, and then to pursue all the amazing opportunities that “yes” to God opens up.
But it also puts into perspective the differences in where we are in our calling.
Leslie is so eager and excited at the beginning of her ordained ministry.
And me, after almost 20 years of ordained ministry and after a very long, particularly difficult year of pandemic, quarantine, political and social division and separation from a majority of my church family, I don’t know if the words “eager” and “excited” are words I use often.
Sadly, my enthusiasm after all these years is not quite as fresh as Leslie’s, I hate to say, especially after this a particular year, (and this close to vacation).
But, after I got off that Zoom call with Leslie, I found myself wondering:
If I could go back and hear that calling anew, even knowing what I know now, even after all the heart-aches, after all the hardships that have come my way in these years of ministry, would I still, in all honesty, say “Yes” again to God?
Without hesitation, I would.
OK. Maybe with a slight hesitation.
But I would say yes.
I would do it all over again.
I might do a few things differently.
I would actually do a lot of things differently.
But I would most definitely do it.
I would definitely say “Yes” again to God.
Which is why, I guess, I really love the story of the young Samuel we encounter in our reading from the Hebrew scriptures this morning.
I, along with Leslie and Deacon John or any of us who do ministry in whatever form we do it, can relate to his calling.
We all understand it in a unique sense.
And my simple, very non-eloquent “Yes” to Go dwas essentially the same as Samuel’s
“Here I am. Do with me what you must.”
And for Samuel, his life changed with that “Here I am.”
Of course, that’s not the only calling we hear 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 mercifully 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!
Because they lied to you!
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, as I said last Sunday in my sermon, 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 who were impeached twice, there will be loss and there will be death.
The last time I preached on these scriptures was on Sunday, January 14, 2018.
For me on that Sunday, life was still somewhat normal.
I was getting ready, just as I am now, for our Annual Meeting and my vacation.
That evening, after Mass, my mother went out for supper as we always did on Sunday evening (we went to Granite City that night) and then to the West Acres Hornbacher’s to get her groceries. As we did every Sunday evening for several years.
What I didn’t know on that Sunday that that Sunday was the last time we would ever do that.
What I didn’t know is that 2 Sundays later, as I stood here at the pulpit preaching, my mother would breathe her last.
See, no one promised us as rose gardens in our following of Jesus.
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 come from Nazareth?
Well, we know of one good thing that came Nazareth.
But Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus of that place from which nothing good comes, he is leading us.
And we must believe that he will show us greater things than we can even imagine.
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 years of ministry, 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.
Let us pray.
God of Samuel, you call us, and we must respond. You speak to us and we must heed what you say; bless us as we strive to say “yes” to your voice; bless the ministries we are all called to do in our lives. Bless those we encounter along the way. And let us never forget that you, who know us by name, love us and are with and know us, now and always. In Jesus’ holy name we pray. Amen.