First Lutheran Church
January 14, 2018 + Second Sunday after Epiphany
Last Sunday we talked about the “immediacy” of the Kingdom of God as proclaimed in the Gospel of Mark, (the primary Gospel in this year’s appointed readings.) We talked about the sense of urgency in the Gospel of Mark, how the Kingdom has arrived in Jesus, and suddenly everyone is in a hurry. “Now” is the time to answer the calling of our faith, “now” is the time to act boldly and decisively, “now” is the time to live out the words of the prophet Isaiah, “Prepare the way of the Lord, straightaway!”
Today I’d like to back up a little and talk about how one gets to the point of “immediately” responding to the call of faith, how one moves from complacency to a sense of urgency. Because honestly it’s really hard to drop everything and just follow Jesus. It’s challenging to pursue something with all abandon. It’s hard to really “let go” and “let God.” How do we get from being overly cautious to being radically faithful? How is it that we position ourselves to respond to the “immediacy” of the Kingdom of God?
In today’s appointed readings from 1 Samuel and the Gospel of John, we have two different stories of call, two different stories of how a couple of people were able to hear the calling of God and respond faithfully, even seemingly “immediately.” Perhaps in these stories we will discover how it is that we are being called by God, and perhaps in the process, in our discernment, we might also be empowered to respond to our own unique calling in life, as individuals and as a community of faith. Perhaps we will learn how to position ourselves to appropriately respond to the “immediacy” of the Kingdom of God?
But before we look at those two stories, I want to begin by looking at a third story, it’s actually next week’s appointed reading from the Gospel of Mark. (Mark 1:16-18) “As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, "Follow me and I will make you fish for people." And immediately they left their nets and followed him.”
This is perhaps one of the best known stories of “call” in the bible, Jesus simply approaches two fishermen and directly asks them to change their vocations, to stop fishing for fish and instead start fishing for people. And for some reason they say, “Sure,” and they “immediately” drop everything and follow Jesus.
It’s a wonderful story, but to be honest, I don’t really find it particularly helpful when it comes to my faith life. When it comes to discerning the will of God, the voice of God in my life, it’s just not that easy. I am more cautious, I have more questions, I have more doubts and more fears, and I need more time to figure it out. If you force me to act immediately, I will probably just say “no.” So this story is just not really helpful to me, because when it comes to discerning my call - that’s not been my experience of how it works.
I say that, but then I am reminded of that one time when I knew “immediately” what I was being called to do, what I wanted to do, what God wanted me to do. It was about a year ago, after a short meeting with a few of you folks. I left that relatively short meeting knowing that if you were to “call” me to serve here at First Lutheran I was going to say, “yes." It didn’t necessarily make any sense, but I didn’t need any time to think about it, after our conversation I knew it was the right call at the right time. However my “immediate” response was actually not quite that simple, it was more than just an instantaneous “aha” moment, there was some history, a process of discernment, that helped me to recognize that I was indeed suddenly “in the right place at the right time.” And that leads us into today’s two stories of call, “The Call of Samuel” and “The Call of Nathanael.”
The Call of Samuel is one of my favorite bible stories. Samuel is a young boy serving in the temple alongside the High Priest Eli. One night God calls out to Samuel, and Samuel responds by running to the place where Eli is sleeping, and wakes him up, “Here I am!” Eli, most likely muttering in his sleep, replies, “I did not call you, go back to sleep.” But it happens again, Samuel hears his voice being called and runs to Eli, and this time I suspect an irritated Eli, sends Samuel away in no uncertain terms, “Go back to sleep.” Of course it happens a third time, Samuel hears his voice, and probably a bit sheepishly crawls back into Eli’s sleeping presence, “Excuse me, you called? Here I am.” And this time Eli finally realizes that is it God who is calling out to Samuel. “Next time you hear the voice, turn to God and respond, ‘Speak, for your servant is listening.’”
The Call of Samuel is in man ways a story about “mentoring.” It is the mentors in our life that teach us how to discern the voice of God. They teach us how to filter out all the noise in this world and listen to that which is of the Kingdom of God. In my life I was blessed with mentors who taught me about Jesus, that involved me in the life of the Kingdom, that helped me to respond, "Speak, for your servant is listening.” There’s no way you can respond to the immediacy of the kingdom without a guide who can instruct you, teach you, and help you to recognize the voice of God.
It was because of my mentors from long ago, and in my mentoring of others, that I am better able to respond to the “immediacy” of my calling in the kingdom today! My favorite mentors always taught me and reminded me that Christ could always be found in serving the so called “least of these.” So it is that when the heart of the mission at First Lutheran was expressed in concern for feeding its neighbors, I knew I could be, and wanted to be, a part of what was happening here. My mentors had prepared me for the moment, the opportunity, my “immediate” response.
The Kingdom of God is at hand. Who are your mentors? What did they teach you about faith? Who have you been called to mentor?
The Call of Nathanael is a story about studying and friendships. His story begins when his friend Philip tells him about Jesus. Nathanael’s first response is, “Nazareth, are you kidding me?” “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Apparently Nazareth did not have a good reputation, it was a small and insignificant place. Yet because it was his friend, and because his friend persisted, “Come and See;” Nathanael agrees to check Jesus out. While mentors greatly impact our lives, they can’t always get us to do things in the same way our friends can, for better or worse. It’s always been my friends who have talked me into actually doing things from “asking out” that girl I liked, to getting me involved with a service project at church. Friends that care for us, friends that know us, have a way of helping us to be ready to do the right thing at the right time. I would never be the person I am today if it were not for my college friends, and the way we supported and challenged each other in our faith life.
It was more than a year and half ago when a friend of mine in the Bishop’s office invited me to “come and see” First Lutheran. I responded, “First Lutheran in Fullerton, Can anything good come out of that place?” (Not really!) So I drove over one day, I met the person named Bunny, and she showed me the whole church! I saw what was happening here and I was intrigued! Some six months after that “sneaky” visit, that same friend in the bishop’s office suggested that I come over and have a conversation with some of the leaders at First Lutheran. And so it began!
The Kingdom of God is at hand! What has that good friend of yours been asking you to “come and see?” What friend do you need to invite to First Lutheran to “come and see” all the good things that God is about here in this place? And by the way, that’s the way churches really grow, when people invite their friends to “come and see.”
Nathanael is also prepared because of his diligence in his studies. He was a student of the law and the prophets, he was knowledgable about his faith, and thus when Jesus appears - he recognizes who Jesus is and what that means! We know that Nathanael was a student because Jesus refers to him as someone who sits “under the fig tree,” a symbolic reference to the life of a religious scholar. So it is that we are called to be knowledgeable about our faith, to read the scriptures, participate in learning events, to relentlessly seek after the truth in life. My studies, and my continual studies, help me to be better prepared to respond to the “immediacy” of the kingdom, the opportunities of faith, the call of God in Christ Jesus.
The Kingdom of God is at hand! What are you studying these days? Who are you teaching? You never know what might happen in a bible study, or in one of your classes over at Cal State Fullerton this semester, that will prepare you for a future pivotal moment in your life!
Ultimately we are able to respond to the “immediacy” of the Kingdom, the urgency of our faith, the great calling in our life; only in our being prepared by mentors, by our studies, and by accepting the invitation of our friends and loved ones - “to come and see.” Today the Kingdom of God is at hand, how have you been prepared for the moment?
And how will we prepare for the next moment when God calls out to us? How do we stayed prepared as a community of faith? How can we ensure that we are part of “thy kingdom come, thy will be done?” How do we remain in the immediacy of the Kingdom?
There’s work to do this coming year at First Lutheran. And we will be organizing ourselves into teams to do that work; We will need people to make sure our building, one of our greatest resources, is kept in shape and renovated in ways that it can be used to serve our mission; We will need people to help create and implement events and programs that will educate us, that we might be “transformed by the renewing of our minds;” We need people who will provide hospitality for those who “come and see,” what is happening here; And we will need people to continue to support and even expand our efforts to feed our neighbors, care for our seniors, and live out the Gospel here in this place.
Yes, the kingdom of God is at hand. How have you, how have we, been prepared to respond in this moment?