January 17th: The Second Sunday after the Epiphany

The Rev. Joseph Peters-Mathews is the vicar of St. Hilda St. Patrick. The sermon for January 17, 2021, was based on the below manuscript. The texts were the proper texts for the Second Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B.

for your servant is listening.
for your servant is listening.
Jesus found Philip and said to him,
“Follow me.”

In John’s gospel
and in Samuel’s life
and all around us now
are times of transition.
Before anyone gets wild eyed,
I’m not going anywhere!
Samuel has been growing
in stature and favor before God
having been conceived as a gift from God
whom his mother Hannah returned to God.
Jesus is collecting John the Baptizer’s disciples
inviting those who have been following John
to follow him.
Samuel who is to be a prophet of the Holy One of Old
hears God’s voice.
Philip and then Nathanael
who have believed in John’s message
are invited to come and see.
The people we hear about in the texts today
face transitions in their lives —
how best to follow God
and wondering to what they’ve been called.
We find ourselves at similar crossroads,
with transitions all around us.
Remembering the promises of our baptism
“I will, with God’s help”
do we dare to say
“Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening?”

A new president
will be inaugurated on Wednesday.
That’s two weeks
after an attack on the legislative seat
of our national government.
Accountability is being pursued
on those who perpetrated the attacks
and those whose job was to prevent it.
We’re getting a little more daylight each day.
Not much just yet,
but light is breaking
in the darkness of winter.

We’ll probably hit 400,000 COVID19 deaths
or maybe tomorrow.
The state of systemic racism broadly
and in policing specifically
isn’t actually any better.
Rusten Sheskey,
who shot Jacob Blake four times in the back,
wasn’t charged in Kenosha last week.
Meanwhile we see on social media
images of police
happy to calmly talk to people
shouting at them about mask usage.

In the midst of all of this,
we have Eli telling Samuel to answer God
with “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.”
We hear Jesus tell Philip
follow me
then assure Nathanael,
“You will see greater things than these.”
Samuel is being trained as a prophet by Eli
and thinks Eli is waking him up,
disturbing his sleep by calling out to him.
It’s God.
Nathanael is sitting under a fig tree
doing who knows what
when Jesus sees him from afar.
“How do you know me?
Where do you know me from”
Under the fig tree.
Nathanael is listening,
and hears Jesus’ voice
and believes.

Samuel and Nathanael
have listening hearts,
ready to hear and see
God activate and use them.
That activation and use
doesn’t come with certainty or promises, though.
Presumably Philip and Nathanael
at least have jobs
from which Jesus says
“Follow me.”
They don’t know what’s next
but they trust the God who calls out to them
and wants to make them a part of God’s story
of redeeming the whole cosmos.
If we look around,
we’re there too.
Or we can be,
if we’re willing to listen.

Deaths aren’t the only COVID number
that I get to track now.
Twelve-and-a-quarter million Americans
have gotten their first dose
of the COVID19 vaccination.
Second doses
have been going in arms
the last two weeks!
We believe that all good things
come from God.
God acts in miracles,
and God acts in goodness and love.
We have our annual meeting in two weeks,
and it’ll be different.
It gives us the opportunity
to start wondering how we might listen.

Yes, we’ll elect some new Bishop’s Committee members.
We’ll hear about what we did this last year.
We can also start wondering,
how to follow Jesus in anti-racism work:
from book club to action,
that so many people wanted.
It’s hard to make plans
about anything concrete
because so much transition is happening.
Vaccines are being administered!
Right now it’s not quite fast enough.
We don’t know how much longer,
we’ll have to meet
like this.
I’m having trouble mentally
trying to plan for Ash Wednesday
and then Holy Week.
As with the longer daylight,
light is breaking through the darkness.
In John’s gospel
and in Samuel’s life
and all around us now
are times of transition.

I don’t know what’s going to happen.
But I know that Jesus doesn’t tell those he calls,
“Okay go figure it out.”
Rather, Jesus says,
“Follow me”
with the assurance that
there is a there there.
When Samuel says,
“Speak, Lord, your servant is listening”
God speaks and gives him difficult truth.
As we go through this year
brimming with possibilities
for when and how
we are all safely back together
I hope you’ll start saying
“Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.”
I especially hope that you’ll do that
when you open What’s Happening
or listen to the announcements.

In inviting God to speak
and answering Jesus’ call to follow him
we’re assured,
“You will see greater things than these.” Amen.

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