Sermon for 2 Epiphany, Year B
Based on I Sam. 3:1-10 & Jn. 1:43-51
By Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
"God's Risky, Dangerous Call"
God's call….Sometimes going to church can be very dangerous and risky ~ as we see in the case of Samuel, and in the case of Philip and Nathanael. When God calls, life can become rather disruptive and intrusive.
We may be asked to give up some of our comforts. We may be called into a different sort of work, which we, in our wildest dreams, had never planned or desired. We may be called to do things that we don't really want to do, or speak a word which we'd rather not speak. When God calls us, it can be very dangerous and risky.
Writer Annie Dillard, in her book Teaching a Stone to Talk, realized how dangerous and risky church going could be because of the power of God calling us through his word. To make this point, when we go to church, she writes: "we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews."
Going to church can be dangerous ~ so can answering God's call by serving the Lord in his church. A couple of years ago, my wife and myself met Pastor Wong in the coffee shop. As the conversation unfolded, Pastor Wong told us that he was ending his ministry at the Chinese Lutheran congregation here in Calgary and moving back to Hong Kong.
We were rather surprised by this and asked him if he felt safe going back to Hong Kong, given the fact that, in July, 1997, it would become governed by the communists of mainland China. Pastor Wong told us that he was not afraid to go back. He believes that his work in the congregation here in Calgary is completed; his children are now at an age where they're able to look after themselves; so the time was right for him to move now. He believed that God was calling him back to serve either the church in Hong Kong or the church in mainland China. The church there apparently has a shortage of more experienced pastors.
Pastor Wong told us that he was aware of the possible dangers and risks of going back to Hong Kong, but he believed strongly that God was calling him to go nonetheless. He said he knew that to be a Christian witness might mean to be a martyr. Speaking with conviction, he confessed to us that: "I am not afraid to die for Christ and the preaching of his gospel."
Pastor Wong has heard the voice of the Lord speaking to him and calling him into an adventure which may be very risky and dangerous. It could cost him his life by listening to God's call and answering the call. Yet, he counted the cost and went back to Hong Kong, prepared, if need be, to go to mainland China as well.
In today's first lesson, the young Samuel came to learn all about those dangers and risks, as he answered the Lord's call. His life took a different direction than it would have had he not been called by God. The first task God gave Samuel was not an easy one for him. He had to speak a very sobering message of judgement and doom concerning Eli and his unfaithful sons.
The amazing thing about this story is that Samuel had the courage to obey God, even though it was a difficult message to speak. It may also have been a very risky and dangerous message for Samuel. What if old Eli would not listen to the message? What if Eli rejected the message and the messenger? Samuel had the courage to speak it anyway, to take the risk, to be prepared for the dangerous, risky consequences of the message.
But, the other amazing thing about this story is that old Eli did listen to Samuel and he accepted the message ~ even though it was a message of judgement and doom. Most people, by nature, don't want to hear ~ let alone accept ~ a message of judgement and doom. The God who called Samuel to proclaim this dangerous, risky message to Eli, also takes the dangerous, risky chance of opening Eli's ears and heart in order that he might accept the message as a legitimate one for him and his family. This was a dangerous, risky proposition for God as well as for Samuel, Eli and his family ~ yet, it seems to be in God's nature to live and act dangerously, by taking risks.
In today's gospel, Jesus calls Philip and Nathanael to be his disciples ~ to take risks, to live dangerously. As usual, this calling in the Fourth Gospel has an interesting symbolic way of making this point of taking risks and living dangerously by following Jesus.
We are told that Jesus was Nathanael sitting under the fig tree even before Philip called him and told him about Jesus.
According to R. Andersen and D. Deffner: "Palestinian fig trees in Jesus' day served a dual purpose. The fruit was good to eat and could be prepared in many different ways, fresh or dried. And the extremely large leaves of the fig tree provided a refreshing shade in the hot Mediterranean climate. Because of this latter quality, the Jews had long made the fig tree a place of study. There they would read the Torah. There they would meditate on the magnificent story of God molding a blessed people through whom the Messiah was to come. There, in that cooling shade, lovers of God's word would pore over its message of hope and promise. You see, there was "fruit" other than figs to be harvested beneath these trees of Israel."
Here Jesus sees and calls Nathanael, an Israelite in whom there is no deceit. Under this fig tree, which was the symbol of learned Israelites; a symbol of being fed and nurtured; a symbol of shelter, peace and safety ~ here Nathanael was called by Jesus the Messiah to a new life of learning and truth, a new life of risk-taking and dangerous living by following Jesus. A life that would be inspired and instructed by the Greatest Risk-Taker And Dangerous Liver of all time, Jesus himself ~ who would go to the limits by suffering and dying on a cross for Nathanael and for each one of us.
Even so, today, here and now, God through our Lord Jesus Christ is calling us. The power of his Word calls us, to be like Samuel, Philip and Nathanael, like Pastor Wong, like a host of others; to take risks and live dangerously, to count the cost, for Christ and his gospel; to go places, speak messages and do works which disrupt and intrude on our normal way of life; to follow wherever Jesus leads us, no matter what the consequences may be; to follow faithfully, willingly, joyfully and lovingly.
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