The Inescapable Calling of God (Worship for Sunday, January 17)

Good morning and welcome to this celebration of the Holy Eucharist for the Second Sunday after the Epiphany. We’re so glad you’re here!

The liturgy will begin at 10:30am and you can download it and pray along with us here:

“Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” (1 Samuel 3:9)

All of our readings this morning speak of the inescapable calling of God. God seeks people out and calls them into relationship with himself, reorienting their lives and giving them a new vocation as children and servants of God. This morning I want us to take a few moments to look at both Samuel and Nathanael to see how God calls those both near and far to be his followers.

First, notice how in our readings it is who God searches people out and calls them. There was Philip minding his own business and we are told that Jesus, “found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” This passage always gives me a bit of a chuckle because it is clear that Jesus found Philip. However, when Philip runs off to find Nathanael what does he say? We have found him.

Likewise with the boy Samuel. He is asleep when he hears someone call his name so off he runs to Eli. It was not, however, Eli that was calling Samuel but the Lord himself. God searches out and calls the boy Samuel. These two accounts demonstrate an important truth of the gospel: God does the finding. He searches out, he finds, and he calls us into new life.

Who does God call? He calls those who are far off and those who are very near. That’s what we see here with Samuel and Nathanael. Let’s look at Nathanael first. As we heard, Jesus found Philip and said to him, “follow me.” Then Philip went out and found Nathanael and invited him to “come and see” Jesus. As soon as Philip is called he was given a new vocation, his was given a new purpose of love and service. Jesus enlisted him in his mission. Because here’s the thing: Jesus did not seek you out and find you just so that you can sit back content in being found. He found you so that you can go out and find someone else in his name.

I love what happens next. Nathanael says, “Alright, I’ll come and see what the fuss is about.” Then, as he and Philip are approaching Jesus looks up and sees Nathanael coming and says, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” Taken aback, Nathanael asks him, “Where did you get to know me?” To which Jesus replies, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.”

Jesus wants us to know something extremely important here. When he gives us a new vocation and uses us in his mission he is already out there ahead of us, tilling the soil, whispering to people in the stillness of their hearts and minds though they know not who speaks. The work of evangelism begins with Jesus Christ seeking people out and “getting to know” them long before one of Jesus’ followers shows up and invites them to come and see. In the words of Saint Augustine: “My God, you had mercy on me even before I had confessed to you.”

God calls those who are far off but he also calls those who are very near. Consider Samuel. He grew up in the Temple after his mother Hannah dedicated him to the Lord’s service (1:27-28). And yet, despite literally growing up in the Temple he did not recognize the voice of the Lord when he called to him, for as we are told he “did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him,” (3:7).

There is something sobering about that. It is possible to be very near to God and yet have difficulty recognizing his voice. Going to church is extremely good and you should go to church. But simply showing up (or watching online as we are wont to do these days) does not mean that you are growing faith as God desires. In order to grow in faith, in order to grow in the knowledge and love of God, your ears must be tuned so as to distinguish his voice.

This is challenging not least of all because as one theologian put it, “God does not speak, but his voice is quite clear.”[1] His point is that it is only in silence that we can hear God’s voice. Do we not see this with Samuel as well? Where is Samuel when he hears God calling? “Lying down in the temple of the Lord.” Alone. Asleep. Silent.

Let me say a few things about the power of silence here. First, silence and quiet are not the same thing. Quiet is an absence but silence is a presence, “the most intense of all presences,” the presence of God (Sarah). Second, silence is hard to come by. There is, of course, all of the external noise that we face each day but we are also faced with an internal noise in our hearts and minds that stifles our ability to hear God.

That great spiritual writer Thomas Merton encourages Christians to preserve or create silence in our homes and our lives in which God can be found. Throw out the television if necessary, he says! Bring up our children not to yell so much. Create actual places dedicated to silent contemplation: a corner of your bedroom, a retreat house, a church. “For many it would mean great renunciation and discipline to give up these sources of noise,” writes Merton. But deep down we know this is what we need. [2]

Whether you are near or far God in Christ is searching you out and calling you into new life with him. Silence is difficult but it necessary if we are to hear his voice in a noisy world. Make time to pray and to read the Bible, daily if you can. And as you practice these spiritual disciplines, say along with Samuel, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”

[1] Robert Cardinal Sarah.
[2] Sarah, The Power of Silence, 32.

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