Intersecting with God
Unless you were completely thrown off by the excerpt from Corinthians – its probably pretty clear to you that the theme of our lectionary today is God’s call. God’s call to Samuel – and Eli. God’s call to Philip and Nathanael through Jesus. And even the psalmist’s call to God which describes how God is always searching for us – even as – God knit together our inmost parts.
We don’t often get sarcasm in the gospels – but that’s the nature of Nathanael’s reply to
his friend Phillip. Picture them standing there – Phillip running up to him, “We found him Nathanael! The guy! The one who is coming into the world as we’ve read about in scripture our whole lives! He’s here – Jesus, son of Joseph from Nazareth!”
And then Nathanael does one of those dramatic eye-rolls, “Puhleeze! Are you kidding me – the chosen one is from the backwater town of Nazareth? What good can come from there?”
Let me give you a moment to replace Nazareth with a Baltimore neighborhood you know is not thought highly of – a place that bears the brunt of local prejudices. Got one? That’s what Nathanael thinks of Nazareth – it is a neither a nice place to visit – nor would he want to live there….
And, at first, he lets this negative judgment and assumption keep him from God’s call. Which, if we’re honest, I think we can all relate to. One of the best reasons to do a silent retreat – one where you do not talk for a day – or better a week, even a month - is that you start to hear the frequency with which you respond sarcastically, or negatively to a variety of offerings and places - people and possibilities.
Because while you aren’t speaking aloud – you definitely keep speaking to yourself – and so you begin to notice. And one way to get over the stumbling block of preconceived judgments is to first notice them. And then get curious about where they come from – what they say about you – and what possibilities your assumptions might be keeping you from.
Samuel models another stumbling block that all of us experience. He doesn’t hear God’s call at first because he doesn’t recognize it. Samuel is young – a tween most likely. And if you remember the story, he was given to the temple by his mother Hannah as a tithe. He is in training to take over for Eli, the priest.
So surely his youth – the qualities of which Jesus is always extolling – is one reason he simply answers the voice by going to the person in the next room – his elder and mentor. Which is a good thing! Because we all need mentors – our whole lives long. Sometimes we need to rely on someone else – go to someone whose wisdom we trust – to hear, to recognize God’s call – and teach us how to respond.
One of the readings that crossed my path this week reminded me that God did not become Jesus to show us how to lead better spiritual lives. That’s what we often associate with callings. Callings belong in the religious category. Priests are called. Prophets are called. Saints are called. But Jesus calls people to be fishermen. Jesus calls people to open their home to guests. We do, I think, need spiritual practices to help us hear and respond to God’s call in our lives, but God became human so that we could be better at just being human.
If someone asked you – what did Jesus do in his life to show us how to be more in relationship with God – how would you answer?
What I see Jesus do is meet people where they are – and remind them God isn’t a judge, God is love. I see Jesus reaching out to people who are sick – and making a way to bring them back into the human family. I see Jesus speaking words of forgiveness to people who have been cast out – reminding them, and those around them, you are still a part of the human family.
I see Jesus share food, make food for people who are hungry. I see Jesus speak out to people in power – primarily to people in government and in the church –condemning practices and policies that deny the humanity, the worthiness of any of God’s children.
Jesus calls us and asks we look to his ways to see how to be who we already are - good human beings who care about the common good believing in the inherent goodness of everyone else, made in the image of God. That call is made to to all of us – it is lived out individually in a rich variety of ways.
Jesus sees that in Nathanael. He doesn’t let Nathanael’s sarcastic dig at his hometown push his buttons. There’s a good lesson for us, right? About our human nature – our proclivity, which the world encourages – for us to respond in-kind and defensively. Jesus lets it roll right off his back. He won’t let Nathanael’s sarcasm keep him from trying again. In my little movie of this moment – Jesus is walking up to them, big smile and hand on shoulder says – Well, here’s a guy who tells it like it is!
And perhaps Jesus’ unexpected graciousness is what surprises Nathanael – so much so he surprises himself by saying – how do you know me?
Because I saw you before Phillip called you, Jesus replies.
Remember that psalm my friends – its really a good one – written long before this gospel – Lord, you have searched me out and known me. You know my sitting down and my rising up. You know my thoughts from afar. Such knowledge is just too wonderful for me. It is so high that I cannot attain it.
Ain’t that the truth? Nathanael has one of those mind-blowing moments because such knowledge is too wonderful for him. Realizing that he is known hits him over the head like a two by four. Rabbi, Teacher, you are the Son of God. At which point I see Jesus sticking with the humor a bit – oh that? Seeing you under the fig tree – that ain’t nothing! Just wait until you see how the ways of God intersect with the ways of the world and how you are connected to that!”
(Come and see moment down the hallway on Saturday - Loaves and Fishes - feeding the hungry, clothing the cold where we live.)
God invites each of us in specific ways – through specific people and places. God is always seeking us out – bringing us to intersecting moments where we might become more of who we are – more the image of God we were knit together to be.
It is through those relationships that bear the fruit of our goodness whereby the intersection of heaven and earth are seen and felt – by more than just ourselves.
Today’s readings remind us that God searched out and called specific people – by name. Which means today’s readings remind us that God is searching out and calling each and everyone of you, by name too. Indeed for you are marvelously made – a work of God to be shared with the world. Every day we have the opportunity to open our eyes and say – Speak Lord, for your servant is listening. Amen.