Sermon: Epiphany 2B

St. Stephen’s, Maple; Zoom Eucharist; January 17, 2021

Collects and Readings for the Day:
1 Samuel 3:1-20
Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17
1 Corinthians 6:12-20
John 1:43-51

“The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, ‘Follow me.’”

Silver linings.

I’m not an optimist by nature, which is all the more reason for me to intentionally look for the good in every situation. And I don’t believe God willed this pandemic into being, but I still think it’s helpful to ask why God allowed it, what God is doing with it and despite it. After all, we can only offer God what we have on-hand, and trust Him to make something of it even when we have no clue how or if that’s even possible. So what is God calling us to offer—who is God calling us to be, as we embark on this phase of the journey as it finds us in the year 2021?

In our readings today we hear God calling three people to offer themselves to follow him, inviting three folks to join in this very journey that you and I are still on. First, Samuel: called to take part in God’s merciful work of cutting through the stench of stagnation and corruption that plagued Eli and his sons. Samuel is able to hear through the noise because he and his mother Hannah have been heard.

And Centuries later, Philip and Nathanael: called to proclaim that Jesus is Lord and Messiah in an age of Herods and Pilates. They can find the true King, see God walking among them, because they are first found, they are first seen. With a comedic glint in his eye, Jesus immediately sizes up Nathanael as “an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.” We too can speak the truth, when the Truth speaks to us.

The problem of our time, however, is that we have a hard time knowing what is true. And the problem with following Jesus is that we have a hard time knowing what comes next. This time last year, we thought we knew how things were going to go, similar enough to the way things had gone every other year of our lives. We didn’t know that we didn’t know. This year, on the other hand, we know that we don’t know,

If “ignorance is bliss,” then knowing that we don’t know can be disconcerting, but it’s also a little comforting. Disconcerting, of course, because we have an innate trepidation about the dark unknown in front of us. But comforting, if we can see this as a time to ask the questions that matter most, to stop and sit with God’s presence in the Tabernacle at Shiloh, to find and see the Son of God meandering through the streets of Bethsaida in Galilee. And this is the silver lining of the current time, when I suspect for many of us “The Circumstances” aren’t so much new and shocking but rather the usual or worn-out course of our daily lives. I think we’re in a bit of a more stable place to take stock of where we’ve come from, which’ll help us have a clearer idea of where we are and where we might be going.

Maybe the first questions that come to mind for you are directed at our social and political life: have the weakness and delays of quarantines and closures exposed our propensity to only care about what is merely “lawful” rather than what is fully “beneficial?” Will we have the political will to reinforce our public infrastructure so it can prevent a pandemic of this magnitude? Will our neighbours to the south see a smooth transition of power—next week—or will that transition continue to be met with violent unrest on the part of those who don’t accept what most of us agree to be true? Or more practically, when will the current outbreak end? And when will I have access to the vaccine?

Or maybe the first things that come to mind for you are the matters of personal and relational morality that St. Paul implies in his exhortation to the Corinthians. Are there patterns in your life that might end up being destructive of yourself and others? The God “to whom all hearts are open, all desires known” is keenly aware that this is true for everyone. Which is mainly to say that we don’t have to wait for Ash Wednesday next month to hear anew God’s offer to restore our relationships, our loves and our hopes, to wholeness. “God raised the Lord and will also raise us by his power.”

Or maybe, like Samuel, you’re drawn to questions that can help us deepen our common spiritual life as a church, as a diocese, as a Christian witness in our community and our society. How has the move to online gatherings affected our ability to connect with each other? Along with the challenges, what new opportunities might God be inviting us into now that the “cat is out of the bag” when it comes to using new media to gather as church? Are we at St. Stephen’s, as a diocese and National Church, willing to invest the time, energy and resources to these changes that we might be invited into? Or is it too much too soon, and what we really long for the most is to gather again in-person here in our beautiful little church, and around our beautiful dinner table, as soon as it is safe to do so? At St. Stephen’s, we will always eat twice: but what does this mean during a pandemic and after it’s over?

Questions are challenging, because they invite us to stop and assess when we might long for change, or question and change the things we might accept as easy and constant. But God always offers us comfort in challenge, faithful presence in times of change. Because God sees us, finds us and hears our questions and our cries, “cleanse[s] the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of [his] Holy Spirit,” inspires in us the very longing for change that God himself wants to bring about, and keeps us faithful to the consistent patterns of life and faith through which he continues to sustain us.

At the end of the day, there are two questions that matter most, the prayer that matters most: Immanuel, will you continue to journey with us, and will you continue to gather us on our journey with you? The Incarnate Presence of Jesus Christ, the Abiding Presence of the Holy Spirit, mean that God’s answer to this prayer, whatever it may concretely look like at the time, will always be “Yes: follow me; come and see.”

Thanks be to God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Published by Matthew Neugebauer

MA in Theology, Anglican, Star Wars #Prequelist, Toronto FC Supporter

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