Sermon: "Come and See"
St. Paul’s Episcopal – Brookings
Fr. Larry Ort
I Samuel 3.1-10 (11-20); Psalm 139.1-5, 12-17; I Corinthians 6.12-20; John 1.43-51
Today’s scriptures convey some wonderful truths! God presence is with us. God knows us! God calls us! Our Lord asks, “What are you looking for?” and invites us to “Come and see.” Let’s examine these scriptures more closely, then consider their implications for the choices we make.
God’s knowledge of us and presence with us: Psalm 139 begins with the cry, “O Lord, you have searched me and known me … You search out my path … and are acquainted with all my ways. … You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it” (Psalm 139.1, 3, 5-6; BCP). In the verses which immediately follow, verses omitted from our reading, the psalmist admits his inability to escape God’s presence:
Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast. If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night,” even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you (Psalm 139.7-12; BCP).
The psalmist then considers God’s agency in regard to his own being: “For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb” (Vs. 13). For an apt image of knitting think of the double helix of our DNA. In this regard, science has increased our understanding of God’s marvelous works! In closing, the psalmist prays: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Vss. 23-24). We cannot escape God’s presence, nor can we preclude God’s knowledge of our being and acting. In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul’s great chapter on love, Paul reminds us of God’s knowledge of us: “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known” (Vs. 12, NRSV).
God calls us: 1 Samuel 3 provides a wonderful story of God’s call. The story begins by noting the boy Samuel was serving Eli in the house of the Lord, and that “the word of the Lord was rare in those days.” Samuel was lying down near the Ark of the Covenant when he heard someone call him, “Samuel, Samuel.” Thinking it was Eli, Samuel went to Eli, and said, “Here I am!” In Hebrew, “hineni.” This happened three times. Eli finally sensed God was calling Samuel, so he told Samuel if it happened again, to say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening” (Vss. 1-9; NRSV). Upon responding thusly, God told Samuel of the judgment which would befall Eli’s house.
The word, ‘hineni,’ holds a special place in the Hebrew scriptures, and in present day Judaism.1 Cory Driver, who holds a Ph. D. in Jewish religious cultures from Emory University, notes this significance as follows:
The term usually reflects a willingness to respond with action to one’s master. Scripture is full of instances of God’s servants responding this way. After Abraham said hineni in Genesis 22:1, God called him to the mountaintop with Isaac. When Jacob said hineni in Genesis 31:11, God called him to return home to face Esau. Moses said hineni in Exodus 3:4 and God called him back to Egypt. Isaiah said hineni and God called him to prophesy judgement in Isaiah 6:8. Ananias said hineni (idou ego in Greek) in Acts 9:10 before God commanded him to heal Saul, the arch-persecutor of the Church. When one says hineni to God in Scripture, one is about to be called to a journey of difficult service [Bold face added]. https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/second-sunday-after-epiphany-2/commentary-on-1-samuel-31-10-11-20-6
Is God calling you? Are you willing to say “Hineni”? I vividly recall my own “Here I am” response on a lonely stretch of highway many years ago. Life has been radically different since; I gradually found the love and acceptance for which I was looking – I can now rejoice!
In 1 Corinthians 6, Paul addresses the Church of Corinth, a church known for its sinful practices. Paul calls them to a holy life. Paul does not mince words:
“The body is meant not for fornication but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us by his power. … Shun fornication! Every sin that a person commits is outside the body; but the fornicator sins against the body itself. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body” (Vss. 13-14, 18-20, NRSV).
Will we live for our own glory or for God’s glory?
Our gospel reading relates the story of Jesus’ call to Phillip and Nathaniel. Before this story, the day before, John tells us Jesus was followed by two of John the Baptist’s disciples. Jesus turned and asked them, “What are you looking for?” I suspect they stammered a bit before saying, “Where are you staying?” Jesus responded, “Come and see.” We are told that one of these disciples was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. Andrew found Peter and told him, “We have found the Messiah;” then he took Peter to meet Jesus. (John 1.35-42)
“What are you looking for?” At our deepest level of being, I believe this question has a universal answer. Given our brokenness, and our awareness of it, aren’t we looking for love and acceptance? We come to encounter love and acceptance most fully through knowing God.
In today’s gospel reading, we are told that Jesus went to Galilee where he found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” We are not told whether Jesus previously knew Philip. After encountering Jesus, Philip found Nathaniel, and said, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” Nathaniel was highly skeptical, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip issued an invitation – “Come and see.” We further read, “When Jesus saw Nathaniel coming toward him, he said of him, ‘Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!’ Nathanael asked him, ‘Where did you get to know me?’ Jesus answered, ‘I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.’ Nathanael replied, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’” (John 1.47-49; NRSV.
Last Sunday, Bishop Jonathan Folts shared my concern for the long-term viability of St. Paul’s; he spoke of our plan to form a committee for evangelization. Like most churches, we have seen some decline; most recently that has come about through the death of four of our aged saints. Bishop Folts warned of the dangers of forming a committee – once a committee is in place, those not on the committee tend to think they have no responsibility. There is another adage worth noting: “Where something is everyone’s job, it is nobody’s job.” As he stressed, evangelization, telling our story and sharing our faith, is everyone’s job. Hopefully, a committee will provide leadership and encouragement.
Let me assure you, our long-range viability is only part of my concern. Sure, it would be nice to see an increase in attendance. Everyone loves numbers, but there is something even more important! As I mentioned above, the universal yearning is for love and acceptance. Like Jesus, we need to ask people, “What are you looking for?” As with Jesus, we will likely hear some stammering, whereupon we can issue an invitation, “Come and see!”
We are a loving, accepting community. That is not to say that we are perfect. We still have some spots and blemishes, some rough edges. I leave you with two questions: Are we willing to share the warmth of our love and acceptance, our fellowship with one another with newcomers? Are we willing to invite others to “Come and see”? Given that tomorrow is Martin Luther King day, are we willing to extend love and acceptance to those who differ from us? If not, our church is condemned to a slow but certain death. Let us remember that God’s love, when shared with others, is never diminished. When called, may we answer, “Hineni.”