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January 15, 2006 (Sunday 2 · Time after Epiphany)—“Inviting Others Into God’s Future”
Pastor David Barber
I Samuel 3:1-20; John 1:43-51
Sisters and brothers, grace be unto you and peace from God our loving Creator and from our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
On this weekend, besides the Second Sunday after Epiphany, we also commemorate the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. Even though his assassination took place almost 40 years ago, his legacy and his dream is still being fulfilled.
How we still remember these stirring words:
“I still have a dream...I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood...I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
This dream was not the result of political strategy or social planning. It was a gift that came from beyond him—a gift that was able to see the world entirely different than the one we see all around us. Surely this dream was rooted in the totality of his life experiences, but perhaps, it also came in a moment in the night, just like Samuel.
As one person describes it: “King buried his face in his hands at the kitchen table. He admitted himself that he was afraid, that he had nothing left, that the people would falter if they looked to him for help...His doubts spilled out as a prayer, ending, ‘I’ve come to the point where I can’t face it alone.’
As he spoke these words, the fears suddenly begin to melt away. He became intensely aware of what he called an ‘inner voice’ telling him to do what he thought was right.”
Walter Brueggemann tells us that King’s dream is not simply a wish or a projection but “the intrusion of God into a settled world...It is a holy intrusion that reaches forward in sanity, continuing to generate a restless uneasiness with the way things are until the dream comes to fruition and a new world is enacted.”
It wasn’t only Martin Luther King who experienced this holy intrusion of God. We also heard about this holy intrusion in our Scripture readings for today.
This was certainly true for a young lad by the name of Samuel. He was in the service of an old “geezer”—a priest by the name of Eli. Samuel spent a great deal of time just hanging around the temple being a “gopher” for him.
But one night when Samuel was lying down in the temple, he heard his name called. He thought it was Eli intruding upon his sleep. But no! It wasn’t Eli.
Three times the voice calls, “Samuel, Samuel,” and three times the boy goes to Eli. Finally Eli puts the puzzle together. Although the “word of the Lord was rare in those days,” this was none other than the holy intrusion of God.
“If you hear that voice again,” says Eli, “you say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” And when God does, Samuel hears that God is about to do something in Israel that will make, not just one ear, but both ears of anyone who hears of it tingle. I like that, don’t you—tingling ears? What would it take to make your ears tingle?
There are numerous stories in the Bible like this one. There are stories about men and women and boys and girls who go about their lives in predictable paths just like you and me. But then their lives are disrupted because they, too, experience the holy intrusion of God. Their name is called, and their world is changed.
We see this as well in our Gospel for today. A man by the name of Jesus shows up in Galilee one day. He finds a man by the name of Philip, and Jesus says to him, “Follow me!”...And in that instant, life is disrupted. His life is changed forever by being addressed by this stranger from Galilee.
Philip thinks he’s the one in control, for when he bumps into his brother Nathaniel, he says, “We’ve found the one whom Moses talked about in the law and the prophets.”
“No you haven’t, Philip! Jesus has found you—Jesus has intruded in your life and not the other way around. And this holy intrusion will show you all sorts of new possibilities for your life and your world.”
When his brother is skeptical about what Philip has told him, Philip doesn’t argue with him or try to convince him about the validity of his claim. He simply models for us good evangelism when he responds, “Come and see.”
Nathaniel does, and he, too, is transformed. He, too, believes and proclaims, “You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel.”
Jesus responds, “If you think my intuition about you when I saw you underneath the fig tree is somewhat miraculous, just wait. You will see greater things than these! You will see the kind of things that will make your ears tingle as well!”
“Come and see!” These three simple words lead to holy intrusions and lives that are transformed. Three times in these early chapters of John the invitation is given to “come and see.”
There’s no fancy evangelism program here but just a living enactment of Luther’s words—one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.
The essence of their witness was to state what they had seen and believe. Then they invited others—their brothers and their friends to come and see. There were no fancy speeches or attempts to argue them into the kingdom of God.
“Come and see!” You’ve read the reports—the reports that tell us that most new people visit a church for the first time not because of the pastor. Most people come not because a church has great programs in place, or a top-notch evangelism program, but rather someone invited them. Someone invited them to “come and see!”
During the last decade the ELCA placed an emphasis upon evangelism. The embarrassing bottom line is that during this period of time, that even with this emphasis, the ELCA dropped significantly in its membership.
Although somewhat humorous, it’s also quite tragic and fearful. In fact, I also have the same fear for us. I have the fear that we will fail to be witnesses—people willing to invite others to “come and see.”
It isn’t that we don’t have something significant to offer folks. It isn’t that we have a joyless gathering of people with boring worship services. It isn’t that we fail to be relevant or fail to speak to the pressing issues of the day.
We do have something to offer. There’s reason for us to say, “Come and see”—inviting folks into this body of Christ where they, too, may experience God’s holy intrusion. We invite others to share in God’s dream or God’s vision for the world. We invite them into a community where we see the world in a different way than what we see all around us.
When Jesus tells Nathaniel that he will see even greater things, or Samuel hears from God that ears will tingle, that’s true for us as well. There’s more to come. In fact, the best is yet to come as we wait and we participate in God’s unfolding dream and vision for the future.
In that regard it can be asked, “Are the best years of this congregation ahead of us or behind us?” This congregation has a rich history, and periodically we recall that history. We recall those days not to wallow in past glories but to remember God’s faithfulness and to trust God for even greater things in the future.
For instance, a pastor tells about serving a 100-year-old congregation. While he was there, a Lutheran Church Missouri Synod mission congregation began less than two miles away. Within five years they had grown larger than the older congregation and completed a building program.
Why? The established congregation tended to look back to the past at the good things God had done for them, while the mission congregation was looking ahead to the greater things God was going to do among them and through them.
God intruded into Martin Luther King’s life one day and gave him a dream—a dream for the future. This was a dream that would cause uneasiness with the way things were until the dream came to fruition. This was a dream that drew others to “come and see” and to be involved in this vision.
We, too, look forward to the good things that God will do among us, and we invite others—our friends and our neighbors—to “come and see.” Filled with uneasiness with the way things are, we, too, invite others to pray with us, to serve with us, to love with us so that God’s dream will be fulfilled within us and within the world.
In his “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” King writes:
“Though I was initially disappointed in being characterized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter, I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label.
Was not Jesus an extremist for love: ‘Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you...’Was not Amos an extremist for justice: ‘Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.’
So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or will we be extremists for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or will we be extremists for the cause of justice?”
Our ears may not tingle over the prospect of what God will continue to do among us, but perhaps, we at least are filled with great passion as we, too, become ‘extremists’ for the work of God through Jesus Christ for others and for all of creation.
God has called us into this magnificent fellowship—this fellowship of grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness. God has called us into this place of hope and healing for the world.
God has called us into this place to keep the dream alive and to call others so that together we will live into and grow into this marvelous vision for the future.
Having seen God’s great epiphany in Jesus Christ, we now graciously invite others to come and see Jesus—who is with us in the word, the waters of rebirth, and the holy supper.
Copyright © 2006 David Barber
Comments welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org