Sermons Sunday 14/1/18 Epiphany 2 Rev Dr Royse Murphy


Sunday 14/1/18

8 am

Epiphany 2

Lord, we thank you for your promises in Jesus and for the words in your scriptures and the inspiration of your Holy Spirit.

Well I wonder how your New Year of ‘Peace on Earth, Goodwill to all’ is going so far? It seems that conflict and harsh words will always be with us somehow - and that is not a cheerful prospect. 

We might be excused for asking - what is God doing about it? Why does he not speak? 

God’s words can be uncomfortable. In the Old Testament reading this morning, young Samuel assumes it is Eli who is calling him at night.

It is a familiar passage, and one that can explain for us quite a bit about how God speaks at times to people. Firstly, the voice is a voice of authority, no doubt about that, Samuel thinks it is Eli because it is to Eli that he is answerable. So often we find ourselves answerable to others, and unlike Eli they may not be people primarily of God. It puts us in a familiar dilemma to many - am I to do right, say, by my boss, or by God? 

The misunderstanding is cleared up on the third call when Eli realises it must be God. God is persistently calling Samuel. We may have a call from God which we try to ignore (though it was Eli and not Samuel who was trying to ignore it). The call is persistent, and eventually Eli realises that the call is consistent also with God.  Samuel knows it is important and now Eli does too.

The call from God can by risky. I said at the beginning that we can be forgiven for asking why God isn’t acting or speaking in the world. 

We may be hearing him but ignoring what is said. In this case God tells Samuel that he has a bone to pick with Eli’s family. We may want God to speak but we have to be prepared to face up to the reality of what he may say. The sceptics are fond of accusing Christians, and people of other faiths, of living in a fantasy land of wishful thinking. But actually when God speaks, and speaks through his prophets (ancient and modern) it is the reality that he addresses.

Samuel is shocked and can't bring himself to tell Eli, but Eli encourages him and the truth comes pouring out. How would you feel as a teacher if your pupil accused you and your family of this degree of dereliction of Duty. It is far from wishful thinking, a natural wish would be for God to have kept quite about it.. So another reason why it may appear that God is not speaking is that we probably block off the uncomfortable truths. 

We are created in the image of God - and that is difficult to work out. Is it two eyes, two ears, two arms, two legs? - well, probably not. Our first impressions of people are always very physical like that, a statesman-like leader, a handsome man or woman, a lithe sportsperson. Yes, they all have qualities to admire, but that is not their full selves. Anyway, so many of the people we know and respect aren’t necessarily statesman-like, handsome or lithe. 

We know, and God knows, that there are more important qualities to consider. Inner beauty does not depend on manicures and make-up or the latest fashions. The qualities of God, I think, are seen in love, respect, fair treatment, and leadership and example on a smaller scale. 

I am not saying that we shouldn’t look after ourselves or ever have a haircut - In many ways that can help self-respect and forms part of our ambition to make the best and most positive use of life. 

But we know that things start to go badly wrong when we do not keep those other qualities in the forefront, when we maybe become selfish and disrespectful, or affected by the worlds problems so much that we resort to anger, or addiction.

God encourages us. And we find it hard sometimes to get through. We slip but that is not to say that all is therefore lost.

For our God is a God of the New and not just the Old Testament. God has placed on this earth a child who grows to be the most inspirational and ethical leader the world has ever seen. Jesus gives us a window on God. He doesn’t fix everything all at once, in fact more often than not, it is the effect of his fixing things which transforms more than the healing itself. Physical healing may rid the sufferer of the disease or save a live, but Jesus’ words actually transform that person’s life and attitudes. ‘Go', Jesus says, 'it is your faith that has healed you'.

We might also say: it is also the healing of your faith which transforms your life. God can only act in the lives of those who are prepared to listen - who have ‘ears to hear’. Maybe if everyone listened, the world really would be transformed - in fact I am pretty sure there is no ‘Maybe’ about it!

Our Gospel reading has one or two puzzles about it too. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, "We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth''. To which Nathanael says, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" Philip said to him, "Come and see." 

Here is clearly the scepticism I have been talking about. However useful Jesus’ words have been, he is tarred with that Nazareth brush. Presumably Nazareth was a bit of a rough place, and is still the largest commercial centre of the area - about 25 miles west of Lake Galilee, Nathaniel was reacting with first impressions and with the local prejudice.

But Jesus had clearly caused a good impression at some point: maybe it was at a meeting or through reports he had heard from other local citizens. Because Jesus only has to say ‘I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you’ for Nathanael to reply, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’ And that is how we meet Jesus - Philip had asked Nathaniel to ‘come and see’ - we need to be prepared to be surprised and changed, we need to leave our prejudices behind. 

What is God calling you to do? It is unlikely that, like Samuel, you are being called to be a wise and influential ruler: and unlikely that, like Nathaniel, you are being called to be one of the apostles. But he is I am sure calling you for something - and it may not be what you expect. And I am conscious that this also applies to me too. And it may involve some risk (what in life worthwhile does not?!)

Like Samuel, you may need to be called a few times, maybe like Nathaniel you will recognise and respond to the situation right away despite all your previous preconceptions. It doesn’t have to be to something that changes the world, though it may be.

This is really how God acts, not by coercion or duress, by blackmail or force, by shaming or humiliation. God acts by invitation to ‘come and see’  what his Kingdom may be like, setting aside our fears. It may not be easy but it will be fulfilling.

A prayer: God our creator and redeemer, help us to see and hear your call. Help us to set aside our prejudices and preconceptions and trust in you. We pray for our suffering world, and that your will and light be seen in all the suffering places of this world. In this New Year help us to make your love real in other people’s lives that we may all be drawn closer to you and your Kingdom.             Amen 


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