Sunday, January 18, 2009

Sermon: January 18

Driving my kids to school the other day: I saw the sign on a tree next to a house – Foreclosure Sale -- I thought of that family that has lost their home. Whether it’s a home or this economy where so many have lost their jobs or have felt the effects of the banking or wall street failures in their retirement savings, it is a time of anxiety. No place is left alone, all is unsettled, for me it was brought home with that sign outside the house that we are living in hard times in Monroe too. I think of the note from the Monroe Food Pantry that its use has gone up three fold!

In a few days many people (including some who didn’t vote for him) have hope that a change in administration will change our economy, our outlook. Of course, there is so much happening right now (economy, war) and politics are so full of compromises but there is a sense of hope that we will get back on the right foot again. But with that hope is real mix of anxiety about the present.

As we heard in our Scripture readings this morning, they were living in anxious times too. Our first reading tells us that the Word of God was rare in those days, visions were not wide spread. You get the feeling the Israelites who always had God right there for them might be feeling a bit lost. Not so sure of themselves. But the lamp of the Lord had not gone out in the temple; the ark was still there and Eli one of the priests was doing his sacred duty. Samuel would hear the voice of God calling to him. But he did not understand. He thought it was Eli who was calling him.

Three times he went to Eli, “Here am I, you called me,” and finally the third time Eli understood that it was the Lord who was calling and he told Samuel what to do. And when the Lord called again, Samuel said, “speak Lord, for your servant is listening.”

We live in times where God’s word seems silent, where visions are not widespread. But God still calls and we are sleeping, we do not hear the call. It is Samuel and Eli who remind us to listen, really listen for the voice of God in our lives. The Light of the World has come and the light has not gone out!

We might remain skeptical. Like Nathaniel in the Gospel reading. Philip heard Jesus say, “follow me” and that is all he needed. He heard the voice of God and he responds! He runs to tell Nathaniel. “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.”

This is good news in the days of Roman occupation. The messiah has come. Philip is ready. And so what does Nathaniel say… “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Nathaniel is not impressed. Jesus of Nazareth. But Philip is not deterred by his friends lack of enthusiasm. “Come and see.” says Philip.

And Nathaniel does and his interaction with Jesus changes everything. “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” And Philip and Nathaniel both follow Jesus.

Why is this important for us?

Even in the midst of our anxious times, we, as Desmond Tutu put it, as Christians are prisoners of hope. It is a hope that lies outside ourselves, a hope that God is at work in the world. There is a hymn attributed to Charles Wesley - whose first lines are:

Prisoners of hope, arise, and see your Lord appear;
Lo! on the wings of love He flies, and brings redemption near;
Redemption in His blood He calls you to receive:
“Look unto Me, the pardoning God.
Believe,” He cries, “believe!”

Indeed, we are prisoners of hope, for we are called to believe, just as God called Samuel, Samuel – and his servant was listening God called Philip to follow and he followed God called Nathaniel to come and see and it changed his life.

It is God who is still working in this world, the Light of the World has come and the darkness has not and will not put it out. It is that God, your God who calls to you, calls you by name. It is God who looks to you to share that light in a world so full of darkness.

Tomorrow is MLK, Jr. Day. “In 1994 Congress passed the King Holiday and Service Act, designating the King Holiday as a national day of volunteer service. Instead of a day off from work or school, Congress asked Americans of all backgrounds and ages to celebrate Dr. King's legacy by turning community concerns into citizen action.”

Ellen and I the kids will be doing something in connection with a local drive for winter coats at a homeless shelter. There is so much need out there, each of us can help spread the light, give hope in the midst of despair.

“If you lose hope, somehow you lose the vitality that keeps life moving, you lose that courage to be, that quality that helps you go on in spite of it all. And so today I still have a dream.” (MLK., Jr., The Trumpet of Conscience)

Or to put it another way…

“I don't know what your destiny will be, but one thing I do know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve.” (Albert Schweitzer)

Today, listen to God’s voice calling you, and respond. Amen.

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