2nd Sunday after Epiphany
The story from 1 Samuel is a story of calling. God calls the boy Samuel to reveal to the tired and corrupt priest Eli, that his time is over. A new, radical transition is about to take place. Samuel is one of those in a long line of “unlikely” prophets and apostles...the ones that “shouldn’t” be called by God to do anything special. And yet, he responds to God’s calling to follow.
The story from the Gospel of John is also one of calling. It is here that Jesus calls Philip and Nathanael to follow him in his ministry. The gospel writer doesn’t tell us that Philip and Nathanael are particularly important people in their community...they seem to be pretty average men. If anything, Nathanael might even be a little gullible by today’s standards; he confesses that Jesus is the Son of God simply because Jesus says he saw him sitting under a fig tree and knew his heart to be pure. By all accounts, Philip and Nathanael have nothing unique to offer Jesus as followers, except that they respond to his call.
From time to time when I met someone new and we begin the conversations of getting to know one another, the person will ask me if I always knew that I wanted to be a priest. If you’ve had this conversation with me, you’ll know that I often laugh or give this long “Ooooh, noooo” response. The truth is, never in a million years would I have imagined becoming a priest. I was not the most “saintly” child and young adult...I made a ton of mistakes, got in lots of trouble with my parents and teachers, and was hard headed. In my early adult years, I got married and divorced and wasn’t sure what direction my life was going in. Priesthood wasn’t anywhere on my radar.
But that’s how it is with God. When something new is about to happen, God calls the most unlikely to respond, to come and see how the Kingdom of God is unfolding, and how they are apart of that transition.
Tomorrow we celebrate the life and ministry of Martin Luther King, Jr. On Wednesday we honored him at our midweek service. On Monday night there will be a community wide celebration at Riverside Church beginning at 5pm with a potluck supper. If you study The Rev. Dr. King’s life, you know that he was destined to be a preacher--he was the son and grandson of Baptist preachers. He went on to get his BA, BD and PhD in Systematic Theology from Boston College. But did he know that he would later become a leader in the Civil Rights Movement or was this a special calling from God? Personally, I believe it was a calling from God.
Like Samuel, Philip, Nathanael and all the other prophets, apostles, teachers and preachers that came before and after him, Martin Luther King was called by God to help bring about God’s justice in the world. Part of the reason that I think that the Rev. Dr. King is considered by the church a prophet, is because he called attention to the need for transformation and was deeply grounded in love.
In his August 16, 1967 speech to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, he asked “where do we go from here”. It had been 10 years since the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the segregation of whites and blacks. In the year preceding this speech, there had been an increase in black voter registration. Adult education and community organization training had been started. Revitalization of housing projects had begun in Chicago, as well as economic support for black small business owners. Housing for the black elderly community members had begun in Atlanta, with the hope of making more housing available from Mississippi to North Carolina.
Like a biblical prophet, Dr. King called to us to reflect on who were were, where we’d come from and where we still needed to go. In response to his question “where do we go from here” he said, “First, we must massively assert our dignity and worth. We must stand up amid a system that still oppresses us and develop an unassailable and majestic sense of values. We must no longer be ashamed of being black. “ And then he went on to say, “What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive, and that love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love. And this is what we must see as we move on.”
This is a calling that is put before all of us in our baptismal covenant...to respect the dignity of every human being. And it’s something that we constantly have to work on. This calling began in the Old Testament when Moses asked Pharaoh to let the Israelites go, it continued through the rise of priests and kings, and in the New Testament we read that Jesus was constantly working to overturn systems of domination and oppression by asking his followers to care for the women, the orphaned, and the “least of these”. This is still our calling today. And all of us can do this, even if we’re not prophets or priests. All of us are called to use our power with love, putting our faith into action for justice and freedom.
And so this morning I ask you to consider how you are responding to this call from Jesus...will you come and see how God is enacting change in the world?
I don't know what the future of the church is, but I know that we will continue to be a place of sanctuary and hope, working towards healing in the world.