Sermon for the Second Sunday after the Epiphany

Text: John 1:43-46
Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, "Come with me!

1 Samuel 3:2-4
One night Eli, who was now almost blind, was sleeping in his own room; Samuel was sleeping in the sanctuary, where the sacred Covenant Box was. Before dawn, while the lamp was still burning, the Lord called Samuel.

Jesus and the fishermen

When God calls

Catherine and William Booth lived in London 130 years ago. For the first 10 years of their marriage, William kept asking himself, "What should I do with my life. What is God calling me to do?"

Late one night he took a walk through the slums of London's East End. Every fifth building was a pub. Most had steps at the bar so little children could climb up and order gin. That night he told Catherine how it seemed that God was calling him to do something for those children and their parents – "the down and outers" of London. He didn’t need to go to some foreign country to find people who needed help. They were right there in front of him.

Later that year, 1865, the couple opened the "Christian Mission" in London's poorer districts. This grew into what we know as the Salvation Army.

There are many many stories about people who hear God's call to do something special. We heard two such stories in our readings today. From the Old Testament we heard about the little boy Samuel. Remember that his mother Hannah had prayed in the temple that God if would give her a child she would dedicate that child to God. God answered her prayer and gave her a son. When Samuel was still quite young she took him to the temple to assist Eli, the aging temple priest.

Little Samuel was fast asleep one night and he heard a voice calling him. He thought it was old blind Eli calling for help. But it wasn’t. This happened three times and the fourth time he realised that this voice came from God. Samuel was still a little boy but God was about to use him to carry out his work and we know what a significant role he played in choosing the first two kings for Israel – Saul and David.

Then in the gospel reading Jesus called to Philip, "Come with me". Philip raced off and found his brother Nathanael and told him that the Messiah had called him to follow him. Nathanael is sceptical that this was the Messiah. The Messiah was not coming from Nazareth. Nazareth was not even mentioned in the Old Testament prophecies. So Philip invited him to, "Come and see". Jesus explained that he knew Nathanael even before they met. His scepticism was turned to faith. Nathanael confessed, "You are the Son of God! You are the king of Israel." We know that this call from Jesus led to these two men becoming messengers of the gospel, telling people about the Saviour whom God had sent into the world.

Our God is a calling God. Throughout all time, we find God calling people to carry out specific tasks –
wealthy and settled Abraham was called to leave everything and go to a land that God would show him;
the reluctant Moses was called to lead the people of Israel to freedom;
the shepherd boy David, not old enough yet to shave, was called to be king;
Gideon, who wanted proof that it was really God who was speaking to him, was called to lead an army against Israel’s enemies;
the cheat and thief Matthew was called to be a disciple;
the Christian hater, Saul of Tarsus, was called to be a missionary to the Gentiles;
the brilliant musician and theologian, Albert Schweitzer, was called to serve lepers in Africa.

You wonder why God chose some of the people he did, in fact, not some, but almost everyone he called to do a specific task would not have been our first choice.
When God called Jeremiah to speak to the people, he was just a lad. He lacked confidence and the eloquence required to stand against God's enemies – but God called him anyway.
When God called young Mary to be the mother of the Saviour, it seemed so wrong. She was too young, too poor, unmarried, too ordinary, but God called her anyway.
When Jesus called Peter and James and John they were simple fishermen with no special qualifications. At times they were extremely dense and slow to catch on, but he called them anyway.

When Doris Taylor was seven she was helping her father when she fell and hit her back on the serrated brick garden edging. This caused injury to her spine and she was almost continuously in hospital for the next 9 years. At the age of 16 she was very seriously handicapped - she couldn’t turn her head, sit up, or even feed herself. What an unlikely person this was to organise one the community’s most valuable services. What could a person who is so seriously handicapped do to help others?

During the 1930s during the Depression she became concerned for those who were disadvantaged. Doris began supplying hot midday meals for the aged and chronically ill in their homes. This was the beginning of Meals on Wheels. Remember Doris was severely disabled and needed constant care, and whether she realised it or not, God called her anyway.

What is evident in all these examples is that the people whom God calls to do his work are ordinary people like you and me –
people with weaknesses and handicaps,
people with their fair share of marriage and family problems,
people who don’t have much going for them from a human point of view.
It is not beyond God to seemingly call the wrong people, for the wrong jobs at the wrong time and place.
It seems all wrong, but God knows what he is doing.

In every case, God is fully aware of their lack of confidence and skills. No doubt, he knew very well that what he was asking them to do was dangerous and would severely test their courage and commitment.
And so, at the burning bush God said to Moses, "I will be with you." (Exodus 3:12)
To the doubt filled Gideon, God said, "Peace. Don’t be afraid. (Judges 6:23)
To young Jeremiah, God said, "Do not be afraid, I will be with you to protect you…. I am giving you the words you must speak" (Jeremiah 1:8,9).
To the disciples, Jesus final words were
, "I will be with you always to the close of the age" (Matt 28:20).

God hasn’t changed one bit. He is as real today as he was to Moses and the disciples. He still does crazy things (so it seems) and calls ordinary people like you and me. He still challenges us; he still confronts us and tests us. He still calls you and me to do his work in this world, even though we can think of a million reasons why he has chosen the wrong person.

Most of us here were called by God to be a part of his family at baptism. Just a while ago Breanna was baptised. In the simple action of putting water on her head and the speaking of a few words,
God called her to trust and have faith Jesus.
He called her to be a disciple, to centre her life on Jesus, to let the light of Christ shine through everything she does and says.
He has called her to be a powerful and positive influence in the midst of so much darkness in our world.
What is more, he wonderfully and graciously forgave her all her sins and assured her that when this life is over she will be welcomed into eternal life.
And there’s still more, as always when God calls, there is his assurance that he will always be there to help Breanna and give her the support she needs throughout her life’s journey.

Breanna may not be aware of God's call now, but the rest of us can look back and see how God's call has affected us. He has called us to be disciples and to trust in Jesus.
That effects the way we live our lives,
the way we work together as his people,
the love that we share,
our attitude to worship
and the way we gladly help in the church and in the community with our time, energy and money.
There are those times when God challenges us directly to help a neighbour, or to give a hand. We see the need and we don’t feel right until we have dealt with it.

The call God issues to each of us is not just a once only thing that happened a long time ago when we were baptised, but he calls us by name every day to turn away from evil and wrong doing and to trust the Holy Spirit to guide us along the right path.
On those days when things aren’t turning out well for us, he calls us to pray to him, and rely on him for help.
When sickness, trouble, and everything that we put under the heading of "bad luck" get us down, Jesus calls us to remember his promise that he will always be near to strengthen us and give us the boldness to keep on going.

God calls us to do his work. He calls us to be powerful and positive influences in the lives of the young. Today as Breanna was baptised, he called Natalie and Scott to be Christian parents –
to pray for Breanna,
to teach her about Jesus,
to help her grow in faith and love,
to bring her to worship,
and to help her realise that God loves her and that he wants her to trust him.
God calls all of us to be good parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts and friends and to encourage our children to be followers of Jesus.

But you know, like the people whom God called in the Bible, our first reaction is: "Who me!" It’s not hard for us to find every excuse under the sun and explain earnestly to ourselves (and to God) that this is not the best time,
that there are others who are able to do this better,
that we don’t have the time
or that we would be too scared to do anything like that.
We are in good company when we respond to God's call like that – Moses, Jeremiah, Gideon and others did just that.

God knows what we are like but that doesn’t mean he lets us off the hook. He still loves us. He assures us that we are his beloved children; he forgives us and promises to help us, to guide and to give us the skills we need to fulfil the challenge before us. Moses, Jeremiah and Gideon were promised God's help and then sent to carry out the task God had called them to do.

When God calls ordinary people like us to be his disciples, to invite others to come and see Jesus as Philip did for Nathaniel, to do acts of love and kindness, to be Christian parents and grandparents, to be active and faithful members of the church, or whatever it might be that God calls us to do, God grant that our response might be the same as little Samuel. When God called, Samuel replied, "I’m listening, Lord. What do you want me to do?"

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
19th January, 2003
E-mail: gerhardy65@hotmail.com 

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Except where otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from Good News Bible: Today's English Version (TEV), revised edition, © American Bible Society 1966, 1971, 1976, 1992, 1994, inclusive language with Australian usage text, 1994 
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