Epiphany 2B – January 15 2012
1 Samuel 3:1-10, John 1:43-51
Preached at St George's, Austin TX
Revelation rarely comes from expected or welcome directions. Too often we miss the chance for new life, for revelation because we only hear what we expect to hear; or rather, we don’t hear what we don’t expect.
“The word of the LORD was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.”
Sound familiar? When the canon of scripture was closed many people believed God was done talking to us. Revelation was complete, God had had the last word. And what a relief. No more troublesome messages out of the blue, no more surprises, all neatly recorded on paper where we can study and discern at our leisure.
Of course in the last 1500 years God has made it pretty clear that far from being done with revelation, God’s just getting started. And yet the human truth remains the same. We can be incredibly deaf and blind. We can fail to see the evidence of God in the world around us, we can fail to hear the voices that speak God’s message to the world.
Fads tend to flare across the internet like lightening, one that flared up recently is called “Shit White Girls Say to Black Girls.” If you have’t happened across it, it’s a blog where black women (many of them young) document the often ludicrous things white women say to them on a regular basis. And reading them, you have to wonder just what these women were thinking. Like a young white journalist, who after a day of making friend’s with a black colleague at a conference confided that a year before she’d been sure the few black journalists she know had tails. The comments tend to go downhill from there.
But what is interesting is the furor this blog has ignited. The furious comments from white women insisting the things they said couldn’t possibly be offensive, or that they would never say such an unenlightened thing. While it might be hard to talk about the great macro issues of racism today, talking about the everyday personal acts of misunderstanding and ignorance (what author Tami Harris calls “microaggressions”) is far more difficult and can still ignite the sort of ire and denial that Martin Luther King faced in the 1960s.
We can be incredibly deaf when the message is not something we want to hear. When it makes us uncomfortable, touches a sore spot, reveals something we dislike in ourselves, or points out uncomfortable truths.
Jesus today is beginning to gather his followers. He is calling out to the people around him, and those who hear, like Philip, follow him. I doubt Philip just up and followed Jesus out of the blue. Perhaps he had been part of the crowds being baptized by John, perhaps he knew Peter and Andrew and they had shared their wonderings about this anointed one, this teacher.
And Jesus has seen something in Philip. He has seen a seed planted in fertile ground. So he singles Philip out when he discerns it is time to move on. The seed of understanding that has been growing in Philip is enough now for him to do something a little risky. It is enough for him to venture to reach out to a friend, to say “I think I’ve found something amazing. I think I’ve found the messiah, come and see.”
Poor Samuel might have continued to run back and forth to Eli, he might have never received his commission from God, had Eli not been wise enough to help him discern God’s voice. We can be deaf to God, especially when God’s call threatens to turn our lives about, when that call leads to change and upheaval, or for Nathanael, when the call comes from an unexpected place.
Nazareth wasn’t exactly a hub of intellectualism. It was a backwater peasant town, a community of laborers for the larger towns and villages nearby. It was poor, dirty, backward. It has been compared to the hills of Arkansas and the Appalachians. Full of hard working people to be sure, but uneducated, and certainly not likely to become the next President of the United States. Can any good come out of Possum Trot? Can any good come out of Nazareth? “Come and see” Philip says. People from Nazareth were used to being not seen. Like many in our society today they were used to being invisible, they were used to being passed by as if the other person had become suddenly blind.
Whether it be a person with different colored skin, a strange accent, a person who is homeless, poor, uneducated, mentally ill or handicapped, or simply of different behavior, culture, dress or belief how unconsciously do we become deaf and blind. How uncomfortable difference can make us. Tomorrow the United States will celebrate Martin Luther King’s birthday, the church will celebrate him on the date of his Martyrdom April 4th. What was it that Dr. King did that so upset the powers that be of his day? What was it that incited so much hatred that he was eventually martyred? I think it was his inability to allow deafness to remain untreated. It was his insistence on offering the healing power of God to all people, release to the captive souls of his black brothers and sisters; and healing of deafness and blindness to his white brothers and sisters.
When God calls, the world changes. And that change can be painful. Generations of African America, hispanic, LGBT, women, and differently abled know how hard that change can be to bring about. Those who cry out for the poor and the oppressed, know.
A fellow preacher shared a story with me that I would like to share with you. She tells the story of a homeless man who spent his days watching business people come and go from a shiny office tower downtown. Every day he watched them march by on the street, intent on their business. Every day he watched them leave again at the end of the day on their phones, planning dinner with their wives and husbands and friends.
He had watched them so long he felt like he knew them, though they had never noticed or seen him. And finally one day he got bold, because he had a burning question he just had to ask. And so as a man who always dressed in the most expensive suits, with polished shoes and perfectly cut hair strode toward the door our friend John leapt up and stepped in front of him. The executive stumbled to a stop, shocked. John blurted out: “Um, I’ve been wondering, I have to know. Can you see us? From your office way up there? Can you see us down here?”
Philip said to Nathanael “come and see.” Open your eyes to something new. Open your eyes to a different world. We can be incredibly deaf and blind. Yet our God never is. Despite the images we so often have of God seated on a distant throne, gazing down at the world, Jesus’ interaction with Nathanael shows us that while our eyes may be closed, and our ears plugged God sees and hears clearly. God sees even Nathanael, under that fig tree. God hears, the moment Samuel opens his mouth. God has been waiting for a word.
Indeed, God is shockingly close to us. Closer than our own skin, closer their our closest friends and family. God rests in our hearts seeing us, and hearing us as even we cannot. Jesus, from poor disparaged Nazareth sees to the heart of Nathanael, he reveals in one sentence something about this young Israelite, something so personal Nathanael demands to know how Jesus could know him. We could write this off as a flash magic trick. Yet Nathanael knows, if Jesus has seen him under that fig tree, so too must he have heard him. Nathanael has been seen and heard. He has been searched out. And in revealing Nathanael to himself, Jesus reveals God to Nathanael. The God who dwells closer to us than our own skin.
The God who speaks through unexpected mouths, who rattles our expectations. The God who refuses to conform to our standards, who dances around our rules. The God who dares to walk out of a backwater town, with rough carpenters hands, and demand we take him seriously. The God who still speaks through the voices of those like Martin Luther King Jr, like the black women who reveal our society’s blindness, like the homeless man who suddenly stands in our way and demands “can you see me?”
“The word of the Lord was rare in those days.” Perhaps, or perhaps as humans are wont to do, we had simply become deaf and blind to the ways God was speaking. Perhaps, like Samuel we could not hear that God was calling us. May we, today, be listening for God. May we be Eli to one another. May we be Philip, running to call his friend to open his eyes to the promise of God among us. May we be Nathanael, whose eyes were opened by the nearness.
May we see the invisible, may we hear the silenced. May we see our own hearts, as truly as God sees them, and as God has not abandoned us, may we not turn away from what is revealed. May the stops we have put in our own ears be removed, that we might hear God’s word from surprising lips. That God’s call to us may ring through loud and clear where we least expected, or wanted it. May we truly see God in one another. And when we speak, and may God’s words be on our lips.