Second Sunday After Epiphany January 14, 2018
Scripture readings: 1st Samuel 3: 1-20 and John 1: 43-51
Sermon: “The Ultimate Wake-Up Call”
For most of us, there are few things in our lives that are better than just lying in our beds in the morning. There you are…just existing in that nice, warm bed…it’s quiet…nothing troubling you…perhaps you are awake but you are not functioning…just passing time and waking up slowly. This is a great thing, especially if you have a big day ahead of you, or you have a nice, warm dog or cat keeping part of you warm, or you have a little time to waste just staying where you are. Let’s face it: you are warm, safe, and not being bothered by anything…YET.
But this AMERICA and it’s time to WAKE UP, PEOPLE!
You can’t stay in that bed all day long. (Okay, if you’re sick, you can, but even then you are expected to take a shower or a bath and get clean and try to eat something – you’ll feel better!) THEN you can go back to bed. But even then, you can’t stay there forever! There are things to do, places to go, promises to keep. So WAKE UP and GET MOVING!
Anyone have a mom or a dad who ruled your earlier life like this? Anyone have a spouse that believes in this type of harsh treatment first thing in the morning? Anyone have someone who might MIGHT bring you a hot cup of coffee, but that is a BRIBE! You are still expected to WAKE UP and GET MOVING!
Wake-up calls can be harsh…loud…unexpected…interrupting the normal flow of our lives. But they occur at the most unusual times. In fact…exactly how many wake-up calls did we hear about in today’s Scripture readings?
The first was the one for Samuel, a young boy living and working in the Temple under the care of Eli. You know the story…Samuel heard someone calling his name as he slept. He ran to Eli to ask what is needed. But Eli said that he didn’t call Samuel. In fact, this scene repeated itself three times before Eli realized that it could be the Lord calling Samuel. So, the next time Samuel heard that voice, he remained still and told the Lord he was listening. This first wake up call for Samuel set him apart from everyone else. It announced to Eli that Samuel was more than just an earnest, faithful boy; he was to be the voice of the Lord. Remember that at the beginning of the passage that was read, the Bible tells us, “The word of the Lord was rare in those days.” Samuel was going to be the wake-up call that broke that pattern for the people of Israel.
Second wake-up call was for Eli himself. First, he is told that his two sons were behaving wickedly. They may have been trained on what to do in the Temple, but they were not acting in a manner fitting for future temple priests. Eli may have trained them, but he didn’t rein them in when he knew they were acting badly and causing embarrassment to the people of the Lord. So, Scripture tells us that Eli’s own wake-up call came from a “man of God.” Whoever this man was, he told Eli just how bad things had become. Not only would Eli’s sons not inherit his duties and responsibilities as future temple priests, but they would not even survive to see that day come near. Both of them would be killed on the same day. This was probably a blow to Eli; to have sons in that culture and in that day was to ensure that your family would continue and your work would continue too. Eli was informed in his wake-up call that his work was done…at least in his own family; part of his wake-up call was the realization that he was an accessory to the sins his son committed because he failed to restrain them. However, what was left for Eli to discern for himself was that the work of the Lord was not done. Samuel would be the one to carry it forward. To his credit, we get nothing in Scripture that indicates anything other than Eli helping and guiding Samuel as he grew in age and in the Spirit of the Lord.
The third wake-up call was not directly identified, but it’s there. The nation of Israel also received a wake-up call at this time. The era of the Judges ruling Israel, as they had for the past 200 years, was going to end with Samuel; the silence of the Lord’s voice was going to end too. Samuel was called by the Lord as a young man, his voice would become the voice of the Lord as Israel moved forward into the era of kings. The legitimacy of Samuel’s wake-up call was the beginning of a new social possibility for Israel – and it would seemingly come out of nothing. If the people of Israel paid attention, they would realize that the Lord had never left them, had never ignored them. In fact, through a young man named Samuel, Israel’s wake-up call would be realized.
Finally, we have the wake-up calls for both Philip and Nathanael in the reading from John’s Gospel. Philip heard his directly from the lips of Jesus himself who told him, “Follow me.” Put yourself in Philip’s place, and this appears to be a wake-up call that was just about impossible to ignore.
But then we have Nathanael, one of the minor apostles. His name isn’t even mentioned in the listing of the Twelve in the other Gospels. Most experts believe that Nathanael and Bartholomew were the same person, but whoever he was…he didn’t get a lot of coverage in the New Testament. Yet he received his wake-up call from Philip and then from Jesus.
First, Nathanael/Bartholomew is told by Philip that they have found the one that Moses and the prophets wrote about. But like Doubting Thomas a little later in the Gospel, Nathanael/Bartholomew seemed to need some proof before he was going to answer the same wake-up call that Philip and the others were embracing enthusiastically. So he sarcastically doubts that “anything good could come out of Narazeth.” Quite the insult for a time when people were often known by the town they came from. Nathanael/Bartholomew needed proof…so Jesus gave it to him. Now Nathanael/Bartholomew had two wake-up calls and we get one more:
- First, his friend Philip was right. This was the guy the people of Israel had all dreamed of: the Messiah.
- Nathanael/Bartholomew had missed it and then the Lord proved it by describing how he had seen Nathanael/Bartholomew earlier under a fig tree. That impressed Nathanael/Bartholomew enough to convince him. And then the Lord described what Nathanael/Bartholomew would see in the future: “heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” Pretty convincing wake-up call!
- We get one more wake-up call about having faith even when we don’t see things for ourselves. What did Jesus tell Doubting Thomas who refused to believe that Jesus had risen from the dead? “You believe because you have seen; blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” Granted, Nathanael/Bartholomew was at the beginning of his eventual journey with the Lord, but don’t miss the lesson for us all. Faith is important, and the Lord notices.
Now ponder your own individual wake-up call. The Lord constantly calls us to one thing or another in His Kingdom. He calls us…but he can easily call someone else if we refuse to listen. Or perhaps we are so busy enjoying our own lives that we don’t think we need to worry about being called or answering. How much proof do we require before we will listen to those calls?
Do we need a vision like the one Nathanael/Bartholomew received? Visions are rare these days…
Do we need to actually hear our names called at night and then have someone older, wiser, and more experienced explain it to us clearly? I guess we could look around here and choose someone…but let’s be careful with that!
Perhaps we need what Nathanael/Bartholomew lacked at the beginning of his encounter with Jesus…just a little bit of faith before seeing everything he needed to justify that little bit of faith.
Perhaps we could also do with some openness in our own souls and hearts. Much is ahead of us as a church and as individual believers. Much could be done.
So WAKE-UP, Christians! The Lord is waiting.