Second Sunday after the Epiphany
January 14 2018
1 Samuel 3.1-20; Psalm 139.1-6, 13-18; 1 Corinthians 6.12-20; John 1.43-51
Rev Anita Venter, Bethlehem Bible College
In 2008, I first laid my eyes on the Shepherds Field, not far from here in Beit Sahour. Of course, the first thing that came to mind were the angels appearing to the shepherds announcing the good news of the birth of our Saviour.
Yet another image came into my mind … the image of a young shepherd boy who trusted in God, fighting off lions, bears, and even Goliath. Reading Psalm 139 today brought that image to mind again.
I could see David sitting on the side of a hill watching over his father’s sheep, with nothing to do but think. I could see him sitting on a rock picking up one of the five stones, meant to kill an uncircumcised Philistine. Having a “come-and-see” moment. Something he sees and hears or feels has turned his thoughts to God.
As he reaches out to pick up the stone, perhaps he looks at his hands.
According to Dr Scott Karrison, hands are one of “…the most intricate and beautiful parts of the human body. Nineteen bones arranged to form a cup, an arch, a flat surface or a balled fist, each shape occurring on demand. Fingers able delicately to lift a needle from a table or twist open the stubborn cap of a fruit jar or distinguish between a penny and a dime merely by touch. No engineer designing robot hands has ever come close to such perfection.” Guideposts Dec. 1993, p. 41-42
Or maybe the young shepherd sees his feet.
According to Wikipedia, “the human foot is a strong and complex mechanical structure containing 26 bones, 33 joints (20 of which are actively articulated), and more than a hundred muscles, tendons, and ligaments.”
Some of the best Marathon runners come from Africa. Why would that be? Maybe it is because in the heart of Africa the only form of transport for most people is their feet. It is known that women and children in Africa walk on average six kilometres daily just to have access to clean water.
Can you imagine life without your feet?
Or perhaps David listens to a bird in a tree and wonders at the marvel of hearing. Touching his ears, he is amazed by the design of them. How beautiful, how shell-like they are, and how perfectly designed to catch every sound wave in the air.
That leads him to think about how God knows everything about him. God knows his current thoughts, God knows when he will rise, God knows the issues of his heart. God created him with a unique voice, fingerprints and DNA. Moreover, God created him in God’s image. God shed abroad his love in David’s heart.
His lips burst into praise as he realizes that this knowledge is too wonderful for him. And then he becomes aware of his lips and his mouth. The sound of his voice!
David knows that God has written down all the days that were formed for him, even before he was born. He realizes that God has a call and a purpose for him, and he bows to pick up the second stone for his arsenal.
Tomorrow my American friends will remember Dr Martin Luther King Jr.
In the shadow of the latest shock wave caused by President Trump’s vile remark about people who are from Haiti and Africa, portraying extreme racism, I could not agree more. Dr King was driven by a call from God and a vision of a Beloved Community where black children could hold hands with white children – a community characterized by unconditional love instead of poverty, racism and violence. He gave his life to free Americans from the cruelty of segregation. He did so not with words and non-violent protests only; he did so with limitless love.
This reminds me of the ultimate source of love and brings me to our Gospel. When Philip is invited to follow love, he respond, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” In our world today, maybe a more contemporary response of doubt would be: “Can anything good come from humility and sacrifice?”
Is this not a waste of time?
Yet Jesus’ call to his disciples – to us – is shockingly simple: Follow me! No church bells, no loud whistles, no fancy marketing strategy. Just, a still and calm voice. Follow me. Come and see. Do as I do.
And what did Jesus do? He travelled around the countryside listening to people, proclaiming God’s love, offering grace, forgiveness, and healing. He blessed children and welcomed outcasts into mainstream society. He had a vision, and he was willing to sacrifice his life to achieve it. He invites us to become his disciples, to come and see the purpose and power of our design!
He demonstrates how to use the 26 bones and 33 muscles in our feet, how to get them covered with dirt and callouses, how to walk the earth and search for the poor, the orphans and the widows, while using our perfectly formed ears to listen and hear the cry of the marginalized and oppressed. He wants us to develop ears of compassion.
He shows us how to reach out with our intricate, beautiful hands to feed the poor, to touch the broken hearted, to embrace a refugee child, to wipe the tears of a crying mother whose child has just been imprisoned, to comfort those who mourn, to reach out a hand of peace to our enemies, to lay a gentle hand on the sick.
He urges us to come and see how to use our lips and voices in kindness, to speak truth and to encourage the hopeless. To speak words of love as we announce our forgiveness to those who offended and hurt us.
He reminds us how marvellously God created and designed us. He guides us in truth and love so we can show the lost that God knows and loves them too and that he is with them wherever they are. He urges us to go out into the world and invite all people to become his disciples.
Those who are naturally spiritual easily understand the lovely account in our reading from the first book of Samuel. Cynics, and the less intuitive, are likely to be baffled by it. God speaks, audibly and at some length, to a young boy? Nowadays, the worldview is that if someone says, “I heard God speak to me,” that person is more likely to be hearing his or her own hunches or own preferred stirrings – although maybe not.
How do we hear God in 2018, when voices of racism and hatred drown the voice of God’s call to justice and righteousness?
How do we deal with the cruelty of division, greed and lust for power that has seeped into our fearfully and wonderfully made bone marrow and causes us to turn from walking in God’s ways?
I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the midst of tears
I hid from Him…
But to no avail, as the Strong Feet of Love followed after…
… with unhurrying chase,
And unperturbèd pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy…
The Hound of Heaven pursues humanity in calling Noah to build an ark to save the righteous; Abraham at the burning bush to become the father of our faith and first in line of the genealogy of Jesus our Saviour; Moses to lead his people out of slavery; Samuel in the night and the disciples at the shores of the sea of Galilee to ensure that we also know about the God who loves us so much that he gave his only Son so that everyone who believes is him will have eternal life.
Their responses were similar. They did not allow the voices of the world to drown the voice of God. They did not allow their bone marrow to be tainted and conform to this world. Their response was: “Here I am. Speak Lord. I’m your servant, ready to listen.”
If we listen carefully, there is a voice of love calling us too: Follow me, come and see, and do as I do!
And when we do, something good will come out of humility and sacrifice, as we become instruments in God’s hands to bring his kingdom of heaven down to our beloved earth and fulfil thereby the power and purpose of our design.
To God be the glory, great things he has done! (CH4 512)
Lord of all hopefulness, Lord of all joy (CH4 166)
Take my life, Lord, let it be consecrated, glad, and free(CH4 502)
You satisfy the hungry heart with gifts of finest wheat (CH4 671)
Will you come and follow me if I but call your name? (CH4 533)