1 Samuel 3:1-10; John 1:43-end
2nd Sunday of Epiphany
St Barbara’s; 14.01.2024 (8am)
Rev Tulo Raistrick
This month is called by the church the season of Epiphany. An epiphany is a moment when your eyes are opened and you suddenly see things clearly for the first time. Maybe you’ve been struggling over a crossword puzzle, and then suddenly the penny drops – “Ah, I’ve got it – now I see!”
Or maybe your heating has stopped working at home, and you’ve been fiddling on with the controls, and then you finally work out how to put it right – you suddenly see things clearly .
Well – an epiphany in the Bible is even more than that. Its when our eyes are opened, our ears are unblocked, and we finally see and hear what God is wanting to say to us.
And our readings touch on four people this morning – all very different from each other, who have an epiphany moment, when their eyes and ears are opened to hearing God.
We start with the story of Eli and Samuel.
Eli was old. He had a terrible record as a priest. When a lady called Hannah had come to the Temple a few years earlier, crying and upset, rather than being kind and compassionate, he had wrongly accused her of having had too much to drink! He had two sons who he had allowed to do all sorts of bad things, even in the temple. He had failed to control them or even to tell them off. And we are told that the word of the Lord was rare: not because God wasn’t speaking, but because Eli and others weren’t listening.
Eli must have felt tired and worn down, full of regrets.
So when Samuel comes and wakes him up, it takes three times before Eli cottons on to what is happening.
But the important thing is that Eli does eventually work it out. He does realise in the end that it is God who is calling Samuel. It is an “epiphany moment” for Eli. His eyes are opened, his ears are unblocked. God is wanting to make himself known.
So he tells Samuel what to do. And when Samuel comes back later to tell him God’s message – which is a very hard one for Eli to hear – he does not reject God or Samuel, but does what he can to help Samuel to grow up to be one of the most important prophets in all Israel’s history.
Some of us may be able to identify a little bit with Eli. We may feel not as young as we used to be, and be experiencing the limitations of ageing, and wonder how can God use us. Or we may feel we have messed up in the past, and so God wouldn’t possibly want to call and use us.
But as with Eli, so with us. God can still use us to help others hear the call of God, to nurture faith. He still wants us to respond to his call.
And then there is Samuel. Samuel is a young boy. He is growing up far from home, in the temple, with Eli’s brothers as hardly the best role models.
And the Bible tells us that Samuel did not yet know the Lord.
It doesn’t sound too hopeful does it. But God chooses Samuel to kick-start the revival of Israel. He keeps calling until Samuel responds. At first he is quite confused. But then his eyes are opened, his ears are unblocked – and he says: “Speak Lord for your servant is listening.”
If Eli seemed too old and with too much baggage, then Samuel seems too young and too inexperienced. And yet God calls him.
None of us are too young for God to speak to or for God to use. Indeed, whenever the children feed back from Hive at our 10am service I am always struck by what God says through them.
God cares about the youngest as well as the oldest.
And then in our gospel reading we encounter Philip and Nathanael.
If Eli was a bit tired and sad, and Samuel a bit confused, then I think Philip must have been the opposite, a positive enthusiast!
The first thing that Philip does when Jesus calls him is to tell someone else – he can’t contain his excitement. Its as if a can of coke has been shaken up and down and then it is opened, spraying everywhere! Philip is so excited. His eyes have been opened; his ears have been unblocked.
“We have found the one that Moses spoke about! We have found the one who the prophets predicted would come to save Israel! Its amazing; incredible.”
And when Nathanael, the person he tells, seems less than enthusiastic, his response is a simple “Come and see”.
Philip doesn’t try and give a long persuasive argument; he doesn’t even challenge Nathanael’s prejudice against Nazareth. Instead, he simply says to Nathanael, come and see for yourself. Come and meet Jesus and then decide.
You see, for Philip, his epiphany moment is not just realising who Jesus is, but also the type of person he is. Jesus is the Messiah, but he is also someone who wants to be our friend. Right beliefs matter; but being in a relationship with God matters even more.
But if Philip was an enthusiast, well Nathanael was quite the opposite!
He was full of doubt and suspicion.
Nathanael was not impressed by Philip’s news. How could anything good come out of Nazareth? Nathanael came from Cana, and quite honestly, to anyone who came from there, Nazareth was just the lowest of the low. Its a bit like a local football rivalry – a Man Utd supporter saying “Can anything good come out of Liverpool?” or an Arsenal supporter saying it about Tottenham.
In Nathanael’s eyes, if a Messiah is to come, he will be someone spectacular and amazing, not the local boy from the neighbouring town, especially not that neighbouring town.
But it doesn’t take long before Nathanael’s eyes are opened, his ears are unblocked. His epiphany moment comes when he meets Jesus. No amount of argument would have won him over. But Jesus simply shows Nathanael that he knows him better than Nathanael knows himself.
There will still be much for Nathanael to learn. Jesus is more than just a good understander of people. He is the meeting place between heaven and earth – the place, the person, through whom we can encounter and be transformed by God.
We at times may feel a bit like Nathanael. Doubting, unsure God may exist, but is he really going to come into my world, share my life? Can he really understand what I am going through, the challenges I face?
For Nathanael, his doubts were overcome by encountering Jesus, by “coming and seeing”. We too can choose to keep Jesus at arms distance, or we can invite him into every area of life, seeking his help and guidance and strength.
And when we do so, we may find it is easier to declare, along with Nathanael, “You are the Son of God; you are the King.”
Four people, so different, yet God calls each to follow him.
May we allow God to give us an epiphany moment, to open our eyes, to unblock our ears, that we may be attentive to his call too.