1 Samuel 3:1-10; John 1:43-end

2nd Sunday of Epiphany

St Barbara’s 17.1.2021

Rev Tulo Raistrick

Today we think about the third in our themes of “Growing in Love”. Today, its the theme of “growing in love for our community”.

Earlsdon is the community where most of us live; it is also the community that as a church we have been given a particular responsibility to care for. For most people I know, they would say it is a privilege to live here: a place with a distinct sense of community, with its own shops and community facilities, and yet within easy reach of the city centre, parks and countryside. Its a community with low levels of crime and high levels of employment. It is a positive place to be. So what does it mean for us to grow in love for our community, what does it mean for us to be the church for this community?

For me, it means two things, which overlap, and feed into each other: it means living our faith in this community and it means sharing our faith with this community.

The first generation of Christians in Israel were used to a form of worship in Judaism which involved the offering of sacrifices. You would come to the Temple and offer up to God some grain or wine or an animal as a sacrifice. But the new Christians had no use for such a form of worship – Christ himself had died as the sacrifice once for all, for all time. Instead the offering, the sacrifice, they were to offer was something radically different. As Paul wrote, in his letter to the church in Rome: “I appeal to you brothers and sisters, present your whole bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, for this is your spiritual worship.” In other words, your act of worship is not just what you do in the Temple or in a church service; it is what you do every moment of every day.

That applies to us too. Everything we do – at home, at work, on the phone, in the shops, in the gym, in all our activities and in our times of stillness and inactivity – everything, all that we are and all that we do, should be offered as an act of worship. It doesn’t matter how small or seemingly insignificant it may be, we are to ask the question: how can I do this in a way that makes this an act of worship, an expression of love for God and for others.

As we grow into that way of thinking, we may find that the way we do things may change – we may become more focused on how what we do affects others, not just ourselves. The way we interact with the staff in the shops may change; the way we chat with neighbours; the attitude with which we wait in line at the Post Office; the way we tolerate slower drivers than ourselves; the way we choose to respond to appeals for help from community groups. Keep pausing this week and ask yourself the question: How is what I am doing at this moment an offering, an act of worship to God?

One of the ways that as a church we have sought to express love for our community over the last few years is through our support of the Good Neighbours Project. It has provided a wonderful way to live out our faith, reaching out and befriending those who may be lonely and isolated in our community. 

Interview with Jackie Kemp of Good Neighbours

In our Old Testament reading we saw how God called Samuel and also used Eli. None of us are too young or too old to get involved in serving God, in expressing our love for our community by living out our faith.

We’ve thought about living our faith. We can also show our love for our community by sharing our faith. If you are anything like me, this is a subject which can make us feel a bit uncomfortable. Our faith may feel too precious to us to want to risk it being knocked back or criticised by others. Or we may feel that we don’t want to be bible bashers, insensitively forcing our faith onto others.

But the truth is, whether we want to be or not, we are already witnesses. If people know we go to church then they will already be making judgments about the Christian faith based upon the evidence of our lives. They will see how we act, and in particular, how we relate to others, and will make judgments. I wonder what judgements do they make? Do people see in us the grace of God that He has extended to us – do they see us being loving, forgiving, tolerant, gentle, patient with others? Do they see in us a readiness to admit failing and need, and an eagerness to relate to others with the same grace-filled humility that God has shown to us? When people look at us, what are the conclusions they are drawing about Christ?

Sharing our faith means living grace-filled, loving lives. Living lives that show what Jesus is like. It also means sharing our own experiences of faith with others when appropriate. Often people around us are yearning to express thanks or a need to God, but are not sure how (they worry if God will accept them, they worry if they are good enough, they worry if they will seem a bit odd). To be able to speak in such situations of our own personal experience of a God who accepts us and listens to us can open the door. Or people may speak to us of an “inner sense or voice” or of an extraordinary set of coincidences. Just like Eli with Samuel, we may want to gently suggest that maybe God is calling them, reaching out to them. This is not about forcing our beliefs – it is about offering a way of understanding life, of finding hope and comfort, of sharing what matters to us – knowing it can make a difference for them too.

And sharing faith can mean, as it did for Philip in our gospel reading, not just sharing our own experience but inviting others to meet Christ too. Philip was so overjoyed at meeting Jesus he immediately went and found Nathanael and said: “Come and see”. Maybe an opportunity that has arisen out of the events of the last year that didn’t exist before is for people to dip their toe in the water of faith more anonymously – to attend church online from their own home. To come and see. Why not send a friend, a neighbour, a family member a link to our services this week and invite them to join in? Its another way of expressing our love for them.

There is so much more that could be said, but as we live in and serve our community, let us ask ourselves how we can grow in love for those who we live along side: how can we live out our faith through our actions and how can we share our faith through our words?