Sunday, January 18, 2009

Second Sunday after the Feast of the Epiphany

January 18, 2009 II Epiphany (RCL B)
I Samuel 3: 1-10; I Corinthians 6: 11-20; John 1: 43-51

The Twenty-Fifth Day of Christmas, the trees still standing in the Robison house, and the holiday lights still out--but it’s beginning to feel a little bit of a stretch.

Candlemas still a couple of weeks away, but a still, small voice tells me, “time to move on, Bruce.” To everything there is a season, as the Preacher says in the Book of Ecclesiastes, and certainly a time to move out of that holy and miraculous Bethlehem midnight hour and onward and outward into the world and life he sets before us now. Pittsburgh, St. Andrew’s, 2009. Wake up and smell the coffee.

And I would attempt that with the phrase that I’d like to highlight this morning from St. John. Jesus to Nathaniel: Thou shalt see greater things than these.

Good morning, and Happy New Year. There are a lot of ways to read this very interesting conversation--but at least one way of hearing Jesus is that he’s telling Nathaniel, your expectations are way too low. You think “I saw you in the orchard” was something special? You haven’t seen anything yet.

So expanding vision. Lifting expectations. Living not with a wish-list mentality, and all the frustrations that can flow out of that, but with an eyes-wide-open eagerness for the good that God intends for us.

I remember a number of years ago our friend Dave DeFazio wrote his book—I don’t recall what the title was at publication, but the pre-publication draft I read was called Some Guys Have All the Luck. About the role attitude about the future, expectation, can play and so often does play in the successful accomplishment of so many life-goals. How people who feel lucky, who feel like good things are likely to happen to them, end up with this sense of openness to possibilities, with a willingness to risk, to try new things, to break out of narrow boxes, not to be bound in the limitations of past experience. Those are the ones who don’t stand on the sidelines, but who get into the game. Can’t win if you don’t play. All about cultivating an attitude that leans forward with a sense of hope.

This story from First Samuel, beginning with the birth of Samuel a little bit before the passage we have this morning: how Hannah was childless; how she didn’t simply accept this condition, which caused her humiliation within her family and community, but how she went to the Shrine at Shiloh and prayed for God’s grace, and with the promise that if God would allow her to have a child, she would dedicate that child to the House of God.

And so it comes to pass, and Samuel is born, and as he comes to what was seen as an appropriate age is brought to the old priest Eli for his formation. Priestly seminary field education. So Hannah didn’t just accept things as they were. She desired a better future, she felt that God could act to make a difference, she prayed not with resignation or desperation, but with hope, assurance.

And this story now to unfold, the prologue eventually to the story of the Kingdom of Israel, a new and key chapter to the holy story of salvation, Old Testament and New. Samuel born in this moment of hope, from one who was thought to be barren. Then Samuel is called, in that early morning, in a day when nobody expects God to do this sort of thing. “Visions were rare in those days.”

But Samuel is called, and this will lead to yet another calling, as many years later this child who really shouldn’t have been born is the one as an old man to discern with holy vision that it is that youngest son of Jesse, David, who is to be anointed King of Israel. God’s chosen. And then all the way to Christmas for us: in the City of David, of the House and Lineage of David, Christ the Lord. Hannah doesn’t give up, doesn’t give in to what everyone else is telling her she should give in to, and a new chapter begins in the story of her life, and in the story of our lives.

Expanding vision. Living in expectation. You will see greater things than these. This I believe is the foundation of a holy life, of true, deep, meaningful, godly obedience. Not submission to a rule book, not chains and weights and coercion, but the expectation of God’s goodness, the willingness, the desire, to be a part of that. What good luck, that he desires to be good to me, to us. That his blessings will fall down like fresh rain on the mown field, for all who call upon his name. You will see greater things than these.

It’s so easy to slip back into the old familiar patterns, of course. Patterns of low-expectation, low self-esteem. Which is the world Paul is writing to, the condition of our lives that Paul is writing to, in this passage from First Corinthians. He has concerns about a particular pattern of sinfulness of concern in that one early church family, but the insight is about all of us, all the time. About what happens when our hope in God’s future fails, when we turn in ourselves, when we begin to act on our own self-interest, forgetting that in our baptism our bodies and our lives have been incorporated into his one body.

Basketball coaches like to say, “there is no ‘I’ in “TEAM,” and that’s pretty close to Paul’s word for Corinth. What happens when players worry more about their personal statistics than about the performance of the whole team, about winning the game.

How is it going to unfold then, this new year? Wondering that, perhaps as we come forward to the Table this morning. In our own personal lives, in our families, in our community and nation, here at St. Andrew’s? Certainly there will be higher moments and lower moments, steps forward and setbacks. But the word for us this morning is an invitation to keep this fresh in our minds and our hearts: that God is doing a great thing, and that as we are together in Christ and share in it, he is and will be doing great things in us and through us. All of us together.

Trust him in this. Expect it to be true—because it is true. We’ll see it with our own eyes. There will be healing and forgiveness and lives lifted up and turned around. All around us. Good things. Greater things than we’ve ever seen before. More than we ever could have asked for or imagined.

Bruce Robison

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