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A Call from the Deep

callofdisciplesJohn 1: 43-51
1 Samuel 3: 1-11
Introduction to the reading from the Gospel of John
Following on the Old Testament reading from Samuel, we hear another passage about God’s call to a human being and upon that human being’s life. Jesus has begun to draw together his band of disciples. He first called Andrew and his brother Simon Peter. According to John’s Gospel, these two were initially disciples of John the Baptist but they left him to become disciples of Jesus instead (see John 1: 35-42). The very next day, Jesus enlists Nathanael and Philip.

Notice in your bulletin this morning, under the listing of those in special need of prayer, the names of two couples: Jan and Steve Miller and Becky and Phil Pratt. Both are part of our extended church family: Steve is the Classis minister (he and Jan have visited here often) and Becky and Phil are the co-pastors of the Stanton Reformed Church.

The Millers and the Pratts are on the prayer list because Jan and Becky are both seriously ill. At the beginning of February, Jan will undergo a bone marrow transplant to treat a progressively worsening blood condition that she has had for some time. Although the procedure is delicate and hard on her body basically stripping away her immune system - and leaving her vulnerable for months, the prognosis, as I understand it, is quite promising.

The news for Becky, on the other hand, is awful. In 2016 she was diagnosed with colon cancer that had spread to her liver. After a year plus of surgeries, radiation and chemotherapy, she was declared in remission - until three days before Christmas. That’s when Phil and Becky learned that the cancer had returned, most likely a mutation of what she had before, resistant to the drugs she had taken. She has now begun a round of new and different chemotherapy, and samples of the new tumors are being analyzed in a research lab to see if there might be a way to attack the invader genetically.

Phil and Becky wrote all this last Sunday in an email to Steve Miller, minister to the Classis, and he forwarded it to the general membership. Here is some of what they wrote:

On paper the odds are not good. But something nagging at my heart insists that we’re not on paper … we are the children of God’s grace, supported by a strong network of loving family, friends, parishioners and neighbors. We’re gonna keep on trying to live in that mysterious promise, even as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death.

Certainly, it is in times of deepest distress and despair that we listen most carefully for the voice of God to bring comfort and hope, for it is in those times that we are indeed closest to the possibility of meeting God face to face. At those times, God calls to us not only from out of the depths of despair but also, really, out of the depth of our very being. We ask the questions of meaning and purpose and time. We understand love.

We recognize the stories from today’s scripture reading as stories of God’s call to individuals. In the first reading, we heard how God called the boy Samuel. He heard God’s voice in the night: “Samuel! Samuel!” That voice reaches deep into the boy’s very being and he knows (after some coaching by Eli) that God is speaking to him, directly. Samuel will go on to become the prophet to ancient Israel’s King Saul.

In the Gospel reading, Jesus first calls Philip, then Nathanael. Philip goes with Jesus right away, no questions asked. Then Philip recruits Nathanael, who is skeptical at first (“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”). But Jesus surprises Nathanael with a bold statement. “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” Jesus knows Nathanael deep down, knows his honesty and integrity. Nathanael responds: “Where did you get to know me?” Well, Jesus has vision. Way ahead of when he actually laid eyes on him, Jesus saw Nathanael, under the fig tree. And Nathanael has vision also ; he recognizes Jesus as the Son of God. There, right in front of him, speaking to him, is God. But Jesus has a still larger vision: “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”

These two old, old stories of God’s call, to Samuel and to Nathanael, tell us a truth about God’s call upon us, even all the way forward into our century.

  • Jesus helps us see ourselves as God sees us: as righteous, honest, and able to envision the world as it was created – good – and to participate in changing it back toward that good even as it has been warped by sinfulness. In these days of meanness, deceit and vulgarity, we must never forget that the world is good and that we are forgiven and loved.
  • Samuel and Nathanael were caught up in God’s vision of how the divine inhabits the earthly world and works through us toward the eventual good and everlasting life. In the words of Phil Pratt, “we live in that mysterious promise even as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death.”
  • God knew Eli and Jesus knew Nathanael. This was an entrancing mystery to them. Phil and Becky know this too. Again, in Phil’s words, “we are the children of God’s grace.” Psalm 139, from which we took our Call to Worship, “invites us to receive an identity rooted not in the things we say about ourselves or the labels others assign us, but in the One who knows us more deeply and more lovingly than we could ever know ourselves. … The value of our lives does not come from what we achieve or possess or what others may think of us. It comes from the God who knows and names us, from whose steadfast love nothing in all creation can ever separate us.” (Bostrom 86)

As children of God’s grace and love yourselves, listen now to words of Psalm 139, knowing that they describe the relationship between you and God.

O Lord, you have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from far away.
You search out my path and my lying down
and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue, O Lord, you know it completely.
You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high I cannot attain it.
Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast. If I say, “Surely, the darkness shall cover me
and the light around me become night,”
even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.
For it was you who formed me in my inward parts;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.
My frame was not hidden from you when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.
In your book were written all the days that were formed for me,
when none of them as yet existed.
How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is
the sum of them! I try to count them – they are more than the sand;
I come to the end – I am still with you.
Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and see
if there is any wicked way in me and lead me in the way everlasting.

Bostrom, Kathleen Long and Elizabeth F. Caldwell, eds. Daily Feast: Meditations from Feasting on the Word, Year B. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2011.

Rev. Kathryn Henry
Peapack Reformed Church
Gladstone, NJ
January 14, 2018

khenryRev. Kathryn Henry
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