Urgent and Constant
Second Sunday after Epiphany – Year B
January 18, 2009
Second Sunday after Epiphany – Year B
January 18, 2009
Let us pray: Great Spirit God – the psalmist tells us that you are with us always, around us, within us, holding us up, urging us on, behind us and above us. May your presence also be known in these words which I speak. Amen.
One of the great challenges for people of faith is to live our lives with the kind of assurance that Psalm 139 gives to us. We know that God is with us always, and that if we feel distant from God, it is a distance we create. But if you are like me, there are many such created moments of distance in a given week. Despite what many people may assume about someone who is called into ministry, there are great spans of time in the week when I don't spend time reflecting on God and God's presence in my life or the world in general.
I mentioned to someone this week that I didn't receive what we call a rip-off calendar this week. By rip-off I don't mean the manner in which it was obtained. I mean a page-a-day calendar, you know the kind where you rip off a page each day to reveal a puzzle, a cartoon, or some other daily message. So, in the absence of a rip-off calendar I have gone back to my “Sanctuary Smiles” calendar – a page-a-day calendar with a daily cartoon about life in ministry which is often very funny because it is so true. One of the pages in the calendar shows a minister escaping through an office window with his golf clubs on his shoulder. The soon to be empty office has a full size cutout of himself facing the office door with him kneeling on his office floor praying. The exaggerated point of course is that anyone looking into the office would not be surprised to find the minister prayerfully genuflecting as if that's how the week goes for someone serving in my calling. The fact is that if you walked by my office at some point during the week and found me on my knees, it is probably because I'm looking for the pencil that I just dropped.
I tell you this for two reasons. One reason is I guess a certain kind of confession. If there is a purpose to Psalm 139 other than to state a conviction that God is always there, it would be to invite us to reflect more intentionally about the ways God is present in our lives and therefore be more conscious of God's presence directing and guiding our lives. It is a good thing for all of us to be more aware of the ways in which God is part of our lives. It would make us more conscious of the blessings we have from God, and I believe it would also make us more aware of God's call for justice as we react and respond to events that occur in the world. It's never a bad thing for people of faith to ask the question “Where is God in all of this?” not matter what the “this” is. The other reason is to claim the ordinariness of my life in comparison to yours. A calling to a vocation of pastoral ministry is not all that different from the vocations that you are called to as well. The point that is made in the header to the announcements each week, a point which we may not even notice because of our familiarity with it each week, but which I submit to you would be quite noticeable to someone new to this community of faith, namely that the ministers in this congregation are the people of the congregation, is absolutely true. The ministry of Yellowknife United Church is the ministry of all of us, and we serve in that ministry in all that we do, whether it is attendance at worship on Sunday morning, participation on a committee or with the board, volunteering at a special event of the congregation, singing in the choir, or going about our work in office, store, warehouse, classroom, at home or out on the land.
Psalm 139 then is a reminder to us not only of God's presence, but also a call to be more conscious and encouraged to live and work and play as God's people. I've met people who are like that – not “holy rollers” as I call them – people who constantly want to “praise God” or “thank God” as part of the conversation, but people who live lives that are centred and secure in the knowledge and presence of God. I hope you know and understand what I mean by that.
That's part one even though it summarises the second part of the title for this reflection. The call of God is both urgent and constant. Part one dealt with the constant. Psalm 139 affirms the constant.
The other two readings from this morning tell us of the urgent. As much as the presence of God is constant in our lives, there are also times when God's call is urgent and prominent. It is also often surprising. Just ask Samuel. Just ask Nathanel. As much as we may not normally spend large blocks of time during our week thinking and reflecting on God and God's presence in our lives, there are times when we are in the midst of a momentous decision, that we cannot stop thinking and reflecting on the way God would have us go. Sometimes it comes to us in the form of a spoken or unspoken prayer – asking for help with a change in the direction our lives will take. Sometimes it comes to us unbidden, as it did for Samuel.
If there's a common element to these urgent calls from God, it might be that they are almost always surprising. The story of Samuel is a case in point. Not only was Samuel seemingly the wrong age in the “next prophet” position description, but he was also the wrong family. In fact, there probably wasn't a position description – prophets rarely have them, but even if there was one, it would have been simple – son (and hopefully daughter) of the current prophet it would read. Eli's family had demonstrated just how faulty and foolhardy that qualification could be. So, if you are going to open the competition, you might as well remove the age description as well – at least that's what God decided. And so we have another example, as is so often the case in the scriptural record, of an unlikely hero or underdog being chosen by God as a leader.
We don't know a lot about Nathanael. Which in and of itself could be an example of the point I've been trying to make – namely that the call of God often results in surprising choices. Who is this Nathanael. Perhaps a bit of a snob. When told about Jesus, he haughtily asks how someone from Nazareth could be the chosen one. Surprise, Nathanael – that's the way of God, not people. And surprise, Nathanael – you are about to be called as well. Because even though you may not think to highly of Nazareth and therefore someone from Nazareth, that same someone from Nazareth has had his eye on you and despite your haughtiness – or perhaps it is just a sign of your honesty and forthrightness – and that's what this fellow from Jesus has noticed about you, despite your haughtiness, your life is about to change, for you have received the urgent call of God.
We all know the words of Psalm 139 to be true. God is with us constantly. We've all experienced in big decisions or small, the urgent call of God as described in the stories of Samuel and Nathanel. The message is clear – be aware and be ready. God is about to surprise us yet again. Amen.