Friday, January 23, 2015

Epiphany 2 B - Jan 18, 2015

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Mr. Reinaldo Martinez-Cubero, Postulant
Epiphany 2 B, Sunday, January 18, 2015

1 Samuel 3:1-10 (11-20)
1 Corinthians 6:12-20
John 1:43-51
Eli and little Samuel
“Samuel! Samuel!” I have an old dog that lives with me in my cell. We take several walks around the monastery every day. The first of those walks is early in the morning before the sun comes up. Everything is very quiet, and usually my walk is done in prayer. But recently, since I’ve been preparing for this sermon, the thought has come to my head: “If God calls me right now like in the Samuel story, I’ll freak out.” “Reinaldo! Reinaldo!” Fortunately and unfortunately, God has called on me at very clear points in my life, but not that way. It hasn’t sounded that clear.

In our readings today there is a lot of calling going on. God calls to Samuel, Eli calls to Samuel, Jesus calls to Philip, Philip calls to Nathanael. Calling- to summon loudly (according to the dictionary app in my computer), a strong urge toward a particular way of life or career. A career is an occupation undertaken for a significant period of a person’s life, and with opportunities for progress, or also, what happens as a person undertakes a series of jobs in the same field over time. Career carries with it a sense of increasing experience, responsibility, and reward. We can have a career, or we may not. But we always have a calling. A calling links what we do to a larger community in which we contribute to the common good. People follow a calling because they believe it is right for them to do so. The work may be hard, but they find it rich with meaning and significance.

The celebrated sociologist Robert Nelly Bellah wrote: "The notion of calling is an effort to make real the reign of God in the realm of work." That realization involves the recognition "that we all need each other, and that our real reward is our sense of contribution to the common good." [Robert N. Bellah, "Economics and the theology of work," UME Connexion, Spring 1985, p. 11.]

A calling is there when you've never had a career, or after you've retired from work. It is a calling because we are being called. And we are called in many different ways, sometimes over and over again. The phone in our hearts keeps ringing, and that phone has no voicemail or answering service. We can choose to answer or not. But I’m sure many of us still remember what it feels like to hear a phone’s relentless ring when it is not answered. It is God who calls us to do what we do as partners with the creator in rehabbing a big or even a little chunk of this world so that it more closely resembles the divine intention. The divine voice is a powerful voice, but often speaks softly, and can certainly surprise us. We might hope to know for sure what we are meant to do, or who we are meant to be, or where we are supposed to go, but the reality is that, more often than not, a calling might be confusing and/or scary.

In our first lesson, Samuel, is a boy who lives and works in the temple during a period when the religion of Israel had become dry. One night God calls to Samuel. He thinks it's the old priest Eli. This happens three times. Eli thinks the kid's having bad dreams. Finally the priest wakes up to the realization that God, who hasn't spoken much to his people lately, is speaking to this boy. He tells Samuel to listen and obey when the voice speaks again. When Samuel finally responds to God instead of Eli, God tells him of plans to punish Eli’s family because of the iniquity of his sons. There is no task given, and no clarity. The next day he will get up and open the doors to the house of God just as he usually does, only this time he knows God’s plan. Samuel grows up to become an important figure in the tumultuous history of Israel.

Now, I have to admit that the passage from John’s Gospel leaves me wanting more information. Something makes me think that many days must have gone by during which Philip listened to Jesus’ teaching, and perhaps had conversations with him. Nathanael too, must have known at least a little bit about what Jesus was doing, and what things he was talking about. Mind you, I do believe that meeting Jesus must have been something of an extraordinary experience, and not like anything we could easily imagine today. What those Apostles really experienced must have been something difficult to comprehend today.

That team, the Apostles, chosen by Jesus to spread the mysteries of the Reign of God, and to continue God’s ministries, were uneducated, and came from relatively low social classes of Judaism. They were simple people, fishermen and tax collectors, but with faith in the God of Israel. These were the eyewitnesses, and founding members of our faith. They changed the world. Was it an easy ride? We know it was not. Was it confusing, unclear, scary? Did they know where they were going? Was their future uncertain? One of life’s biggest challenges is coping with uncertainty. Circumstances are always changing around us. Change is certainly one of life’s few guarantees. No matter how much we plan for the future there is actually little that we can know for sure about what will happen. Learning how to accept not knowing is a key to spiritual health. I’m still working on that one!

The first words we heard from Nathanael were a mocking remark: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” But his encounter with Jesus pushes him in the right direction. Jesus invites him to follow, and that is what he does. He was surprised, and so was Samuel. Not without difficulty, they recognize their callings. Like them, we too, can start to perceive our calling. If we have begun, we can continue to recognize it. Almost certainly, it involves surprise. The reason for this is that God has more important things in store for us than we can ask or imagine. More important things than our society says to us. More important things than we say to ourselves. God calls us to where we can do something significant for this humanity, and experience a fulfillment deeper than we think we deserve. That’s a calling.

We can look at how others were called, and learn from their example. We can learn from the stories of Samuel, Philip, and Nathanael. We can be inspired by the stories of those who fought for greater freedom and justice. People like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who will be remembered tomorrow, and his leadership in the struggle for basic human rights. We can listen intently when God speaks to us, perhaps through a still, small voice, perhaps through the challenges of daily life. But to hear that call in our hearts, where God dwells in us is always an instance of grace.

Dear God of all things, keep us reminded to stay alert and attentive to your call, and grant us faith and courage to respond and to follow, even when in our limited nature we don’t fully comprehend your purpose for us or know where you are taking us.


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