Come and See
REV. CHRISTIAN BARON – January 18, 2015 – Epiphany 2, Year B: 1 Samuel 3:1-10; Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17 ; 1 Corinthians 6:12-20; John 1:43-51
In the name of the Father… and of the son… and of the Holy Spirit…
Before I was the successful, polished, professional, charismatic, and well respected priest that stands before you, I had some problems… I know…. shocking… even worse, I had some doubts about the Church and about God. This story is actually the story of how I found the Episcopal Church and how I heard God’s voice in the desert. Many of you may have heard some or all of this, but maybe not told in this way. And it must be noted, that I was baptized as a baby in the Reformed Church and that this is not in any way a critique of that tradition. I am in fact thankful for that tradition and all it has done for me and how it has shaped me. And yet, I still have this story…
I had painted myself in a corner. I had spent hours and hours thinking about a certain flavor of theology that existed simply to get others to say a sinner’s prayer and to try to get everybody they knew to say that same prayer… That is an over-generalization and I don’t mean to denigrate any group within the body of Christ, but I had grabbed a few different parts from about 8 different denominations and tried to mash them together. As you can imagine, this didn’t work very well. When I started to see cracks in the armor that I had dressed in, I found myself in a crisis of faith. The bad news was that most of my entire house of cards was based and built on this problematic theology (remember.. i’m not talking about Reformed theology here) and when a few of the cards had been wiggled, I had to spend an enormous amount of energy trying to keep the whole thing from crumbling.
I found myself in a Bible College classroom trying to figure out what in the world I was doing there. My professor had just helped us sift through a story in Revelation that ends with God’s enemies being marched through the New Jerusalem clothed in their shame for all to see.. I could not… would not accept this theology any longer. During that same class, on a different day, we covered the story of Samuel and Eli. The same story we heard a few minutes ago. The same story that we read during the ordination in December. The same story that my friend Jared from Texas preached so eloquently in front of the bishop and the diocese in this very pulpit. But in that Bible college classroom, and in my life in general, almost 15 years ago, I was confused… disheartened… angry… alone… and felt hopeless… All I wanted was a sign… all I wanted was to be useful… All I wanted was to matter… to be relevant. I found myself crying out like Samuel, “Speak Lord for your servant is listening.”
“Speak Lord for your servant is listening”, became my mantra. It became my prayer. It became my lament and my cry. I tell you this because I wonder if some of you have had similar experiences. I became pessimistic… I became a skeptic and a cynic. Christianity became a punchline for me. I laughed at the church and at those who were certain about their theology… those who were certain about anything. My cynicism had fully taken over and No-one could get away by floating out some bit of truth that I knew offered no certainty at all. This is when the Church started the process of sainthood for my wife, Jodi. It was difficult on me, but very difficult on her. I was in a spiritual desert. All alone, but unwilling to be quiet enough to hear God speaking. This struggle… this crisis, was essential for me, but I’m afraid I wandered in the desert much longer than I needed to. My own smugness… my unwillingness to be still… my own sin got in the way of me hearing from God.
I was demanding to hear God’s call. I was insisting that God speak. Shouting at God and telling him I was listening….Finally I found a fig tree and sat beneath its branches. Exhausted. Still filled with questions. still discontent. still feeling alone…. but at least I was finally still. Just like Nathaniel I thought, “Can anything good come out of the Church?” I thought? “Can anything good come out of this giant mess of which I’m a part?” And then, I had some good people call me into something new. “Come and see” said Val Ambrose. Come and see said Mike Fedewa. Jodi whispered “come and see.” In the most incarnational way, the Body of Christ saw me as I sat in my own mess… in my cynicism… under that fig tree. At different times calling me forth into something new.
The Body called me to come and see a Church that cared for the brokenhearted… The Body called me to come and see a Church that prays together… even when they disagree… The Body called me to come and see a Church that truly welcomes all… And the Body called me to come and see how I could jump in with both feet like Nathanael and participate in what God was doing.
And Val, and Mike and Jodi all had similar yet very different stories. Stories with their modern day Phillip asking them to come and see. and I’ll bet you have a story like this too.. or several stories, many stories… in which the Church asked you to come and see.
God working. To see how he is healing a broken and suffering world that is still somehow immersed in the goodness of God. Can you identify the Phillips in your own life? I’ll bet you can name a few.
Our readings today are filled with a God that is surprisingly intimate. A God who calls us by name, like he did with Samuel. A God that, as the Psalmist says, waited for us and loved us before we were conceived in our mothers and is aware of the things that go on in our day-to-day lives. A God that yearns for connection with us and is delighted in who we are and doesn’t want to let us block off communication because of sin. A God who sees us under the fig tree and recognizes our passions and gifts before we even know he’s watching. And when we realize this, when you realize this… when I do… we’re willing to declare our allegiance to the only thing worth declaring our allegiance to. We become useful… We become relevant. We can live into the lives we were called.
Along the way look for the common… look for the fig tree… grab a seat and a fig and listen to what God may be saying… Keep an eye out for Phillip.
And if you walk a bit further, and you see somebody under a different fig tree, you may want to invite them to come and see what God is doing… You may want to be Phillip yourself. That’s what we do as the Church.
Come and see… Amen.