Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 21 January 2024.
• First Reading: 1 Samuel 3: 1-10 (The call of Samuel: Speak Lord, your servant is listening)
• Epistle: 1 Corinthians 6: 12-20 (Sexual purity: flee from sexual immorality – sins against one’s own body. Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit? Honour God with your bodies)
• Gospel: John 1: 43-51 (The call of Philip and Nathaniel)
I was on a boat under sail approaching Weymouth, and we came into a fog bank. It was grey, damp and very quiet. Then there was the sound of an approaching engine, a motor craft, ahead and to starboard.
The proper action in fog is to give an audible signal, and up to that point we had not done so as there were no signs of other craft. But now action was required and we sounded a foghorn: one long blast and two short ones. And yes, the other boat heard and started giving his own fog signals.
The strange thing is how there can be such life within an obviously quiet and even deserted place. But there it was.
Looking at the call of Samuel, there is also a young boy, not used to hearing things beyond normal life in a community. Now something different was happening. It even took Eli, the aged priest in the temple, time to recognize what was going on.
And so eventually, Samuel heard the call of God again and this time he answered in a way that would give God space to speak to him directly and personally.
Samuel was being called to a life of service and even sacrifice. He was being called into the realms of God, and to be about the things of God.
This would be a lifelong vocation and commitment, and there would be many ups and downs. He would see the appointment and then the dismissal of Saul as king, and he would be there as God chose for Himself as king, one of the sons of Jesse.
The life would be fulfilling and yet it would be one of self-emptying. There would be exultant successes and crushing disappointments.
And yet, through all of, and during a life of all the normal human stresses and temptations, Samuel endured and served.
And then we have in the gospel Jesus’ call of Philip and Nathaniel. Evidently He was still by the river Jordan and was about to return to Galilee. He had already called Peter and Andrew, and yet He recognized in Philip and Nathaniel people whose hearts were ready for the work into which He was calling them.
They also would face the privations of following Jesus on the road. They would go hungry and on occasion, sleep under the stars.
But they would see at first hand the Messiah: the One, Anointed by God, to redeem the world.
They would hear the gospel call: both the public preaching and the private teaching, they would see the miracles: the healings, deliverances, raisings of the dead and the feeding of the hungry.
They would see their Lord, taken, bound, subjected to kangaroo court trials, flogged and then crucified.
They would also face their own failures: failures to believe, to receive, to understand and to perceive.
Again and again Jesus would call them up for the dullness and slowness of their own responses. And even after this they would flee Jesus when He was arrested. Only John stayed with Him, watching at the trial by the chief priests and then at the cross.
Nobody said that discipleship was going to be easy, or that there would not be challenges and even failures along the way.
Discipleship was never going to be a soft option, or an easy ride.
And what was true for them is also true for us.
We may not be direct witnesses of Jesus’ miracles or teaching. We do however have the benefit of the gospels, the life of generations in the church whose experiences and wisdom are there to support us and guide us.
And we also have to face all those internal trials and struggles, as we confront the things and failures of the past and the relationships of the present.
And this is where Paul’s letter to the Corinthians is so vital.
He is calling them to a sanctity and a holiness in all aspects of life, including the most difficult and guilt-ridden.
Our more sensational broadcast, print and digital media just love failures in these areas, with a prurient voyeurism: ‘Isn’t it awful. Tell me all about it. Leave nothing out.’
Yet the gospel of Jesus is about restoration, healing, renewal, rededication – and it applies in these areas just as much as any others.
The standard of the New Testament is quite clear: sexual relations are to be exercised only within monogamous heterosexual marriage.
And in today’s culture this standard is dull, out of date, and for the dull-spirited.
But we are being called into realms of holiness – where we are to find ourselves fulfilled in the presence of the Lord rather than wallowing in our own guilt and inadequacy.
So: are there areas of failure, guilt, regret, inadequacy, shame or anguish? Then we may lay them before the Lord, for we do not have to be defined by them.
Failures in these areas are not unforgivable – they never were. As John says in his letter: ‘If anyone sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous, and He is the propitiation for our sins.’ (1 John 2: 1-2)