Sam, Nate, Mack and Papa 2nd Sunday of Epiphany
1 Samuel 3: 1-10 January 17, 2021 Psalm 139: 1-6, 13-18; John 1: 43-51
The human brain is a wonder. The mind and its ability to capture ideas and concepts. And perhaps its greatest ability is that no one can perceive the thoughts of another person. Our thoughts are truly our own until we choose to share them in one way or another. No other person knows what truly goes on inside the mind of another.
Oh, we like to think we know what our children or grandchildren are thinking when they are too little to tell us what they want and we have to guess. But do we actually know? What a wonder it would be if we had a tool, like a doctor’s stethoscope, but instead of listening to the thump, thump, thump of a heartbeat, we could touch it to the side of a person’s head and hear their thoughts. And know what it sounds like to be them.
We humans weren’t given that ability. We have to take the long way around in order to know another person. First, we establish trust and relationship, then we must learn to speak so that the other will listen and listen so that the other will speak. And over time through intentional honest sharing of thoughts and feelings, we get to know that other person, and are known to them.
On the other hand, God does know. As the psalmist proclaims:
O Lord, you have examined my heart
and know everything about me.
2 You know when I sit down or stand up.
You know my thoughts even when I’m far away.
3 You see me when I travel
and when I rest at home.
You know everything I do.
4 You know what I am going to say
even before I say it, Lord.
5 You go before me and follow me.
You place your hand of blessing on my head.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too great for me to understand!
In each of today’s scripture readings we hear of KNOWING.
In the story of Samuel, God calls to the young boy three times. Samuel thinks that his teacher Eli is calling him and goes obediently to his bedside and says: Hineni: which in Hebrew is the appropriate greeting when one is called. It translates to: Here am I! But sleepy Eli says, I didn’t call you go back to bed – let an old man sleep!
Until it happens twice more, and Eli comes to the awareness that: Somebody is calling Samuel, and it’s not Eli. It’s God.
Three times God calls. God doesn’t give up after the first try. God knows how many times it will take before the two humans put the pieces together and figure out that the One calling Samuel is The One whose voice is worth stopping all activity, even sleep, in order to listen, and say, “Hineni. Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.”
Do you wonder what Nathanael was thinking under the Fig tree in our Gospel story? In rabbinic tradition, fig trees in Galilee were appropriate locales for rabbis to discuss the meaning of the scriptures with their students. Nathanael is likely a student of scripture; however, he certainly isn’t thrilled when Phillip gives him the news that they have found the One that Moses and the prophets speak of.
Nathanael’s response is disbelief. He gives a dismissive: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” and cops a dismissive attitude, like: I know much more scripture than you do. We serious scripture scholars (who sit under fig trees) – we know that neither the awaited prophet nor the Messiah will come out of Galilee.
Nathanael knew the prophecies; he knew about Moses, but in that moment, he just couldn’t be bothered to know anything about what Phillip was excitedly trying to give to him. Nathanael is too caught up in what he thinks he knows.
That is until he meets Jesus face to face.
Jesus’ first words to Nathanael sound a bit strange to our ears. Jesus says: “Now here is a genuine son of Israel—a man of complete integrity.” And his words capture Nathanael’s attention. Could it be that this was exactly what Nate had been thinking? Perhaps sitting under that fig tree Nate was praising himself for being such a great student, a true Israelite, a man of great integrity. And then Jesus who knows all our thoughts, demonstrates his superhuman knowledge of Nathanael and makes a connection.
Nathanael is blown away, as any of us would be. “How do you do know me?” And Jesus completes the picture by telling Nate exactly where he was when he was thinking those very private thoughts. At that moment, did the first line from Psalm 139 go running through this scripture scholar’s mind:
O Lord, you have examined my heart
and know everything about me. ~Ps 139:1 (NLT)
Nathanael proclaims Jesus as the Son of God, and as scripture describes the Messiah, the King of Israel.
Thus Nathanael who has been seen by Jesus, known by Jesus is one who will see who Jesus truly is.
Did you all ever read “The Shack” by William Young? It came out 12 years ago, and my spiritual director recommended I read it. Just skip the first five chapters. Those first five chapters are filled with violence and heartbreak. And while those chapters set the stage for the events found in the rest of the book, they aren’t critical to the teachings about God found in the rest of the book. The remaining chapters of the book detail the encounter and conversations as Mackenzie or Mack gets to know God who appears to Mack as a large black woman called Papa.
There’s one conversation in particular that has stuck with me. Mack is wondering at the persistence of God. The conversation begins when Papa says:
“I love you and invite you to love me”
“But why me? I mean, why Mackenzie Allen Phillips? Why do you love someone who is such a screw up? After all the things I’ve felt in my heart toward you and all the accusations I’ve made, why would you even bother to keep trying to get through to me?”
“Because that is what love does,” answered Papa. “Remember Mackenzie, I don’t wonder what you will do or what choices you will make. I already know. Let’s say, for example, I am trying to teach you how not to hide inside lies—hypothetically, of course.” she said with a wink. “And let’s say that I know it will take you forty seven situations and events before you will actually hear me—that is, before you will hear clearly enough to agree with me and change. So when you don’t hear me the first time, I’m not frustrated or disappointed, I’m thrilled. Only forty six more times to go! [Chapter 13 a meeting if hearts] pg 203.
That’s what love does…Love knows and love keeps on calling, keeps on hoping, keeps holding on, knowing that the day is coming when we will hear, when we will get it, when we will know, that we know that we know, that God’s love is for us.
Now let’s take what these scriptures, these stories have taught/shown us about God, and apply those things to prayer.
May we like little Samuel, show up. And with hineni, Here am I, Lord! on our lips.
Let us always come before God prepared to listen, knowing that God is speaking.
May we like Nathanael Come to know Jesus for who he truly is. To humbly walk with him, learn of his ways, let go of our need to be in control and in our prayers praise the Holy One who gives us New Life.
May we like Mack, persevere through all the many times it takes us to hear God, to understand, or to remain faithful, or to truly trust. Because we know that God is thrilled that we are one more step along the road. God is never disappointed, or frustrated with us. God celebrates our journey with Him; every day, every step along the way, because, that’s what love does.
Before we sing our next hymn, I would like us to pray together. And the first two minutes I invite us to sit together in silence, listening to where our thoughts go, inviting God to speak, “Lord, your servants are listening.” It’s gonna feel like a very long time, but I assure you I’ll keep an eye on the clock.
And then, knowing that God knows all of our thoughts, please as you feel led, just speak out a name that you want to lift before God. Not the story, just the name: remember, God knows. And I trust we will hear Pastor Pat and Melissa’s names repeated many times.
Let us pray: Speak Lord your servants are listening:
Almighty, all knowing and all powerful God. You see our concerns, you hear our trust in you as we lay these people at your Throne of grace. We believe that you are healing, caring for each and every one of them, and in prayer we experience the growing relationship between you and us. Be their strength when theirs is weak, restore them to their families and friends; be their next breath, be their peace, their comfort, their hope. Our hope. Amen.