SIGHTS AND SOUNDS
A MESSAGE FOR EPIPHANY
Francis Asbury United Methodist Church
Baton Rouge, LA
Sunday, January 14, 2018
Reverend David Melville
In this season of Epiphany, Jesus is beginning His public ministry, and His contemporaries are seeing and hearing Him for the first time. What are they seeing and hearing?
Before turning the page for another year, I would like us to sing the first two verses and choruses of the beautiful Christmas song, Do You See What I See? It will kind of set the mood and meaning for today’s message.
Said the night wind to the little lamb,
Do you see what I see?
Way up in the sky little lamb
Do you see what I see?
A star, a star … dancing in the night,
With a tail as big as a kite, with a tail as big as a kite.
Said the little lamb to the shepherd boy,
Do you hear what I hear?
Ringing through the sky, shepherd boy,
Do you hear what I hear?
A song, a song … high above the trees,
With a voice as big as the sea.
Last week we witnessed the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist. At this stage in Jesus’ life – about 30 years old – more and more Judeans were seeing and listening to this up-start rabbi from Nazareth. But people were seeing and hearing different things. Just like today, different people see Jesus in different ways and hear Him saying different words.
Today’s scripture from both the Old and New Testaments is about listening and about seeing. First, let’s listen along with the young boy, Samuel: 1 Samuel 3: 1-10, 19-23
The boy Samuel ministered before the Lord under Elli. In those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions.
One night Eli, whose eyes were becoming so weak that he could barely see, was lying down in his usual place. The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was. Then the Lord called Samuel.
Samuel answered, “Here I am.” And he ran to Eli said, “Here I am; you called me.”
But Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.” So he went and lay down.
Again the Lord called, “Samuel!” And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”
“My son,” Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.”
Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord: The word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.
The Lord called Samuel a third time, and Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”
Then Eli realized that the Lord was calling the boy. So Eli told Samuel, “Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.
The Lord came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!”
Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”
[The Lord spoke to Samuel, revealing the future of Eli and his family]
The Lord was with Samuel as he grew up, and he let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba recognized that Samuel was attested as a prophet of the Lord. The Lord continued to appear at Shiloh, and there he revealed himself to Samuel through his word.
Young Samuel had been given by his mother, Hannah, to God, fulfilling a promise she had made to God if God gave her a child. Verse 7 states, “Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord: the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.” We all have to hear revelation somewhere … that first time. Even though Hannah, Samuel and his mentor, Eli, had good intentions, Samuel had not heard God yet. Regardless of your age, regardless of when, where and how you were baptized, perhaps you have not heard God speaking to you … or at least for a long, long time. That’s O.K., if you acknowledge that, and if you are still listening.
I believe we have to be proactive, such as Samuel did when he followed Eli’s instructions. The fourth time Samuel heard something, he responded to God, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” [verse 10] We can say that to God in lots of different ways. But we have to be listening, or we may miss something important.
What do we do after we hear a word from the Lord? Verse 19 reports that “The Lord was with Samuel as he grew up, and he let none of his words fall to the ground.” Verse 23 continues, “The Lord continued to appear, and he revealed Himself to Samuel through His word.” Samuel and God had started a conversation, and it led to Samuel becoming a great prophet, and led to his anointing Saul as the first king of Israel. What has your praying … your listening … your conversation with God … led too? Have you allowed any of the Lord’s words to fall to the ground? It’s never too late to listen, and to really hear God. Don’t let God’s words fall to the ground.
Samuel reminds me of young Jesus. Remember when Joseph and Mary mistakingly left Jesus behind at the Temple in Jerusalem? When they returned, St. Luke describes the scene: “They found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.” Like Samuel, Jesus grew up on the right path. Luke 2: 52 notes that “Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men,” just like Samuel. Maybe good listening by these young boys had something to do with it.
The Gospel of John introduces us to Philip, who answered Jesus’ call to follow Him: John 1: 43-51
The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, “Follow me.”
Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida. Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote – Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”
“Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked.
“Come and see,” said Philip.
When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false.”
“How do you know me?” Nathanael asked.
Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.”
Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.”
Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You shall see greater things than that.” He then added, “I tell you the truth, you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”
Philip invited a friend, Nathaniel, to “come and see” this up-start rabbi from Nazareth, and Nathaniel did. Nathaniel was surprised to learn that Jesus already knew him. (Jesus had noticed Nathaniel from afar.) Nathaniel was impressed, but Jesus assured Nathaniel, “You ain’t seen nothing yet! If you keep looking you will see heaven itself.”
With all the competing sights and sounds where Nathaniel lived, he chose to see Jesus for who He was. Nathaniel didn’t have to be curious and seek out Jesus; he didn’t have to accept his friend’s invitation. How many people have spurned a friend’s invitation to attend church? But Nathaniel did; he was proactive. And we too must be proactive. We too must be curious, and look beyond the competing sights and sounds if we are to see heaven. We must look, and we must listen.
We have just experienced during Advent and Christmas lots of beautiful sights and sounds. Advent and Christmas are known and appreciated and remembered for that. But now we are left with sights and sounds of ordinary January life: auto accidents, funerals, audits, house fires, pneumonia, and credit card bills. That is not to say that those sights and sounds don’t occur in December as well; but Advent and Christmas seem to be in many ways a kind of a suspended “la la land,” in which we put up, put on and put off. Jesus was born to be with us in all seasons. Jesus is with us between the high holy days of Christmas and Easter, if we try to see Him during our ordinary days, and if we try to hear Him above the clatter.
May I respectfully suggest that we usually see what we want to see? The wise men found what they expected to find in Bethlehem. They wanted to worship the baby Jesus, and they did. They expected to be filled with joy, and guess what? They were. Herod, on the other hand, did not find or see Jesus because he really didn’t want to worship Him as he said he did. Herod was looking at Jesus in a negative light, whereas the wise men wanted to see Jesus in the best light … under a bright, beautiful star. All of Herod’s henchmen – there were a lot more of them than just the three wise men – couldn’t locate a small family who had garnered everyone else’s attention, and who was situated just a short distance from the soldiers. Three unarmed out-of-towners, armed with only faith, a star, and some scripture to guide them, found Jesus in no time at all. I guess that’s why we call them the “wise men!”
Are you looking for Jesus as we begin the new year? A whole year is in front of us. Do you want to see Jesus this year? If you are looking, and if you sincerely want to see him, the chances are much, much greater that you will see him … because we usually see what we want to see. That’s why a blind person can often feel, sense, and see as well as – if not better than – a fully-sighted person. He or she wants to see, and works harder to see. We who are fully sighted so often take sight for granted, and fail to see what is right in front of us.
We also hear what we want to hear, so we may hear from God in 2018, or we may not. As long as we have had published scripture in the form of the Holy Bible or the Qur’an, we’ve heard God saying different things. Even preachers and clergy hear different messages. It looks like we all need to work constantly on our listening skills. From everything that John the Baptist had heard, Jesus would be the one baptizing John the Baptist, rather than the other way around. But he listened to Jesus, and obeyed. By listening, John the Baptist learned that he was part of a much bigger plan than he had ever imagined. Have you heard a word from the Lord about your part in the plan?
Some of you may have reached a season in life in which you feel like you’ve heard it all. It’s not far-fetched to imagine a conversation between an elderly person and his children, who want him – for his own good — to pay for and endure an operation to improve his hearing. The old man blurted out, “I don’t want my hearing corrected; I’m 89 years old, and I’ve heard enough!” Maybe because of his age he has a right to shut out sound. But most of us don’t have that right. Always be open to hearing more, including more from a man who has some pretty good parables … Jesus. Parables are not as popular today as sound bites, but they still have something to say, and something we need to hear.
If it has been a while since you heard Jesus’ commission to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” [Matthew 28: 19-20], and make certain you begin with yourself; if it’s been a while since you heard in your heart Jesus promising, “I will be with you always”[Matthew 28:20]; and if it has been a while since you’ve heard God praising you with the same words he praised Jesus: “This is my Son (or daughter!), whom I love, and with him (her) I am well pleased” [Matthew 3:17], we need to visit. Come to the altar as we sing our closing hymn, or just call me at home. I’d love to see you, and I’d love to hear from you!
CLOSING HYMN: Wonderful Words of Life