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January 18, 2009

Listening and Following

One of our favorite places to vacation is Madison, Wisconsin. Several reasons we go to Madison each year is to visit friends we love very much, enjoy the beautiful scenery, and take day trips to many interesting and fun places. When our children were young and up through their teenage years, one of our favorite things to do as a family was to go to Noah's Ark in the Wisconsin Dells an hour north of Madison. Noah's Ark is a huge outdoor water park.

Several summers ago Pat and I were vacationing in Madison and decided to go to Noah's Ark. We were under no time restraints. We did not have to keep an eagle's eye on children. We just enjoyed the day together.

Pat and I were floating along on a raft in the lazy river and I noticed a water slide I had never ridden before. I asked her if she wanted to go with me and she declined. It was a totally enclosed tube slide with no light inside. Pat is a little claustrophobic and I understood her reluctance not to go. I rode the slide, swishing back and forth in this black tube all the while gaining speed until the end, when I came out of the tube, into the light, and into a pool of water.

I was so excited I went and found Pat and said, "You have to ride this slide. Come and see. It's not scary." She joined me and we rode it several times together and it was fun.

One of the themes for today's Gospel lesson is obviously "come and see."

After Jesus called several of his disciples, Philip went and found Nathaniel and told him that he and the other disciples had found Jesus, the son of Joseph, who raised his family in Nazareth. Nathaniel said, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" Philip said to him, "Come and see."

What a comment Nathaniel makes about Nazareth! It's an awful statement! It's prejudice! It's bigotry! We have all done it. I've done it and I have been on the receiving end of it also. I was in the same school building from kindergarten through ninth grade in Ingram borough where I grew up in Pittsburgh. We walked to school. From tenth through twelfth grade we were bussed to a high school that took in two well-to-do townships and another small wealthy community. Ingram was an old borough with some houses built so close to each other you could shinny up between two of them with your hands and feet. At that time some houses were still heated with coal. The streets were made of cobblestones but we did have sidewalks. The other students called us Ingramites. We were looked down upon.

What good came out of Ingram? Good students and good athletes and church going families.

Can you imagine how Nathaniel felt when he saw Jesus for the first time after having declared that Jesus' hometown wasn't much of a town, nor its citizens. He must have been greatly relieved when he met Jesus and Jesus said of him, "Here is a true Israelite in whom there is nothing false."

Jesus knew Nathaniel's heart and his potential. He did not care about his past.

Just as Jesus knew Nathaniel before they met, God knows us. Our Psalm for today states, "O Lord you have searched me and you know me. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely. You hem me in-behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me."

Jesus did not lay his hand upon Nathaniel; but it was Jesus' presence and a brief conversation that caused Nathaniel to declare his faith by saying, "Rabbi, you are the son of God; you are the King of Israel."

In addition to this "come and see" passage we also describe it as a "call" passage for Jesus told Philip earlier in the passage to "follow me." Jesus told that to all his disciples.

The Old Testament lesson is also a call passage, the call of God upon Samuel's life. Although Samuel thought it was Eli the priest calling him, it was God. Eli convinced Samuel it was God calling and told Samuel to say to God when God called Samuel again, "Speak, for your servant is listening."

What God was calling Samuel to do was to tell Eli that due to his son's irreverent behavior and their sins and Eli not doing anything about it, nothing could save them. Eventually his sons died in a battle with the Philistines and the Ark of the Covenant was taken by them also. Eli, hearing this news, fell off his chair, broke his neck and died.

Samuel became a great prophet. He eventually anointed Saul as King but had to work with him also, which was not easy.

There is another person who was called by God who had some tough times but was obedient to the end. Tomorrow there will be gatherings of people throughout our country who will celebrate the person and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was born into a family of preachers. His father and grandfather were preachers in the same Baptist church in Georgia. Martin grew up, destined to be a preacher like his father and grandfather. He went to college and then a seminary in Pennsylvania where he was elected senior class president by a student body composed mostly of white men. Martin attended Boston Theological Seminary where he received his doctorate.

The new Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. began his first parish in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1954 and by 1957 he was in the thick of the civil rights movement. He was becoming a leader in the cause for civil rights. For the next eleven years, he traveled many miles and gave 2,500 speeches for justice in any town, village or city that needed his spiritual and moral leadership.

Dr. King was named Man of the Year by Time magazine in 1963 and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 when he was only thirty-five years old. He was the youngest person to ever receive the Peace prize. He was awarded $54,000 for the Peace Prize but rather than putting that money in his own pocket, he gave that hefty sum to the civil rights movement. 250,000 people converged on Washington, D.C. to hear his "I Have a Dream" speech. So many people said, "You have to come and see. You have to come and see and hear this man. You will be amazed. Your heart will be captured when you see and hear him." Many people's hearts have been captured by the Spirit of Jesus and his peace and justice, living within the heart of Dr. King.

Sometimes God or people call us to do something we may not want to do. We may decline the offer. We may agree but reluctantly. We have our excuses. I've heard them all. I've used them all. Someone may say to us, "Come and see what the Lord is doing," and we don't have the time.

What is it that keeps you at times from listening and following the Lord?

Last Monday a huge piece of equipment was in the hole that has been excavated for the new gathering space. It was a combination drilling rig and pile driver. The equipment was used to bore a sixteen foot hole in the ground and to pound a round metal sleeve about two feet in diameter into the hole. It will eventually house the piston for the new elevator.

After the job was completed it took the workers two and a half hours to get the truck out of the hole. It kept slipping and sliding even though gravel was placed on the dirt ramp. The loose gravel and the wet mud made it very difficult.

The workmen used a bulldozer in the hole to push and a dump truck hooked on to another backhoe to pull this piece of equipment out of the hole.

It reminds me that sometimes we need help or we may be called to be the helper to get God's work done. Occasionally we need that nudge from behind or someone ahead of us, encouraging us to do what Jesus and his disciples say, "Come along, come and see, follow me." Amen.



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