Epiphany 2: Listen up!

Gerbrand van den Eeckhout,
The Infant Samuel brought by Hanna to Eli
The Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

Epiphany 2

1 Samuel 3:1-20
John 1:43-end

O God, we give you thanks because,
in the carnation of the Word,
a new light has dawned upon the world,
that all the nations and peoples may be brought out of darkness to see the radiance of your glory.

We are now firmly in the season of Epiphany; and over the next couple of weeks we will see the epiphany stories in the lives of people in both the Old & New Testaments. Eli and Samuel and the calling of Philip and Nathanael today; next week at the wedding in Cana.

Last week we celebrated the Wise Men’s arrival and presentation of their gifts to Jesus. This is a significant event as we celebrate their realisation of Jesus. We also remember that Jesus’ arrival was for the whole world and not only for the Jewish people. We are all included.

What does Epiphany mean? In the everyday it means to have ‘a moment of great or sudden revelation or realisation.’ I am not sure if you have had an epiphany moment but they are quite extraordinary!

Those moments when some new idea, knowledge or thought blows through your mind and you suddenly and sometimes drastically see the world, people, and a situation in a totally new way. Epiphany moments can cause a fundamental change in one’s life.

Epiphany moments aren’t always dramatic affairs. They can happen in a quiet moment when you know that something has changed in your mind or in your heart.

I grew up in the church: Sunday School every week, my parents were very involved in the church, I sang (badly) in the choir, and was in various youth groups. I knew about Jesus but I did not know Jesus. My first epiphany moment came while I was eating lunch in a dry field on a very hot July day at Ephesus, in Turkey. A few hours before this I was struck by the understanding that St Paul had been at Ephesus and that he had written the letter to the Ephesians.

I was where the Bible was. I had always seen it as a book, a story; but to be where the Bible took place completely blew me away! I began to think that if the Bible happened in a real place, then maybe God and Jesus were more real than I thought they were.

By lunchtime, with all these thoughts rolling around my head, I had this sudden wave of peace and a sense of relief from all the grief and anger that I had been carrying around from the previous year and a half. I walked out of Ephesus that day totally different from how I walked in. I have never been the same since.

Let us look at the epiphany stories in our readings today. Who are these people? Eli was a priest who lived at Shiloh with his two scoundrel sons. Ministry was not going particularly well for him. His boys were doing all sorts of things they should not and Eli was not doing much about it.

Eli then meets Hannah, a woman who has travelled with her husband and his 2nd wife and children to Shiloh for a time of sacrifice and worship. Hannah came to the shrine as she was deeply distressed and weeping, to pray to God. Hannah was childless while her husband’s second wife was fertile and kept rubbing Hannah’s face in it. Eli assumes Hannah is drunk; such are his expectations of the shrine he has charge over. Eli is obviously not used to people coming into the shrine to pray and fall on their knees before the Lord or seek the word of God.

Eli realises Hannah’s real need and fortunately his priestly training comes through and he blesses her. Hannah goes back to her husband, becomes pregnant and gives birth to Samuel. Hannah had promised God that if he would give her a son, she would offer him back to God. A few years later Hannah returns to Eli with Samuel and leaves her baby/now toddler with him. Brave thing to do as his parenting seems much to be desired.

Despite this, Samuel was ministering before the Lord and seemed to grow and prosper under Eli’s care. Then the time comes when God calls Samuel. This was a rare event. It was certainly not something that Eli, now a very old man, had ever experienced. It takes him time to work out what is going on.

It is Eli who tells Samuel what to say. He knew. It just took him a while. Good news for us! The story of Samuel and Eli is often used to help those to work out their vocation, or their calling in any form of ministry, not just the ordained. So there are no excuses.

The central feature here is the willingness of Samuel to seek Eli’s help and then respond to God’s calling of him. Samuel responds by offering himself as a servant to God, ‘Speak Lord for your servant is listening.’ From this moment, God begins to speak to Samuel. This is not an easy task. One of the first things that Samuel has to do is give Eli some very bad news.

God is going to punish his house forever for not restraining the bad behaviour of his family. There is no way out. Priests in the Old Testament were called a higher standard; this was common knowledge. The consequences of blasphemy and desecration of the temple and its objects was taken very seriously by God. Eli seemingly could not or would not live up to God’s standards nor did he insist his sons did. Eli does not put up defence or fight. Maybe this was a quiet epiphany for him.

We are all called by God; to be loved by him and to be with Him forever (salvation). In response to His love and salvation, we are to do our part for his kingdom on earth. Samuel and Eli were called; one did what was asked and the other did not. There are consequences.

In the New Testament reading, we see the epiphany stories and consequences for the new disciples. Jesus found Philip and said to him ‘Follow me’. So he did! Just like that. Then Philip found Nathanael and with little prompting (at least that we know about) came to Jesus.

When Nathanael first meets Jesus, he is looking for a thrill, for some excitement. He wants to see everything that Jesus does as magical and entertaining. But Nathanael has no idea about what is to come! No clue on how God will choose to bring heaven and earth back into unity through the Son of Man, Jesus.

Nathanael’s name in Hebrew means ‘God gives’. Yes he does! God gives us his love, his grace, his joy and his peace; to name a few. God gives us heaven. When we follow Jesus, we will see heaven opened. That will be one epiphany!

Samuel’s response to God’s call is one of willingness and work; he worked and served under Eli at the shrine. Samuel’s obedience is rewarded by God as he becomes a trusted prophet. Philip and Nathanael willingly follow Jesus, not having really any idea of what was to come.

How will we react to God’s calling on us? We/you all have one. We have the assurance and often need the reassurance that God is with us. As Samuel grew up, the Lord was with him. He is with you! He is with me.

It is true that it is what we don’t do that we regret more than the things we do. The start of a New Year is a good time to blow off the dust! The Lent Groups are starting soon – join one of those. You might just be amazed at what God has to say to you or might be calling you to. We can work it out together.

Whatever you are called by God to do might not seem amazing. You might be thinking ‘sure Sue. I’m old, I’ve done my time.’ Here’s the thing, if God was done with you, you’d already be dead. He would have taken you home.

So by the mere fact you are still walking around and breathing means He has things for you to do.

Who needs you to be praying for them?
Who in your family has not yet put their faith in Jesus?
What don’t you know about the Bible?

I’m going to leave some space now for some quiet reflection/prayer to think about what it is that God is calling you to do at the start of this new year.

If you know what your calling is – thank him for that.

If you don’t know – but want to know – ask him for clarity.

If you don’t know and don’t want to know – then pray to want to!

Loving Lord, as we remember the at this time the story of the wise men and the gifts they brought to the infant King, we pray that we in our turn may offer him the gold of obedience, the incense of lowliness and the myrrh of devotion; and all for his honour and praise. AMEN.

Author: Sue Lepp

I am currently the Lead Chaplain of Gatwick Airport and the Priest-in-Charge of Charlwood St Nicholas and Sidlow Bridge Emmanuel in the Diocese of Southwark. I served my curacy in the Parish of Langley Marish and trained at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford. Former Nurse in both Canada and the UK. Specialised in Palliative Care, Gynaecology-Oncology and a bit of Orthopaedics (just to keep me travelling). Worked as a MacMillan Nurse Specialist in a few specialities in London.

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