Message: 1 Samuel 3:1-10 (11-20); Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18; 1 Corinthians 6:12-20; John 1:43-51
There’s the story of a recently retired gentleman sitting in a comfortable chair on the lawn of a college campus where he’s serving as an adjunct professor, leisurely reading a book. His retirement expectations coming to fruition are producing significant anxiety about who he is and what is expected of him. As he ponders these life quandaries, a little girl, about five years old comes riding along on her bicycle. Very unexpectedly, she stops, looks at the gentleman inquisitively, smiles and asks, “Are you old?” The gentleman taken back just a bit, wondering, responds, “Yes, Yes, I am.” “Okay, then”, the little girl concludes, “Will you play with me?” In both the little girl’s innocent mind, and the gentleman’s wisdom the questions are connected. It’s okay to play with old people because you can trust them. Naturally, the gentleman wants to tell her what she’s expecting to hear: that he’s able to play with her. But, this is the 21st century and in our world today, we need to have a parent around to approve of the proposal of a little girl playing with a seemingly old man. The gentleman suggests she go get a grown up to supervise the play. “I’ll go ask my mom,” says the little girl. She rides off with plans to solidify the play. Sadly, the little girl doesn’t return. The gentleman doesn’t expect her to. Instead the professor finds himself pried open to an invitation to consider his next calling, which he never expected: to serve as a trusted playmate.
Expectations: a strong belief that something will be the case or happen in the future. We carry our own expectations. Others hold expectations for us. Most importantly, God in Christ expects.
In the readings we hear today, young Samuel, sleeping soundly while keeping guard over God’s holy chest containing the Law given to Moses, doesn’t expect God to awaken him in the night. Samuel doesn’t expect an invitation from God calling him to serve as a prophet with a flawless record for accurately broadcasting God’s message. Samuel doesn’t expect God to charge him with the anointing of the young boy David who will become the King of God’s people.
It seems Samuel is like the rest of us. He’s put limits on God. He doesn’t expect a God who searches us out and knows our sitting down and our rising up, always acquainted with our ways. Like the disciples gathered around, as ordinary people, not exceptional folks, but seen exceptional by Jesus, they don’t expect to receive the privilege of serving God in Christ; of joining Christ in his ministry of teaching, preaching and healing to make God’s world known.
Philip, often seemingly blank faced and indifferent to Jesus’ expectations, follows Andrew and Peter from their hometown of Bethsaida. Philip, extending Jesus’ invitation to follow, finds skeptical Nathanael and says, “come and see.” Nathanael, resolute in his faithfulness expects more from this Son of God, as he cynically questions, “can anything good come from Nazareth?” Jesus turns the insult around as he commends Nathanael’s audacity of faith. Then, totally unexpected, Jesus unwraps the depths of Nathanael’s inmost heart as he explains, “I saw you under the fig tree…”
The fig tree in ancient times, with its leafy, wide spread branches provides a shady peaceful haven from the region’s hot sun, symbolizing peace and refuge. Under the fig tree is where the faithful go for prayerful meditation. Nathanael, so not expecting this Jesus to cleanse his heart of pride and prejudice unexpectedly cries out, “…you are the Son of God! You are the king of Israel.” Jesus, empowering Philip and Nathanael offers even more: “you will see greater things than these.”
Expectations. None of us are without expectations. How often it is, however, that we try desperately to live by the expectations other people have for us, failing to look deep into the truth Christ has in his expectations for us.
Expecting great things a fisherman decides to start his own fish market. With a freshly caught supply of fish to sell, he opens the market doors and gets to work. First, however, he wants to get his signage just right. He crafts a sign that reads, “Fresh Fish Sold Here Daily.” One passerby thinking the sign is too wordy explains that everyone expects the fish monger to sell fresh fish, not old, stale fish. The fisherman changes the sign to read, “Fish Sold Here Daily.” A friend stops by to comment on the sign. Of course fish are sold at the fish mongers store. That’s why he started the store. No one expects the fisherman to not sell fish. Again, hoping to fulfill everyone’s expectations, the fish monger then crafts a new sign that reads, “Fish Daily.” When the fisherman’s brother arrives for a visit he comments. The sign is confusing. Of course a fish monger is selling fish daily. Remove the “daily” from the sign. So, hoping to satisfy his brother and everyone’s expectations for the signage of the fish market, the fisherman hangs a sign that simply reads, “FISH”. Not long after, a passerby, and a newcomer to the area sees the sign and asks, “Fish? Fish what? Fish where?”
Living up to other people’s expectations spins us around down one possible road and then another. We get lost in what others expect for us finding ourselves feeling insecure and lacking in identity. In this season of Epiphany, which means: to reveal, we learn what Jesus expects of us. Jesus isn’t calling us to live by the expectations other people have for us. He’s calling us to live by the expectations he, God, has for us.
It’s God, in Christ, who knows our inward parts, who knit us together in our mother’s womb, who has formed for us all our days, and whose eyes beheld our unformed substance when none such days or substance yet existed. As Jesus calls us to come follow, may we find ourselves awakened, surprised and ready to respond: “Here I am Lord” with purpose and promise, living with the hand of God in Christ laid upon us. May we speak truth, act in love, work with the expectation that Christ calls us, to go forward with determination in building the kingdom of God.
Tomorrow our country will honor Martin Luther King, Jr. With his famous, “I Have a Dream” speech fifty-five years ago Martin Luther King, Jr. ascended the steps of the Lincoln monument, addressing the country with words of expectation. Having failed to live up to the expectation of liberty and justice for all as stated by the Declaration of Independence, King confronted our nation. With a deep abiding faith in Jesus Christ, who himself suffered under the abuse of prejudice, injustice and hatred, King’s monumental address initiated the Civil Rights movement. Today, Americans, and those from homelands wrongly labeled by disgrace, find ourselves still divided on race.
As we engage in racially fraught controversies, the expectations of Martin Luther King, Jr. are not yet fulfilled. Jesus Christ beckons us with the expectation that we, as the Church, the holy collective body of Christ in the world, we will soldier on in liberating the oppressed, bringing hope to the discouraged, and freedom to those imprisoned by prejudice and fear. Maybe we march. Maybe we mobilize. Perhaps we’re writing a letter to our representative. Imagine our strength and courage when we expect what Jesus expects: that we carry on beholding his trust and abiding in his love, for all.
One final story of great expectations. Just a short while ago, we served as a shelter for the homeless during Christmas week. It was a good week and Epiphany, you and all those who shared their gifts, through God in Christ, make the impossible possible. Now, no one expects to live in a shelter, especially at Christmas. Last week we received a letter from one of our guests. Quoting Psalm 40, he wrote of how the Psalm encapsulates his life as it read: “I waited patiently for the Lord…He brought me up out of the pit of destruction…he set my…footsteps firm…He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise”. His past few months have been nothing but a muck of drugs and alcohol. His expectations for healing and help were found as he reached out to Epiphany. Here, he wrote, he was met palm to palm, and pulled up into the light with joy and smiles, bathed in Christmas cheer to remind us all that God loves us. Our friend is rejoicing with thanksgiving. January 4th, he entered rehab and is no longer homeless.
We expect Jesus to be a force of hope as we courageously step out, trusting in his strength for us, as we continue to examine his call. We prayerfully expect our parking lot to fill with cars and our doors to open to all, searching: people, families, and groups called to come and see the glory of Christ’s grace through us as Epiphany. We expect Jesus will show us the way to continue to serve, grow and thrive, as we face the economic hurdles of our forty thousand square foot building. We expect to look ahead, as Epiphany, through our belief, to the greater things God has in store for us and we give thanks.
In our efforts to live up to God’s expectations we can, like Samuel, grow in active obedience to our Lord, we can round the corner as cynics like Nathanael, we can charge forward trusting with enthusiasm like Philip. Whatever the way, Christ is there calling us to follow, to come and see. Epiphany may we never underestimate who we are in Christ and what Christ expects of us. Amen.