This Sunday, the 2nd Sunday after the Epiphany, I am at Dover United Methodist Church in Dover Plains, NY (Location of church). The service starts at 11. The Scriptures for this Sunday are 1 Samuel 3: 1- 10 (11 – 20), 1 Corinthians 6: 12- 20, and John 1: 43 – 51.
It was a time of great difficulties when the Quiet One first came out of Nazareth. A foreign army once again occupied the land and imposed its rule on the people through draconian measures and an oppressive tax system that took 1/3 of a family’s income and lead to corruption and greed amongst tax collectors and other public officials. If you couldn’t pay your bills, you could be sold into slavery. There were divisions between the people because of race, economy, and life-style.
These were not new problems. Other foreign armies had come through this land, stripping it of its resources and its treasures, carrying away the best and brightest to captivity in foreign lands. Corruption and greed among public officials was nothing new. It had even affected the family of God’s own chosen prophet, Eli.
Eli’s sons, who followed in their father’s path as priests, used the privileges of their position for their own personal gain. Their acts were done with an open disdain for the will and work of God. It was as if Eli’s sons had looked at God in the eye and shaken their fist at Him. For them, there could be no redemption; no sacrifice could atone for their sins. And because Eli did nothing to stop them, he too would suffer the same punishment.
There would be other prophets who would hear God’s call and who would warn the people of what lie ahead. There would be good times, times when the people listened to God through the prophets. But in the good times, they would not remember and the bad times would come and they would feel lost. Darkness would again be over the land.
And then the Baptizer came, not to prophesize but to prepare the people. The Baptizer came warning the people that they needed to repent, to change their ways, to begin a new life washed by the water and soon by the Spirit. And when the authorities arrested and executed the Baptizer, his disciples looked for a new teacher, someone who could fulfill what the Baptizer was saying.
The Quiet One had come to the River Jordan to be baptized with the water. And He turned to two of the Baptizer’s disciples, saying “follow me and begin a new job, a new life.” These two friends told their brothers and together they told their friends. There is not doubt that many were told in those first days of the mission and the journey. But many were like Nathaniel Bartholomew and asked, “What good can come from Nazareth?”
But this Quiet One from Nazareth would tell Nathaniel how he had seen him sitting under the tree studying the Scriptures and trying to find in the Words of God the answer to the problems that confounded the people those days. This Quiet One would tell others the secrets that they thought had long hidden in the recesses of their mind and He would find ways to heal the chasms that separated them from the rest of society. Nathaniel would follow because He knew that the Quiet One spoke the truth; others would follow because they would see the truth in action.
But how would such action take place? Some were resigned to a life without hope. When the Quiet One came, there was not a lot of hope and, for many people all they had to look forward to after a long and hard life was death. So they took the attitude that all one should do is “eat, drink, and be merry”.
Some, like the Corinthians later, felt that acceptance of the Quiet One would give them license to do such things because their lives were protected by their faith. But illegal or immoral acts can never be justified by the outcome of one’s life. In Jesus Christ, the Quiet One, the Corinthians saw the opportunity to break free from the restrictions of the law, handed down from Moses that had been imposed on them. But Paul would point out that the decision to follow Christ did not mean that everything you said and did became acceptable. One’s spiritual activity can never be separated from one’s daily life, no matter how hard you might try. Freedom in Christ does not bring freedom from the law; rather it frees you to seek the fulfillment of the law.
And that is why so many people in the land some two thousand years ago felt hopeless. The law imposed on them by church authorities gave them no hope. They had been told that if they followed the rules that the religious leaders had created, created they were told by God, then God would watch over them and they would prosper. But the only ones who seemed to prosper were the religious leaders.
Other, more political leaders made similar compromises with the foreign governments whose armed forces occupied their land. Just as the religious leaders sought to make deals with God, so too did the political authorities seek to make deals that would keep them in power.
There were those living outside the main cities that saw the oppression of the people by the religious and political authorities and called for an armed revolt. Overthrow the foreign armies and throw out those who would collaborate with them; this would restore the country to its prominence among nations.
This was the land and time in which the Quiet One, Jesus, came from Nazareth. He offered those who heard his call neither glory nor power; he spoke of kings and lords who would be servants rather than persons of power. He spoke of healing the sick, caring for the needy, and of bringing sight to the blind and allowing the lame to walk. And while He spoke of freeing the oppressed, He never called for the people to rise up and fight. In His actions, He broke down the barriers that separated people. By His actions, He showed that each person was relevant and significant in the Kingdom of God.
His was a call for action; His was a call that offered hope and promise. And those who heard the call and followed Him felt that He could do something to bring light into the darkness of their world. His words and His actions quelled the inner fears that each one of them had, fears that belied the outer calm of their lives.
And when they started the journey, there were many who followed. They followed because they sensed adventure and action. They followed because it held the promise of being a better life than what they had. But over the next years that they would follow, the numbers grew smaller. Each day one or two would understand that this Quiet One’s call was to work for the kingdom, not simply live in it; each day one or two would leave the group to return to the way things had been. Each day one or two would give up the dream because the demands put on them to work for God went beyond what they had expected.
And then there were only the twelve men, their families, and the ones who knew that what Jesus said was the truth. Perhaps they didn’t understand just what was to come; perhaps they didn’t understand the cryptic messages that Jesus gave them concerning His death or their own deaths or the deaths of their friends.
There is no certainty that they understood what was to come that night when they gathered in the Upper Room for what we now call the Last Supper. It was not the first time that they had gathered for a Passover meal. But they could not know that they, those who heard the call some three years before, would now be faced with going out into the world to continue the call.
The world around us today is much like it was some two thousand years ago. True, we do not have a foreign army occupying our land but the peace that so many people speak of is a hollow and false peace, a peace brought through force and violence, of oppression and division. There are those who see the problems that mark this land, its economic problems, its social problems and even the religious problems that mark so much of the violence that mars this world as a sign of the End Times, a time they envision as the destruction of the earth and its people who do not believe as they do. For them the hope of tomorrow is a false hope, for in their rejoicing in the destruction of the world and in the certainty of their own self-righteousness, they ignore the very people that Christ came to save, those for whom the future is a dream that cannot be fulfilled because they can only live for today.
And while there are those who see a future in which there is hope and promise, they are unwilling to change their ways, relying instead on the old ways, the very ways that created the troubles that mark this land and this world.
There will be some who see the future and know that the future can be reached, not by the statements of political and religious leaders but by their own actions in accepting Jesus Christ as their own and to allow the Holy Spirit to change their lives and lead them in a new direction.
We hear the call today. It is the same call that Samuel heard but at first did not understand. It is the call first made to Peter and John, Andrew and James, then to Nathaniel and the others. It is the call to Paul on the road to Damascus to change the direction of his life. We are on the same journey as those and countless others; we are hearing the call. Shall we continue as we have or shall we change the direction of our lives and our future? The Lord spoke to Jeremiah and said, “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Jeremiah 6:16). In which direction are you headed?
I took the term “Quiet One” from Clarence Jordan’s Sermon on the Mount.