Updated 15th January 2021

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Sermon: Epiphany 2, 17/01/21, Liz Gregory-Smith
Readings: 1 Samuel 3:1-20; Psalm 139:1-9; John 1:43-end

I wonder, if like me, you heard this story of the boy Samuel, when you were quite young. I pictured him lying down on some rugs in the dark of the big temple building watching God’s special lamp still flickering. He knew he was in the place where the Lord God lived but he did not yet know this Lord God in the way the old priest Eli did. Who was calling him? Well, Eli, of course! But no, for all that had gone wrong in Eli’s life and family Eli recognised the voice of the Lord God. He told Samuel what to say, ‘Speak Lord, for your servant hears.’ As a child, I never realised the terrible message Samuel had to convey, but the telling of that story left me expecting that one day, somehow, God would speak to me.

In my case it took quite a long time to realise how God would make Himself known to me and what God knowing me might mean.

In the gospel reading Nathanael, whose name means ‘God gives’, was encouraged by the new disciple Philip to meet Jesus. Excitedly it seems, Philip said, ‘We have found Him of whom Moses in the law and also the prophets spoke.’ Nathanael was sceptical, ‘What someone from Nazareth, surely not!’ ‘Come and see’ said Philip. So Nathanael set out to meet Jesus. But Jesus knew Nathanael and recognised this genuinely devout Israelite living in the semi-pagan town of Bethsaida to the north of Galilee. Nathanael’s question, ‘How do you know me?’ was life changing. That Jesus recognised him for who he was astonished Nathanael and evoked the profound response, ‘Teacher, you are the Son of God, King of Israel’. To Philip as to the fishermen disciples and Matthew, Jesus said ‘Follow me’, to Nathanael he promised a new understanding of God’s presence for all humanity and not just Israel in the coming of Jesus, the Son of Man.

How important being known as a person is to us? ‘No one would know if I died here tomorrow’, a fear expressed by someone living alone, a fear that the current restrictions have tragically multiplied. Many of us can thank God daily for the people who know us, who mind what happens to us, be they family or friends. Being known and loved by the Creator of the Universe is mind boggling. As an older teenager I remember experiencing an acute fear, thankfully only momentarily, of being alone in a vast impersonal universe. I needed to know if the God of love in whom I had believed was real. I prayed that if the Bible’s message was true I would believe it in my heart. In various ways within a year or two, that prayer was answered. I knew that life for me rested in knowing that God knew me and held me in love.

The great comfort is that this is no crazy experience of one individual but is evidenced by millions through the generations and centres on the life, death and resurrection of the One who spoke with Nathanael. Such knowledge the Psalmist said, ‘is too wonderful for me. It is too high I cannot attain it’. The poet or singer of Psalm 139 cannot fully understand, but knows that he experiences the presence of the Spirit of God. ‘If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me’. I love the words of Bernadette Farrel’s beautiful hymn based on Psalm 139,
O God, you search me and you know me.
All my ways lie open to your gaze.
When I walk or lie down, you go before me:
Ever the maker and keeper of my days.

You know my resting and my rising.
You discern my purpose from afar,
and with love everlasting you besiege me:
In ev’ry moment of life or death, you are.
It is good to remember that God spoke to a child, Samuel, long ago. Samuel grew to be a great prophet as the Lord was with him, but he lived in dark times. as did Jesus and all His followers. We also are all too aware of many unknowns in our present situation, where fears may increase. We are aware of many injustices in our society which need to be righted if we are to take our faith seriously. We are aware that the beautiful earth on which we live cannot sustain our reckless lifestyle. Knowing that we are known by and belong to our Creator is not an analgesic, much less a sticking plaster, but the foundation for seeking to find God’s way for living. It’s the foundation for seeking to know God as He knows us and calls us one by one. St Paul concludes his great hymn to God’s love, ‘now I know in part, then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known’. Let’s take the journey together, supporting one another in whatever ways we can, reaching out as God’s Spirit leads us in the world God loves.

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