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Sermon for the 2nd Sunday after the Epiphany

I Samuel 3:1-10 (11-20) Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17 I Corinthians 6:12-20 John 1:43-51

The theme of Psalm 139 is about God’s attributes. God is all-seeing, all-knowing, all-powerful, and everywhere God is present. God knows us. God is with us, and God’s greatest gift is to allow us to know him. Sometimes we don’t let people get to know us completely because we are afraid they will discover something about us that they won’t like. But God already knows everything about us, and still accepts us and loves us. God is with us through every situation, in every trial – protecting, loving, guiding. God knows us and loves us completely.

We are who we are, because God’s character goes into the creation of every person. When we feel worthless or even begin to hate ourselves, it is good to remember that God’s Spirit is ready, willing and able to work within us. When we think we are not worthy, we are too fat, we are too bald, we are too introverted, we are too noisy, we are too anything, then we must remember that we are fearfully and wonderfully made. God had a hand in all that we have become…..all that we aspire to accomplish..…all that we dream and hope for. God’s works are wonderful!

I saw a story on the Today show that surprised me. It seems with so many opportunities for virtual connections, people have gotten more concerned about how they look on ZOOM or whatever media. They are having cosmetic surgery to look better on screen – double chin removed, eye lids lifted, noses perfected and so much more. It was amazing to me. But then I thought, during the pandemic there is so much we don’t have control over. So why not take control of our appearance. Then I thought, the easiest way is to just keep wearing a mask and celebrate who we are. I will thank you because I am marvelously made…..

The psalmist says that before we know God or name God, God knows and names us. It is a theme that echoes throughout scripture. Jeremiah tells us that God knew us before we were formed in the womb. Our knowledge of God comes from God’s knowledge of us. In the words of the psalm, we are invited to trust God – the God whose sovereign grace encompasses us in ways we can never fully comprehend. We hear that “such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high I cannot attain it.”

In a difficult time when human life had been vastly cheapened; the psalmist affirms God’s supreme valuing of humankind. The sanctity of life doesn’t fit on a bumper sticker or a political slogan, but as an expression of the worth God gives to the work of God’s hands. A dear friend of mine is a boat captain and he frequently takes people out fishing. He has a receding hairline and is very aware of the effects of the sun. He had a man whose wife continually nagged him about using sunscreen. It seems that had several family members with skin cancer. So he said to John he had to be sure and put sunscreen on his forehead. And John said he needed to do that to. The customer said, “John, you don’t have a forehead, you have a five-head.” I will thank you because I am marvelously made….

So we stand on the wonder of God, our creator, and the wonder of creation as being the woven handiwork of God. How does that help us define who we are? It is not just teenagers who struggle with this question, but each of us during different phases of our lives. It is the parents who are “empty nesters” as all the children are away from home. It is the newly retired who have no place they have to be in the morning. It is the caregiver whose partner has died after a long illness. It is the divorced person who is no longer a part of a couple. One way or another, at one time or another, we all ask, “Who am I? Where does the meaning and value of my life come from?” I will thank you because I am marvelously made….

Psalm 139 invites us to receive an identity rooted not in things we say about ourselves or the labels others give to us, but in the One who knows us more deeply and more lovingly than we ever know ourselves. Because the God who knows us thoroughly, loves us fully, our lives have a worth that cannot be taken from us – by others or by ourselves. The value of our lives doesn’t come from what we achieve or possess or what others may think of us. Our value comes from God who knows and names us, from whose steadfast love nothing in all of creation can ever separate us.

Barbara Brown Taylor writes that in struggling with the stories in Scripture, it isn’t that facts don’t matter, because they do. They just don’t matter as much as the stories themselves, and what the stories say about God, and the relationship between God and the people of God. In other words, even with our fact-oriented minds and hearts, we need to listen to the stories, and then let them come alive within us. She says we should be like children listening to a bedtime story, we need to allow ourselves to take a front row seat, or better yet, crawl right inside one of the characters in the story and allow the story to become real within us. And we need to allow

ourselves to become real within the story: we need to find our role, our vantage point, our voice.

“You let the story come to life within you,” Taylor writes, “and then you decide on the basis of your own tears or laughter whether or not it is true. If you are in any doubt, watch other people who are listening to the story. Does it make them more –or- less human? Does it open them up or shut them down? Does the story increase their capacity for joy?” Facts do matter. But truth matters more. What truths are revealed to us in stories of Jesus celebrating with family and friends? Or stories of miracles of abundant provision? Or stories of compassion, connectedness, and commitment? Or stories of signs which point to much greater things, such as God’s grace and glory?

In the Gospel reading, Jesus is not just deciding where he will go next, but whom to take with him. He is selecting followers. John’s Gospel and the Synoptics agree on this crucial point: it is not enough to believe in Jesus. Discipleship involves following Jesus. The story is not just about John, Peter, Andrew, Philip and Nathanael. It is first and foremost about Jesus. We glimpse the fullness of Jesus’ identity in the bold speech of John, the fumbling words of the new disciples, and the mysterious responses of Jesus himself.

Where do we find ourselves in the story? Are we Philip who readily responds to Jesus’ “Follow me”? Are we questioning like Nathanael? What good comes out of Nazareth? Nazareth was despised by the Jews because a Roman army garrison was there. Or are we Philip the encourager – just come and see for yourself? Whomever we relate to – we see Jesus throughout the interchange. In our lives, do we invite people to come and see Jesus? Inviting folks to come to church, surely, but inviting them by the way we follow Jesus – by the way we live our lives.

What does it have to do with us? Because we are the servants, the hands and heart and feet of Christ, we are called to listen to God and be aware of the needs of the people. And that’s how we enter the story – by bringing to God something of ourselves and making ourselves available to God’s overflowing, extravagant grace.

We are in relationship with a compassionate God who not only creates but celebrates life with us. A God that comes to us in the flesh and the blood, the bread of the five thousand and the wine of the wedding, to comingle and conjoin with us. God, whose gracious gifts bring inner transformation to all vessels that are offered, even hearts of stone, can use all of us.

But surely God can do more to transform the world than to rely on humanity in all of our changing and limited ways. Are we that central to God’s involvement in and redemption of the world? Are we really that necessary or particularly effective mirrors of God’s glory? The answer is yes. God has become what we are so that we might become what God is. Incarnational in our love. Incarnational in our reflection of God’s glory. God made present not just in the flesh but in our flesh. We just need to “come and see”. Amen.

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