Psalm 139 (with 1 Samuel and John1:43-51)
And yet, we are called. Each and every one of us here are called to be witnesses of the many ways that God is revealed through Christ, and that Christ is revealed as the Son of God. Each one of us is called to take part in that revelation. Each of us is called to invite others to come and see.
Part of the discovery part of epiphany remains not only to see who Jesus is, but also how God, through Jesus invites, engages and blesses us in the work of the epiphany. Us. You and me. We who often feel ill-suited, ill-equipped, and unequal to the task of discipleship. And yet, by the grace of God, a God who knows us better than we know ourselves, not only is Jesus revealed, but we are indeed called. Come, follow me.
Themes of God’s knowing and calling are reflected today in both the Old Testament reading about the calling of Samuel, and in the gospel text which forms the call story of both Phillip and Nathaniel. God’s intimate knowledge of each individual shapes God’s call to each as well.
In the Old Testament lesson we meet the young boy, Samuel, as he is called by God, a God he doesn’t even know yet, a God as yet unrevealed to him. God persistently calls to him, until with the help of Eli, Samuel finally comes to understand what is happening and is prepared to respond.
In our gospel lesson, an inquisitive Philip is also called by Jesus, called to follow him. And then, Philip invites his friend Nathanael to come and see who this Jesus is. Jesus engages conversation with Nathanael that reveals that Jesus knows too much about Nathanael for Jesus to be anything but divine. So Nathanael, too, hops on board as a disciple of Jesus, inviting others to “come and see.” So, you probably see where this is going, right?
You and I each have our own call story too, and we are invited to take part in revealing who Christ is to others. We, too are supposed to invite those we meet to “come and see.” And yet we know, don’t we, that we are not prepared, not equipped, and on most days, feel unequal to the task of doing what those disciples did. We live in a different time and place than they did. We can’t do it. No!
And yet…..when it comes to calling the seemingly ill-equipped, incapable, and unsuitable and making disciples of them, God has something like xray vision. Because….
God’s “seeing” far surpasses anything we know through what we experience as the sense of sight. God’s “sight” in fact, renders God not only all-seeing, but all-knowing, all powerful and everywhere present, and God “sees” us in ways that have to do with much more than mere sight, in ways that are so vast and all-encompassing, in ways that we can never fully explain or understand. All we can do is respond, and then like Philip, invite others to Come and See for themselves.
God’s intimate knowledge of us, is truly, beyond our understanding. It goes to the core and essence of who we are, not only as human beings set within the framework of families and human systems, but also as eternally known and created, and eternally beloved of God.
The powerful words and images of the psalm we read this morning describe God’s inscrutable way of knowing each of us, and that knowledge is celebrated by the psalmist. The psalmist begins with this confession:
“You have searched me, LORD, and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.”
God is indeed all-knowing; God knows all about me. And you. And Samuel and Phillip and Nathanael. All of us. None of the details of our lives, or our character, of who we are or how we are formed is unknown to God.
In fact, the psalmist goes on,
“Before a word is on my tongue you, LORD, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.”
Picture the work of a potter, whose hands enfold and surround a shapeless lump of clay, hands cupped behind and before. Not only does the potter enfold the shifting footprint of the vessel, but slowly, in ways both subtle and profound, the potter exerts creative energy into the substance.
The potter shapes it, fashions it, as an embryo is fashioned and shaped in the womb. As God has shaped and formed each of us in God’s own creation and so, deeply, profoundly, knows us.
I remember holding each of my children for the first time. I well remember my wonder at beholding each tiny finger, each little toe. I remember breathing in the scent of their being, and my amazement at the fully formed little human being who had so recently taken up residence inside of me.
A little human being who, until his birth, lacked identity. Except to God. For, long before the child took her first breath, God knew her completely. Knew each hair and every wrinkle.
The words of this psalm remind us of God’s intimate knowledge and deep relationship with each of God’s children from the beginning….and even before then….in a relationship that will continue, forever.
And yet, the truth of the matter is the kind of knowledge that is described in this psalm elicits complex feelings within us – “is too wonderful for me.” The following verses, which we did not read this morning tell why.
Listen to these words:
“Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,’
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.”
Frankly, there are times when we, - I - want desperately, to hide. I want to hide from my own thoughts and actions which can be, let us say, less than flattering. I want to hide from my weaknesses and my ignorance. I want to hide from my failures; from my sin; from my infirmities and griefs.
According to the American Psychiatric Association, I am not alone. Our desire and need to hide from what ails us is evidenced by our often fatal attraction to and relationship with mind-altering, pain-numbing, grief-escaping, self-medicating drug and alcohol use and abuse and other destructive behaviors.
Seminary professor Shauna Hannan writes,
“Some people struggle with a fear of really being known even as they desire to be known. Some go to great lengths not to be known by hiding their true identities even (especially?) from God. It cannot be assumed that verse 7 is received as good news for all.
“Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence?”
“Being so close to God is as burdensome as it is beautiful,” Hannan writes.
The Psalmist admits, one cannot flee from the one for whom darkness does not overwhelm. Why would he flee from something beautiful? For some the thought that God lurks and works even in dark places,” like the “depths, or, as some translations render the word, “Sheol,” and in the womb! might be burdensome.”
But our psalm continues,
“… you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”
This psalm reveals to us a God who knows all that there is to know about us. “Knowing” and “knowledge of” are critical elements of meaningful relationships, and this psalm reveals God’s deep knowledge of every aspect of our being. And yet, knowing us so intimately, still God loves us and God calls us to be God’s disciples. Come and see. Follow me.
God calls to us in our hiding places, in our sleep, in our waking, in our working. God’s creative powers reside deep within us, seeking ongoing relationship with us;
God knows us intimately, is with us at all times.
We are all works of God. Come and see.
From that very intimate, knowing, discerning place, God comes to us and God calls us. As God persisted in calling Samuel until Samuel was ready to hear the call; as Jesus called the earliest disciples when they were open to following him. God, who knows our strengths and weaknesses, who knows us with a knowing beyond all telling is calling us; come and see
Come and see my beloved Son, the one in whom I am well pleased. Follow him. Come and see. In the ordinary encounters of our lives, every single person is an image of Christ, a piece of the knowledge of God, possibilities to share the peace of God in the world.
And so, Jesus calls us to be epiphany for others. Come and see.
Seeing and revelation are closely tied; discovery and understanding are similarly related to one another. As disciples of Christ, these terms and concepts are important to us – because they tell us something about our relationship to this God who has come among us and has pitched his tent with us, continually revealing profound love for all the hurting places, helping us to discover the vast workings of God and God’s continuing creative work within each of us – shaping us, forming us in ways both subtle and profound.
Today begins the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. There is no time like the present to invite, to embrace, and to extend the invitation for others to come and see. This news of a God who knows us so intimately yet chooses to call us, chooses to invite us and chooses to call us to do the same is amazing and exciting aspect of the revelation and discovery of which we each play a part. May you be the epiphany light that shines the light on the Messiah, Jesus Christ, the one who came that all might have life. Amen.