Preaching Resources

Preaching Mission for the Second Sunday after Epiphany (January 14, 2024)

(This week’s reflection is in memory of Bishop Hopeton Clennon seen here officiating at the consecration of Michael Johnson as a bishop at the John Hus Moravian Church in Brooklyn, NY)

Listen and Then Do
By Bishop Chris Giesler

Scripture Texts:
I Samuel 3:1-20
John 1:43-51

The baby Jesus, whose birth we celebrated just a few weeks ago, is not just a cute and cuddly baby anymore; he has grown up and is calling you to follow and to serve. The Gospel text from John is about hearing the call.  It tells of Jesus’ call to Philip, Philip’s invitation to Nathaniel to come and see, and then Nathaniel’s encounter with Jesus.  Hearing the call of Phillip and Nathaniel does send us back to an earlier call in the Hebrew Scriptures, the call of Samuel.

Our reading from I Samuel tells of the child Samuel, who is now living in the Temple at Shiloh, where Eli’s two sons were corrupt priests.  You might remember that Samuel’s mother, Hannah, had promised God that if she became pregnant and had a son, she would give him as a servant to the Lord in the Temple. She kept her word, and as soon as he was weaned, she gifted him to God under Eli’s care.  It is here, on one rather remarkable night, while everyone is asleep, that Samuel awakens by a voice calling his name, “Samuel, Samuel.” Samuel hears this call three times and runs to Eli, who tells him to go back to sleep.  But finally, Eli becomes aware that this is God’s calling to Samuel, and in the wisdom of his years, tells Samuel the next time he hears the call, he should say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” This he does, and Samuel becomes essential to God’s calling to many others, including King David.

God does call each and every one of us into a relationship as a child of God.  A child of God, not a grandchild, not a niece or nephew. Each of us is a child of God sustained directly by the eternal creator. God first calls us into a dynamic relationship, “I will be your God; you will be my people.”

But I often hear: When is God going to call me? How is God calling me?  Has God called already, and did I miss it? Did I mistake God’s call for something else?  So how can we be aware that God is calling? What did Eli tell Samuel to do? Perhaps we, too, should follow his advice and pray, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening!”  We should begin our every day with that; we should begin our every prayer with that phrase.

Where do we begin?  We listen!  Often, we think we need to jump right into doing things…but the first step is listening, or else our doing is all in vain.  This does not invite us to leave the doing off; it is just saying the first step involves listening.  To me, that means paying attention to things like the Daily Texts, paying attention to what is happening around us, and paying attention to what tugs at your heart.

Moving to our Gospel text, we hear Jesus calling out to Philip, “Follow me.” He seems to have been listening and immediately calls out to Nathanael, who is not listening very well.  Philip tells Nathanael, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus the son of Joseph from Nazareth.” But Nathanael had a problem with listening to Philip because of an internal dialogue that he was having.  Prejudice was speaking louder than Philip’s invitation to come and see Jesus. His response is, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”  How often have we said something similar? Can anything good come from the other side of the river, the other side of the tracks, the other side of town, or from that country over there?  Can anything good come from someone who worships differently than I do?  Can anything good come from someone whose skin color is different than mine or who has a sexual orientation that does not match mine?  Can anything good come from THEM?

This past week, the Moravian world was rocked by news of the sudden death of Bishop Hopeton Clennon, pastor of the Central Moravian Church in Bethlehem, PA.  He was a close friend and colleague of mine, and I can’t imagine not having him as part of our group of bishops.  I have been amazed at all the tributes posted on Facebook since we learned of his passing. These posts are coming from folks all over the world and from all over the theological and political spectrum. He touched many lives and made each of us feel as if we were among the most important things in his life. And we were! This is because there were no strangers in Hopeton’s world; there were only friends… all of whom were children of God. As such, he was a boundary breaker. He saw no distinction in race, color, creed, gender, or orientation. We all belonged in Hopeton’s world, and he would be the first to tell us we can do the same thing. Our prejudices get in the way of our ability to hear God’s call truly and to respond in love to others.

In our deepening relationship with Jesus, we are asked to do as much we can to imitate Jesus’ love in the world.   To serve the poor, to help bring others to Christ.

Over this coming year, you will hear countless calls from God coming into your life.  Some of them you might hear from a pulpit, others you will hear in your daily devotions, and still others you will hear while living your life.   So listen, then talk to others, then serve the needs of others both near and far.