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In The Silence

John 1:43-51

The Rev. Jon Roberts

17 January


Calvary Episcopal Church

Indian Rocks Beach, FL

43 The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, “Follow me.”
44 Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida. 45 Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” 46 “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked. “Come and see,” said Philip. 47 When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.” 48 “How do you know me?” Nathanael asked. Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.” 49 Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.” 50 Jesus said, “You believe[a] because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.” 51 He then added, “Very truly I tell you,[b] you[c] will see ‘heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on’[d] the Son of Man.”


Nathaniel Under the Fig Tree, James Tissot 1886-1894

Distance does not separate us.
Silence does.[1]

Today, we hear a lot about how God speaks to those who are in lonely, and lowly places, but dearly beloved please resist giving God the silent treatment.

According to the Jewish historian, Josephus, the prophet Samuel was about eleven years of age at the time when God spoke to him. At an early age he was acquainted to miracles. We learn Hannah, his mother could not conceive a child, so she prayed and God blessed her with a son. He was a miracle baby and perhaps why his name means “God has heard.” He is born out of the family tree, or tribe of Levi. Only the priests and scribes were selected out of this family for all temple/church activities around worship and Samuel was being raised for such duties. He was originally a “judge” in the Old Testament, and the last one at that. Furthermore, he was responsible for anointing two kings, Saul and David. After such, he becomes a prophet and a priest. And finally, he is one of seven people in the Bible that God calls by name, twice. The others are Abraham, Jacob, Moses (OT) and Martha, Simon and Saul/Paul (NT).[2]

The story when Samuel heard God’s voice goes like this. He was an understudy of the high priest Eli of the place of Shiloh, on the west bank.[3] Eli was the second to last of the judges before the kingdom of Israel came into being. He was most likely assigned to the tribe of Ephraim, when the ark of the covenant was being moved around. It was his duty to protect the ark, where the bones of Elijah and the remnants of the Mosaic ten commandments were housed. There was a candle, one that illumined over the ark as God commanded. If it were to ever be extinguished, the people would lament, as they believed that was a sign that God left them. It was most important to keep the lamp lit and so there were understudies whose job it was to read from the scrolls of the prophets 24/7. Samuel had that job one night when something pretty miraculous occurred. In the silence, God spoke to him, not once, but twice, calling him by name. God went on to say something, which made the ears of young Samuel, “tingle.” God warned Eli that his house would be punished because his sons were blaspheming. They turned their backs on God’s truth. They violated themselves and each other, not treating their bodies as if they were God’s temple. God was calling them out. It is most interesting that the sons of Eli, grown and supposedly mature, separated themselves from God’s Word, not by distance, but by silence. Samuel goes on to anoint Saul, who God chose to bring Israel into combat readiness, prepared to fight the Philistines. He would later call upon the father, known as Jesse, to show him all his sons, so he could pick the successor to Saul. It happened to be the smallest, the youngest and apparently the one who was close to God because he listened. David listened to God and had his own heart. In the silence, God unveils history, give revelation to what is happening in the present and prepares the prophet’s voice for what is to come. This is the story of Samuel.

Fast forward into the New Testament and we have this friend of Andrew and Philip, who are disciples of Jesus and his name is Nathaniel. He is the New Testament equivalent to Samuel. He wants to meet the “One” and you would think he would bend over backwards with great anticipation but instead he is skeptical. He did not have ears to hear because he asked for Jesus’ resume. That is why he said, “What good can come out of Nazareth?” He is brought to Jesus and as we see in Tissot’s rendering, he is at a distance, in a place of great tribulation; turmoil, to which Jesus said he saw him. Only God would know that inner thought, that kept secret, to which Jesus calls him out. He says, “Here is a man to which there is no deceit.” “How do you know me,” says Nathaniel. There must have been something he did not want revealed, yet Jesus saw it. Now we can compare Samuel, age 11 and Nathaniel, older, experienced, having their ears open.

We don’t know what happened to Paul to where he always spoke of his thorn in his side. This was something he remained silent. Maybe we don’t want to have God closer to us. Maybe we would rather push him away. These stories reveal the human stories that have been around for over a millennium. God has seen everything, but like Adam and Eve we run when we sin. We give God the silent treatment and have sorrow when distant. If only we keep our ears open. This is why we come to church to immerse ourselves in God’s Word and Sacrament, faithfully ready to receive His calling. The purity and earnestness of our hearts to receive God’s voice, compels us to always listen. Jesus modeled this when he said, “Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me. I knew that thou hearest me always, but I have said this on account of the people standing by, that they may believe that thou didst send me.” [4]

Where are you in your relationship with God? As the Psalmist says, “LORD, you have searched me out and known me; you know my sitting down and my rising up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You trace my journeys and my resting-places and are acquainted with all my ways.”[5] Why the light goes out for some people, why they turn away and turn God off, is troubling, but if we can remind them that joy is to be found in the midst of sorrow, distance, light can be found. Are you bringing God close or are you pushing Him away? It matters not your age, the distance of time, but it does matter when you no longer listen. Call out to Jesus. Do it today. Distance does not separate us from the love of Christ. Silence does.

[1] Jeff Hood, a mentally ill chicken farmer, BLM (Black Lives Matter) activist and (Baptist) theologian.
[3] 1 Samuel 3:1-20
[4] John 11:41-42
[5] Psalm 139:1

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