May I speak in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, in Love
Today we look at both our readings. Let’s look at their context first to understand what it means when God calls people like Samuel – people like us – to radical discipleship.
In our Old Testament reading we encounter Samuel, great judge and prophet of Israel. It’s around 1150 BCE and he’s a small boy in the Temple. His mother Hannah dedicated Samuel to serve God so he lives in the Temple in the care of Eli the elderly chief priest. We read that Samuel ministered at the altar before the Lord and that as he grew, he was held in great favour by the Lord and by the people. Especially for his integrity. In the following chapter Samuel, still a little boy, hears God calling him in the depths of the night. And he responds – “Here I am”, each time.
Samuel goes on to become Israel’s great prophet at a time when the people are calling out for a king. Samuel tells them they are wrong – God is their King – why would they need a human king? And why would they want the unjust, unequal, hierarchical society which will come with kingship? The people get their wish and Samuel is forced to appoint Saul, then David as kings of Israel. Thirty or forty years on, during Solomon’s reign, David’s son, the development of power and the magnificence of royalty, court and the elite, has grown so much that social equality and justice are ideas of the past.
But Samuel, the prophet, was known throughout his life as a follower of the Lord who wanted the Israelites to build a just society – the one God wanted for His chosen people. A radical disciple of the Lord’s – called to build God’s kingdom, a thousand years before Christ came.
And so we come to our Gospel extract – Jesus as a boy in the Temple at Jerusalem. The family have gone to Jerusalem for the annual Passover feast. Jesus, about twelve years old, stays behind listening and talking to the priests and teachers in the Temple. His parents think he’s with other family in their party and don’t realise for a day, he isn’t with them. They return and find Jesus in the Temple, three days later. Jesus’ reply to Mary’s question is striking. Mary asks, “Son, why have you treated us this way – we’ve been searching for you in great anxiety?” Jesus responds, “Why were you searching for me, didn’t you know I must be in my Father’s house?” The original Greek translates literally as, “didn’t you know I must be in the things of my Father?” In other words, Jesus is saying He must be about God’s affairs, the things His Father is doing in the world and He must be doing what His Father is doing.
We are reminded of what Mary said God is doing in the world in the Magnificat: “bringing the powerful down from their thrones and lifting up the lower people, filling hungry people with good things and sending the rich people away, empty.” This is what God is doing in the world through Jesus’ birth, turning it up-side-down, to facilitate the creation of a kingdom of God, of Love, not power exercised by kings. This is Jesus’ mission – he already knows he’s been called by God the Father. Like Samuel, he is already separated a little from his family. Later there will be a wider family of disciples and church.
Jesus’ call from God is of course unique – He is the Son, a part of God Himself, born that first Christmas for His divine mission on earth. But you and I are also called by God, individually and as a community to fulfil Jesus’ mission on earth. Samuel, Jesus the Son, Peter, Paul, Mary Magdalene, young John, Matthew the ex-tax collector, all called by God to His service and to love and change the world. Called to radical discipleship.
Jesus was and is revolutionary – radical. We are called to grow like Him – so – God calls us to be radical followers, radical disciples of Christ, our friend and Master. What does it mean to be a radical disciple of Jesus? Well – let’s see – what doesn’t it mean? It doesn’t mean following sets of rules – radical disciples follow and love a real Being, Christ our Lord. It doesn’t mean doing good works to earn a place in Heaven – Jesus did that for us. Neither does it mean being a good person. None of us humans are good, only through God’s grace do we become the good beings, the saints we were created by God to be. Being a radical disciple of Jesus doesn’t mean being a member of an exclusive club – like membership of an elitist golf club. It does mean being a member of a wider family of believers, of a community of disciples and it does mean being inclusive of all sorts of people. Being a radical disciple doesn’t mean just a cosy spiritual relationship between me and God. It does mean loving God and ourselves enough for our love to seep, to percolate even shine out and be shared with others.
So what else does radical discipleship mean? It means living Jesus’ mission – loving God, serving Him, building His kingdom of Love and Justice around us in our world. It means living a life of service, forgiveness, mercy, of hope. A life in which we answer Christ’s call to us with, “Here I am Lord. Your servant is listening”, like Samuel. A life of radical discipleship in which we continually answer, “Yes Lord”, “Yes”, “Yes”, “Yes”.
Now I want us to think about us at Saint Chad and Saint Mark, about us as a family. Many of us have our own families big and small and those relationships are vitally important, part of our call to love. And then there’s us – this family, each of us here, each of us elsewhere for today. All of us belong to our wider Saint Chad and Saint Mark family. We are sisters and brothers, fellow disciples, followers, servants, friends of our Lord and of each other. So how do we as a community, as a family, answer God’s call to radical discipleship?
Let’s consider where we’re at. We’re all going through quite a time of transition. Since Ray started in October we’ve begun a period of change, a time of experiment, a time to give ourselves as a community over to the workings of God’s Holy Spirit. Allowing the fluidity which the Spirit brings to take place in what we do, how we do it, what we are and where the Spirit is taking us. What sort of changes? Well – changes in liturgy, change in the All Together service, change in music – less hymns – change in how we communicate information, changes in roles, change in how we relate to each other. Sometimes it feels like you can’t keep up! Change is difficult; creativity can be messy, think of artists, think of childbirth (or rather don’t think of childbirth), think of toddlers. And the Holy Spirit is very very creative. So, life in our family for us at present can, sometimes seem confusing, demanding, incomprehensible sometimes – but then there are surprises. And joy and laughter and love. And I’ve been seeing all these things recently.
So, for all of us, as we go into 2016, the question I ask is – so how do we grow together even more during this time of change and be radical disciples of Christ our Lord? The best description of how a community of followers lives, works and cares together is found in Paul’s letter to the Colossians in chapter 3. Our readers will come to our crib and read it for us:
“As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
God’s chosen ones, the people He calls, holy and beloved – that’s us. And at the centre of who we are as a community, at the heart of all we are and do – is Jesus. When we meet together to worship, let’s sing together with thanks in our hearts and worship Him with our hymns and songs together as His Saint Chad and Saint Mark family. His family of followers, His bunch of radical disciples who come together here to praise and love Him, our Lord, our Friend.