"Mentors and Open Doors"

I Samuel 3:1-10; John 1:43-51

Rev. Dr. William L. Hathaway

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It is a delightful story of good people simply missing what is obvious to the outside observer. It makes for a fine dramatic story as the audience knows that it the Spirit of God at hand but young Samuel and even the wise, senior, Eli initially miss it. There they are in the Temple, God’s home, and they are so shocked that God would actually show up that it took three times before they figured it out.

“Samuel, Samuel”
“Here I am Eli”
“Samuel, you woke me again! I did not call you; go back to bed. I appreciate your enthusiasm but I’d like to get some sleep around here.”

It is a wonderful story for all of us who show up at church, week after week. All is good but how many of us actually anticipate an encounter with God?

It is also a tender story of a wise ol’ timer having the remarkable opportunity to serve as the key mentor for a young person filled with potential. “Samuel, this is what is going on. I can’t tell you what the Lord has in mind but I do believe that it is the Lord who is calling you so I encourage you to listen. The next time you sense that voice, say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”

Faith is not knowing all the answers; it is trusting in the journey. Faith is not even knowing the next step; it is the positioning of one’s heart, soul and mind, saying, “Speak, Lord, for I am listening.” It is really what we are all about in this gathering called worship. We offer thanks and then say, “Speak, Lord, we are listening.”

Yes, to listen … and to have mentors who point a way to places where one can hear. What a gift it is in this journey called life to discover persons who can point the way. Reading about Eli I can’t help but think about some of the older, wise ones who have helped point the way for me. As a teen there was Cliff and Mary Anderson, youth group leaders, who pointed in the direction of the scriptures and the fundamental concepts of conviction and dedication. In college, Brad Roos treated me as an adult and that one professor helped me sort out the Protestant landscape when the idea of seminary bubbled up and I had been wandering all over the denominations. And, my, what a gathering of wise ones at Princeton Seminary – Dick Shaull, exiled from Brazil on account of his training of that initial round of liberation theologians, Christiaan Beker, so passionate about Paul’s letter to the Romans and Cathy Sakenfeld and Freda Gardner, the first full time, tenured women faculty who simultaneously excelled in their teaching and their advocacy for women’s rights. And there was “Buzz” Hargleroad who taught me so much about being a city pastor in that summer internship in Chicago. Skilled? By all means. But what impressed me the most was his deep love for the people and his passion for fairness and kindness. Then there was Dick Nygren and Tom Stewart, older colleagues when I was fresh out of seminary. I watched and listened and asked questions. I’ll never forget the evening when Bill Coffin sat in our living room with a group of young pastors. One of the most famous preachers and activists in the country - he could have “held court,” as the saying goes. But he wanted to know how we were doing. We talked; he asked questions, listened and pointed a way. I have been well blessed with Eli’s in my life.

I invite you to bring to mind the older, wiser ones who helped or are helping you now along the way. Name them silently as we pause for a moment. (pause) And, now, as an act of thanksgiving, name them out loud in full voice and let us fill the room with the sounds of their names. (pause) Yes, thank you, Lord!

And, Lord, may we take our places as the Eli’s for those who follow.

It is the season of Epiphany and the lessons focus on the rhythm of call and response. John remembers the stories of Jesus calling out the twelve and, in turn, the twelve calling out others. I am the first to admit that the dialogue in the gospel lesson sounds a bit stilted. I think a bit got lost in the channels of oral tradition as we listen in on the conversation between Phillip and Nathanael then Nathanael and Jesus. First, Nathanael takes a jab at small town life with his snarky comment about Nazareth (nothing changes over the centuries when it comes to “dissing” small towns) then Jesus of Nazareth steps into center stage. He sees Nathanael and states, “Here is truly an Israelite whom there is no deceit!” The discussion moves to finding Nathanael under a fig tree; the importance of that detail eludes me. Possibly the whole thing is to remind us that sometimes very important things begin with rather awkward moments.

What strikes me about this short story is the simple invitation “come and see.” Phillip had recognized that Jesus was the chosen one and had decided to follow him. He then turns to Nathanael simply saying, “come and see.” Check him out; decide on your own.

Rarely do we talk another person into faith and we Presbyterians are rightfully not of a mind to strong arm persons to join the Christian movement, the Way as it was called back in gospel times. So the line, “come and see” strikes me as a fine way to understand our job in announcing the faith, spreading the word – evangelism, as it is often called and frequently feared by liberals. The sentiment of “come and see” respects the freedom of the other and acknowledges that God has a job in all of this. It is the Spirit of God that moves in the hearts and minds of searchers and beckons a response, not our spirit of enthusiasm or faith. But we do have a job and it can be characterized as the summons: “come and see.”

Some years back, Don and Nancy Mills came to our congregation. I remember the first time we talked face to face for it was the only time in my career that a couple met with me to evaluate the church prior to deciding to move to town. One of their questions was if our congregation would be open to some work in rural Haiti. They had been involved for years in the country, were passionate about the work and wanted to spread the word. They didn’t ask if we’d join, simply if we’d be interested to check it out. And, as the saying goes, the rest is history. We’ve had over 25 members visit over the years and Martha Johnson, one of our wise officers, is now the Chair of the Board of the Haiti Reforestation Partnership. All because Don and Nancy said, “come and see.”

Haiti. Given the news of the week I need to add an item this morning. Coincidentally, I met with Martha to discuss details of the Haiti work on Thursday and was writing of Don and Nancy when the report came of President Trump’s vulgar and racist comments about our friends in Haiti. In addition to editing the sermon I found my Haiti ball cap to wear for the week. (Placed on side of pulpit.) Let us be clear. Trump’s vulgarity and racism discredit the office of the Presidency and are both an embarrassment and danger to our democracy. The church, congress and we, the American people, should not put up it any longer. The facts are clear; the question is if we have the stamina and integrity to call out Donald Trump’s racism and demand change.

I had intended to stay with the gentle and kind memory of Don and Nancy Mills but when I think of Edvy and Clement, Marie, Rene and the other hard working leaders of CODEP I cannot remain silent when they are cruelly dishonored. Racism must be confronted and changed.

Come and see. Come and see the truth of our lives. Come and see what the spirit of God is doing in our midst. Come and see this community of faith where we seek to tell the truth in love. Come and see this congregation that gathers in beauty to honor God and stand within the mystery of God’s spirit. Come and see the offering of food for Back Pack Buddies so that impoverished children have decent meals for the week-end. Come and see folks not just providing food and lodging for homeless men but sitting down to provide a friendly ear. Come and see adults befriending a second grader in a bond of tutoring and kindness so that children who might well fall behind can get a leg up. Come and see adults in this community giving time to teach children of the love of God or tromp around D.C. on the coldest weekend of the year so that the confirmands could experience the worship through the eyes of the world. Come and see a deacon sharing flowers and more than that, a smile, a prayer, a conversation with a faithful one stuck at home. Come and see members drafting letters to legislators and organizing faith groups knowing that the common good requires common action.

Come and see ….. then be ready for the places that God will take you!