St Francis, Terriers - Epiphany 2 (14.01.2018) Tony Dickinson

Our readings today are about hearing and seeing: the child Samuel hearing God's call; John the Seer watching as the Lamb opens the scroll; Philip and Nathanael hearing the call to follow Jesus. They're also about preconceptions and misconceptions. "God doesn't call people these days, so it must be Eli." "No one can undo the seals and read the scroll." "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?"

In each case those preconceptions and misconceptions lead down blind alleys. Samuel wastes time scurrying across the sanctuary to Eli’s quarters. John the seer weeps bitter tears of frustration, because no one is found worthy to undo the scroll or to read it. Nathanael, who seems to have been something of a "city slicker", pooh-poohs Philip's enthusiasm for this man Jesus, who comes from Nazareth, a one-horse town in the hill country.

In each case the response to those preconceptions is much the same: listen to the Lord; look to the Lamb: come and see. Test your preconceptions against experience. Let your ears and your eyes be opened. Trust in the God who comes as we do not expect him – a voice calling urgently in the night; the Lion of Judah, who is revealed as the slaughtered Lamb: the man from a small town up in the Hills.

So, what are the preconceptions and misconceptions that keep us from hearing God's call, or from seeing what God is doing? For some people it's a misplaced humility, an inability, or an unwillingness, to believe that God could possibly care about "little old me". For others it's an inadequate idea of God. They haven't grown beyond the understanding that they had in childhood - or else that understanding has become warped, so that the God of love becomes a capricious tyrant, like Thomas Hardy's "President of the immortals", only too happy to drop a lethal banana-skin under our careless feet, or to make demands that we have no chance of meeting, or, worst of all, to suggest to us that joy in God's service is impossible.

For yet others, it's a sense that they've got life, the meaning of the universe and everything all worked out. Like Nathanael, they know that nothing good can come out of Nazareth. Donald Trump might well understand that point of view. They don't want to consider anything that might alter the world-view with which they have become comfortable, especially if they believe that it is guaranteed by God.

For the past six months we've been facing all of these scenarios at the Vicarage. Our focus had been on my impending retirement, and what that might mean for us as a family. Since the summer, all our previous assumptions have been thrown up into the air. We've had to listen to that voice. We've had to test our preconceptions against that invitation to "come and see", in the same way as later this year, I hope and pray, another priest will listen to God's call, and "come and see" whether she or he is being called to Terriers. When that happens, I also hope and pray that those responsible for making the appointment will have a more open mind than Nathanael! Good things can come from the most unlikely places.

But now, as our time together draws to its close after so many years, and as we prepare for the parting of the ways in six weeks' time, let us listen together for the voice of God, however and through whomever it may come. And let us remember that the task in which we have been engaged together for the past two decades is not ours to complete. Our task, whether in Terriers or in Genoa, is to follow the example of Philip, inviting others to "come and see"; to test their preconceptions against the reality of God, revealed in the eternal victory of the Lamb, the one in whose life earth and heaven meet, and who shares that life with us in the bread and wine of our communion.

And now to God the Father, who first loved us…