Catholic Contextual urban Theology, Mimetic Theory, Contemplative Prayer. And other random ramblings.

Sunday, 4 February 2018

Sermon at Parish Mass Epiphany 2 2018

1 Samuel 3.1-10
Revelation 5.1-10
John 1:43-51

We’ve tidied away the Christmas tree, tinsel and lights, but for the Church the season of Epiphany continues until the feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, in two weeks’ time. The theme of this season is revelation: God reveals himself.
This is part of God’s character. God is not a remote being who set the universe into motion and then left it to get on with things. God is the creator who remains intimately involved in the creation, calling creation into relationship with himself. God speaks. God makes himself known. But God turns out to be quite unlike human suppositions of what gods must be.
God’s unexpected revelation is a theme that connects our readings today. “The Lord called, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’ and he said, ‘Here I am!’”. But he did not know that God was calling him; he assumed it was Eli. God’s call came to him as something unknown.
In the book of Revelation the mystical scroll with its seven seals cannot be opened except by the Lamb who has been slaughtered. Humanity thinks that the gods demand sacrifices, and the book of Revelation is full of the ensuing violence. But it is the victim of sacrifice who opens the scroll and reveals God, the victim who appears in heaven on God’s throne, reversing human expectations.
Nathanael thinks that nothing good can come out of Nazareth. But Jesus tells him that he “will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man”.  He is promised a vision like that of Jacob, the founder of Israel, who saw a ladder ascending to heaven. But in this case, Jesus says the ladder is himself. Even though he comes from the dull backwater of Nazareth, the last place Nathanael would expect.
The revelation of God is unexpected. God turns out to be unlike our human expectations of what a god must be. This is why Israel’s God was always so distinct. The gods of the other nations could be depicted and described: you knew what they looked like, what their job was, and what you had to pay them to do it. Not so the God of Israel, who could not be depicted or controlled, who remained a mystery.
The only image of God that could be accepted is the one that God produces of himself: his Word, his self-expression, the Second Person of the Trinity, the Son of the Father, who alone can truly reveal God because he is God. As John puts it in the prologue of his Gospel, “No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.”
Jesus says in the gospels of Matthew and Luke, “no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” St Irenaeus, commenting on this verse, says that it refers to all time, before and after the Word was born of Mary. “From the beginning the Son is present to creation, and reveals the Father to all.”
God has always revealed himself though his Word: in creation; through the inklings of the Divine that have come to all nations, religions and cultures, even if in obscure and partial ways; through the law and the prophets given especially to Israel. And lastly through the incarnation of the Son of God, God’s revelation of himself come among us as one of us.
It is the nature of God to reveal himself through his Son, and he has always done so. But that revelation is not simply imparting information about God. It is an invitation into relationship with God. “You will see”, says Jesus. In Biblical times, to “see” someone meant sharing in deep communion with them, an opening of the inner being each to the other. To see heaven opened, to see the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man, is to be invited into his Divine life.
The promise that Nathanael would see the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man refers back to Jacob’s ladder, but also looks forward, and foreshadows another wooden structure planted in the earth and reaching up to heaven – the cross. Because it is in the cross that we see heaven fully opened. As the Book of Revelation tells us, it is the slaughtered lamb who reveals God. It is on the crucified victim that we see the angels of God ascending and descending.
God places himself at the heart of our human violence as its victim, in order to undo our human violence. Out of the ruin that we have made, out of our insatiable pact with death, Jesus reveals the resurrection, the Father’s endless life pouring into the new creation. This is not what humanity has imagined that gods were like. Cults of sacrifice and violence have struggled with and obscured the revelation of God’s self-giving love. But on the cross the Word, God’s full and complete revelation of himself, once and for all disposes of those false accounts of God.
God’s revelation of himself is a call into relationship, a summons to follow. “Follow me”, says Jesus to Philip. And Philip not only follows but shares the invitation, he goes and finds Nathanael to tell him about Jesus. It is a summons to follow into the revolutionary change that comes from knowing the true and living God, made visible in Jesus, crucified and risen.
Followers of Jesus see heaven opened, and the love of God made visible in him. Jesus the victim, Jesus the Risen One, is the one on whom the angels of God ascend and descend. He is the ladder joining earth and heaven, he is the true and living way to the Father. It is he who calls to us, “follow me”.
And as the love of God draws us to him so it must draw others too. “Come and see”, says Philip. How much do our lives say that to others? How much do our lives speak of the attractiveness of Jesus, the compelling power of his love? Do our lives demonstrate the revolutionary change that comes from knowing the true and living God in whom there is no death?
“Come and see”, says Jesus. Come and see Jesus, heaven thrown open, the love of God made visible. Our lives, too, need to say, “come and see”. Like Philip, we are to share the good news of Jesus with those around us, not by empty rhetoric, but by a demonstration of lives changed by knowing Jesus.

In word and action, we are to give priority to the victims and the outcast of this world, because in Jesus we see God taking the place of the victim. In word and action, we are to live as those who believe in the resurrection and eternal life, because we are those who already share in that life through the sacraments and the Holy Spirit who dwells in us. Those who follow Jesus will see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man. That is not a vision we can keep to ourselves.

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