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Sermon Briefs: John 1:43-51

Liberation theologian Gustavo Gutierrez centers his homily on v. 39: "It was the tenth hour...." For Gutierrez, "Christian life always begins with a call from God. The Bible gives us countless accounts of vocations."1 Faith arises out of specific and concrete experiences, and one never forgets an encounter with Jesus. "Like every event which marks our lives, the remembrance of that encounter stays on with all its circumstantial details, leaving indelible imprints on our memories."2 The faith encounter is highly personal, but it is not a solitary, individualistic experience. Christian faith is a communal and community-based practice. "Following Jesus is not an individual matter; it is something done in community."3
Greg Jones' 1997 sermon, Are you listening? 4 poses the question, "How do we detect God's voice when there is so much noise in our lives today?" Persons are thirsting for the spiritual life, but they are looking for their answers just about everywhere except the church. As William F. Buckley is alleged to have said, "If you mention God once at a New York dinner party you are met with stony silence. If you mention God twice, you don't get invited back to any more dinner parties."
As Christians, we believe that the answers to life's vexing questions come from God, and that we can discern God's will for our lives. If only we will listen.
We cannot, of course, be 100% certain that we can clearly identity the voice of God. Neither can we be 100% certain that our mate will always be faithful to us. Nevertheless, even as we cannot have a marital relationship without putting our trust in our spouse, we cannot have a relationship apart from trusting in God's faithfulness.
Jones concludes that while God does not speak as a woman speaks to a man, God's voice can be clearly discerned when we weigh what we hear with the scriptures and the witness of the church, and when we do our listening within a community of other believers.
In his sermon Doors to Destiny, Reynold N. Johnson focuses on the calling of Nathaniel as an illustration of how it is that God calls us to faith.5 "God intends great things for us, but won't force them upon us…. God offers the truth that makes us free, but our destiny is not determined. We can refuse it or simply miss out on it."6
T.S. Eliot wrote that "destiny waits in the hand of God." But God does not wait—God beckons us through open doors.
The doors God opens to us are four: God opens doors through our friends. As Philip invited Nathaniel to come to Jesus, through Christian friends we come to faith. God opens doors through our questions. As Francis Bacon wrote, "In contemplation, if a man begins with certainties, he shall end in doubts; but if he be content to begin with doubts, he shall end in certainties."7 God opens doors through invitations offered and accepted: "Come and see!" Philip said to Nathaniel. And God opens doors through Jesus Christ.
The key to life, Johnson concludes, is to make a personal commitment to Jesus Christ, to enter the realm of faith, to walk through the doors open wide in grace. "God has great plans. God invites us to be a part of them. Before us God opens doors and a door and the door is Jesus Christ."8
R. Charles Grant
1. Gustavo Gutierrez, "It was the tenth hour," Sharing the Word throughout the Liturgical Year, trans. Colette Joly Dees (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1997), pp. 126-128. 2. Ibid., p 127. 3. Ibid., p 128. 4. Greg Jones, "Are you listening?", unpublished sermon for the Chester, Virginia, Presbyterian Church, January 19, 1997. 5. Reynold N. Johnson, "Doors to Destiny," in Augsburg Sermons Gospels B (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1975), pp 57-62. 6. Ibid., p 57. 7. Ibid. 8. Ibid., p 62. pp. 36, 40.