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When I was living in Calgary, about 8 or 9 years ago, I used to take the bus to the church where I was doing my curacy. A curacy is another word for practicum or internship. Once when I was on the bus, there was a woman seated at the front with a large sign facing out for everyone to see. The sign read, “The only life is pro-life” and, below, there was a very graphic picture. My stop was the last on the route, so I had to watch every person who boarded the bus that day see the sign, react, and then decide whether they would engage or just move along to their seat. 

By the end of the bus ride, I was fuming. I decided I would speak with the woman when we got off the bus. When we got out onto the street, I noticed she was wearing a cross. I thought I would see if I could level with her, Christian to Christian. Long story short, we had it out, all kinds of inflammatory words were exchanged and she ended up telling me that unless I was pro-life and a Catholic, I couldn’t be a Christian.

So, I did what I did best in those days as a newly ordained priest: I took to the pulpit. That Sunday, I preached a sermon about how wrong this woman was and how unless she learned the error of her ways, she couldn’t be a Christian. And, I used all of this divisive language pitting one side against the other, and you would’ve thought I was back in Corinth in biblical times, readying my pen like the apostle Paul in our second reading today.

I got quite a lot of feedback on my sermon that day. It wasn’t so much that people agreed or disagreed with the politics at hand; it was that, ironically, I, too, was insisting that this woman follow me and my way in order to follow Jesus.

As much as I think many of us might wish this was how belief in God worked, it’s not, in fact, the pattern we see in the Bible. In our first reading from the book of Samuel, Samuel is fast asleep when God calls out to him, saying, “Samuel! Samuel!” 

And, what does Samuel do? He runs to his priest, Eli, wakes him up and says, “Sir, here I am!”

And, Eli says, “Um, no.”

So, Samuel goes back to bed. God calls him a second time. “Samuel! Samuel!”

Samuel goes back to Eli, wakes him up, and Eli says, “Go back to bed, Samuel.”

A third time God calls Samuel, and this time when Samuel shakes Eli awake, Eli says to him, “Listen. The next time this happens, I want you to talk to God, because it’s God who is calling you.’”

So, this is what Samuel does, and Samuel learns to listen to God and becomes known in his community as a trustworthy prophet. The pattern for Samuel to believe in God isn’t follow your priest Eli and then you will know God; it’s follow God, listen to where God is calling you and go and see what God might have to say.

This pattern is repeated in the gospel of John in the story we heard this morning about Philip and Nathanael. Jesus comes to Philip and says, “Follow me!” So, Philip goes and finds his friend Nathanael, and says to him, “We've found the one we’ve been waiting for! The one spoken about by Moses in the law and also the prophets—Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.”

And, Nathanael says, “Yeah, right. As if anything good could come out of Nazareth!”

And, Philip could have said, “Well, unless you follow me and believe every word I say you won’t get to find out, will you?” Instead, he says, “Why don’t you come and see for yourself?”

And, that’s exactly what Nathanael does. He goes and sees what Jesus has to say and having met Jesus, he follows him. 

Now, this isn’t to say that Eli or Philip’s role in Samuel and Nathanael’s  lives was unimportant. Quite the opposite. They played the role that supportive people in faith communities so often play. When we have doubts or questions, a good friend, a good priest will encourage us to dig deeper into our faith, rather than abandon it or merely play pretend.

Wherever we are in our faith journey, whether brand new, about to be baptised, still questioning, healing, sometimes the best possible people we can surround ourselves with are those who say, not “follow me” but, “come and see” drawing us always to encounter the Living God. 

Belief in the Christian life happens when we come and see what God might have to say to us. We don’t have to have things figured out at the beginning, or even at any time, really. Belief in the Christian life is to think we pretty well have a grasp on our faith only to encounter Jesus again, and again, and again, and to hear him say, “Have you believed all this time because of what you understood back then? Don’t you know I have even greater things in store for you?” Amen.