Epiphany: "God's In Control"

The Reverend Margaret Legg

There is an ancient Jewish proverb on the lines of ‘If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans!’

I’ve just been updating my 2018 diary and this saying sprang to mind. Lots of holiday plans with friends, lots of family celebrations: a wedding, 2 birthdays this month alone. I don’t know what plans Nathaniel had for 29AD or thereabouts, or Samuel and Eli a few centuries earlier, but they were about to be turned upside down!

God has his own plans for our lives and make no mistake, he’ll make sure we follow them, one way or another. So here are some thoughts on how God operates! God’s in control! It was God’s voice that called out in the night to Samuel; it was Jesus’ decision to go to Galilee, where he met Nathaniel. My own experience too. It was when I experienced a sudden and totally unexpected feeling of deep awe and wonder at the presence of God, that took my life in a completely different direction and began my totally unexpected journey to ordination.

1. God transforms lives
The boy Samuel, quietly living in a shrine with an old priest and his two sons ended up with two books in the Old Testament named after him, became the last of the great Hebrew Judges, and anointed the first two kings of Israel – Saul and David – a great prophet.

Nathaniel became a missionary, carrying news of Jesus to Syria and Asia Minor. He was eventually martyred in Great Armenia and remains the patron saint of Armenia today.
As for me – well here I am, the first in my family ever to be ordained. Engineers, bakers, surveyors, mathematicians, but priests – never before!!

2. God swoops on us in any place, any time, at any age
There’s the child Samuel, fast asleep in the shrine at Shiloh, the ancient city in Samaria. There’s the young adult Nathaniel, under the fig tree. There’s me at a church service, trying to get the measure of the new vicar, with a view to booking a Christening for our daughter (I’m glad, Rory and Hannah, that you decided Steve is a safe pair of hands!!)

3. God doesn’t give up, even when things are not promising
Samuel assumes it is Eli who is calling him. It was three times before Eli clicked that it was God’s voice. Not surprising he was slow off the mark, as things were at a pretty low ebb in the shrine. Worship was lax, when people brought meat offerings, for instance, the two sons demanded the best of the meat for themselves and if the worshipper wouldn’t hand it over they took it by force. Worse, they blasphemed against God and turned God’s shrine into a brothel.

Nathaniel is deeply cynical. Nazareth was a small village in the backwaters of Galilee, truly the back of beyond. The Messiah was expected either as a sovereign warlord, come to free the country from the Romans, or as a religious conservative, calling people back to a stricter form of piety. Jesus isn’t put off by his scepticism.

4. Time is no problem
It took me 25 years to decide to seize the bull by the horns and put myself forward for ordination training. I clearly remember scuttling out of church after that service, feeling completely shaken up and knowing that either I would never return or that if I did, I would be embarking on a lifelong journey into the unknown. A prospect that terrified yet entranced me. But as the Duchess of Cambridge quipped, when I was introduced to her as an Ordinand – ‘He got you then!’

25 years is nothing to God. The vision of heaven that St John unfolds in his Revelation is not a forward glance to a final non-earthly destiny. It’s a glimpse of the present time in God’s way of thinking, God’s dimension of reality. In that present time God’s plans for the future are stored up, waiting to be unrolled. God’s kingdom will come, through the victory of the lamb, through Jesus, on earth and in heaven. But to make it a reality, he needs us. And we often need a friend!

5. God uses our friends
Samuel turned to Eli; it was Andrew who invited Nathaniel to meet Jesus; I needed several friends to encourage me. We now take their place; we are called to be the friends God will use. Friends who don’t urge or cajole us, but who, as in Eli’s case, listen. Friends who share their excitement at discovering a church that is alive and kicking and friends who invite others to ‘come and see’.

Hannah and Rory
You no doubt have many plans and dreams for little Ruby! A great start in Ruby’s young life to bring her for Baptism. As parents, you can do nothing better than to mould the blank canvas of her life so she becomes a Jesus shaped adult. To transform her, never give up on her, throughout her life. You are in for the long haul! You will be her guides and for a long time her role models, knowing always that at the end of day, it’s not her, not even you, but God who is ultimately at the helm and in control!