The Second Sunday after the Epiphany, 14 January 2018

I Samuel 3:1-10 (11-20)
Psalm 139: 1-5, 12-17
I Corinthians 6:12-20
St. John 1:43-51

Background: The Prophetic Office

Certainly, evident in Judaism and thus in Christianity as well, the prophetic office was known in other religions as well. Greeks Philosophy, Zoroastrianism (Persia), and Manichaeism recognized prophecy as a divine call. Current views of the prophetic office confuse the divine messages rendered with soothsaying and fortunetelling, but that was not what prophets were all about. There’s was a mandate to deliver a message, and often a judgement from God, and issue a call for repentance. They spoke to the current situation, rather than some future idea. Thus, the Hebrew word navi is translated more perfectly as “spokesperson”. The call itself involved an anointing by the spirit, or the word or ru’ah of God. The call may have been met by disbelief or misunderstanding, for the life itself was difficult and full of dangers. It was not occupied only by men but was given to female prophets as well. Indeed one did not need to be Jewish, as there are evidences of non-Jewish prophets in the Hebrew Scriptures.

First Reading: I Samuel 3:1-10 (11-20)

Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.

At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was. Then the Lord called, “Samuel! Samuel!” and he said, “Here I am!” and ran to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call; lie down again.” So he went and lay down. The Lord called again, “Samuel!” Samuel got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call, my son; lie down again.” Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. The Lord called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy. Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.

Now the Lord came and stood there, calling as before, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” [Then the Lord said to Samuel, “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make both ears of anyone who hears of it tingle. On that day I will fulfill against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. For I have told him that I am about to punish his house forever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them. Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be expiated by sacrifice or offering forever.”

Samuel lay there until morning; then he opened the doors of the house of the Lord. Samuel was afraid to tell the vision to Eli. But Eli called Samuel and said, “Samuel, my son.” He said, “Here I am.” Eli said, “What was it that he told you? Do not hide it from me. May God do so to you and more also, if you hide anything from me of all that he told you.” So Samuel told him everything and hid nothing from him. Then he said, “It is the Lord; let him do what seems good to him.”

As Samuel grew up, the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was a trustworthy prophet of the Lord.]

The initial lines of this story set up a situation which will soon be rectified by the remainder. The word of the prophet was “rare”, and “the vision was not spread about. Indeed Eli is pictured as nearly blind, perhaps spiritually as well as physically. There is initial hope as well, “The lamp of God had not yet gone out.” Samuel when called by the voice of God, does not recognize it as such, and was probably unfamiliar with the whole business, for the voice of the Lord was “rare.” When Samuel does answer the voice that calls, he eliminates one word from Eli’s recommended response. The word LORD is eliminated, out of deference to the divine Name. Thus, Samuel only says, “Speak for your servant is listening.”

In a pattern that will become familiar in prophetic writing and messages, we learn from God how Eli and his sons have forgotten God’s call, duty, and responsibility. They seem to have lost their way. Although Samuel is disturbed by the message, he is encouraged in his prophetic role to relay it to Eli. In this call narrative we are given the scope of Samuel’s leadership and territory – “All Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba.”

Breaking open I Samuel:
1.      When and where have you heard the voice of God?
2.      What was communicated to you?
3.      What did you do about it?

Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17 Domine, probasti

     Lord, you have searched me out and known me; *
you know my sitting down and my rising up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
2      You trace my journeys and my resting-places *
and are acquainted with all my ways.
3      Indeed, there is not a word on my lips, *
but you, O Lord, know it altogether.
4      You press upon me behind and before *
and lay your hand upon me.
5      Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; *
it is so high that I cannot attain to it.
12    For you yourself created my inmost parts; *
you knit me together in my mother's womb.
13    I will thank you because I am marvelously made; *
your works are wonderful, and I know it well.
14    My body was not hidden from you, *
while I was being made in secret
and woven in the depths of the earth.
15    Your eyes beheld my limbs, yet unfinished in the womb;
all of them were written in your book; *
they were fashioned day by day,
when as yet there was none of them.
16    How deep I find your thoughts, O God! *
how great is the sum of them!
17    If I were to count them, they would be more in number than the sand; *
to count them all, my life span would need to be like yours.

We are reminded in this psalm of other prophetic calls wherein the prophet recognizes God’s knowledge of the individual before birth, so here, the psalmist recognizes a similar spirit. The beauty of this introspective psalm explores all the places where God is to be met, from the exigencies of everyday life to the innermost parts of living, and the context of life. The elided verses 6-11, complete the notion, and might be helpful in understanding the psalm’s inclusion here. The real theme, as it relates to its liturgical use here, is in verse 16, “How deep I find your thoughts, O God.” The prophet’s job was to know such thoughts, and the psalmist rejoices in their accessibility.

Breaking open Psalm 139:
1.     How does God surround your life?
2.     Where in your life do you see God?
3.     What does God see in you?

The Second Reading: I Corinthians 6:12-20

“All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are beneficial. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything. “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food,” and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is meant not for fornication but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us by his power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Should I therefore take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Do you not know that whoever is united to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For it is said, “The two shall be one flesh.” But anyone united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Shun fornication! Every sin that a person commits is outside the body; but the fornicator sins against the body itself. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body.

Paul wishes to explore the problem of the moral life – how does one live a moral life? The problem is the role of the law in such a life, and Paul introduces a central idea that becomes part of the argument for such a life, “all things are lawful for me, but not all things are beneficial.” And there we have it. We live life not just in our own circuit, but we live life and we influence and have effect on others. Thus, Paul’s concern about the effect of living. For Paul the answer lies in the belief that his body, his creaturlieness is a part of the divine image and reality. So he then struggles with fornication, marriage, and sexuality in general. If we are Christ’s body, and Christ is God made manifest in the flesh, then we as well must manifest God in our bodies. A difficult task.

Breaking open I Corinthians:
1.     What is unlawful for you to do?
2.     What is lawful for you to do?
3.     How do you see the difference?

The Gospel: St. John 1:43-51

Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”

Having dwelt with the Prologue for several Sundays, we are now in the Book of Signs, specifically in the Ministry of Jesus, and the call of those who would follow. Four days of revelation move from John the Baptist (1:19-28), to the Baptist’s testimony (29-34), to the call of the first disciples (35-42), and finally to our pericope (43-51), The Disciples in Galilee. So we center on the call of the prophets for the new age. They will follow Jesus in order to understand the Spirit that will be given them – it will take time, not unlike the time Samuel spent in the Tabernacle learning the ways of the Lord. Jesus hints at the end game when he looks forward to a vision of the Son of Man. In the meanwhile, the learning will be slow and arduous. It will not always be obvious, “Do you believe because…”

Breaking open the Gospel:
1.        What do you think of the simplicity of Mark’s account:
2.        What is the story of your own baptism?
3.        How do you remember and celebrate it?

After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday. 

Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ is the light of the world: Grant that your people, illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ's glory, that he may be known, worshipped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Questions and comments copyright © 2018, Michael T. Hiller


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