The Second Sunday after The Epiphany, 17 January 2021
I Samuel 3:1-10(11-20)
Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17
I Corinthians 6:12-20
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.
The reading from I Samuel, and the Gospel reading for this day focus our attention on vocation. God calls to Samuel for a prophetic role in his time, and Jesus continues to call disciples, soon to be apostles, that will learn from him and follow him. In the Hebrew Scriptures there are many examples of God’s summons to men and women to serve as God’s agents in their world. Indeed, if we follow the covenantal theology of the prophets all of Israel is called to be God’s own. This is not a calling to a particular task, such as was given to Jeremiah, or any of the Isaiahs, but rather to live in relationship with God and with neighbor. It was a calling to faithfulness.
In the Gospels, we have examples of call as well. Sometimes it is a call to follow, such as to the disciples and any who found Jesus as a teacher, or at other times it is a call to live a life restored through healing, such as the lepers, the woman who is advised to “Go in peace.” Often, in Jesus’ acts, it is the sinner who is called, rather than the righteous one, such as in Mark 2:17, “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.” It is in Paul, however, and in the theology voiced by those who were influenced by him, that we find a great deal of vocation language. Romans is rich with it, especially chapters 9-11, for example, “
All of this leads us to a level of understanding of vocation seen in Roman Catholic, or Anglo Catholic eyes – the notion that religious life is a calling unto itself. Luther’s view was that all of life was a call to serve and love God and neighbor, and that any of life’s tasks fell under that rubric. In his book, Common Prayer on Common Ground, Alan Jones, former Dean of Grace Cathedral, shows movement beyond the particular into the general difficulties of having a vocation in this world. He says, “To be fair, I think it is the peculiar vocation of some to be uncompromising about the issues in front of us. The trouble is that with all this fragmentation and tribalism, there aren’t enough of us who respond to the call to hold the larger vision in our minds and see that our form of spiritual obedience is to help maintain our fragile institutions against the “idiocy” of fragmentation.” This way of thinking leads us out of separation from the world back into the world and its difficulties. Called to be God’s own in that world was the situation not only of Samuel, Philip, and Nathanael, but is ours as well, whether we preach, or teach, or bake bread.
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.]
There is a pattern here in this pericope that will be repeated over and over again in the oracles of the prophets, and that is the unfaithfulness of Israel to YHWH. It is the backdrop of this reading here where we see the difficulty with Eli and with his sons. Though priests, they were unfaithful in their duties to God. It is this background that highlights the call of Samuel, and his faithfulness.
We are introduced to the whole notion, which is not peculiar to Eli and company, but rather to the whole environment. “The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.” This is not recorded here to only grant special recognition to Samuel, but rather that we might see a situation which is not all that dissimilar to our own. The call to Samuel, and it is tested immediately in Eli’s question to him, is to speak God’s word to the here and now.
The other lesson that is taught in this reading is the skill of listening. This can be of value as we have conversation in our world, but also of special value as week seek God, and endeavor to listen, to hear God. There may be times in life when we need to learn to say, “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.”
Breaking open I Samuel:
1. How does God speak to you?
2. What has God asked you to confront?
3. What have you found difficult to either see or hear?
Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17 Domine, probasti
1 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.
I can recall learning in parochial school that God was “omniscient” (all-knowing), and that is the over-arching theme of this psalm. “Lord, you have searched me out and known me; you know my sitting down and my rising up;” The sitting down and rising up give an ample example of the full spectrum of God’s knowledge of our lives. It is a shame that the lectionary elides verses 6 through 11, which are a wonderful survey of all the places in which we not only live life, but also realms where God has sight and suasion. Reminiscent of God’s call to Jeremiah, the psalmist sees God present in the psalmist life in the womb as actor and creator. But this is not only a one-way vision, God observing a particular life, it is also a conversation and a relationship, “How deep I find your thoughts O God.” It is as Isaiah says, “ nor are your ways my ways—oracle of the L. so are my ways higher than your ways, my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” These poems remind us that God shares the wonder of thought and insight with all of creation.
Breaking open Psalm 139:
1. How does God know you?
2. About what do you wonder as you perceive yourself?
3. How does God call you?
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 authors a diatribe or argument regarding human sexuality. He begins with the essential thought, “’All things are lawful for me,’ but not all things are beneficial.” Paul begins his piece with statements from Stoic or Cynic thought. Paul wants the Corinthians to move beyond the common understanding of “freedom” to an understanding that was worthy of Christian living. He will make his argument live for them in answering the question, “What is for the best?”. Paul wants to uphold the community that is the Body of Christ. So, he draws examples out of daily life – food and sexual activity. The important principle, that the hearer needs to keep in mind is that they are, all together, the Body of Christ – they are joined in that Body.
Illicit sexual activity then, to Paul, has certain consequences, joining The Body, to other bodies. The point is made quite directly in verse 18, “Shun fornication!” Paul sees such sins as sins against an individual’s own body – which body is a “temple of the Holy Spirit. According to Paul this presence of the Holy Spirit in our flesh takes our own bodies out of our sole agency into a presence with God. The body, your body, is for God’s glorification.
That we should live the totality of our lives in a relationship with God ought to make for a robust internal conversation about what is permissible in our lives. It is a shame that our social customs discourage such a conversation with others for it would be valuable in discussing what is permissible and what is not. Without that conversation we may have social understandings that are not fully understood in society. At one point, Paul says, “And God raised the Lord and will also raise us by (God’s) power.” The discussion needs to have one necessary element – resurrection reality and living. That we are raised with Christ, makes for a new realization of who and what we really are.
Breaking open I Corinthians:
1. How comfortable are you with your body?
2. How do you embody the teachings of Jesus?
3. What kind of resurrection do you hope for?
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.”
It would probably be helpful if you read the entire pericope – “The First Disciples”, John 1:35-51. There are certain parallels in John’s text: The use of “follow me” with the two Baptist disciples, and then with Philip, Andrew and Philip’s comment: “We have found the Messiah,” and the characterization of the called one by Jesus – Peter = Cephas, and Nathanael = the genuine Israelite. John is carefully knitting together those who would follow Jesus and learn from him. What is the importance of this text in our own discovery of Jesus?
Next Sunday we will read Mark’s record of these callings. The lectionary is, I think, preparing us to look at our own vocation as Christ’s own, and to learn from Christ what healing is and where we need to seek the sick and wanting. That will come with the Sundays following next Sunday. What does John call upon us to recognize in the call of the disciples and indeed in our own vocation. There is first, the ability to recognize the Messiah. Both Andrew and Philip seem to recognize in Jesus, The-Coming-One. Secondly, one must retain the ability to question all things and to see the truth. I love Nathanael’s rejoinder, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”, and Philip’s certainty, “Come and see.” The third is to be capable of proclaiming what has been made evident to you. Nathanael applies several titles to Jesus, and Jesus promises him more. These revelations become the backdrop against which Jesus will be made more and more manifest to these men and women.
Breaking open the Gospel:
1. How would you characterize yourself as a Christian?
2. Where do you recognize Jesus as the Messiah?
3. What are you called to do?
General Idea: Called to?
Option 1: Called to confront evil (First Reading)
Option 2: Called to know God and self (Psalm 139)
Option 3: Called to honor God, and others with your body (Second Reading)
Option 4: Called by Jesus to follow (Gospel)
Questions and comments copyright © 2021, Michael T. Hiller