We Need Each Other …

A sermon for: The Second Sunday after Epiphany: 1 Samuel 3:1-10(11-20), Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17, 1 Corinthians 6:12-20, John 1:43-51

 

Verna Dozier was respected Episcopal Educator. I once had the pleasure to heard her teach on reading the bible. She teaches that the psalms are a reflection on Old Testament stories, and Acts and letters are reflections on the Gospel stories. Today we will follow that sequence to glean a bit of wisdom from scripture.

Our readings this morning have the common theme of listening for the voice and presence of God, in our lives (Epperly). We will see how Samuel is a model for sharing and hearing and how Psalm 139 is a reflection on that. We will see how Jesus invites would be disciples to come and see is a part of Nathaniel’s story. Finally, we will peek at Paul’s thoughts about intimacy and Spiritual life. Well after finally, we will explore what it means for us.

Samuel is conceived after his mother, Hannah, accused by Eli, the temple priest, of being a drunken spectacle, explains she is praying out of her great anxiety because she is barren (1 Samuel 1:12-18). Eli, crudely and off handily, says “let it be so.” After their son is weaned, Hanna and her husband, Elkanah, take him back to the temple where they offer him as a servant to God, under Eli’s guidance.

Eli’s sons are scoundrels, who abuse their office by disregarding God’s word and taking advantage of the people who came to offer their sacrifices. Their behavior is so bad, the people’s dedication to God diminishes and the word of God is rarely heard.

Samuel is no longer a child, at this point but probably a young man (Birch). Samuel’s calling is a primary element; Eli is also a primary element. Despite his contentious relationship with God, Eli recognizes that God is calling Samuel, and faithfully instructs him how to respond. God calls, and Samuel replies Speak, for your servant is listening (1 Samuel 3:10). God’s first assignment is for Samuel is to tell Eli that time is up, and the judgment on his family, and priestly lineage, is to be forever, that there will be no survivors; there will be no succors, and there is nothing to do to stop the judgement (Bridgeman; Birch).

Eli recognizes Samuel’s hesitation and encourages him to tell him everything God told Samuel, and he does. Eli’s response is It is the Lord; let him do what seems good to him. He holds no grudge against Samuel nor God. This story presents Samuel as a model for accepting God and following God’s instructions (Epperly). But, we should not overlook Eli, who helps Samuel hear and respond to God in faith.

Psalm 139 is a meditation on God’s nearness and intimacy we see in the previous story. The first reflection is that that in spite of our sin, we are accepted by God (Epperly). Eli’s and his son’s lives show us: that there is nothing about us

  • that God does not know
  • that there is no place where God will not be with us, and
  • that the relationship between ourselves and the creator is beyond our understanding (Gaventa and Petersen Psalm).

The palm also reveals an uncertain uncomfortableness about God knowing our deepest secrets. Our intimate relationship with God is wonderful, but it is also a bit unsettling (Harrelson Pslam).

Today’s Gospel story is one of my favorites. I think the phrase “come and see” is the most valuable evangelical tools we have. Only that is not where the Spirit lead me today. Today I am lead to a chain, a fig tree, and Jacob that draw wisdom from this Gospel.

The chain begins with John pointing to Jesus saying “Here is the Lamb of God (John 1:29) to his disciples. The next day it thing happens again only Andrew, and Philip follow Jesus which leads to Jesus invitation to those disciples to “Come and see.” The next link in the chain is that Andrew finds Simon. Then Jesus finds Philip who finds Nathaniel and shares the good news, only Nathaniel wonders aloud “Oh really, from Nazareth? Come on!” Philip replies “Come and see.” Jesus sees Nathaniel and remarks Here is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit. Nathaniel wants to know just how Jesus knows this and Jesus answers I saw you under the fig tree which leads to Nathaniel’s confession that Jesus is the Son of God and King of Israel. The chain of invitations to come and see Jesus continues to this day. And it starts not with this story, but the one before as John the Baptist is the witness who reveals the incarnate Jesus (Harrelson – John; O’Day).

Jesus tells Nathaniel he saw him under the fig tree immediately before he makes his confession. Why? What does the fig tree reveal to Nathaniel, that we don’t get? The other times a fig tree appears in the Gospels it is unfruitful, once it is fertilized, the other time Jesus curses it. Fig trees are a little different because they produce figs when they produce leaves, so when you see one with leaves, it has figs. If there are leaves and no figs something has gone wrong with the pollination process (Farr). Also, it is not uncommon people often sit under trees for the shade as they study Torah. Jesus says Nathaniel is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit. Nathaniel realizes Jesus knows his knowledge of scripture. He understands the reference to Jacob, who is among the most deceitful of all the characters in the bible (Hoezee; Keener and Walton – John). Nathaniel connects the dots and he realizes that the teachings of Israel need to be pruned, because they are bearing any fruit, and Jesus is here to help (Farr).

Jesus goes on to say that Nathaniel will see angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man. This is a reference to Jacob’s dream of the ladder with angels going up and down, signifying the unexpected presence of God (Gaventa and Petersen – John). In that dream, God is assuring Jacob that God will stay with him (Hoezee). Jesus is assuring Nathaniel that he will stay with him. The connection between Nathaniel and Jacob raises the possibility of a chain of witnesses, passed down through generations in sacred story, being a stimulus to faith.

The letters to the Corinthians were written responses to the letters from the Corinthians seeking advice and guidance. These verses let us know the church has always struggled with questions of personal intimacy. Paul begins All things are lawful for me but not all things are beneficial. Lawful is better understood as permissible and beneficial is a reference to the common good, not to an individual benefit (Harrelson – 1 Corinthians; Sampley). Paul is teaching that our faith puts Spiritual and theological boundaries on how we behave (Kamudzandu). By their baptism, all the Corinthians are a part of Jesus so everything they do effects, Jesus. Since everyone in their community is baptized, they are also part of Jesus, so what anyone does effects everyone because it first effects Jesus. All that is a long way of saying that our personal conduct impacts the whole community (Gaventa and Petersen – 1 Corinthians). Living within spiritual boundaries is how Paul explains the difference between erotic pleasure, which is beyond the realm of the Spirit, and passionate intimacy, which is within the boundaries of the Spirit (Kamudzandu).

All of this relates to our relationship with each other, our relationship with God, both of which impacts our relationship to the other and with each other. Despite his broken relationship with God, Eli is able to hear God calling Samuel and point him in the right direction. This shows that none of us is so separated from God that we cannot point someone else in the right direction. None of us is so far from God that we cannot hear the divine voice, even if we are simply overhearing it. Samuel’s story also teaches that to do what God asks us to do calls us to speak the truth and speaking the truth can be hard. The Psalmist assures us God knows us, and that is a good thing even if it leaves us a bit uncomfortable. John’s story of Jesus calling his first disciples teaches that our accepting the Jesus story is not complete until we invite someone else to come and see (Harrelson John). It also presents the possibility that someone might believe you (Lewis). In a roundabout way, Paul teaches us that all of us are connected to everyone else. Everything you do effects, someone, you aren’t thinking about. And anything someone else does touches your life Which is why disciplining ourselves to behave within the boundaries of the Spirit matters.

In summary, we need each other.

We need each other’s fragile hearing.

We need each other’s timid truth-telling.

We need each other’s uncomfortable intimate knowledge of ourselves.

We need each other to be links in our intertwined chains of faith.

We need each other because each of us is connected to everyone else in all creation.

We need each other to help each other behave for our common good.

We need each other to share our stories of Word and Sacrament so that each of us will shine in the presence of God/Jesus/Spirits’ Kingdom that is right here, right now.


References

Birch, Bruce C. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary Frist and Second Books of Samuel. Ed. Leander Keck. Vol. II. Nashville: Abingdon, 2015. X vols. OliveTree App.

Bridgeman, Valerie. Commentary on 1 Samuel 3:1-10 [11-20]. 14 1 2018. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 14 1 2018. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Farr, Curtis. Draw Me a Sheep, Epiphany 2 (B). 14 1 2018. <http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/stw/&gt;.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts, and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Hoezee, Scott. 1 Corinthians 6:12-20. 14 1 2018. <cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/proper-18c/>.

—. The Lectionary Gospel John 1:43-51. 14 1 2017.

Kamudzandu, Israel. Commentary on 1 Corinthians 6:12-20. 14 1 2018. <workingpreacher.org>.

Keener, Craig and John Walton. NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes. Nashville: Zondervan, 2017.

Lewis, Karoline. An Epiphany Way of Life. 14 1 2018. <workingpreacher.org>.

O’Day, Dail R. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of John. Vol. VIII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. XII vols. App Olivetree.

Sampley, J. Paul. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The First Letter to The Corinthians. Ed. Leander E. Keck. Vol. IX. Nashville: Abingdon, 2015. X vols.

 

 

It’s my center.

I love gifts, especially unexpected gifts from unexpected places. I received one last night. I joined our Friday Families group for pizza as we watched Rise of the Guardians a clever tale weaving many children’s characters together into one story. It’s cute, with Hugh Jackman doing Bunny’s voice,[i] it has to be; and as with many of these movies within the story line are many great lessons.  One that stuck out is North speaking to Jack We are very busy bringing joy to children, we don’t have time for children. [ii]

My gift however is the conversation between Jack and North where North is trying to explain to Jack about his center. He hands Jack a Matryoshka Doll, one of the Russian stackable dolls painted like North. Handing it to Jack he says This is how you see me, very big and intimidating… Jack opens the dolls and seeing the next one says: You are downright jolly, and the next layer: and serious, then the next: and fearless, and the last Jack says: There’s a tiny wooden baby. North: Look closer. What do you see?  Jack: You have big eyes… North: Yes! Big eyes, very big, because they are full of wonder. That is my center. It is what I was born with, eyes that have only seen the wonder in everything! Eyes that see lights in the trees and magic in the air. This wonder is what I put into the world, and what I protect in children. It is what makes me a guardian. It is my center, what is yours? Jack: I don’t know. [iii]

‘Center’ is another way of saying identity, who you are. Isaiah, John and Paul are all speaking to identity, the servant’s, Israel’s, Jesus’, and ours. It raises a question: Are we more like North, knowing and living who we are, or more like Jack and not knowing?

 

Obeyed

A colleague of mine has focused on a line from collect for Sunday … illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory, that he may be known, worshiped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth. It’s a powerful bit of prayer. I don’t know a Christian who wouldn’t agree with the first to bits of being so illumined: for Jesus to be known and worshiped. I rather suspect that many would just as soon ignore the obeyed bit, if for no other reason than we really don’t anybody telling us what to do.

However, as I read through Isaiah 49:1-7 there is an implicit piece of obedience, perhaps no so much. The servant’s response to God’s speech is I’ve wasted my time; I’ve done my best to no avail! God’s reply is:

It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.

At first reading God seems to be pilling on; so you haven’t done any good, okay, in addition to Jacob/Israel, now you are to tell the story of salvation to the ends of the earth. (And no matter how big one’s vision of earth may be, it’s big.) On the other hand, God expresses increased certainty that the divine plan will come to fruition as he speaks of a once despised Israel being respected and honored by rulers of the earth.

To some extent there is persistence message here; God wants the servant, either the prophet or Israel, to be persistent irrespective of what they perceive the results to be. On the other hand I see an element of obedience, precisely because the servant cannot correctly see the future, nor the effect of the work. That means doing the work anyway, and that means trusting God, which is at the very heart of any relationship.