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.

 

 

Purpose, Light, and Life

A sermon for 1st Sunday in Epiphany; Genesis 1:1-5, Psalm 29, Acts 19:1-7, Mark 1:4-11

 

As I was driving home from a meeting in Osceola Friday afternoon, I heard a story on NPR about a granddaughter tracing her grandmother’s experience as a Jewish refugee in Norway and then Sweden in WWII. Her grandmother was smuggled from the threat of Nazi prison camp, where she would have most likely met the same fate as her parents and younger brother, to safety with strangers who welcomed her into their family, twice.

Though more dramatic, it touches the same moral chords as David Brook’s Thursday column How would Jesus Drive? Brooks begins with Pope Francis’ New Year’s Eve homily in which he states that the most influential people, the true artisans of the common good are everyday folks. Brook’s notes

  • how speeding up so I can’t merge into your lane, reveals a society that is basically competitive, not cooperative
  • a friendly wave after I let you in reveals a place where a kindness is recognized, and gratitude is expressed.
  • getting over to the right lane and waiting your turn in a crowded highway exit lane, rather than cutting in at the last moment, reveals a sense of fairness and equality.

He is wise and accurate in the observation that driving requires us to make thousands of small moral decisions. He ponders “How would Jesus drive?” (Brooks).

The granddaughter’s story is centered around large, perhaps dramatic, moral decisions. Brooks’ column is centered around moral decision so small most of us don’t recognize their moral importance. Both connected with Mark’s 59-word story of Jesus’ baptism; and its themes of water, torn apart, and a dove. Let’s Explore.

The dove, as a symbol of the Spirit appearing as Jesus emerges from Jordan’s waters, reminds us of the chaotic waters of creation. Their time in Egypt would have exposed Israel to the idea of water as a place without role or function (Genesis 1:2) The ‘deep’ is a watery abyss God pushes to edge of the cosmos and holds there, as a part of God’s creating order out of chaos, has similarities with Babylon’s creation epic Enuma Elish (Keener and Walton; Harrelson). Genesis’ imagery of darkness contributes to the sense of the water’s threat. From Genesis we imagine the water as the useless formless void of chaos, in which nothing can exist, from which the Word, the light and life of creation, the incarnate Jesus, the Son of God, emerges (Pankey). It looks a very different than the safe, still surface of the water in baptismal fonts.

Jesus sees the heaven being torn apart. The is not a careful tearing easily restored. The image reminds us of the gigantic power of creation separating day from night, and form, and use from void (Pankey). It is an apocalyptic vision suggesting that a divine revelation is at hand (Keener and Walton; Gaventa and Petersen) It is not like God is tearing it all down to begin again; it suggests that God is acting to set the cosmos back on its intended track (Hoezee). Its purpose, form, and order is as powerfully disturbing as the water’s useless formless void of chaos. We are not at all sure that the shredding of the barrier between heaven and earth is a good thing, because we know it is going to disrupt how our thousands of daily moral decisions are made and seen.

It is clear that Jesus’ baptism is not a purification ceremony. Ancient biographical writings expect the hero to prepared for his mission (Perkins). Barrie Bates writes It’s as if the waters of his baptism have washed away what was hiding the true Jesus (Bates). The revelation of the divine mission, the preparation for the mission, the clearing away of anything hiding the divine appointee’s identity directs our attention to the phrase “like a dove” which is sounding more and more like Jesus coming to know who he is, and what his calling is (Perkins).

All of this helps us to understand who Mark understands Jesus to be. But, we do not get off untouched. God calls Jesus “Son of God.” In Psalm 2 (vs 7) and Isaiah 44(2) the title refers to the whole people of Israel (Perkins). So, we find ourselves challenged; what do we need to do to wash away the buildup of life’s troubles and discover who we really are, and what God’s call for us is. We are baptized in Jesus and “marked as Christ’s own forever.” So, each and every one of us is the beloved, with whom God is well pleased; each and every one of us was forever transformed in our baptism each; and every one of us continues to be transformed, sometimes in big ways and sometimes in small changes (Bates).

We all know that there is still darkness, chaos, disfunction, and purposelessness in the world (Pankey). When I left the story of the granddaughter’s pursuit of her grandmother’s story I was wondering “Why do some people fade away in the face of chaos or evil? Why do some people take a courageous stand, and / or take courageous action?” The answer is clear. God’s love brings all things into purpose, light, and life. It is as Brooks shares, Pope Francis saying, the most influential people, the true artisans of the common good are everyday folks (Brooks). That influence, our influence is the strength that comes from the presence of God/Jesus/Spirit given us at Baptism. It is the same strength with which God chased off and holds back the chaos of darkness and water creating the space in which the cosmos, including us, can be, and prosper. It is the same strength that tore open the heavens revealing divine love for Jesus, enabling Jesus to thrive in the chaos of the wilderness – which is the very next story in Mark’s Gospel. It is the same strength that it is available to all who know and accept God/Jesus/Spirit. It is the influence of everyday folks making thousands of moral decisions every day guided by their divine calling to bring purpose, light, and life into every situation.

In this story the dove personifies the Spirit. In the flood story (Genesis 8:6-12) the dove is a symbol for a new creation and a new hope (Harrelson). Jesus drives to fulfill that hope by bringing purpose, light, and life to all people. We can too, as we drive around to all the everyday purposes of a full life.


References

Bates, Barrie. “Christ’s Own for Ever, Epiphany 1 (B).” 7 1 2018. Sermons that Work.

Brooks, David. How Would Jesus Drive? 4 1 2018. <http://nyti.ms/28KGh5f&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 7 1 2018. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&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. Epiphany 1B Mark 1:4-11. 7 1 2018. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/advent-3c/?type=the_lectionary_gospel&gt;.

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

Kittredge, Cynthia Briggs. Commentary on Mark 1:4-11. 7 1 2018. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Pankey, Steve. “The chaos of baptism.” 3 1 2017. Draughting Theology.

Perkins, Pheme. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of Mark. Ed. Leander E. Keck (NIBC) Bel and the Dragon. Vol. VII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. XII vols.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

The Living Curch. 1/7: Risk and Trust. 7 1 2018. <livingchurch.org/2018/1/7/1/7 Risk and Trust>.