1 Samuel 3. 1-10, 11- 20; Psalm 139 1-5, 12-18; 1 Corinthians 6. 12-20; John 1. 43-51 Oremus Bible Browser

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Last week’s readings were centred on the Baptism of our Lord. This week, the theme of calling is a fitting theme to follow readings on baptism. So we have the call of Samuel and we have that part of John’s gospel that looks at the call of the disciples. But if we look closer at the readings maybe they’re about more than calling, maybe there is something else for us to see in them.

The first reading from Samuel - and just as an aside, it’s probably worth over coffee having a chat with Peter [Newman] about the naming of Sam, Samuel - because when we are moved by readings it’s because they have imparted something to us and certainly what these readings impart to me, is not the bottom line, it’s not the end of the story, it’s just one glimpse. So, just explore this with Peter - why Samuel, why this reading?

When I looked at the reading the first thing that struck me, the narrative is about the call and it’s very easy to hold that whole story. Any one of us now, even if we’ve heard it for the first time, could probably retell it with a fair degree of accuracy. If you go through it line by line though, in verse 1 we see that visions were not widespread, in verse 2 we discover Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see. Verse 3, the lamp of God had not yet gone out. Then in verses 4 - 10 we have the bit about the calling, and in verse 11: ‘And the Lord said to Samuel, “see”’. And so it goes on.

Psalm 139, which bridges the readings from the Old Testament to the New: ‘O Lord, you have searched me’. And then in Corinthians we have an opportunity to do a sermon on fornication, or rather, to see Paul honouring the body, the sensate, that which is physical. And then we come down to the gospel of John, and again, supposedly to the call of the disciples, and what we find is in verses 46, Philip said to him, ‘Come and see’. Verse 47, ‘when Jesus saw Nathaniel’; verse 48, Jesus answered ‘I saw you’; verse 50, Jesus asks ‘Do you believe because I told that I saw you. You will see greater things.’ Verse 51, ‘You will see heaven open.’ Maybe these readings are about call, but they certainly also have got something to say about seeing.

In the preceding verse to the Gospel, which is one alternative for the lectionary, if we read the verses before the ones we read today, we will come across the call to Andrew and Peter. They ask Jesus ‘Where are you staying, where do you abide?’ and Jesus replies, ‘Come and see.’

Today we have those same words put into the words of Philip: ‘Come and see.’ ‘Come and see’ in St John’s gospel can equally be translated as ‘Come and believe’ and maybe that’s the message that we should be looking at as we follow the liturgy of the year. What comes after our baptism? The call to come and believe, to come and see. What is it that we need to wrestle with after the encounter of Christmas? Come and see, come and believe, believe that we are a people that have been searched out.

There’s a paradox that immediately comes to mind and it’s the paradox of seeing and believing: Do we believe the reality of what we see? Or, in seeing, do we create the reality of what we believe? It’s an interesting thought: is what I see around me real, or is the reality created by what I seek to see around me?

Let’s have a look a bit further, both at the paradox and the readings from Samuel, because somehow there is a light shed on it. What we find if we follow the narratives through, there is a call in verse 4, there is a call in verse 6. There’s a repetition there, so that we get the picture, we do get the picture, that Samuel has heard these words and runs off to Eli with them. Why we’re told in verse 7, ‘Now, Samuel did not yet know the Lord’. Samuel’s vision went no further than the blinded Eli - that was his reality: ‘I hear these words, they must have come from him, from Eli’. That’s as far as his vision went - Samuel was in service to Eli. So now we let the narrative unfold and the call that we then get takes Samuel back to Eli, who then discerns what’s going on. And so finally we have a Samuel who is expectant and believing that he might hear the word of God and the response then is, ‘Now the Lord came and stood there’. Samuel’s response to the Lord standing with him, to the divine call, is, ‘Speak, for your servant is listening’. And I wonder if that might become our mantra or our prayer as we continue in the season of Christmas and Epiphany. From the place within us which believes, from the place that desires to see with an openness and not with blinkers, can we ourselves pray: ‘Speak, for your servant is listening’?

That same narrative gives a wonderful contrast between Eli and Samuel and we get to look in on and to see Eli’s view of the Lord - how it compares with Samuel’s. Samuel has got a newly acquired vision, a belief. Eli is the one whose lights are going out, who has become blinded, whose vision has become impaired, which we immediately translate as a loss of the sensate, but the vision that is impaired here is much bigger. In verse 17 we see that Eli really sees God as an oppressive punisher: ‘May God do so to you and more also’. It’s really quite an interesting expression on Eli’s part; it suggests that Eli exercises his power through the agency of God. Does Eli actually think that it is Eli who tells God what to do? Verse 18, we get a dismissive Eli: ‘It is the Lord. Let him do what seems good to him.’ With Eli, the one who has lost his sight, there is no intimate alignment with the creative activity of God. One of the questions that came up for me at that point, and interestingly, came up in a commentary on the Net as well: does Eli represent the church, the church today - no intimate alignment with the creative activity of God, a vision that is rapidly becoming blind? Samuel, on the other hand, is the one attentive to and desiring of a oneness with God. Samuel hears and responds to the word, the word became flesh: the Lord came and stood there. Samuel finds himself together with God – creature with Creator.

Just as we reflect on the different roles of Eli and Samuel, so it’s the same with the disciples. There is a sense that there’s a mirroring of ourselves in the personalities of scripture. In the Gospel of Thomas, which is one of the books that didn’t make it to the Bible, there’s a verse that says, ‘His disciples said to Jesus, “when will the rest for the dead take place and when will the new world come?” Jesus said to them, ‘What you are looking forward to, has come, but you do not know it.’ What you are looking forward to has come, but you do not know it.

It’s important for all of us to be aware of what we create through what we see, for then we become attentive to what we look to, and we become discerning. There’s a short quote from Shantideva that makes explicit the same paradox of seeing and believing: ‘All those that are unhappy in the world are so as a result of their desire for their own happiness. And all those who are happy in the world are so as a result of their desire for the happiness of others.’

What we look toward is creative of the reality that we see: ‘Tell me to what you attend and I will tell you who you are.’

The Lord be with you.

Peter Humphris

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