Second Sunday after the Epiphany January 18, 2009 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary

Epiphany 2B January 18 , 2008 Textweek

I Samuel 3:1-10 (11-20); Ps. 139:1-6, 13-18; I Corinthians 6:12-20; John 1:43-51

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

Week by week we hear the word of God; arguably we hear the word of God day by day and moment by moment. Are we therefore, like Samuel, unaware and unexpectant of the word of God, responding rather to the obvious? Picture that Old Testament reading, when Samuel hears God, it jolts him awake and his response goes to what is immediately visible. He looks to Eli and thinks, 'he must have called me’. Is that the way we are; is that the process of life that we’ve engaged in? It says in verse 7, ‘Samuel did not yet know the LORD, and the word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him.’ I wonder if Samuel might well be the prototype Anglican? His mother Hannah, having been barren for many years, gave her son in thanksgiving to serve at the temple at Shiloh. We too were given in baptism to love and serve the Lord; we too attend the temple - the church, regularly; so perhaps we too, like Samuel are unaware and unexpectant when it comes to hearing the divine word that calls to us.

In the reading today, the Old Testament narrative gives us some guidance with the voice of the Eli: "Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, 'Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.'" And it’s in that bit of advice, that bit of guidance that we’re introduced to the place and process of contemplation, of listening to the Divine. The theology we receive at Sunday School often and quite rightly, goes for the simple option; we were small, remember, and most of us were probably taught to speak to God, tell him what you want, he’s listening. The idea of that simple teaching is to create the idea of relationship; as we grow, we need to get the depth of that theology and see it’s the other way round – it is us, us that needs to do the listening.

And the other three readings we’ve had today give us some further appreciation of the contemplative process, but the important thing is to hold onto that first step from Eli, If we’re going begin 2009 with one resolution, let it be that we will heed Eli’s guidance and like Samuel we’ll take time this year, take time to voice the contemplative invitation that Samuel gives voice to - 'Speak, for your servant is listening’. In 2009, if each of us can find a place in our lives to utter that -'Speak, for your servant is listening’ – it will bring about change.

Now the other readings assist in providing some of that framework for contemplation. The psalm is a delightful affirmation of humanity; it sets the scene for the contemplative process – it affirms the communion between humanity and divinity. It enables us to know our delight, to know ourselves as formed in the image of God. ‘LORD, you have searched me and known me…. I come to the end - I am still with you.’ To fully engage the contemplative process, to encounter the Divine, we must find ourselves as we are found and formed by God, to know ourselves that fully. To encounter the fullness of God is to encounter the fullness of ourselves, initially as an individual and then as part of the whole, as members of one body. Read the psalm again, it’s got a delightful feel of being known, and yet it would be clear to all of us that most will go through life never knowing or encountering their own fullness, because, like Samuel, when they hear the call they will go to what their eyes, see rather than go within to what their heart desires.

Paul also offers some guidance; Paul offers a course correction to the early church. As we contemplate God, as we glimpse God’s call to us, one of the delights is the discovery of freedom – how free we are if we are not controlled and constrained by the gravity of the world. And like Samuel we need to find a reference point for our response, our response to that call into freedom and into the divine life. In verse 15 Paul refers to us, the church, as members of Christ. This is our call into being; we are called to be members of the Body of Christ. Fornication therefore serves to illustrate our straying from the divine as our point of reference. The church gets totally muddled when it has anything to do with sex – fornication will send shivers through the Vatican that will also reach out to every church in the world. Our idea of fornication is so utterly childlike; it is worthless in understanding the scriptures at all. What we need to do is picture what Paul was saying and what he is saying to us. The fornication from this world far surpasses the behaviour that went on in that Greco-Roman world, far surpasses it. See they didn’t have the distractions that we have - they didn’t even have the telly! Can you imagine it, life without the telly? No gameboys, X-boxes, no mobile phones; they didn’t have shopping centres that had sales every week, none of that. Simple pleasures, fornication in those days, very simple pleasures. Today we fornicate in more ways than they could imagine, more ways than they could imagine. When God calls to us and we open our eyes, we’re not distracted by Samuel, we’re distracted by so much white noise it’s a wonder we even hear the call to wake us up. It’s very important that we place the words of God into our life.

The gospel provides a delightful narrative that also is about hearing the divine call and encountering the Divine. Philip invites Nathaniel, in verse 46, to "Come and see.". In its context we could also translate that to mean ‘come and believe’. It’s a soft, gentle invitation, just like the dialogue between Samuel and Eli. As you follow the gospel story through you find that Nathanael decides to follow Jesus as a result of appreciating that Jesus already knows him and knows him fully – to be fully known and to fully know. The movement or the process in the story from Samuel is the movement from baptism into the body of Christ; the movement or the process in the story of Nathanael is the movement from baptism into the body of Christ. The movement from baptism into the body of Christ is the movement from fornication into fullness, into the fullness of life. Samuel was guided by Eli, Nathaneal was guided by Philip. It’s pretty clear that movement cannot and is not something that we can do alone.

The Lord be with you
Peter Humphris