Epiphany 2B: Experiencing God

 

"The Calling of Samuel", Joshua Reynolds, c. 1776
“The Calling of Samuel”, Joshua Reynolds, c. 1776

OLD TESTAMENT: 1 Samuel 3: 1-10 (11-20)

To read the Old Testament Lectionary passage, click here

The books of 1 and 2 Samuel are part of one of the most crucial periods of transition and change in Israel’s story. At the beginning, Israel is a loose federation of tribes, threatened by the Philistines, and full of internal crises because of the corruption of the priestly house of Eli. At the end of 2 Samuel, an emerging monarchy is firmly in place under David and transformed socially and politically. These two books were probably originally one book. The oldest Hebrew manuscript includes it as a single scroll. Despite the name, the author is unknown. Most now regard this to be the work of a historian but there is no real consensus.

The passage that we read is part of the first seven chapters, which set the stage for the transformations in Israel. These chapters introduce the crisis as well as the key figure through whom God will work to resolve the crisis, Samuel. This particular passage depicting Samuel’s call story is, then, of great importance in the context of the whole narrative. This story authorizes and legitimizes Samuel as the source of God’s Word during the oncoming period of dislocation and transformation in Israel. It also provides the final word of judgment on and removal from authority of the priestly house of Eli. It begins with Samuel as a boy and ends with Samuel as God’s prophet.

God’s call does not come to Samuel in general circumstances. This is not a story of Samuel’s religious or spiritual awakening. God specifically calls Samuel in a time of spiritual desolation, religious corruption, political danger, and social upheaval. The call is seen here not as a mere mountain-top experience but as a prophetic task. Samuel is called to become the channel for God’s prophetic word to his own time. At first he thinks the voice he hears belongs to Eli, which holds some irony since the calling is actually against the House of Eli. The story once again reminds us of God’s presence in the endings and beginnings of human history and of life. Eli calmly accepts his ending. He will pay a price for his part in the corruption. We are reminded that God does not acquiesce to evil.

But God has a new beginning even in the midst of social upheaval. God is bringing a new society to birth. This story also reminds us that the divine word is often mediated through human words. In our efforts to discern God’s will, we recognize in this story the need for community. First Samuel, then Eli, and finally all of Israel requires the mediation of others to hear and understand God’s word for their lives.

The sad part of this story is that the one who would have understood what God was calling Samuel to do would have been Eli, with his experience, but something stood in the way of him hearing it. Eli thought he had it all figured out and moved ahead without God.

 

  1. What is your response to this passage?
  2. What meaning does a call from God mean for you in our own times?
  3. Do you think there is a prophetic word of God in play today?
  4. How do we discern God’s call to us?
  5. Do you think that God’s call is sometimes in God’s silence?
  6. What are the dangers of thinking that God is “speaking” to us?

 

 

NEW TESTAMENT: 1 Corinthians 6: 12-20

To read the Lectionary Epistle passage, click here

These verses function as a sort of hinge as they pull together several themes that Paul has discussed earlier in the letter. We can surmise that the beginning of this passage would have reflected on the understanding of freedom in Jesus Christ that the community had, but Paul reminds them that that freedom also comes with responsibility to act with integrity and truth. Even though this passage deals with some very “earthly” things, the idea of setting apart is holiness talk. To be set apart for something or for someone is the root meaning of holiness.

Today we tend to talk about “having a body”, as if it is a possession of ours. For Paul, though, humans do not HAVE bodies but rather ARE bodies. For Paul the body was who you are. It was later Christianity that fell into this thinking of “soul” and “spirit” as separate and apart from the body. Paul thinks of human beings as fully integrated beings, part of God’s new creation and objects of God’s redeeming love. So abuses of the body would not only be abuses of this “container” in which we live but of the self that God has made us to be.

As for the part about marriage, Paul also viewed this as part of our total being in Christ. If they are not in some special way a reflection of what should be an ideal relation with Christ, then it is time to work on them. This idea would extend even to any relationship with other humans. In short, how we are with the Lord should find correspondences in the other relationships in our lives. For Paul, we are all dependent on something beyond ourselves to give us meaning and significance. The chief competing “lords” here are sin, a power that takes over one’s life and governs it or Christ, whose lordship grants perfect freedom.

Paul is warning his readers against focusing too much on their own freedom and their own desires, whether it be over-indulging or over-emphasizing oneself. These are the things that can dominate one’s life. For Paul, freedom in Christ was the freedom FROM those things rather than FOR those things, the freedom to be ready to respond to God’s call and be who God calls one to be. Freedom without limits, freedom that affects others, leads to a loss of freedom.

This is difficult for us. We take pride that we live in a free society, that we can make our own choices and live lives the way we want. We have built our society on individualism, on not being “controlled” or “fenced in. But is that really freedom? What is God calling us to do? What is God calling us to be?

 

  1. What meaning does this passage hold for you?
  2. How do you think this relates to our lives today?
  3. What does it mean to you to be free to be what God calls you to be? What would that look like?

 

 

GOSPEL: John 1: 43-51

To read the Lectionary Gospel passage, click here

This passage continues the call of Jesus Christ. (If you count from the beginning of the chapter, the “next day” is actually the fourth day in the sequence of events.) Jesus invites Philip to discipleship. The text links him to Andrew and Peter and all three appear in the list of the twelve disciples in the other Gospels. Then Philip finds Nathanael and bears witness to Jesus. Nathanael is not on the list of the Twelve Disciples, but the writer of the Gospel According to John, doesn’t necessarily define discipleship in terms of the formal list of the Twelve. Nathanael identifies Jesus in terms of both Jesus’ divinity and his humanity. This, too, is typical of this Gospel.

This is also the first time that there is some tension about who Jesus is. But Philip invites Nathanael to “come and see” for himself. The last verse affirms Jesus as the focus of God’s activity on earth. The Son of Man becomes the place where the earthly and the heavenly, the divine and the human, the temporal and the eternal meet. So this passage focuses on both the identity of Jesus and the meaning of discipleship. The hope of redemption, the hope of BEING a disciple lies in recognizing that relationship.

In this passage (and in the verses preceding it), we find many different names used for Jesus: Son of Joseph; The one about whom Moses and the prophets spoke and wrote; Israelites without deceit; Rabbi; Son of God; and King of Israel. The point is that each disciple, then, sees something different in Jesus and bears witness in his or her own way. Each disciple comes with differing needs and expectations and Jesus gives them what they need. The problem is that we don’t always recognize the Presence of God that is right in front of us. But God always recognizes us. But being a disciple is not just about doing the right things; it is about hearing God’s voice, about putting God first, and about recognizing the God who is always and forever present in your life.

 

  1. What meaning does this passage hold for you?
  2. What does this tell you about your own discipleship?
  3. What do the different names mean for you?
  4. Who was your Philip? Who invited you to “come and see”?
  5. What stands in the way of our recognizing God?
  6. What would it mean for us to instill a “come and see” evangelism in our church? What risks does that hold?

 

 

Some Quotes for Further Reflection:

Our job in this lifetime is not to shape ourselves into some ideal we imagine we ought to be, but to find out who we already are and become it. (Steven Pressfield)

The oldest form of slavery is self-indulgence. (Upton Sinclair)

 

The reason why we don’t take time is a feeling that we have to keep moving. If we’d only be still and look about, we’d realize that we already have what we seek. We don’t have to rush after it. It was there all the time, and if we give it time, it will make itself known to us. (Thomas Merton)

 

 

Closing

 

Ah, Holy Spirit, I plant my feet into the soil of the living God. Lord, let the pattern of my life, the course of my days, be inexplicable apart from the intervention  of the Risen One. Let Jesus Christ be the sole justification for my life. Amen.([3] Michel Bouttier, Prayers for My Village, trans. Lamar Williamson (Nashville: Upper Room Books), 91.)

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