I.Theme – Discipleship and calling
"Calling Disciples" –He Qi (2001)
The lectionary readings are here or individually:
Samuel – calling Samuel
Paul – call to honor their bodies.
John – calling Philip and Nathanael
From Bruce Epperly "Process and Faith"
"Today’s readings describe the many faces of revelation. God’s presence and activity is both intimate and global. The heavens declare the glory of God and God’s glory is also revealed through the chanting of toddlers, nocturnal whispers, beating hearts, and adult inspirations. God is as equally present in our cells as in our souls. Our universe is omni-centered, that is, all things exist as a result of God’s energy and inspiration coursing through them.There are no God-forsaken places or persons – we are challenged to experience, honor, and support God’s movements in all creation. While this may complicate our ethical decision-making, it opens us to a world of wonder and beauty, appropriate to the Season after the Epiphany.
"Despite our turning from God, God is always turning toward us. There is hope for transformation in the most dire situations and most despicable people.
"The call of Samuel reminds us that children as well as adults can be God’s messengers to the world. God is moving through boys and girls listening to a children’s sermon or having their diapers changed in the church nursery. Samuel is both an unlikely and likely candidate for divine inspiration. He is a child and hardly expected to hear the voice of God, and yet he does. Yet, from the beginning of his life, he was a child of promise – his mother dedicated him to God and her fidelity to her promise may have opened unexpected pathways of divine presence in his life.
"In seeing and honoring God’s presence in our children – and that means all children! – we awaken energies of growth and inspiration within them and ourselves.
"The call of Samuel reminds us that divine inspiration requires a community to be fully understood. After all, God’s voice comes in the context and through the many voices of our lives. It takes a process of discernment to discover which of the voices in our lives is most authentic to our vocation as God’s loving and beloved children. Samuel seeks the guidance of Eli.
"We all need mentors who, in non-possessive ways, call forth our ability to hear God’s voice and movements in our lives. Samuel’s call in not just personal or individual, it is contextual. Our calls, accordingly, draw us deeper into our own experiences and yet lure us toward care for the larger community. The journey of revelation is always both inward and outward, and needs a community of discernment to mature and find direction.
"Psalm 139: 1-18 places each life in a divine environment. We live and move and have our being in relationship to God. God’s care and character determine God’s presence, action, and awareness of us. God is not out to get us or use divine knowledge to punish us. God fully knows us and fully loves us. This inspires both wonder and gratitude. More than that, God’s love leads to creating us as awesome and wonder-full from the moment of conception. Questions of “when life begins” are foolish from the Psalmist’s perspective and should not enter the political conversations of right and left, nor Christian arguments for the legality or prohibition of abortion.
"The Psalmist is clear that God cares for the fetus, and that shouldn’t be a matter of controversy even for those who support abortion rights. We cannot devaluate fetal life to affirm the lives of women. Both are valuable and cherished by God. This makes life and death decisions more complicated – and involves weighing contrasting values – but in the complication we may discover broader community and individual answers that honor both women and unborn children. (For more on ethics in the context of divine omnipresence, see Bruce Epperly, Process Theology: A Guide for the Perplexed, Continuum and Emerging Process: Adventurous Theology for a Missional Church, Parson’s Porch.)
"Divine activity sustains all things. Divine knowledge embraces all things. Divine presence supports all things. I purposely added verses 7-12 to today’s readings to render a more holistic reading of the Psalm. It is a Psalm of wonder and gratitude, of insight and inspiration, that has profound implications for how we view ourselves and others. We are wonderfully made – we are beautiful – and so is every other God-loved child.
"Today’s readers need not get bogged down on the minutia of I Corinthians 12. The passage speaks of temple prostitution and spirituality and sexuality, but it is really about the affirmation and care of our bodies. There is no mind-body dualism here: when Paul speaks of the body as the temple of God, he is clear that the body is connected with the spirit – each shapes the other. The spirit is embodied and the body is inspired. Our bodies are temples, that is, shrines to divine wisdom and deserve both affirmation and care. Glorify God in your bodies implies that we are to treat our bodies as expressions of divinity – this applies to our diet, sexuality, and lifestyle.
"It also applies to our care for the bodies of others. Recent allegations of child sexual abuse in major university sports programs remind and challenge us to support the safety of every child. More than that, we are called as churches to honor all bodies and perceive and affirm the goodness of all creation. This involves feeding hungry bodies, restoring broken bodies, healing sick bodies, and affirming all bodies as beloved by God.
"There are no perfect bodies. Nor are a culture’s standards of beauty absolute. Rather, the church is called to be counter-cultural: to promote wellness, but also to see God’s wonder in every body. We are all awesomely made. We need to see and bring forth beauty where others see ugliness.
"The gospel story presents Jesus’ call to Philip and Nathaniel. While the details of Jesus’ call are sparse, the scripture points out that God calls people in everyday life. Adults can open the doors of perception, experience divinity, and come to God in child-like spirits. John’s gospel describes a community of call in which our experiences of call and vocational inspiration inspire us to invite others to be part of the Jesus’ movement. There is no compulsion here, just invitation. “Come and see.” For those who respond, the heavens open up, new horizons emerge, and our lives are forever transformed.
"The call of God goes forth – everywhere. The doctrines of omnipresence, omniscience, and omni-activity (omnipotence) are not stale era pieces, irrelevant to our lives, but invitations to adventure – to see God everywhere, to experience God in our daily lives, to honor embodiment, and welcome revelation whenever and wherever it occurs. We are to be discerning and ask questions of ourselves and others when we have had mystical experiences. In the questioning, inspired by a sense of holiness in all moments and all creatures, we will discover God’s voice amid the voices, and God’s pathways amid the pathways we travel individually and as communities. "
The Old Testament lesson from 1 Samuel is set early in the life of the nation. Israel had known strong leaders in Moses and Joshua. Then, after settlement in the land, the Israelites are led by a series of judges who rise up in difficult times. At this point, Israel is not an organized nation. In fact, as the book of Judges comes to an end, tribal wars threaten to tear the people apart. There is the Philistine threat
The Book of Samuel begins the narrative which demonstrates God’s involvement with the affairs of Israel moving from the end of the judges period to the call for and establishment of the throne of David.
The story plays itself out in three parts:
A. 1-9 = Samuel’s inability to recognize the Lord:
B 10-14 = dialogue and message from the Lord:
C. 15-18 = Samuel reports to Eli.
Eli the priest of Shiloh had grown old, and in the previous chapter a man of God told him that his family would lose its claim to priesthood because of the corruption of his sons Hophni and Phinehas. God will raise up another instead.
The scene is set at night. Eli, old and with poor eyesight, is in his room. The young Samuel is lying in the sanctuary where the ark of Yahweh was . Eli slept in another room. Eli’s eyesight has greatly deteriorated, so that his vision is seriously impaired (see also 4:15). With Eli’s age, weight, and visual limitations, he needs the help of a boy like Samuel
Samuel mistook the voice of Yahweh for that of Eli and went running to him when he heard his name called in the middle of the night. In v. 7 we are told that Samuel did not yet know Yahweh. Presumably this means that he did not yet have the special relationship with Yahweh that he would later enjoy (cf. vv. 19-20). Yahweh would later reveal himself to Samuel (v. 21). After three false alarms, Eli perceived that Yahweh was the one calling and instructed Samuel to say the next time, "Speak, Yahweh, for your servant is listening." That is exactly the way Samuel answered on the fourth occasion.
Because of fear, Samuel kept the message to himself until morning. Then when Eli encouraged him to speak, addressing him affectionately as "my son," Samuel told him everything. Eli accepted the word from Yahweh with resignation–let him do whatever seems good to him.
The chapter closes with Samuel’s growing reputation: everyone knew he was a trustworthy prophet. Yahweh continued to appear at Shiloh and made revelations to Samuel
What does it mean to be called by God ?
First, this is a time when the word of the Yahweh is ‘rare’. The narrative is set in a time when there is uncertainty about God’s direction for his people
Secondly, Eli is a model of ministry in this context. Even though we know his family is condemned, and Eli himself seems powerless to do anything, he is wise enough in the faith to direct the young Samuel to the point where he can ‘hear’ what Yahweh has to say to him. Moreover, Eli has the courage to hear that word from the lad, even though it is critical of his own interests. He is a model of self-effacement as he seeks to discern the way of the Lord in his troubled world
There are several trajectories in this story. First is the ease with which we may miss God’s call, or attribute it to a human instead. In speaking of their call, most people do not describe a major disruption in their lives. Instead they speak of a quiet, slow awakening−perhaps to a life of service or an injustice that needs to be addressed. Like Samuel, they often tell about a period of uncertainty regarding what they are being called to do or be. Also, Samuel needed Eli to explain to him what these stirrings mean. It often takes others in our lives to aid us in understanding the call God places before us.
A second direction is to focus on Samuel as the outsider in the narrative. Eli’s sons are from the priestly line, and it is their birthright to serve in the Temple. Yet, they have not acted justly. They have used their position for personal gain instead of service to the Lord. Throughout the Bible, God does not always choose the expected ones. Jacob, Joseph, Moses, and David were all unlikely choices. Jesus calls fishermen and laborers to serve as disciples instead of the priests and prophets of Jerusalem. Power and position in the church or community do not guarantee a similar place in God’s world. All, even outsiders, are given tasks in God’s kingdom.
The third point of this narrative requires the text to extend to the end of the chapter. Ending at verse 10 misses the most important point of this chapter! Just as moving into the promised land did not guarantee a perfect life, neither does God’s call to serve. God’s words to Samuel were hard to hear and even harder to speak to others, for they involved judgment against Eli’s own children. Like Samuel, Isaiah, and Jeremiah, God’s call often involves working to change human systems that are broken, leading one down difficult paths.
God’s call comes when we least expect it and often to those we least expect. God is always the God of surprises.
Psalm – Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17
Psalm 139 is classified as an Individual Hymn of Thanksgiving. This text narrates a religious encounter with God that affirms human worth. Psalm 139 is something of an exception in the Old Testament, speaking strongly and positively about the individual. . But it also questions our rigorous pursuit of and desire for privacy, and whether such a pursuit is ultimately in our best interest. For while Psalm 139 is about the individual and has a very private feel to it, the psalm is even more about the invasion of our privacy – by none other than God. This is a comforting psalm in terms of God’s intimate knowledge of us and care for us.
Psalm 139 exudes overwhelming confidence and trust in God. Something dramatic has happened to the psalmist, and he now dwells comfortably and happily in the light of God. God has found him and brought him through something. The psalmist is overwhelmed with gratitude and satisfaction because God knows him and claims him. Fully known and yet fully loved, he exults in the intimacy of being known and cared for. This is a foretaste of heaven, where we will know as we have been known. Ps. 139 breathes the air of confident intimacy. The author is intoxicated by the God who is with him and will not reject him. He can’t hide anything now. His longings for guidance and for vindication are likewise known to God
In Psalm 139, the psalmist explores their own personal relationship with Yahweh and spells out precisely why Yahweh should respond to the petition in Ps 138:8. Yahweh has a lot invested in the psalmist as an individual. Yahweh’s knowledge of the psalmist is too wonderful, too high for even the psalmist to comprehend (Ps 139:6). With such commitment to searching the psalmist out (vv. 1-4), and with such fearful and wonderful work in forming the psalmist (vv. 13-16), the psalmist is overwhelmed with Yahweh’s care (vv. 17-18). But at the same time it is not possible for the psalmist to escape Yahweh who is all present and all knowing (vv. 7-12)
The psalmist celebrates the creative goodness of God in verses 1-18, and provides a glimpse of the oppression that occasioned the composition of the psalm in verses 19-22. It concludes with a plea to God to search for any ill-feelings towards others, presumably those who have so hurtfully oppressed
In the first six verses the author stands in wonder that the God who knows his every thought, word and deed remains with him and does not reject him.
See God as knower: The psalmist is known by God (vv.1-4). See God as counselor and protector: The psalmist is “hemmed in” by God in the sense of (1) being counseled or warned by God that all of life is open for God’s examination, and (2) being guarded, shielded, and defended by God. See God as weaver: God knit the psalmist together in the womb of the psalmist’s mother, and is the artistic creator of human life of ultimate worth.
To be “hemmed in” by God (v. 5) may communicate both warning and protection. On the one hand, the psalmist may have experienced being “hemmed in” as God’s warning or caution that the entirety of life is being examined by God; or, as warning, “hemmed in” may have been viewed as God’s counsel or that there is, indeed, no need for wearing a mask and that God is available whatever the situation, limitations, or sin. On the other hand, the psalmist may have experienced being “hemmed in” as protection. This view conveys an understanding of a border placed by God around the psalmist wherein God serves as guard, defense, shield and safety; and God’s hand upon the psalmist (v. 5) is God’s assurance of God’s presence and protection
Each of us also becomes an instrument of the truth of God’s assigned value and love, by what we do and say that mirrors this truth. In the presence of the knowing God, even our limitations and sins can be dealt with. There is nothing that cannot be understood and dealt with in our lives in the presence of the all-comprehending God.
Epistle – 1 Corinthians 6:12-20
Previously the readings were primarily doctrinal, focusing on the significance of Christ for faith. But beginning with this Sunday, we encounter a series of readings from 1 Corinthians that consider Christian behavior.
Paul founded the church in Corinth while he resided there for a year and a half (Acts 18:11), spanning the years 49 to 51 A.D. Sometime later, about 54 A.D., he wrote 1 Corinthians from Ephesus (cf. 1 Corinthians 16:8, 19). Paul needed to respond both to reports of dissension and immoral conduct at Corinth (1:11; 5:1) and to an actual letter that he had received, in which the Corinthian believers asked a series of questions (7:1). Fellowship had deteriorated into cliques, in-fighting ,and power grabs. Outside influences had challenged the core beliefs and morality of its members. A libertine philosophy had gained a foothold among some in the Church.
In this passage, Paul confronts the issue of church members visiting prostitutes. When conflict becomes that pervasive, no conflict management plans have any hope of succeeding unless the people involved can move beyond self-absorption, step back, and see a bigger picture of a higher calling. Paul seeks to accomplish that.
In the opening verse he notes that it is true that in Christ we are free from the constraints of the law, sin and death. Such freedom is beneficial. Yet, freedom can be used in a way that is not beneficial. So, we can use our freedom to place ourselves in slavery again, to be "mastered" by something or someone. Clearly, Paul has in mind "fornication" – physical sexual union with someone outside a marital relationship, in particular, visiting prostitutes. Not only is fornication an enslavement to sin, but it is an enslavement to the sexual partner. Each is psychologically imprinted onto the other. We were not set free to become a slave of sin.
In light of 1 Corinthians 5, it is possible that these activities are taking place under the slogan that "all things are permitted." However, Paul argues against them.
Fornication is a sin against oneself (one’s "own body"), which he does not explain, but may be based on the view that a fornicator will never stop, thereby becoming enslaved by passion. Being joined to a prostitute means being joined to a body that is other than the body of Christ.
His argument is this: when you engage in sexual intercourse with a prostitute you enter her power sphere; you fall under her authority. Your relationship with her then competes with your relationship to Christ. This is interesting because prostitutes were often linked to temples and were sometimes understood as a sacramental way of communing with the god
Freedom used until it is misused can lead to activities that are destructive to self and society and detrimental to a living relationship with God.
Freedom needs wisdom and support from the larger community of believers. The congregation is a school for the building of mature faith. The life of faith is nurtured through the reading of Scripture, worship, and conversation.
The interesting part of Paul’s argument was his focus on the value of the body. This was purely Jewish in concept. The Greek culture in which the Corinthians lived downplayed the body and exalted the spirit. But, for Paul, the physical body had dignity as a vessel for the Spirit and a promise of the final resurrection. The body and spirit were inseparable.
He points out that the Corinthians have failed to understand the true nature of sexual intercourse. Based on Genesis 2:24, the idea of "one flesh" in marriage, Paul explains that an integral union is established between a man and a woman in the sex act. Yet, there is also an integral union that exists between Christ and the individual believer. Thus, if the sexual union is illicit, say with a prostitute as here, then the two unions become mutually exclusive.
For Paul the main thing is: there cannot really be a divided loyalty. As God is one and Christ is one, so what we do needs to be coherent. His argument has less to do with laws of immorality and more to do with what happens in relationships and how they can compete with our relationship with God. The case of the temple prostitute is clear. It is worth exploring this slant on morality: sometimes things compete with our relationship with Christ (and God’s relationship of love for the world). Paul’s logic challenges inconsistency with that primary relationship, whatever form it takes (apparently moral or immoral). Less morally spectacular (because not sexual) but just as destructive can be financial dealings or compromised loyalties which sell people short and promote injustice and poverty
In v18b. Paul now quotes another slogan: "Every sin that a person commits is outside the body", NRSV, ie. sin does not affect the true self ("other" is not in the Greek). Paul treats this slogan with disdain. Of course sin affects the self and this is easily demonstrated when it comes to fornication. Fornication "attacks" the self, psychologically imprints the prostitute onto us and tears us away from Christ. Because Christ is intimately united to us, transforming us into his image, there is a sense where our body now belongs to him; we are one with him. Sin tears at our union with Christ.
In v19-20. Since our real self belongs to God, we must glorify God in the way we treat the self. We are the sanctuary of the Spirit in the sense that we are intimately associated with the divine. This being the case, we are not a free agent. This state of grace was gained at great cost. Christ died for us "therefore honor God with your bodies" – "be engaged in the Lord’s service"
In the end, the passage speaks against immoral behavior, but there is more to it than that. Paul stresses that the believer in Christ also belongs to that same Lord. There is no such thing as being one’s own. Each of us has commitments that bind us to other persons or ways of thinking and living. As Martin Luther put it in his Large Catechism: "Anything on which your heart relies and depends, I say, that is really your God." Belonging to Christ means that one seeks to follow him, his teachings, and the pattern of his life – a life in service to others. That is the foundation, and then one must work out the details of living in the world from there.
Gospel – John 1:43-51
From 1:19 to 1:51, the apostle presents the witness of John the Baptist denying he is the Christ, testifying about Jesus and that of Jesus in calling his disciples.—those who follow him, eager to understand and proclaim his glory. As the old Israel consisted of twelve tribes, so the new Israel consists of twelve disciples. There is a pattern – a call by Jesus (1:35-39 with 1:43), a called one brings another to Jesus (1:40, 41 with 1:45), the one brought to Jesus has a personal encounter with the Christ (1:42 with 1:47-51
In the synoptics give up their work as fishermen to follow Jesus, but in the fourth gospel they give up a previous religious commitment as disciples of John. There is a greater sense in John that the battle is between two religious convictions, i.e., "the Jews" and "the Christians". While the Synoptic Gospels show Jesus chronically misunderstood by the disciples, receiving only fleeting glimpses of his true identity, John’s characters see things with crystal clarity. With little narrative explaining why, save for Nathanael, the first disciples of Jesus immediately declare Jesus’ identity with the above-mentioned titles Another difference is that the Gospel of John is a book of "signs" — namely things and people who point to something else. Such "intermediaries" are generally necessary in this gospel in order to come to faith.
John 1:43-51, much like the entire first chapter of John, seeks to establish the true identity of Jesus. By the end of the first chapter, the Fourth Evangelist piles on Jesus no less than six messianic titles, including the Word, the Lamb of God, the Son of God, the Messiah, him about whom Moses and the prophets wrote, and the King of Israel
In this text, the disciples immediately see him as the fulfillment of all that has been promised, and yet Jesus pushes them even further. He goes on to say that he is much more than the Messiah. At the end of the first chapter, after Jesus has been given the name of every Messianic figure imaginable, he uses yet a different title to describe himself – Son of Man. Differing again from the Synoptics, John uses the term Son of Man to speak of Jesus as the bridge between heaven and earth, between divinity and humanity
The clarity with which John’s cast of disciples understands Jesus is a unique gift of this Gospel. Being a disciple is not simply being in the company of Jesus, it is an active recognition of Jesus’ identity. What is similarly astonishing is that they all use different voices, a variety of languages. To John the Baptist he is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world; to Andrew he is both Rabbi and the Messiah, to Philip he is the one of whom Moses and the prophets wrote; to Nathanael he is the Son of God and King of Israel. Not one disciple articulates Jesus’ identity in the same way. Discipleship through John’s eyes entails a clear understanding of who Jesus is to you
The decision to be a disciple is inseparable from the decision one makes about Jesus’ identity
The event of the call of the first disciples in the Gospel of John seems to occur in the Wilderness of Judea where John the Baptist was preaching. Whereas, in the first three gospels, the call of the first disciples is near the Sea of Galilee which was eighty miles north of the Wilderness of Judea.
In John’s gospel, Andrew, a disciple of John the Baptist, is called first and he goes and finds his brother, Philip. ; Philip, like Andrew, reflects the long standing influence of Hellenistic fashions in Palestine. He is probably a Jew. Whereas, in the first three gospels, Simon and Andrew are first called to be the disciples followed by James and John, all of whom become “fishers of men.”
He said to them, "Come and see”. That is, Jesus invites us to come and see who he is and to discover his true identity for ourselves. We are invited to come and closely see who this Jesus is. We will again see the same phrase in a few verses
Here is what we know about Philip:
• He was a disciple of Jesus Christ [Mt 10:3; Mark 3:18; Luke 6:14];
• He called Nathanael / Bartholomew to come and see Jesus [Jn 1:43-51; Mk 3:18];
• When the thousands came hungry before Jesus, the Lord asked Philip to find them food [Jn 6:5-7]. Some believe this was a test of Philip’s faith and that Philip did not pass it with flying colors. Philip checked his own wallet instead of God’s.
• When some Gentiles came to meet Jesus, Philip was stifled. Instead of bringing them to Jesus; he went to Andrew in confusion [Jn 12:21];
• Philip shows us that even the Apostles—those closest to Jesus—almost missed the identity of their savior.
He was among the believers who witnessed Christ’s resurrection in the Upper Room [Acts 1:13].
His sojourn is so like ours. Let’s reexamine the critical steps of his faith journey:
1. Enthusiasm at the start;
2. Confusion when it comes down to really making Jesus the Lord of his life;
3. Failure in attempts to do God’s work with his own resources;
4. Hesitation when he is called to reach beyond his own comfort zone;
5. But finally; total and unmitigated reliance upon Jesus.
Clearly Philip thinks that Jesus is the messiah and so he searches out Nathanael to tell him the news that he has met the coming one, the one whom Moses and the Prophets wrote of. Nathanael may well be the common name for the Bartholomew (son of Tolmai) referred to in the synoptic gospel
Nathaniel only has the Jewish name; he is an image of true Israel. Note that Nathanael begins with skepticism: "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" (1:46). At first, Nathanael is like the skeptics who do not believe Jesus can be the Messiah because he comes from Galilee.
Jesus comments “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!"” Nathaniel “How did you know me.” Jesus answered, "I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you."
A fig tree was used as shade for teaching or studying by the later rabbis
It may be that Nathanael was a "thinker". He wouldn’t accept anything at face value, but he would question and contemplate everything until he was sure of its truthfulness.
Nathanael is taken aback by Jesus’ comment and asks how he knows about him and aware he has been there.
Nathanael accepts the invitation, and after witnessing Jesus’ powers of perception, he believes Jesus is the "Son of God and the King of Israel." For Nathaniel, Jesus was the Messiah who had been prophecied in the Old Testament. Jesus tells Nathanael that he will see greater things than these (his powers of perception). Jesus will be the revealer of heavenly things to men as the point of contact between heaven and earth. In some cases, people have been blinded by their preconceptions about the church, just as Nathanael was blinded by his preconceptions about Nazareth
Here, as in 3:13, 1:51 and elsewhere, John has Jesus speak of himself as Son of Man when he announces his future exaltation, glorification, ascension, and return to the Father. These all refer to the one single complex event which take place at Jesus’ death. For him life is in the relationship with Jesus and is there even before his death. He comes and goes from the heart of God and he sends and summons from the heart of God
III. Articles for this week in WorkingPreacher:
Old Testament – 1 Samuel 3:1-10 [11-20]
Psalm – Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18
Epistle – 1 Corinthians 6:12-20
Gospel – John 1:43-51