Samuel telling Eli about the Lord's word.
Samuel telling Eli about the Lord’s word.

Today’s readings

Green on the altar today, a little respite of Ordinary Time before Lent starts next month. During this period we will learn about Jesus’ ministry, kind of the “nuts and bolts” parts, like His baptism last week, ending with the Transfiguration in a couple of weeks. Today we will look at His calling the first disciples.

Gospel: John 1:43-51

Today’s reading is a great example of our really needing to examine a much longer passage to get the full benefit. This piece is really more informative if we go back and read from verse 29.

Don’t you love it when a passage opens with “The next day…” That automatically makes me go back and see what happened earlier. We see that three times in John Chapter 1: verse 29, verse 35 and 43.

Before verse 29, John had been talking with the Pharisees about his baptism, and what exactly he was doing. The actual baptism of Jesus isn’t discussed, but is mentioned later, so I think we can assume that this took place in the days following Jesus’ baptism. Verse 28 locates a lot of the action Bethany, near Jerusalem.

Verses 29-34 form the next section. The day after being questioned by the Pharisees, John sees Jesus and decides to testify to the events at Jesus’ baptism. He reiterates his declaration that Jesus is the Son of God. I want to make a note that last week, we briefly mentioned that immediately after Jesus’ baptism, Jesus went into the wilderness for 40 days of temptation. Since we will see Jesus “the next day,” this obviously is well after Jesus’ actual baptism. John is testifying to what he saw.

Verses 35-42 form the second section. They begin with the words “the next day…” There’s quite a bit of action here. Andrew and another person are disciples of John as this passage opens. (There is very good reason to believe this unnamed disciple is John, the writer of this Gospel.) John sees Jesus and says, “Hey, look, it’s the Lamb of God.” Andrew and the other disciple decide to follow Jesus so they can learn more. When they ask Jesus where they are going, He says, “Come and see.” And so they do.

Later in the afternoon, Andrew must have been convinced. He ran to get his brother Simon, whom we know far better as Peter. Imagine how breathless Andrew must have been, finding his brother, telling him that the Messiah has been FOUND! Of course Simon and Andrew race back to Jesus–who, upon seeing Simon, renames him “Peter.” These three men are the first disciples of Jesus.

Guess what words open our reading today? Yes, this third section starts with “the next day…” and we see that Jesus has decided to leave Bethany and travel to Galilee, a journey of a couple of days. Jesus found Philip, telling him, “Follow me.” And Philip does!

And then Philip finds his friend Nathanael so he can share the exciting news of locating the Messiah. Nathanael is definitely a skeptic–he will believe it when HE sees it. Of course that is what Philip had suggested, telling Nathanael to “come and see.” I love Jesus response, too, saying “Here is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” An honest Jew, so to speak. Then Jesus reveals some things to Nathanael which convince him on the spot that Jesus is the Messiah.

Jesus is a little surprised at the low bar for Nathanael’s belief, I think. You can hear it: “Oh, THAT was all it took? Oh, trust me, you ain’t seen NOTHING yet!”

These three sections really set us up to see the full picture of Jesus’ calling his disciples and, in turn, calling us. First, consider the seeking and the finding that takes place in these passages. I think we can list the seekers: John, Andrew, John the disciple, Jesus, Philip. And then the sought: Jesus, Peter, Philip and Nathanael. Look how some of those sought become seekers themselves.

Second, consider how Jesus especially does not try to convince others of his status with words. John is the only one who “testifies” in this whole section, and he is only telling what he himself saw. He isn’t arguing or debating, merely telling. But everyone else goes further. They don’t try to show, they just want the other person to come see for themselves, and then make up their mind. It reminds me a little of being pulled along by one of my kids when they were little. When one of them had something exciting to show me, mere words were never enough. They would grab my hand and pull me to whatever it was they were thrilled about. They needed to SHOW.

Finally, I think it is worthwhile to see that every single person WENT. No one said, “Later, I’m busy.” (Like a certain mom might have said to her kids.) This was important and every person had space in their life to actually find out if Jesus was the real deal. Imagine if Nathanael had looked at Jesus and said, “That sounds super-interesting, but I have this meeting I really need to get to right now. Can I catch you later?” Imagine what he would have missed out on!

Old Testament: 1 Samuel 3:1-20

We will look at the entire passage here as well. I think we gain so much by looking at a complete story.

First Samuel opens at the end of the period of the Judges in the Old Testament. Israel has full possession of the Promised Land, but things have spiraled out of control. A man named Eli is the priest. I think we can assume that Eli has near-judge status. He was a good priest but, as we shall see, a lousy father with good-for-nothing sons.

Samuel is the long-prayed-for son of a woman named Hannah and her husband Elkanah. Hannah promised God that her son, were God to grant her one, would be dedicated to the Lord as a nazarite. That little boy was Samuel, and when he was old enough Hannah took him up to Shiloh to help Eli and work with the sacrifices. Samuel was only three when Hannah took him to Eli, so our reading takes place when Samuel is a young boy.

Samuel may have been young, but he must have been quite responsible. Our story opens with him sleeping next to the Ark of the Covenant when God calls him. Three times God calls, and three times Samuel responds by running to Eli to see what he wants. Samuel has mistaken God’s voice for Eli calling him!

Finally on the third try, Eli realizes what is going on. Eli is wise and give Samuel good advice. Can you imagine being little Samuel, laying back down next to the Ark, knowing that if you hear a voice again you need to speak to GOD Himself?

The words that God gives Samuel are hard to hear, and even harder to say. Samuel, though, is a model of obedience as he relates this tough prophecy to Eli. Eli, bless him, accepts the words humbly, and in this way is an amazing example. “It is the Lord; let Him do what seems good to Him.” Those are words of incredible faith.

New Testament: 1 Corinthians 6:12-20

These are TOUGH words from Paul this week. In his first letter to the Corinthians he writes to a variety of different groups at the church. The group he’s talking to in this passage seems to think they can do ANYTHING they want since they are forgiven anyway. Paul sets out to correct that.

This passage is problematic in the current atmosphere of the church as regards sexuality. It is in fact one of the passages that I found compelling when I was trying to decide if I was okay with the changes that were happening within my denomination (ELCA) and congregation. The changes were to liberalize the treatment of homosexuality in particular, and civil unions and marriages. In reading Scripture over the years, I’ve found it useful to incorporate Martin Luther’s admonition to “let Scripture interpret Scripture.” In other words, the straightforward interpretation is usually correct, and contortions usually lead to bad theology.

Paul is pretty clear here. Yes, you CAN do anything–but why would you want to?! That body of yours, that’s for God! How can you defile that? Are you seriously going to hold on to your “right” to act any way you like? Even your body is God’s. Use it to glorify Him!

To be honest, these words could also apply to gluttony and sloth as well. Yes, you could not take care of yourself. But God is glorified through your body–so treat it well.

I read these words from C.S. Lewis late this week: “St. Augustine said, “God gives where He finds empty hands.” A man whose hands are full of parcels can’t receive a gift.”

These readings have been very difficult for me to put together in a way that the lectionary usually calls for. The OT and Gospel really do fit together, all about seeking and finding and being ready to hear. But the Corinthians reading was just so hard to add. I’m probably not alone–I couldn’t find one single sermon that addressed all three readings together.

This C.S. Lewis quote helps me put these together, though. How can you respond to God’s call if you are holding things tightly? How can you answer if you are too busy claiming your right to do something because you are free? How can you follow if you have an overstuffed schedule? Is there any way that God can break in there, if you have things so tightly put together?

I am very, very good at filling every moment with “useful” things, and for those moments that I don’t fill, the Internet or (less often) a good book are happy to fill the rest. I’m afraid I haven’t left much room for answering should God decide to call me. What a loss that would be.

This week I will think about building in time to answer. Not in a “Okay, God, talk to me RIGHT NOW while I’ve got five minutes” way, but more in a “Holding my schedule loosely” way. Maybe that should be a “Being less important” way! Becoming interruptible. Because, truly, aren’t the interruptions from God what we should be looking for?