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Today in the Spirit: Epiphany 2B

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The early Sundays in the Epiphany season are dedicated to the revelation of the Son of God in the successful formation of the community of disciples. In Epiphany 2B, the assigned Gospel reading out of John 1:43-51 recounts for the worshiping church Jesus’ calling of the apostles Philip and Nathanael. The devotion of these two, and especially Nathanael’s enthusiastic confession of Jesus as the Son of God and the King of Israel (49), is testimony to what John writes in the prologue to his Gospel, which we heard last week:

[The Word] came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God (1:12-13).

In Nathanael, we hear the voice of one who has enthusiastically claimed that right

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The selected OT reading from 1 Samuel 3:1-20 contrasts the calling of young Samuel and that of Jesus’ early disciples. Compared with Jesus’ approach to his disciples, there is confusion and misdirection in the “old” way of God calling his followers, Samuel running back and forth to Eli before the word of God is finally delivered. The appointed Psalm 63:1-9(10-12) permits us as worshipers to take on the voice of “David” and imitate his desire to follow God above all else: O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water (1). In this way, we give words to our own enthusiasm to follow God, like that of Philip and Nathanael.

Moving into the ordinary part of the Sunday lectionary in the Epiphany season, in Year B, the church assigns consecutive Epistle readings in the middle section of 1 Corinthians and the early section of 2 Corinthians for our consideration. To begin, we are assigned Paul’s stern teaching, in response to moral laxity in the Corinthian church, against sexual immorality. The appointed Collect this week is a prayer for all God’s people to “shine” out with the “light” of God that has been put into us through Christ, that “he may be known, worshiped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth.”    

The Collect

Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ is the light of the world: Grant that your people, illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory, that he may be known, worshiped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

And Samuel Grew (1 Samuel 3:1-20)

Samuel lay until morning; then he opened the doors of the house of the Lord. And Samuel was afraid to tell the vision to Eli. But Eli called Samuel and said, “Samuel, my son.” And he said, “Here I am.” And Eli said, “What was it that he told you? Do not hide it from me. May God do so to you and more also if you hide anything from me of all that he told you.” So Samuel told him everything and hid nothing from him. And he said, “It is the Lord. Let him do what seems good to him.” And Samuel grew, and the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba knew that Samuel was established as a prophet of the Lord (15-20).

In the earlier chapters of 1 Samuel, before the incident described in this reading, there are two references to the positive development of Samuel in the presence of the LORD (see 2:21,26). This may indicate that Eli, the priest of Shiloh, was well aware of the boy’s extraordinary anointing from God all along. Though nothing much was happening by way of God revealing himself to Israel at this time (And the word of the LORD was rare in those days), Eli did have Samuel. The priest’s own sons were bringing shame on the house of God (2:12-26), and while Eli did not do much to turn them from their evil ways, he did not fail to nurture this young boy who was to be so central to the plans of God for Israel in the future. In the eyes of God, if Eli could do nothing more than mentor Samuel, it would be a crowning achievement.

Who are the young spiritual giants the Lord has put in your life? Has Jesus revealed to you who they are? Maybe your own children are among them, or the child of a neighbor or a student in your Sunday school class. In ministry, there is all too often an inordinate bias given to the development of adults. It is inordinate because both research on ministry impact and experience in Christian leadership would indicate the big “bang for the buck” in discipleship comes in the attention given to young people. And the younger you start pouring the word of God into the hearts of children, the more significant the impact. Though we must minister to all ages, adult discipleship is much more hit-and-miss than children and youth ministry. Hence the nodding assent to that well-known proverb whenever we come across it: Train up a child in the way [or, Start children off on the way NIV] he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it (Proverbs 22:30).

Today, Holy Spirit, in hearing this passage, give me the eyes to recognize the young talent you are raising up in my life that, like Eli, I can devote myself to helping them.

You Are My God (Psalm 63:1-9[10-12])

O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you;
    my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
    as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,
    beholding your power and glory.
Because your steadfast love is better than life,
    my lips will praise you.
So I will bless you as long as I live;
    in your name I will lift up my hands.
My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food,
    and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips,
when I remember you upon my bed,
    and meditate on you in the watches of the night;
for you have been my help,
    and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.
My soul clings to you;
    your right hand upholds me. (1-8)

There is a pronounced sense of self-possession in this psalm. Reading it aloud in worship, we are struck with the repetition of the possessive determiner mymy soul…my flesh…my hands…my bed, etc. It may seem all a bit, well, self-centered, except for the just as prominent expression of you and your for God that accompanies almost every reference to self. It all stems from that first line: O God, you are my God. The profound knowledge “David” has of God as a person in covenant relationship with him results in a full-scale absorption of God into his life. David’s own lips, hands, body, and soul function together as one according to his faith-filled understanding that the God is his God. YHWH has absorbed David into his own life, and in response, David has absorbed God into his.

Devotionally, we may observe in our own lives far less integration–God in me, and me in God–than we find in this psalm. To the extent that we fail to understand God as my God, we also fail to grasp God as a you, a person walking by our side and dwelling in our hearts. In the Gospel reading, Nathanael first distances himself from this purported Messiah from Nazareth. But the moment Jesus establishes himself as God—and more importantly, the God who was with him at the fig tree, Nathanael quickly changes his perception: You are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel. Nathanael has reached the place where David is in the psalm—I am yours, and you are mine.

Arriving at this juncture–now hear me–is Jesus’ work in us slowly over time. So Paul prays for the Ephesians: I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better (Ephesians 1:17 NIV). Today, Holy Spirit, in my worship, singing with David, You are my God. Convince me that you have truly taken possession of me, that I might come to take possession of you.  

Flee from Sexual Immorality (1 Corinthians 6:9-20)

Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body (18-20).

In the end, there are two imperatives in this passage: Flee sexual immorality and glorify God in your body. They are a significant challenge to the Corinthians not merely because the human sex drive is such a compelling force universally but also because this group, in particular, held a philosophical presupposition (whether they were aware of it or not) that what happens to the body is of little consequence to a person spiritually. Our heads today are filled with culturally conditioned secular presuppositions that lead us, inside and outside the church, in a similar direction.

Let’s face it: We succeed in obeying Paul’s commands concerning bodily purity better at the point of strategic prevention ahead of time rather than courageous abstention at the moment of passion. We know that once desire has gotten a firm foothold, there is little chance of avoiding disobedience. In the OT Proverbs, we often hear the counsel to steer clear of trouble before it is too late. Here, for instance, against sexual immorality:

And now, O sons, listen to me, and do not depart from the words of my mouth. Keep your way far from her, and do not go near the door of her house, lest you give your honor to others and your years to the merciless, lest strangers take their fill of your strength, and your labors go to the house of a foreigner (Proverbs 5:7-10).

Today, in the Spirit, reflecting on the apostolic command to flee sexual immorality and clinging to the mercy of Jesus to forgive my trespasses, I will seek to apply the wisdom of Scripture to flee sexual immorality at points when I can still get away.

Come and See (John 1:43-51)

The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see” (43-46).

Consider Philip’s simple invitation to Nathanael: “Come and see.” Philip will not engage in carefully crafted arguments of his own to persuade Nathanael in the face of his stubborn dismissal of Jesus. He offers just two words: Come invites Nathanael to choose freely, despite his objections, to leave his present position, geographically and mentally, on the matter of Jesus of Nazareth. The implication is, of course, that Philip will accompany him; otherwise, how will Nathanael know the way? See comes out of Philip’s mouth with the confident expectation that Nathanael will experience the truth of what Philip is saying for himself. If Nathanael chooses to come and leave everything behind, Philip feels assured that–though he has no idea how–the Lord will fill the void. He fully trusts Jesus to produce the goods.

For devotional purposes, it is for us to observe and imitate the faith of Philip to take the success of our own witness to others out of our own hands. Philip makes his quest to see Nathanael know God purely a transaction between Nathanael and the Son of Man. Philip’s own faith in Jesus is hardly fully formed (a fact that becomes clear later in John’s Gospel, see John 14:8ff), but that matters nothing in that Philip has taken himself out of the equation. In “Surprised by Joy,” C.S. Lewis reveals how his own conversion was like Nathanael’s and how the element of “free choice” played such an important role:

The odd thing was that before God closed in on me, I was in fact offered what now appears a moment of wholly free choice. In a sense. I was going up Headington Hill on the top of a bus. Without words (I think), almost without images, a fact about myself was somehow presented to me. I became aware that I was holding something at bay, or shutting something out. Or, if you like, that I was wearing some stiff clothing, like corsets, or even a suit of armour, as if I were a lobster. I felt myself being, there and then, given a free choice. I could open the door or keep it shut; I could unbuckle the armour or keep it on. Neither choice was presented as a duty; no threat or promise was attached to either, though I knew that to open the door or to take off the corslet meant the incalculable. The choice appeared to be momentous but it was also strangely unemotional. I was moved by no desires or fears. In a sense I was not moved by anything. I chose to open, unbuckle, to loosen the rein. I say, ‘I chose’, yet it did not really seem possible to do the opposite.

Today, Holy Spirit, in my desire to see my friends and family come to know Jesus, grant me the faith of Philip to leave everything to their choice and the skill of the Savior to reach them himself.

Today in the Spirit

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Author

Geoff Little

Geoff Little writes the Today in the Spirit series of reflections on the ACNA Sunday and Holy Day Lectionary. He is the founding rector of All Nations Church in New Haven, Connecticut, where he lives with his wife, Blanca.

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