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Epiphany 2 Year B RCL Janury 15, 2011

1 Samuel 3: 1-10. (11-20)
Psalm 139: 1-5. 12-17
1 Corinthians 6: 12-20
John 1: 43-51

One major theme of our reading today is the idea of vocation. God calls each of us to minister in God’s name.

In our first lesson, we read of the call of Samuel. Samuel’s mother, Hannah,  left the child in the care of Eli, the priest of Shiloh, when Samuel was very small. Eli has been training Samuel all of this time.

The scripture says, “The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.” One aspect of this decline is that Eli’s sons, who are supposed to be the next priests at the temple in Shiloh are scoundrels. They interfere with people who are trying to make their offerings and take the best parts of the meat. They misuse the power of their office. They seem to break every rule in the book . They have no regard for God or for God’s people. So God is about to bring in a new order.

It is night. Samuel and Eli are asleep and a voice calls to Samuel. Samuel thinks it is Eli calling, so he goes in to see what Eli wants. And Eli tells him to go back to sleep. This happens again and yet again, and Eli realizes that it is God calling the young Samuel to be God’s prophet.

The Lord literally comes and stands there, calling “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel answers, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

But the story now takes a very difficult turn, for God gives Samuel a wrenchingly painful message to share with Eli. Eli has been a faithful servant of God, but he has not been able to control his sons, so God is going to find new leaders who will take their call seriously and act appropriately. Samuel has to give this news to Eli, whom he loves and respects. Eli orders Samual not to hide anything. Samuel tells him the whole truth. And Eli responds with faith and courage, saying, “It is the Lord; let him do what seems good to him.” Eli will accept whatever God does. As we know, Samuel was a faithful and courageous prophet. He was called many times to speak truth to power and he always did so. This was only the first of many such times.

This is so relevant for us because,  as parents, we do not have ultimate control over the behavior of our children. Obviously, God cannot tolerate immoral priests at the temple in Shiloh. But Eli has not been able to persuade his sons to change their ways. As parents we do our very best to teach our children values. In the end, God has given them free will and they make their choices.  But now that Eli is almost ready for retirement, so to speak, God is going to make sure that the worship in Shiloh is carried out as it should be. There are going to be some major changes.

In today’s epistle, some of the folks in Corinth were misinterpreting the teaching that our Lord frees us from sin. They thought they could do anything they pleased. Paul is telling them that we are called to glorify God with our bodies as well as with our minds and spirits. He is calling us to the highest levels of moral conduct. This includes the area of sexuality.

In our gospel for today, Jesus is calling his apostles. He goes to Galilee. He finds Philip and says, “Follow me.” Philip immediately starts calling others to follow Jesus. He goes to Nathanael and tells him that he has found the Messiah. Nathanael asks, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” One interpretation of this is that Nazareth, and the entire region of Galilee was sometimes looked down upon. It was far from Jerusalem, the big city. Sometimes people sneered at the area up north. Philip tells Nathanael to “Come and see.” Come and meet Jesus. One minute with this extraordinary person will convince you that you need to follow him.

Jesus sees Nathanael and intuitively identifies him as  “an Israelite in whom there is no deceit. Scholars tell us that this is an allusion to the story of Jacob, who wrestled with the angel and became Israel. Jacob was the supplanter, the one who cheated his brother out of his birthright.  He was full of guile or deceit. When he became Israel he was transformed into a person of integrity. Jesus is using allusions to the story of Jacob becoming Israel to comment on Nathanael’s integrity.  Nathanael wonders how Jesus is able to do this. Jesus says that he saw him under the fig tree. Scholars tell us that the implied meaning here comes from the rabbinic scriptures which say that a seat under a fig tree is the right place to study the Torah. The implication is that Nathanael is a true searcher of the scriptures. At this point, Nathanael recognizes Jesus as the Son of God and the King of Israel. Jesus tells him he will see greater things than these.  Jesus says, “Very truly I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” This is referring again to the story of Jacob, who saw the angels ascending and descending the ladder which went into heaven. Lots of symbolism here.

We have here two stories of people being called. Eli has taught Samuel faithfully and helps him discern that it is God calling the young man to a new and important ministry.  Jesus seems almost magnetic in his ability to attract people such as Philip and Nathanael. He calls them and they drop everything and follow him.

We are called. By virtue of our baptism, we are called to minister in Jesus’ name. Does this mean we have to drop everything and go far away? Some people are called to do that. A dear friend of mine is a missionary in Zimbabwe. The son of a colleague of mine works with World Vision all over the world.

We are here, in Vermont, in Northern Vermont. It always fascinates me that Vermont is about the size of the Palestine of Jesus’ time. Northern Vermont is a lot like the Galilee—far from the madding crowd, far from the big cities and the centers of power, but a special place, a prophetic place, a place where people care, a place where people seek truth.

For now, we are called to be ministers right here.  Each of us in our own way has felt the power of Jesus’ presence and his call and his love and his healing and his help. And that is why we feel called to share the gift of our Lord with others. I know I have said this before, but I am so deeply aware that each of you shares Jesus with those you meet in your daily lives. We may not mention his name. We may not be able to do that at work or wherever, but we share his presence. We share with others something of what he has given us and gives us each day. And we use the gifts he has given us to build his kingdom and to glorify him with our minds, our bodies, and our spirits. May we continue to follow him and to serve others in his Name.   Amen.

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