Homily by The Rev. Marcia McRae
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Bainbridge, GA, 18 Jan., 2015, Epiphany 2
Year B RCL: 1 Samuel 3:1-10; Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17; 1 Corinthians 6:12-20; John 1:43-51
How deep I find your thoughts, O God!
How great is the sum of them!
The verse I just quoted from our Psalm (139:16) underscores the recurring theme of deep Mystery that we encounter in our scriptures today.
Our Psalm's verse 12 says that God “knit me together in my mother's womb”. What an interesting word picture this gives us of God as a knitter – as many of you are. (The Rev. Dr. Lauren Winner led us clergy in exploring this metaphor & many other biblical word pictures of God at our Spring Clergy Conference at Honey Creek.1)
Our Psalm emphasizes God sees us even in the darkest parts of life, of the “life-sustaining darkness of the mother's womb” that assures us of God's continuing compassion, “kindly protection & wise planning...”2
As followers of Jesus, you & I know God's kindly protection & wise planning are tightly knit in our lives. We know God knows everything about us & loves us anyway! Even in our darkest times, God loves us. We know God loves us because Jesus died for us on the hard wood of the cross & rose & ascended so that we many have the Holy Spirit to guide us & to knit us together as the Body of Christ.
Our scriptures remind me of the weather we've been having: dark, dreary when we can't see clearly & have longed for the light, for a change for the better – like yesterday’s change to beautiful sunshine, the bright blue sky & fluffy white clouds.
Paul helps the Corinthians see in clearer light through the confusion they have of how to live into new life in Jesus so that they can make a change for the better in their lives knit together in God's love.
They live in a bustling, urban, seaside city with 2 ports on its peninsula & temples to about a dozen gods & goddesses, some of which include the services of temple prostitutes, who come to bathe at the public facility beside the synagogue where Paul speaks.3 These facts shine light on the difficulty for Christians in Corinth.
We see the difficulty of seeing a new situation when we meet Samuel in today's lesson. Samuel does not yet know God. This time in the life of God's people is a lean, dark time: prophesy & visions are rare. The priest Eli literally can't see. It's night.4 Samuel stays close to where the light literally shines in God's sanctuary.
We hear puzzled reactions by Samuel & Eli as God calls Samuel. Samuel thinks it's Eli, who slowly realizes God is calling Samuel. Eli's slow response reminds us that our own experience does not assure our quick understanding in a new situation.
Notice how Samuel bumbles as he responds: Eli tells him to say: “Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.'" Facing his 1st encounter with God, Samuel just says: "Speak, for your servant is listening."
God speaks to us despite our bumbling.
We encounter equally amazed reactions to Jesus' calling the disciples. Just before today's verses, disciples of John the baptizer watch Jesus go by. John says Jesus is the Lamb of God & 2 of John's disciples (one of them is Andrew) follow Jesus, who (in verses 38-39) sees them & asks what they are looking for. They ask where he is staying. Jesus says: “Come & see.” They do. Andrew repeats this invitation to Nathanael in today's Gospel.
Being with Jesus we can understand who Jesus is. We see this when Nathanael interacts with Jesus, whose knowledge of him astounds Nathanael & gives him a deeper insight about Jesus.
Nathanael, who has gotten over the stumbling block of Jesus being from an obscure village5 asks Jesus: "Where did you get to know me?" Jesus answers, "I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you." The fig tree is a symbol of the peace the Messiah will bring6 & this gives Nathanael (whose name means “God has given”7) special insight that inspires him to declare that Jesus IS God's Son.8
Jesus says “You will see greater things than these...” And then something changes when Jesus says: "...(Y)ou will see heaven opened & the angels of God ascending & descending upon the Son of Man."
What changes are the verb & the subject: they change from singular to plural:
y'all will see...
This tells us that more people than Nathanael will see this sight9 that reminds us of angels descending & ascending on the ladder
in Jacob's dream in Genesis 28.10
As interesting as it may be for us to know facts such as that Nazareth is an obscure village, the meaning of Nathanael's name & his reaction to Jesus,
the central message of today's Gospel is
“Come & see.”
Equally important to our work are
our relationship with Jesus
how we introduce Jesus to
our brothers & sisters
in the human family
who do not know Jesus.
Jesus himself is where we encounter God's revelation & dwelling...11
How do we encounter Jesus?
How do you encounter Jesus?
When are you the connector by which someone
Where do you shine the light of Christ?
How do you keep that light glowing?
At this Holy Table: "Come and see."
Boadt, Lawrence. Reading the Old Testament: An Introduction. New York: Paulist Press. 1984.
Dios Habla Hoy: La Biblia. 2da Ed. Nueva York: Sociedad Bíblica Americana. 1983.
Harper’s Bible Commentary. General Ed.: James. L. Mays. San Francisco: Harper & Row Publishers, 1988.
Harper’s Bible Dictionary. General Ed.: Paul J. Achtemeier. San Francisco: Harper & Row Publishers. 1985.
Holy Bible with the Apocrypha. New Revised Standard Version. New York: Oxford University Press. 1989.
Jewish Study Bible: Jewish Publication Society TANAKH Translation. New York: Oxford University Press. 2004.
Lectionary Page. http://www.lectionarypage.net/. Accessed: 5 Jan.. 2015.
The New American Bible for Catholics. South Bend: Greenlawn Press. 1986.
Tenney, Merrill C. Handy Dictionary of the Bible. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House. 1965.
Winner, The Rev. Dr. Lauren. Spring Clergy Conference. Honey Creek. May 4-6, 2014.
1 Spring Clergy Conference. May 4-6, 2014. Winner is Assistant Professor of Christian Spirituality at Duke Divinity School and author of numerous books, including Girl Meets God and Mudhouse Sabbath.
2 Harper’s Bible Commentary. General Ed.: James. L. Mays. P. 491.
3 Note: information from both personal experience touring Corinth & from sources listed here.
4 Jewish Study Bible: Jewish Publication Society TANAKH Translation. P. 567
5 Harper’s Bible Commentary. General Ed.: James. L. Mays. P.1049.
6 The New American Bible for Catholics. P. 1139.
7 Tenney, Merrill C. Handy Dictionary of the Bible. P. 107.
8 Ibid. Harper’s Bible Commentary. P.1059.
9 Holy Bible with the Apocrypha. New Revised Standard Version. Gospel of John. P. 95.
10 Ibid. Harper’s. P.1049.