The following material was written by the Rev. John Shearman (firstname.lastname@example.org) of the United Church of Canada. John normally structures his offerings so that the first portion can be used as a bulletin insert, while the second portion provides a more in depth 'introduction to the scripture'.
INTRODUCTION TO THE SCRIPTURE
The Second Sunday After Epiphany - Year B
1 SAMUEL 3:1-10 This story of Samuel's call to be
God's prophet in Israel has the flavor of an ancient folktale. It was
told and retold by one generation to another because Samuel was such a
towering figure in Israel's religious and political history. The story
reveals yet another instance when God was believed to have intervened to
change in the direction of the nation's history. This was interpreted as
God keeping the covenant made long before with Abraham and with Moses.
PSALM 139:1-6,13-18 God's intimate knowledge of all we
are, all we think and do may be very frightening, but it also gives a
security which faith can celebrate. Yet this constant awareness of God's
presence is both comforting and empowering.
1 CORINTHIANS 6:12-20 Corinth was a seaport city famous
for its immoral life. Prostitution was rampant, even among the Christians
there it would seem. As this passage points out, Paul dealt bluntly with
the problem. The apostle's counsel is still valid in our own time when
sexually transmitted diseases are still so prevalent and dangerous.
Paul's attitude toward sex is based on the faith that our bodies are not
merely for our own pleasure, but like a temple, to serve and glorify God.
JOHN 1:43-51 John's Gospel tells of many
incidents in Jesus' ministry not found in the other gospels. Some
actually conflict with what the other gospels say. The way Jesus gathered
his disciples in one such instance. The reason for this discrepancy is
made clear in this passage. Those who followed Jesus did so solely
because they were convinced that he was God's Messiah. This exchange
between Jesus and Nathanael established this important motif in the John's
Gospel. Starkly evident throughout Jesus' ministry were those who
believed in him and those who didn't.
A MORE COMPLETE ANALYSIS.
1 SAMUEL 3:1-10 This story of Samuel's call to be God's prophet in
Israel has the flavor of an ancient folktale. It was told and retold by
one generation to another because Samuel was such a towering figure in
Israel's religious and political history. Why should it be so important
in our time as to be included as one of a limited collection of scripture
passages to be read for worship?
The story reveals yet another instance when God was believed to have
intervened to change in the direction of the nation's history. The
Israelites interpreted this as another instance of Yahweh keeping the
covenant made long before with Abraham and with Moses. Hence, it must be
seen as a confirmation of Israel's faith as the chosen people of a God
whose revelations came in a variety of ways and on whose providence
Israel's whole existence depended.
The passage ends too quickly. It would have been more balanced to have
the reason for Yahweh's call to Samuel explained as does the prophecy of
vss. 11-14. To make best use of the lesson, this will need to be done in
an introductory exposition. Otherwise, the story appears to have no
relevance to the actual religious situation in Israel.
The Books of Samuel and Kings consist of narrative history written with
theological purpose. The story of Samuel as a great spiritual leader and
theocrat at the time both Saul and David became monarchs of Israel
probably does contain some historical data, sparse though it be in modern
terms. By no means, however, should we that all the details of his story
are factual. The narratives about him lead us to conclude how much he
towered over all the other figures of his time and hence influenced the
development of Israel as a nation and as the elect people of Yahweh.
For this lesson to be relevant to a congregation more three thousand years
after the events it narrates, it might be wise to draw a parallel between
the religious atmosphere so vividly described in vs. 1b: "the word of the
Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread" (NRSV) and the
present day spiritual environment. The whole point of the story, however,
is to reassure the audience that Yahweh has not deserted those who have
faith nor forgotten the purpose for the call of Israel as the elect
PSALM 139:1-6,13-18 Omniscience and omnipresence may be metaphysical
concepts, but they were unknown to the Jews six centuries BCE when this
psalm was probably written. Yet the psalm still has great meaning and
power for personal devotion and public worship. If a devotional type
sermon is warranted near the start of a new year or century, this surely
is an appropriate passage to base it on. God's intimate knowledge of all
we are, all we think and do may be very frightening, but it also gives a
security which faith can celebrate. This constant awareness of God's
presence can be both comforting and empowering.
It remains puzzling why the intermediary verses (vss. 7-12) have been
omitted between the two segments of this reading. Those verses give a
very personal experience of divine presence, far beyond any theological
reasoning. This is what a humble walk with God has shown the poet. In
actual use in worship, they could well be included.
The latter segment (vss. 13-18) points to God as creator, but also in a
very personal reflection. The thoughts expressed in the whole psalm are
to be found elsewhere in the prophetic literature, notably Isaiah 55:8-9
(omniscience); Jeremiah 23:23-24 (omnipresence); and Job 10:8-11 (personal
creation). The psalmist appears to be indifferent to the God of history
and the great acts of salvation during Israel's crises of the past.
Instead, he concentrates on the present moment which gives the poem a
sense universalism applicable to every generation. It conveys a faith
which many have carried to their deathbeds.
In his *Everyday Psalms* (Wood Lake Books, 1994), Jim Taylor has two
poignant titles for two segments of the psalm (not the same as in this
reading). He calls them "Transparent to God" and "The Inescapable God."
The Scottish divines, George Matheson and Francis Thomson knew whereof the
psalmist spoke and penned their faith into such great poetry as Matheson's
"O Love that will not let me go" and Thomson's "The Hound of Heaven."
Perhaps one has to have been through such trying times as this unknown
voice from the 6th century BCE had experienced to know the full peace and
joy comes with knowing and being known by such a loving God.
1 CORINTHIANS 6:12-20 Corinth was a seaport city famous for its immoral
life. Prostitution was rampant, even among the Christians there it would
seem. As this passage and preceding verses point out, Paul dealt bluntly
with the problem. In vss. 9-10 he had identified the sexually promiscuous
people who would be excluded from the kingdom of God. In vs. 11 he
contrasted promiscuity and drunkenness with the effects of Christian
baptism, sanctification and justification - undoubtedly a moral revolution
for many. Then, in the present reading, he moved on to discuss the
arguments he had heard against this necessary transformation. The essence
of the passage is a comparison of Christian liberty and the moral license
which many had interpreted it to mean. The debate continues to this day.
Paul, a devout Jew and strict Pharisee lived in the Graeco-Roman world
that did not share the restrictive standards of the Levitical Code. Was
he expressing culturally biased attitudes to human sexuality? Or was he
laying down a moral standard by which Christians are bound? Another point
of view suggests that Paul was determined to that Christians should life
exemplary lives so that they would find favour with Roman authorities
despite refusing to worship the emperor.
In a biography of the noted Canadian physician, Sir William Osler, this
quotation from the famous doctor is worth noting. It referred to the
Greek physician Aesculapius who originated the medical profession: "'In
the old Greek there was deeply ingrained the idea of the moral and
spiritual profit of bodily health.' (*William Osler: A Life in Medicine*,
by Michael Bliss. University of Toronto Press, 1999) Did Paul not also
the highest values of contemporary culture is eschewing the promiscuity of
the Corinthian community to which he had brought a different quality of
In fact, Paul proposed several bases for his views: 1) utilitarian (vs.
12a); 2) legal (vs. 12b); 3) spiritual commitment (vss. 13-14). But
chiefly, his attitude toward sexuality and other addictions was based on
the faith that our bodies "are members of Christ" (vs. 15). We should not
use them merely for our own pleasure, but like a temple, to serve and
glorify God. The in-dwelling Holy Spirit made this possible (vs. 19).
Finally, he linked these constraints placed upon promiscuous behavior with
the death and resurrection of Christ. Because of the price paid for our
freedom from human sinfulness, we must always live to glorify God. "Being
bought with a price" (vs. 20) referred to the practice of purchasing a
slave or redeeming someone from slavery. He had used the metaphor again
in 1 Cor. 1:30; Gal. 3:13 and 4:5. A slave so redeemed belonged, body and
soul, to the one who had paid the price. Thus, the Christian belonged to
Christ. William Barclay put this interpretation on that reality: "(The
Christian) can never do what he likes, because he never belongs to
himself; he must always do what Christ likes, because Christ bought him at
the cost of his own life." (*The Letters to the Corinthians*, The Daily
Study Bible, Edinburgh: The St. Andrew Press, 1954) It has been said that
whenever he felt particularly assailed by temptation, Martin Luther would
drive the storm from his soul and body by repeating, "I have been
baptized." This is exactly what Paul was saying to the Corinthians.
JOHN 1:43-51 John's Gospel tells of many incidents in Jesus' ministry
not found in the other gospels. Some actually conflict with what the
other gospels say. The way Jesus gathered his disciples in one such
instance. The reason for this discrepancy is made clear in this passage.
Those who followed Jesus did so solely because they were convinced that he
was God's Messiah.
Certain details found in John's Gospel often give us a different synoptic
view than do the so-called Synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke.
The figure of Nathanael stands out in this passage as a disciple who does
not appear elsewhere yet one who obviously had attracted Jesus' special
attention. Inconclusive attempts have been made to identify him with
Bartholomew, Matthew, James the son of Alpheus, John the son of Zebedee,
and Simon the Canaanaean. For good reason he remains unique. His
appearance here symbolizes the pious Israelite, who though good as he is,
is still incomplete. His confession that Jesus is the Son of God and King
of Israel is nothing short of a full messianic declaration of faith.
Despite his deeply sincere religious life and faith as a Jew, he was
willing to set aside his intellectual doubts and difficulties to put his
trust in Jesus.
John's Gospel has frequently been cited as the most anti-Semitic of the
NT. Christians may well have so regarded it through the ages and used it
to motivate violent pogroms against Jews. The Holocaust of Hitler's Nazis
in the mid-20th century was only the latest of a long series of assaults
on Jews cast in the role of a particularly evil people. No one would deny
that this author had his sharp edge which meant that Jews were frequently
depicted as the enemies of Jesus. But is it as simple as a "good guys vs.
bad guys" formula we so often use as an intellectual and moral crutch?
There is a better way to view John's attitude toward the Jews. At the end
of the lst century CE, Jews and Christians were seen as distinct religious
groups. That was due to nearly fifty years of evangelism by Jewish
Christians among the Gentiles of the Greek-speaking world beyond the
limited landscape of Palestine from which the stories of Jesus had
emanated. Yet almost all of the personalities who appeared in John's
Gospel were Jews. (It is not until John 12:20 that we meet any Greeks at
all!) While written for an audience of both Jew and Greek, this gospel is
definitely Jewish in most respects. From its very first words, it
declares its Jewishness by referring back to the very beginning of the
Hebrew scriptures. It does not denigrate the law in any respect (cf.
1:17), but makes clear that Jesus as the promised Messiah is the full
revelation of divine grace and truth. Judaism may have contributed to the
world the knowledge of moral right and wrong; but Jesus Christ, the Son of
God, has made God fully known (1:18).
This is not anti-Semitism, but the declaration of the gospel as believed
and proclaimed by the apostolic church. That subsequent generations of
Christian believers fell victim to a brutal and despicable
misinterpretation of this gospel is not to be blamed on the messenger or
the message. Human sinfulness will find its deceitful ways of doing evil
where none is required. Such is the sad history of anti-Semitism through
the centuries, and should bring prayers for repentance from the hearts of
faithful Christians today. Neither should misunderstanding of Christian
scripture cause anyone to accuse any other person of prejudicial
xenophobia. The world of the 21st century needs people who can see beyond
the narrow confines of such limited thinking and believing to appreciate
what people of faith from other traditions have given and will yet give to
a world where there are fewer and fewer barriers to communication
among close neighbors.
This is the future for which Nathanael stands as the gracious symbol.
This pious Jew turned from his meditative moment under a fig tree to
confess Jesus as Son of God and Messiah. Jesus rejoiced and exuberantly
promised that he would yet see greater things. Nathanael had caught sight
of the *eschaton* as clearly as Israel's patriarch Jacob had seen a vision
of angels (vs. 51). Nathanael's vision was the fulfillment of Jacob's
dream at Bethel. Israel's covenant with God was being fulfilled in Jesus
of Nazareth, the man who also was the Son of God. The process of
fulfillment is still going on as we build toward a global village as
ordinary as Nazareth and a beautiful as Bethel.
copyright - Comments by Rev. John Shearman and page by Richard J. Fairchild, 2006
please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these resources.