Introduction to the readings for Epiphany + 2—18-1-2015 A & C
God knows us before we know God
1Sam 3.1-10. The little boy Samuel lived in the temple at Shiloh when Eli was the priest. Samuel’s birth was the answer to his mother Hannah’s fervent prayer, and to thank God, as soon as Samuel was weaned, she brought him to the temple and dedicated him to God’s service.
So ‘the boy grew up in the presence of the Lord.’2.21b. Today we meet him when he’s perhaps eight years old, on the night when the Lord first calls Samuel. But the boy thinks it’s Eli calling him as he ‘…did not yet know the Lord , and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.’3.7
Ps 139.1-5, 12-18. This is also about the Lord knowing a little child who isn’t remotely old enough to know who it is that keeps such careful watch over them—in fact, before the child is born or even conceived. But as we say this Psalm, we each discover in ourselves that very loved child.
1 Cor 6.12-20. Paul writes in answer to a letter 7.1 and to word-of-mouth reports about serious disorders within the church he’d founded at Corinth. 6.12 begins with Paul quoting twice a slogan that was popular in Corinth: ‘All things are permissible for me.’ But each time he quotes it, he adds a qualifier to remind them of their responsibilities. Then he goes on to illustrate this by tackling two of the problems the community is facing— the gluttony and sexual immorality of some of its members.
John 1.43-51 tells the story of Jesus’ first meeting with a man called Nathanael. In two sentences, Jesus transforms Nathanael from a doubter into a disciple; Jesus knows Nathanael as intimately as he knows himself.
It’s taken me all my life to figure out just how much my parents loved me as a child. In my Anglo-Celtic world of the ‘50s and ‘60s, parents weren’t all that gushy. It was the Mediterranean kids who had to cope with all that embarrassing, public kissing and cheek-pinching. And anyway, with me, my two brothers and my sister to deal with, I doubt Mum and Dad had much energy left for being all that demonstrative.
It’s taken a long time for me to get what they’ve done for me. It’s the years of managing life, work and above all, a family of our own that have slowly let it dawn on me. I was given a quiet, supportive freedom to become the person I wanted to be. I imagine a gushy, demonstrative Mediterranean type of love might have been a bit constricting for me.
Can you think for a moment of the way you’ve been loved? ***How that love enabled you to become a person you mightn’t have become otherwise? *** How that love has enabled you to become your true self?
The question we ask this morning is whether we can sense that love and support from God? Can we look back over our lives and say that at this point or at that time, God did something or God was there in a way that changed everything for us; that we wouldn’t be the person we are now if that hadn’t happened?
That question is the challenge our scriptures have put before us today. All our readings this morning tell us how God knows us even when we don’t know God. They tell us how God loves us before we can comprehend what that love means—like my parents with me.
How did you experience the Psalm? Did you discover yourself in the beloved child whose voice the Psalm speaks with? What about the story of the little boy Samuel? Did you receive God’s call so early in your life? Or were you surprised later on in life like Nathanael was?
I’ve talked about the way my parents’ love for me was freeing—it set me free to become who I wanted to be. But that’s not to say it didn’t involve a bit of discipline. I learnt the principle that freedom has its responsibilities too. We do live as members of communities, and the pleasure of one member can’t be allowed to harm the lives of others. Of course that’s true for our lives in the community of God’s people too. How much freedom; how much responsibility?
That’s the issue Paul was dealing with in this letter to the Church at Corinth. Remember we heard in 6.12 how Paul quoted a slogan that was popular in Corinth: ‘All things are permissible for me.’ But each time he quoted it, he added a qualifier to remind them of their responsibilities. … but not everything is beneficial; … but I won’t be dominated by anything.
This slogan was probably their take on something Paul taught them when he first established the church community there. He would have told them that believers aren’t subject to the Law like people were before the death and resurrection of Jesus. Now they are freed from slavery to sin—bought back from that slavery at the cost of Jesus’ blood. They are free from all the ritual obligations to do with food and Sabbaths and purity. Suddenly, all things are permissible. But they changed that slogan slightly, but significantly. ‘All things are permissible for me.’ They turned it into a right; into personal privilege rather than freedom from oppression.
That led some people to act selfishly and hurtfully. Paul challenged these people. Something might be fun, but if it’s bad for everyone else, or cuts you off from others, think again. You’re wrecking the family. Or again, you might feel you have a right to do something, but if it takes you over completely like an addiction, destroys family and community, think again.
We know what he was talking about. A bit earlier in this letter, in ch 5, Paul responds to a report of incest in the church community. And then in ch 6, he responds to reports that some in the church are dragging others off to the secular courts instead of asking senior Church members to help resolve their differences—or giving up their rights.6.7b
Paul is trying to encourage the sort of decency, thoughtfulness and self-discipline that parents seek to nurture in their children. He’s trying to call these children in the faith at Corinth to learn the difference between two different types of freedom: freedom for, and freedom to. We are free, but not to do what we like, regardless of the consequences. No, we are free so that we might grow as a community of individuals who’ll challenge the slavery and injustice that hold other people captive. We are free not for our own selfish ends, but so that we can build community.
As we grow within that discipline—as we mature as Christians—we can look back and clearly see moments where God has touched us, and made a difference through us, to transform the world. We can look back and see that like the child Samuel, like the unborn baby of the Psalm, God has always loved us and all people with a redemptive love that is perhaps only now dawning on our consciousness.
Thanks be to God who loves us so deeply. Amen.