Even though the year is still new we are being invited to come and see this Jesus for ourselves, or like Samuel respond to the intriguing voice in the night, and to respond to the invitation to know and be known. (Second Sunday after Epiphany. John 1:43-51; 1 Samuel 3:1-10 (11-20); Psalm 139:1-5, 12-18; and 1 Corinthians 6:12-20.)
In the strange order of things in the lectionary we have gone very quickly from the birth of baby Jesus to the baptism of the adult Jesus and now to the call of his first disciples. It can all seem a bit hurried and jumbled. But then we are not so much about studying the historical life of Jesus in some rational order and then making a cool decision about whether or not we will follow. Rather we are being called to relate with the One who became one of us, the divine become human, so that we might draw near to the divine now and learn as we go along as to what that really means. Our readings this week remind us that faith is firstly about the invitation to be in relationship, the call to be known and to know. The language of psalm 139 is beautiful and speaks to that through the loving knowledge that God has of our very make up and nature.
You may like to reflect on what I wrote three years ago focusing on the Corinthians reading.
And our readings also point to the call to take up the life long journey of intentionally following the call of God as we experience it. And although our stories of call this week focus on the beginning of the call we know that for Samuel and for the disciples it was a call that did not let go of their lives just because they had said yes. Yes was only the beginning. The call to faith is life long and has many twists and turns.
When we look back at the lives of the saints we sometimes get the impression that for the great figures of faith it was all straight forward and crystal clear but even in these stories there is the hint that it was not so obvious. Samuel took three opportunities and some wise council to understand what was happening . And Nathanael was called through the interventions of Philip.
We each come to faith in unique and common ways. Most of us do not respond straight away but God seeks us out in the midst of our daily lives through the events, people, desires of our hearts and urgings of our imagination. Many of us would be grateful to hear a voice clearly naming us and telling us what was required of us but that’s not how it works for most of us. Rather we need to discern what is being asked of us and offered to us.
Paul’s words are of interest here: “All things are lawful to me but not all things are beneficial.” Or I might put it this way – God is in all things and therefore what ever I do with my life God will be there, but not all choices will lead me into the fullest or most abundant life that God desires for me.
And discerning the call of God at one point does not mean it is a done deal forever. I remember a much older nun friend telling me she was about to go into another period of discernment as she was about to retire from her secular job. I must have looked very perplexed because she laughed and said ” You foolish woman, do you imagine that you only have to discern this vocation stuff once? Every few years I find that I must discern where does God want me now? And now? ”
And if we occasionally get it wrong? If we take a long time to work it out? Then as the psalmist said: “If I spread out my wings towards the morning or dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me. If I say ‘surely the darkness will cover me; and the night will enclose me’, the darkness is no darkness with you, but the night is as clear as the day; the darkness and the light are both alike.” Clearly we are never outside the embrace of God and so at one level we can never get it entirely wrong. Rather we are closer to what God knows is best for us – and others – or we are further away. And the further away we are from where God knows we need to be the more we might struggle or get distracted or lost. We need to remember this for ourselves and for others.
The surprise should not be so much that God knows us but that knowing us God so wants our company. For God does not simply want our obedience and good behaviour – although I am sure it pleases God that we try and live well – but clearly God has always sought out individuals such as Samuel, the psalmist, and all the unnamed people of human history and then through Jesus we too have been sought out in this little corner of our lives.
“... do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own?” The Greek word translated as body is soma which does include the physical body but is also the whole person. It is the language used for the individual and of course for the whole body of Christ.
The spirit of God does not simply care about us and our bodies but dwells within us as part of us and therefore whether we live fully and lovingly and well or not matters intensely to God. God, in Jesus, became one of us and gave himself over to the whole glorious and inglorious business of being human – born and living daily life and dying and rising into fullness. Because of this we can Come and See this Jesus, this expression of God, and respond to the One who is both like us and beyond us. So while God’s loving arms can reach us wherever we are the decisions about how we live and what we do are still incredibly important because we impact not only on our own relationship with God but with others as well. And they on us.
It is why we pray on our own and together, it is why we read Scripture and other books as well, and it is why with great effort we keep the church going and go out into the community on behalf of the church. We are always being called as individuals and as the people of God deeper into relationship with the one who created us, and joined us in our human condition, and redeemed us from inside our human condition.
Even so come Lord Jesus Christ, come and lead us into life.