Reading Ramblings – January 18, 2015

Reading Ramblings

Date: Second Sunday after the Epiphany – January 18, 2015

Texts: 1 Samuel 3:1-10 (11-20); Psalm 139:1-10; 1 Corinthians 6:12-20; John 1:43-51

Context: There are a variety of different 3-year lectionary systems. The Catholics created one that was adopted with some revisions by various Protestant denominations, some of who (the LC-MS included) made further revisions to this Revised Common Lectionary (RCL). In the LC-MS version of the RCL, we now enter a four-week liturgical season called Ordinary Time. What this basically means is that we aren’t in the middle of any special festival (Christmas, Easter) or penitential (Advent or Lent) season. My understanding is that particularly in the Roman Catholic RCL, these next few weeks remain part of Epiphany, allowing us to further dwell on the reality and repercussions of our Lord’s divinity. I think I would prefer this additional focus, rather than a few weeks of unfocused readings prior to Lent beginning with Ash Wednesday.

1 Samuel 3:1-10 – Jesus and Samuel are often compared to one another due to story similarities. Both are unexpected children. Both births are prophesied. Both are born in a period of prophetic silence and inactivity. Both mothers are the more prominent character compared to the father, yet both fathers are loving and supportive. The worship center of God’s people figures prominently in each family’s early story, as well as in the individual life of the child. Both children grow up in service to God.

God’s call to Samuel is repeatedly misunderstood, both by Samuel as well as by his master Eli. Yet in due time first Eli and then Samuel will recognize the voice properly.

Psalm 139:1-10 – God’s presence is constant and unavoidable, yet how many of us spend our lives as though God is distant, hidden, not to be expected? Our very existence is evidence of the providential hand of God, yet we tend to long for more, for the sure and certain voice of God that speaks to us as He did to Samuel, leading and guiding and using us.

This closeness has two aspects. There is comfort in it because we are never alone, never removed from the presence of God by circumstances or tribulation. On the other hand, there is no place we can go to seclude ourselves from God, to sin in private, as it were, without his eye upon us. The knowledge that we are known so perfectly and intimately is bracing and exciting, but it is also a source of shame, as we recognize that more often than not our words and thoughts and deeds are shameful and not appropriate for those with whom God has decided to live so intimately.

This realization will later lead the psalmist into doubt and uncertainty, so that he must beat his chest and proclaim his love of God even though his actions would betray that love. In Christ there is no need for such doubt, such uncertainty, such manic proclamation. In the incarnate life, death, and resurrection of the Son of God we are assured that God does not come to us to sift and to judge, but to lavish the grace and forgiveness won for us in Jesus Christ upon us. His presence is truly one of joy, not of fear or uncertainty.

1 Corinthians 6:12-20 – We bear the sometimes-too-marvelous promise that God is indeed not distant from us, that we needn’t go to a particular holy place to encounter him. In his grace He dwells already within each believer, his Holy Spirit inhabiting us as God inhabited his Temple and before that, the Ark of the Covenant. Such nearness has implications – our lives are holy. Everything that we do is infused with the presence of God, which should give us pause for consideration in the choices we make. The knowledge that is too high and wonderful for the psalmist to contemplate is our present reality as well in an even deeper sense, and such an awareness is a spur to lives of holiness.

As such it is proper to give thought to our lives, to flee from sin because of the nearness of God. Our shame is appropriate, yet the grace of God should and must predominate. God has come to us with his grace and forgiveness – how can we continue to prefer our sinfulness to the riches He offers? By the grace of God, our lives in him are gradually drawn from darkness into his light, so that day by day, little by little, we have less to be ashamed of and more to celebrate.

John 1:43-51 – Jesus shares himself in calling his first disciples, and as typically human, the disciples turn this event into something of their own doing. It is not that they have been called to follow Jesus – rather, their own lengthy search has secured Jesus, the promised Messiah. Perhaps this is what they believed. Perhaps they had indeed been searching. Yet it is always God that calls to us, not we who find God, regardless of our perspective on the situation. Our sinfulness blinds us and makes us incapable of finding God unless He has already reached out to lay hold of us.

The readings today stress the presence of God in our lives, a presence that began with the creation of the world and that continues in the redepemption of the Son of God and the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit. We need not seek to find God, but rather to trust that He is already present before we can even think to look for him. He brings us what we most need – grace and forgiveness and reconciliation – and so our prayers are never out of desperation, as though we must somehow first get his attention. Our prayers should rightly begin in thanksgiving. God is already present. Already at work. He has already bestowed our most needed things. We bring our petitions and concerns to him in this context, not as children who somehow seek to first introduce themselves to their own parents before asking for what is on their heart.

We should take comfort in the nearness of our God, even as we become increasingly aware of and uncomfortable with our sin. His presence in our lives means that as our “big sins” are removed, we become aware of and less tolerant of our “small sins”. A failure to be aware of our daily sin might be construed as a bold confidence in the grace of God, but it could far more easily indicate a shallowness of self-examination.

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