Sunday, January 15, 2006

2 Epiphany
1 Samuel 3:1-10 [11-20]
Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17
1 Corinthians 6:12-20
John 1:43-31

Or know ye not that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit which is in you, which ye have from God? and ye are not your own; for ye were bought with a price: glorify God therefore in your body.

We live in a world that has become all about Me. Me demands the best of everything. Me expects everything that would satisfy Me. Me is not at fault for anything, Me has every right to blame everyone else for all Me's difficulties. Me is the center of the universe. Me is a god. This is, of course, an exaggeration. Most people are not so self-centered that they would consider themselves a god. However, we are living in a very self-concerned society where everyone is at some level egocentric. We want to be happy, healthy and satisfied despite the cost.

Most people are equally concerned with neighbor, willingly giving oneself over for the sake of others. We love our family and will do whatever is necessary for them to also know happiness. Yet, we all have some need that demands satisfaction. Whether it has to do with our jobs, our relationships, our leisure time, we all have some aspect of our personality that is self-centered. It is part of our human, sinful nature. It is as true for Christians as it is for those who have not yet come to know our Lord Jesus Christ.

We aren't any different than even the earliest Christians. As a matter of fact, the congregation in Corinth was dealing with just this very problem. There were members of that church who decided that Christian freedom gave them the license to do whatever they wanted to do, to satisfy all of their needs. Living in the forgiveness of Christ, they felt that they could partake of the wonders of the world without concern because Jesus' blood covered everything. So, they enjoyed the offerings at the temples of other gods the food, the fornication knowing that Christ had taken care of it all.

While Paul agreed that in Christ the Law no longer held us captive, there were still things that were not beneficial for a Christian to do. The Law, from the beginning, was not a burden, but rather a gift. It was a gift because the Law was created to protect God's people from the consequences of sin. Each law had a viable purpose, to protect the health, wealth and relationships within God's creation. Paul writes, "All things are lawful for me; but not all things are expedient. All things are lawful for me; but I will not be brought under the power of any." The problem with following our own needs and desires is that they become the power over us.

But Paul reminds the Christians in Corinth, "Or know ye not that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit which is in you, which ye have from God? and ye are not your own; for ye were bought with a price: glorify God therefore in your body." Christ's blood did not give us the freedom to do whatever it is we want to do. Christ gave us the freedom to live in His Kingdom. Unchaste living and sexual irregularity as was provided by the temple prostitutes was not beneficial, except in satisfying a physical need. In today's world, this might be called a victimless crime. As a matter of fact, self-satisfaction is even promoted and encouraged. What harm would it do?

There is no such thing as a victimless crime. By sleeping with the temple prostitutes and performing other sexual irregularities, the Christians in Corinth were both dishonoring their bodies and dishonoring the Lord. The freedom they thought they had was actually a burden, as their needs became more powerful over their flesh than the love and mercy of Christ.

The same happens to all of us when we allow our own personal needs and desires to become the most important thing in our lives. Perhaps we do not have a temple to which we can go to fornicate with prostitutes, but how many of us go to the temple of our jobs or our leisure activities to the detriment of our relationship with Christ? Though this passage focuses on sexual sin, Paul's words remind us that our bodies are not our own. Everything that overpowers us, every sin that demands satisfaction, affects our relationship with Christ. He bought us with His blood, not to be free to do dishonor to God. He bought us to be part of His body and He calls us to glorify Him with our bodies.

God called Eli to be a priest in His temple. Eli's sons were also priests, but they did not serve the Lord as they were called to serve Him. They were out of control children, spoiled brats. Eli fed them the choicest cuts of meat. They became fat from the offerings given to God even while dishonoring Him with their lives. Though God had promised Eli that his house would serve the Lord forever, Eli's sin cost him his legacy. God would raise another in his place.

We join this story seeing Eli in the temple with a boy named Samuel who'd been dedicated to the Lord by his mother Hannah. He was a miraculous birth and she promised that Samuel would belong to God. Eli and Samuel were resting when a voice cried out "Samuel, Samuel." Samuel was not familiar with the voice of God; he'd not yet experienced such a personal encounter, so he assumed it was Eli. When he went to Eli, Eli said, "I did not call you. Go back to sleep." This happened several times before Eli realized that God was calling the boy. "Go, lie down: and it shall be, if he call thee, that thou shalt say, Speak, Jehovah; for thy servant heareth."

When God called Samuel again, Samuel answered, "Here I am." The message the Lord gave to Samuel was not pleasant, it was a reminder to Eli that his house was about to fall. Samuel was probably quite scared to share this message with the priest, after all, he was just a boy and Eli was a powerful man. When Eli insisted, Samuel told him everything. Eli responded, "It is Jehovah: let him do what seemeth him good."

As I read this passage for today, I could not help but compare Eli's response with that of Mary when she heard the message from the angel. "Behold, the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word." Mary was humbly obedient of the word of the Lord. Eli was condescendingly resigned to His word. Samuel received the word of the Lord with the same heart as Mary. In this Old Testament lesson, we see the difference between those who live in their calling and those who take advantage of their calling. Eli and his sons are son killed, but as for Samuel the scripture says, "And all Israel from Dan even to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was established to be a prophet of Jehovah."

The Gospel lesson for this week comes from the book of John. In this story we see Jesus as He begins to gather His disciples. Andrew, Peter and perhaps John were already following Him. In Galilee, Jesus found Philip and said, "Follow me." Philip found Nathanael and said, "We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph."

Nathanael's response may seem strange. He asked, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" I grew up in the Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania. The major town that might be familiar to most of the readers is Allentown. About an hour north of Philadelphia, the Lehigh Valley is a beautiful place with plenty of interesting things to experience. One of the towns in this area is a place called Nazareth.

If you do a web search on Nazareth Pennsylvania, you will of course find a number of websites proclaiming the advantages to living and visiting this small town. The claim to fame of this small town is a race course. This speedway is home to some important Indy events. Nazareth is also the hometown of the world famous Andretti race family.

Now, I remember growing up just a few miles away from this small town, but I never realized anyone so famous as the Andrettis lived there. I've been by the race course, but since I don't follow racing I did not realize the importance of that speedway. My opinion was, "What good can come out of Nazareth." It was a dirty small town with average folk and even a few shady characters. The Nazareth of Jesus' day was a similar place. It wasn't the type of place you would expect the Messiah to come out of. I'm sure we all can give examples of small town heroes that have proven that famous folk can come out of a small town.

Philip answered Nathanael's response with the invitation, "Come and see."

When Jesus saw Nathanael, Jesus said, "Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!" Nathanael was taken aback by this statement and he wanted to know how Jesus would know such a thing. This was a high compliment from Jesus, indicating that Nathanael was a man of God, a spiritual person who spent time in contemplative conversation with God. That's what he was doing under the fig tree. In those days the fig tree served as a place where people spent time out of the sun studying and in prayer. When Nathanael asked Jesus, "How do you know this?" Jesus answered, "I saw you under the fig tree." Yet, we know that Jesus saw more than just a Jew in study and prayer. Jesus saw beyond the surface into the heart and knew that Nathanael was a true Israelite.

We might disregard the rest of this conversation since it does not seem in character with Jesus and Nathanael was one of the first to proclaim Jesus to be the Son of God. Jesus said to his confession of faith, "Because I said unto thee, I saw thee underneath the fig tree, believest thou?" It seems as if Jesus is putting down Nathanael's faith. Yet, He also gives Nathanael a promise, "You will see greater things than these."

We don't hear much more about Nathanael. It is likely that Nathanael and Bartholomew were the same man, but even still we don't know much about his ministry. We do know that as followers of Jesus the disciples saw many miraculous things. He would have seen in many wondrous ways how Jesus was truly the Son of God.

The miraculous thing here is not that Jesus saw Nathanael under the fig tree before Philip called him to come and see. No, the miraculous thing is that Jesus could see the heart of Nathanael. The psalmist writes, "O Jehovah, thou hast searched me, and known me." God knows our innermost being. He knows when we are sleeping and when we are awake. He knows the words of our mouths even before we say them. He knows these things not because he is like Santa Claus, but because He created us. "For thou didst form my inward parts: Thou didst cover me in my mother's womb." God knows our hearts, our thoughts, and our sins.

Samuel and Nathanael reacted with a humble obedience to the life they were called to live. They knew that their life was no longer their own, but rather that they belonged to God. Though they lived in the hope of God's promises, they did not live recklessly but with restraint. They lived as if every moment was meant to glorify God and His word was reflected in their life. Though in Christ all things are lawful, all things are not beneficial. Eli and his sons could eat the offering at the temple, but they did so even while they were dishonoring the God to whom those offerings were given. Samuel was given to God as a thankoffering from Hannah and he lived accordingly. Nathanael did not need to lead a life of contemplative prayer, but it was the life God called him to live and in doing so He brought glory to God.

So, too, are we called into a relationship with Christ. It is difficult in this world to live as part of a community that asks us to set aside our own desires and needs for the sake of the entire body. We want to be happy, healthy and satisfied, no matter the cost. However, we are reminded this day that though all things are lawful, not all things are beneficial. Satisfying our needs might just cause harm to another and it will certainly dishonor the Lord. But just like Nathanael, we can see that God knows us to the very depths of our hearts. He knows what is best for us and for the body of Christ. In Christ it is no longer about Me. We were bought with a price the blood of Christ so that we might glorify Him with all that we are. Thanks be to God.

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