A reflection for the second Sunday after the Epiphany: 1 Samuel 3:1-20; Psalm 139:1-6; 13-18; 1 Cor 6:12-20, and John 1:43-51
Many years ago I left the church. I left it and didn’t look back for sixteen years. At first I rejected all forms of religion. I scoffed at religious ideas and practices. I was a seventeen year old, and fairly typical of a skeptic in the 1970’s. Eventually life became more complicated and demanded more of me. I started to look more deeply within my self and outside of my self for some direction. I yearned to understand the meaning of life and what my purpose in it might be. Who was I? And more importantly, “what was I supposed to do with my life?” College, and the years post college, were filled with these existential questions. Eventually I began trying on religious practices from other faith traditions. And I say trying on the practices because I didn’t join any religious communities nor did I invest in learning about the tradition, I just learned enough to take on the practices. I learned meditation from Buddhism, practiced contemplation of the beauty of nature and adopted some new age distortions of Native American ideas around spiritual healing using herbs, and gemstones. I was clearly yearning for something spiritual in my life.
One day, while in the middle of meditating, I found myself ruminating on the dilemma of how to anchor the many loose threads of spirituality that I was exploring. It suddenly occurred to me that I was feeling a renewed connection to Christianity. I had started attending Christmas and Easter services in the Roman Catholic church. I was drawn to liturgy, to the rhythm of worship, to music and prayer. But most of all I was drawn to the incarnation and the resurrection, although I would not have used those words back then. In hindsight I would say that I was drawn to the mystery of the spiritual life that Christianity engages.
At the time, this idea, that I was drawn to Christianity was absolutely startling. When I left the church I thought I was leaving it for good. I turned my back on the Christianity that I knew, narrow-minded and full of certainty. I didn’t know, even when I had this startling awakening, that there were forms of Christianity that would speak deeply into my yearning and allow me to enter into the mystery of faith, living with the questions, without platitudes and simplistic answers.
The idea that God spoke to me that clearly in that moment has stayed with me. It is probably the only time I have heard God speak that directly to me. All the other times when I think God has guided my life have been slower processes of revelation. But thank goodness I was listening that day, took notice, and did something in response.
True, it took me another three years or so to find my way to the Episcopal Church. But even that was a journey of preparation and maturation. I got married, bought a house, had a baby, and then went back to church. I’ve been here ever since.
Its been over thirty years since that day when I head God speak to me, and since then I’ve learned a few things about Christianity. Returning to church was crucial to my formation as a Christian, its not something one can do on one’s own. The practices I took up when I was searching were meaningless because I had not entered into community, nor formed meaningful relationships with the other people. Meditation was solitary. Exploring new age spirituality revealed an anything goes set of ideologies and practices that left me feeling untethered and confused. The church brought me into community, into relationships with friends, clergy colleagues, and parishioners, and into a history of Christian tradition, beliefs, and practices that have shaped and formed me ever since. I found tradition without being stuck in traditionalism.
When I reflect on the readings in the Bible like today’s reading from Samuel and also from the Gospel of John, I totally understand how Samuel felt, and how Nathaniel and the other disciples felt. I understand the urge to get up and follow God’s call.
Samuel’s call changed forever the nature of priest and the role of prophets in the Jewish tradition. The house of Eli, where Samuel lived, had broken down and failed in its ability to do God’s work in the world. Through Samuel God initiated a new approach to faith, justice and equality.
Our Psalm this morning offers us a vision God, as a being who is intimately involved in creation and in our lives. Six times the psalm tells us how God molded creation, shaped and formed us and knows us more deeply than we could ever know ourselves.
Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians broadens the description of our identity, of who we are as God’s beloved. He is responding to the church in Corinth, where the people are behaving poorly. Corinth was a wealthy seaport city, with lots of influence from merchants and travelers. It had a high standard of living and a lively social structure. The people in the church in Corinth thought that they could behave any way they liked because Jesus had done the hard work of saving them from their sins, so what they did wouldn't actually matter. Paul reminds them that it does matter. Most of all, how they treat their bodies, and the bodies of other people was crucial to their spiritual well-being. Our bodies are the vessel through which we reveal God’s presence in the world. Our bodies - hands, heart, feet, brain, and spirit work together to bring forth God’s desire in the world. Treating others as if they don’t matter, having empty physical relationships, failing to respect the dignity and integrity of another, is not living as God desires. Paul calls the people in Corinth to a higher standard, a better sense of their identity as a Christian community.
In the reading from the Gospel of John, Jesus is revealed as one who is so filled with God that people are automatically drawn to him. In response to his words, and even in response to his presence, they drop everything and follow. It’s as if in the person of Jesus, the early disciples sense a connection to their true identity, a bond with God that speaks most profoundly into their deepest sense of self, and they are compelled to listen to a call from God that resonates deep within and follow.
God reveals God’s self to us in words, in visions and images, in the world around us, in other people, through one another, in Jesus of Nazareth, in the Word made flesh, in the resurrection, in the Holy Spirit, in the Church, in music and art and nature. In all these ways, and more, God reveals God’s self to us, shapes and forms us in our identity as a people of God. God calls to us, speaking deep into our souls, addressing the pervasive emptiness that is symptomatic of living an inauthentic life. God yearns for us! God knows us inside and out and wants only the very best for us. God calls out to us, and our natural response, whether we know it or not, is to follow. Because following is the only true response to our deepest yearning. Following enables us to know our selves in such a way that our lives have meaning and purpose. In following God, we find our most authentic sense of self and our true identity as God’s beloved.