1 Samuel 3:3-10, 19; Psalm 40:8-13; 1 Corinthians 6:13-15, 17-20; John 1:35-42
A woman and her elderly grandmother were sitting on the porch discussing another member of the family.
“He’s just no good!” said the young woman.
“He’s untrustworthy, not to mention lazy!”
“Yes, he has his problems,” said the grandmother as she rocked back and forth in her rocking chair, “but Jesus loves him.”
“I am not so sure of that,” replied the younger woman.
“Oh, yes,” said the old lady. “Jesus loves him.”
She rocked some more and thought some more, and then added, “Of course, Jesus doesn’t know him like we do...”
Well of course the Lord knows us all utterly and completely, not just who we are but everything we could possibly be, and our readings today give us a glimpse at what this might really mean.
Take our gospel reading, where Jesus meets Simon for the first time.
He looks intently at him, and sees there the seeds of greatness just waiting to grow.
Then Jesus names what he sees, “You are Peter, the Rock,” he says. “You, come with me.”
So Peter follows him and, very slowly, becomes the strong one, the rock that the other disciples would eventually turn to for leadership and strength.
We see something similar in our first reading about the calling of Samuel. Even though Samuel was only a boy the Lord saw the potential within him to be a great prophet for his people.
Call of Samuel, to be a prophet, paves the way for the callings we see in the New Testament, where the insistent word of God disturbed the life of Samuel until he responds.
Most of us, I fear, are too easily able to silence that disturbing call of God when it calls us to do things that are too hard or too uncomfortable for us.
But we must remember that we are never called to a task that is somehow beyond us.
The God who calls us and disturbs us, is the same God who recognises all that is within us, indeed it is the same God who dwells within us and within all creation, pushing us, coaxing us little by little towards our divinely inspired potential.
It is normally a difficult thing for us to see this potential in ourselves, it is perhaps even harder for us to see it in others, but it is our responsibility and our duty to see not only the divine potential in others but indeed to see Christ within all creation.
Richard Rohr, in his book The Universal Christ, (p.33) goes as far as claiming that the only definition of a true Christian is one who sees Christ in everything and everyone else.
I think, if we look back at the scriptures, we might say that John the Baptist was one such person, at least he was certainly able to see the Cosmic Christ in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, continuing our theme of “Epiphanies” by revealing him to be the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. (Jn 1.29)
And in this one sentence so much can be understood about Jesus, and also misunderstood.
Too often it is used to support ideas of sacrificial atonement, whereby somehow the blood of the innocent Jesus took away the sins of all those who believe in him, just as the blood sacrifices in the Temple supposedly expiated the sins of those who offered them.
But look at just two small details, often overlooked.
The first is that in the vast array of sacrifices and offerings that were part of the ancient Hebrew religion, a lamb was never considered a sin offering.
The sacrifices to take away the sins of an individual or the community were a bull or a goat. You can read about those in Leviticus 4.
The Lamb was synonymous with another sacred festival of the Hebrews, that of the Passover, the deliverance from slavery and bondage of the entire community and their liberation as people of God.
Think on that as you consider the other subtly of John 1.29, that John the Baptist is said to claim Jesus would take away the Sin of the world, singular, not its sins, plural.
Over time, our faith has become overly obsessed with an individual interpretation of sin as a form of personal immorality that stains us and is especially associated with sex.
Augustine even believed that we were all somehow tainted by what he called “original sin” which was passed on through procreation and so led to a number of superstitions, especially around the need to baptise babies as soon as possible after birth, not to affirm God’s love for them, but to magically release them from a sort spell or hex that would keep them out of heaven.
In the modern world culture is often mistaken for Gospel, or Good News, this is not new, as it also occurred throughout history, even as a new way of thinking born in the cultural milieu of first century Judaism spread to the wider Gentile world, and so a strict code of personal morality associated with that culture entered and permeated our way of thinking, even replacing the Good News of Liberation from Sin that it was supposed to be carrying.
In many ways this worldview has been, and still is, responsible for the marginalisation, oppression, subjugation and denial of the fullness of life offered to everyone by God and revealed in the life of Jesus because of perceived preconceptions about class, race, marital status, gender, sexuality or any such human conceived label.
Our second reading reveals some of this process, where Paul, a conservative Jew by nature, yet someone fully aware of the freedoms we have in Christ, warned the Corinthians about abusing that freedom.
But again, we must not mix up the Gospel message with the social and moral standards of first century Judaism.
Richard Rohr, again, writes about (p.88) how spiritual satisfactions will often be communicated in material, embodied, even ecstatic forms, and that just as the incarnation was necessary, so to these embodiments are good and necessary and should not be dismissed too quickly as “the flesh”.
The difference is, he continues, is in how we encounter these forms.
If we can be satisfied to enjoy them, observe them, participate in them, they give us ongoing joy.
But once we try to capture, possess or own them, pulling them into our own ego control, they become somehow polluted and corrupting.
The key from Paul’s perspective is not to misuse the freedom we have because of God’s gracious act of liberating us from Sin for selfish pursuits of hedonistic pleasure, but for the glorification of God, in the same way that Jesus glorified God, through love.
To emphasise this Paul goes on to clarify later in his letter to the Corinthians, that in the end only three things remain, faith, hope and love, and the greatest of these is love. (1Cor 13.13)
So during this season of Epiphany, let us consider what sort of Christ is being made manifest to each of us and how we are being called to make Christ manifest to others through acts of kindness and love.
In Jesus Name we pray. Amen.