January 18, 2015 Gospel: John 1:43-51 1st Reading: 1 Samuel 3:1-20
2nd Reading: 1 Corinthians 6:12-20
“The word of the LORD was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.” This made me wonder about these days. Is the word of the LORD common or rare? Where and when do we hear it? How do we know it is God's word?
Are God's words and voice sometimes more prevalent and other times absent? The word for “rare” here is “precious” or “exceptional” but still gives the feeling of being infrequent. Maybe it has more to do with selective hearing, or our willingness or ability to listen. Yet certainly God's presence would have been everywhere and could be noted in nature and in blessings to give thanks for and in the different kinds of people you'd meet, if you were open to seeing it. It seems that dreams and visions can be interpreted in light of God's action, or those actions can be ignored and we can choose to find other meaning in them.
So if the word of God is always present and it depends on us listening, when are we better listeners? I think it is likely when we are in desperate need or when we understand that there is something in it for us if we do listen. For each of us then, the word of God is rare when we think we've got it covered, when we put our trust in our selves, when we are comfortable and confident, and when we are distracted by the temptations of this world, the idolatry in which we put our trust in ourselves or our money or our power. But we quickly tune our stations back into God's word when we're in trouble, when we remember who and what is most important, and when we realize we can't do it all ourselves.
The word of the LORD was rare with Eli. He and his sons were comfortable. In fact his sons had been insulting God with their words and probably their actions. But God doesn't give up on them. God finds someone who can listen, young Samuel, to tell the message that Eli and his sons couldn't otherwise hear. Then Samuel spends his life listening to God and being a trustworthy prophet of the LORD, telling others what they otherwise couldn't hear and bearing witness to God's saving power through his words and actions.
The Corinthians have received the Good News of Jesus Christ through Paul himself, but they have gone back to listening only to their own desires and not what is best for the community. The have selective hearing, taking to heart the part about grace, but forgetting they are to have a changed life. They have found freedom in God's grace and forgiveness, but they are abusing that grace, by sinning all the more. In particular some of them are visiting prostitutes and then coming to the community to brag about it.
We might chuckle to ourselves a little bit with this second reading. They were sure hung up on fornication. What does that have to do with us? I'm second generation after the sexual revolution. Our parents couldn't advise us to wait until marriage because they didn't. These days it is important to many couples to know they are sexually compatible before they commit themselves to one another for life.
But the word translated here as fornication means something more like debauchery. It doesn't just refer to the sin of an individual or a couple. It is also about being unfaithful to God, not listening to God. We've been learning in our Wednesday Bible Study that the Apostle Paul, who wrote these letters to the Corinthians was quite concerned about the body and what we do with our bodies. Some folks had the idea that it wasn't really Jesus' body on the cross—that he was somehow absent at the crucifixion. But Paul wanted to stress that the body is important or God wouldn't have ever come in the flesh. He wanted to stress that Jesus really did suffer, otherwise how could we identify with him in our sufferings. Paul wanted to stress that what we do with our bodies does matter, because God is present with us both in this life and the next and with our bodies and our five senses we can connect to God, or we can reject God and feed our own desires and pleasures and damage our bodies.
In addition, the body refers to the community, the body of Christ. So it isn't just what we do with our individual bodies that can harm or help us, but it what we do with the body of Christ, our community that can harm or help us and our neighbors. For instance in the Corinthian Christian community, their gatherings were usually a meal. Those who were more wealthy got off work earlier and would come to the meal and eat all the food and drink all the wine. And those working swing shift, who were more in need, would come and all the food would be gone. Imagine if at communion, the wealthy were invited up first and they took all the bread and wine and when the poorest came to the table, there was nothing left. The idea is that some were being selfish and damaging the whole community as well as their own health and well-being.
When we are part of a community we must listen. We listen to ourselves and our own needs. We listen to each other and get feedback and support and education. We listen to God. Often God speaks through other people, especially marginalized people we don't usually want to listen to. God can speak through visions and dreams, when we are quiet and pay attention to God's Spirit speaking within us. It takes a lot of listening.
Sometimes it is hard to listen when we think we know all the answers. That's one life skill we will probably all be working on our whole lives long. How do we listen without just sticking to our own agenda? How can we listen with openness to other points of view and those on other paths? How can we listen without at the same time forming our response for rebuttal?
Christians have been known to be pushy, as some have felt that there is one path to God. We don't know how to do evangelism in a way that doesn't alienate people or disrespect the spiritual path they are on. So we have abandoned evangelism. In fact we don't even want to talk about our faith at all so we won't get mixed up with more fundamentalist, pushy Christians. But I think listening is the key. We can be listeners in our families and neighborhoods and groups of friends and be doing what God is teaching us to do—just be open and in that way minister to one another and allow ourselves to be affected and changed by what we see and hear.
Let me give a couple of examples. A few years ago a friend of mine just dropped out of my life altogether. It was kind of weird. I saw on facebook she had gotten a horse. I think I was a little jealous of this horse. I didn't like her path at all. But I opened myself up and listened and I figured out that with this horse, she was having a religious experience. She was experiencing something transcendent and beautiful and it had changed her. She was like a new convert to a religion, completely swept up in it and I couldn't resent that anymore. I had to respect her path.
Here's another example. The year I was confirmed, one of the young men in my Confirmation class decided not to be confirmed. I remember Ryan had his appendix burst on the ball field and my pastor took the whole class (of 6 others) to the hospital to visit him. It was a couple of weeks before Confirmation day and he told us that he wasn't going to be confirmed. My pastor wasn't pushy. He accepted it, he listened, he respected Ryan's path. And I've heard recently that Ryan's wife has brought his children to church because they suddenly are interested and want to be involved.
We respected his path, because none of us could judge him or take the place of God who in Jesus this morning simply says, “Follow me” and “Come and see.” It was a simple invitation to move forward, not knowing the particular path. We also respected Ryan's path because he wasn't just going through with what was expected of him, but he thought about it deeply enough to know if his heart wasn't in it that he shouldn't do it.
Follow me—it isn't like Jesus had a particular straight and easy spiritual path to follow. He was going all sorts of unexpected places. Folks had an idea of the kind of Messiah the would receive from God, and Jesus was not it. He wasn't rich. He wasn't powerful. He had all kinds of friends his parents and pastor wouldn't approve of. He didn't spend all his days in the temple or synagogue. He was out there among the people, sleeping in the dirt, and eating whatever was shared. He was arrested and executed, too. Our Messiah was a felon on death row. His path was unexpected. When we follow Jesus, we listen and we go unexpected places to unexpected people. There is no right path, but only following and not with GPS, but one foot after the other, one day at a time, not knowing what each day will bring, only that we have God's presence with us.
Come and see—it is an invitation. Come and listen. We open ourselves to discovery, to have the path and picture in our mind of what our spiritual path will be or someone else's, and then come and experience, take a look, find out if we will find something worth pursuing. And that's what we get to do for others, not dictate their path, but to live lives that are inviting to others, that are open to curiosity, that cause someone to ask about our path because they might be looking for a path too, or not sure what a path looks like, or who might be on a similar journey. May God teach us to listen, as Samuel did, and when we can't seem to listen, give us people to help open our ears. And as we listen, may we hear and extend the invitation to come and see, going where our Savior leads us, into new life.