Almighty God, in Christ you make all things new: transform the poverty of our nature by the riches of your grace, and in the renewal of our lives make known your heavenly glory; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
Eternal Lord, our beginning and our end: bring us with the whole creation to your glory, hidden through past ages and made known in Jesus Christ our Lord.
Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.
At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was. Then the Lord called, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’ and he said, ‘Here I am!’ and ran to Eli, and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’ But he said, ‘I did not call; lie down again.’ So he went and lay down. The Lord called again, ‘Samuel!’ Samuel got up and went to Eli, and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’ But he said, ‘I did not call, my son; lie down again.’ Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. The Lord called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’ Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy. Therefore Eli said to Samuel, ‘Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” ’ So Samuel went and lay down in his place.
Now the Lord came and stood there, calling as before, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’ And Samuel said, ‘Speak, for your servant is listening.’ Then the Lord said to Samuel, ‘See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make both ears of anyone who hears of it tingle. On that day I will fulfil against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. For I have told him that I am about to punish his house for ever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them. Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be expiated by sacrifice or offering for ever.’
Samuel lay there until morning; then he opened the doors of the house of the Lord. Samuel was afraid to tell the vision to Eli. But Eli called Samuel and said, ‘Samuel, my son.’ He said, ‘Here I am.’ Eli said, ‘What was it that he told you? Do not hide it from me. May God do so to you and more also, if you hide anything from me of all that he told you.’ So Samuel told him everything and hid nothing from him. Then he said, ‘It is the Lord; let him do what seems good to him.’
As Samuel grew up, the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was a trustworthy prophet of the Lord.
1 Samuel 3:1-20
1 O Lord, you have searched me out and known me;
you know my sitting down and my rising up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
2 You mark out my journeys and my resting place
and are acquainted with all my ways.
3 For there is not a word on my tongue,
but you, O Lord, know it altogether.
4 You encompass me behind and before
and lay your hand upon me.
5 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
so high that I cannot attain it.
12 For you yourself created my inmost parts;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
13 I thank you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
marvellous are your works, my soul knows well.
14 My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was made in secret and woven in the depths of the earth.
15 Your eyes beheld my form, as yet unfinished;
already in your book were all my members written,
16 As day by day they were fashioned
when as yet there was none of them.
17 How deep are your counsels to me, O God!
How great is the sum of them!
18 If I count them, they are more in number than the sand,
and at the end, I am still in your presence.
Then I saw in the right hand of the one seated on the throne a scroll written on the inside and on the back, sealed with seven seals; and I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, ‘Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?’ And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it. And I began to weep bitterly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. Then one of the elders said to me, ‘Do not weep. See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.’
Then I saw between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders a Lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. He went and took the scroll from the right hand of the one who was seated on the throne. When he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell before the Lamb, each holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. They sing a new song:
‘You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for you were slaughtered and by your blood you ransomed for God
saints from every tribe and language and people and nation;
you have made them to be a kingdom and priests serving our God,
and they will reign on earth.’
The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, ‘Follow me.’ Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, ‘We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.’ Nathanael said to him, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ Philip said to him, ‘Come and see.’ When Jesus saw Nathanael coming towards him, he said of him, ‘Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!’ Nathanael asked him, ‘Where did you come to know me?’ Jesus answered, ‘I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.’ Nathanael replied, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’ Jesus answered, ‘Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.’ And he said to him, ‘Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.’
Sermon on Sunday, Epiphany 2
In the Old Testament lesson we heard, “The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.”
Events of late have, I think, confirmed these words. We do not hear people speaking of their vision for the future, rather they complain about how they have been hard done by, or they harp on about what they want now. Too many are silent about what should be. People are too keen on their own comfort – they want to luxuriate in rich meals and triple chocolate desserts, let alone drink quantities of champagne and schnapps. This culture of indulgence has overtaken everyone, particularly during this past Christmass season, hasn’t it? All the cooking programs, teaching us about luxurious recipes and talking of gourmet experiences near and far, have confirmed that we remain in what many parts of the bible castigate as “the world”. We have turned away from anything spiritual of late, haven’t we? The corona virus has seen to that.
I am afraid that we have become what we don’t want to be. People have acted on their basest desires and they have, as Paul said somewhere, not been able to do what they really should aspire to. They have not done the good they in their hearts know that they should do. I think we act on jealousy and hate too often. We want this or that, and we let such desires control us, rather than let the good intentions in us control what we do.
We should be able to see this happening all around us – I suppose we can see it when we look at the events of ten days ago in Washington, DC. There we have the concupiscence of humanity being acted out – it is writ large, as they sometimes say, don’t you think? Sadly, I have to reject what is happening in the land of my birth. With the words of the Collect I have to cry out, “Almighty God, in Christ you make all things new: transform the poverty of our nature by the riches of your grace, and in the renewal of our lives make known your heavenly glory.”
We have to acknowledge our very parlous state – we are in danger both without and within – clearly we are at risk physically and spiritually. The words from our collect should guide us through the fraught dangers of this new year. Last year was one where we all felt poorer than the poor because we were so restricted. We could not get our hair cut when we wanted, nor could we go to watch our favourite clubs play their fixtures. We have not been able to start our weeks by gathering to worship, nor could we finish the week off by meeting friends at the pub.
Life was not what we wanted it to be during the last year. We now fear that this coming year will be the same. We all felt we were deprived of everything we deserved. They want to say – Am I not worthy of a pint at the end of the week? Why can’t I see my friends when I want to? Surely I should be able to do anything I want. – Isn’t that the mantra of this generation?
But what do we deserve? Have we done anything that merits any sort of reward? I know that I have not. I may want to think so, but when I am more considered, I have to admit that I am deserving of nothing. I am that wretch of that famous hymn – lost and blind hoping to be found and truly see.
However, at precisely that moment – when I realise that I am worthy of nothing – at that moment, I can look at my life clearly and I can say that I have been blessed. So many good things have happened to me, this undeserving wretch. – I have to admit that grace has abounded in my life. If I consider my life carefully, I have to say that things have happened which have had nothing to do with my worth – both negative and positive – and they have shaped my life as I know it. Overall, I do not deserve what I have been given – in particular, the love which so many have shown. That is the miraculous in my life. That is what I have to shout about now in my confined life, this life restricted to four walls.
When Jesus asked, ‘Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree?’ he was asking of something more fundamental than miracles.
How many trees have you sat under? Did Jesus see you there? On those terribly hot summer days, or those terribly wet days? Whenever we wanted shelter we sat under the tree. In that moment of protection, we are self contained and, probably, self satisfied. Certainly, Nathanael must have felt safe under his fig tree. He was certain that nothing could challenge him, nothing could shift him from his cosy seat. But he was wrong, wasn’t he? Jesus came and told him about his idling under the fig tree. In fact, I would say he
Nathanael with these words, ‘Do you love me because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree?’
I don’t love you just because you saw me under the fig tree. I don’t believe in Jesus just because he said he saw me in my idleness under that figurative fig tree. The fig tree of the story becomes something else in our lives, doesn’t it? The fig tree, I think, becomes a symbol in our lives, a symbol through which we make sense of our lives. What trees have figured in your life? What symbolic trees enlighten you? – The tree of life, whether you name it as the tree in the garden of Eden or the tree on which our saviour was hung up to die for our sake – this tree of life plays a big role in our lives, whether we see ourselves sitting beneath it or not.
Another very significant figure in the history of mankind sat under a tree. Do you know who that was? There is Newton, but there is another who is just as significant. The Buddha sat under the bo tree as he moved towards enlightenment. The zen buddhist continues the practice of “sitting” – waiting on his entry into nirvana, much like the contemporary christian religious sitting in eager anticipation of the coming in glory of the Lord and King of this world.
Jesus continued, ‘Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.’ There is more in store for us than idling under the tree, isn’t there? I wonder what these greater things will be, don’t you?