Second Sunday after the Epiphany

1 Samuel 3: 1 - 20
Psalm 139: 1 - 6; 13 - 18
1 Corinthians 6: 12 - 20
John 1: 43 - 51

Have you ever gotten a sweet promotion or new opportunity or committed to something that seemed so glorious and wonderful and attractive that you did not even really think twice about it? And then, as you move further into the new opportunity, you become aware of the burden, of the deep responsibility, of the gut-wrenching gravity of the work that you are now doing? Perhaps you held that darling newborn in your arms, cooed lovingly while stroking its downy soft hair and sweet velvety cheeks and then two days later, with your eyes crossed at 3 a.m. wondered as you held the same child, now loud and inconsolable, "What HAVE I gotten myself into?"

The scriptures are full of stories about individuals "set apart" - called under unique circumstances to be a prophetic voice, to act against the dominant society, to step out in faith and lead their family or their community in a new direction, to name injustice, to perform stunning acts of mercy. These stories mostly paint extraordinary pictures if you read them one by one. And yet, if you take the broad view, you might see how universal this experience of call and responsibility is. It is not just for the mighty, it is not just for the great -- we're all called, and with that call comes some awesome obligation.

In 1 Samuel, a voice speaks to Samuel in the deep night while his mentorsleeps nearby. Samuel has trouble identifying the voice, at first thinkingthat it is actually the mentor, Eli, speaking to him. The scripture tells us that at that time, Samuel did not "know the LORD." Finally, it is Eli who explains that this call, this disembodied voice that is reaching Samuel, is actually coming from the LORD. Eli encourages Samuel to listen and to be prepared to be obedient. When Samuel finally hears and understands, the LORD reveals to him that the house of Eli - his family and tribe - are going to be punished for their disobedience. Of course Samuel is hesitant to tell Eli this...and Eli insists. How ironic that it is Eli who understands that Samuel is being called, encourages him to be obedient, insists that Samuel share what has been revealed and is then condemned for failing to be obedient himself. It seems Samuel was Set Apart to (in this instance) offer a heavy reminder to someone in power. Did Samuel have a moral dilemma? Were his loyalties divided?

The Psalmist praises God who knows his people. This is a deep reflection by someone who has become intensely aware of being Set Apart and intimately known by God. It is a hymn of awareness. God discerns our thinking, knows our ways. The psalmist also marvels at the weight of God's creation and omnipotence. It is a song of being known sung by someone who is aware he is Set Apart.

In John, we read an early account of Jesus' special identity revealed in his exceptional ability. Essentially Jesus names Nathanael for what he is, an upstanding and devout Israelite. Now, we don't know much about Nathanael, and we also don't know much about Jesus' relationship to him, but Nathanael's response is one of recognition followed by an affirmation of faith that this man is indeed somehow in special relationship to God, a king of the Israelites as the prophets spoke long ago. Nathanael recognizes Jesus’ ability to know him deeply, recognizes that this is a teacher Set Apart

Finally in 1 Corinthians, Paul offers some direct and overt direction on what it means to be Set Apart. His message is summed up in verse 20: "For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body." It is a less poetic and more didactic version of Psalm 139. As opposed to offering an individual reflection of how wonderful it is to be so fully known by God. Paul is seen here trying to convince folks they should have this same experience and same personal transformation.

-Do you feel that as a Child of God...as a follower of Jesus, you are Set Apart?
-Are there ways your life is different because you are Set Apart?
-Has your call ever led you to uncomfortable places or uncomfortable choices?
-How did you know what to do in those instances?

Will you come and follow me
If I but call your name?
Will you go where you don’t know
And never be the same?
Will you let my love be shown,
Will you let my name be known,
Will you let my life be grown
In you and you in me?

Will you leave yourself behind
If I but call your name?
Will you care for cruel and kind
And never be the same?
Will you risk the hostile stare
Should your life attract or scare?
Will you let me answer prayer
In you and you in me?

Will you let the blinded see
If I but call your name?
Will you set the pris’ners free
And never be the same?
Will you kiss the leper clean,
And do such as this unseen,
And admit to what I mean
In you and you in me?

Will you love the ‘you’ you hide
If I but call your name?
Will you quell the fear inside
And never be the same?
Will you use the faith you’ve found
To reshape the world around,
Through my sight and touch and sound
In you and you in me?

Lord, your summons echoes true
When you but call my name.
Let me turn and follow you
And never be the same.
In your company I’ll go
Where your love and footsteps show.
Thus I’ll move and live and grow
In you and you in me.

The Summons
John L. Bell, © 1987, The Iona Community.

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