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Epiphany 2 / Ordinary Time 2, Cycle B (2015)

God is present unexpectedly in all spheres of life. These texts focus on God’s rule in our lives and his unexpected presence in them. Providence, but also the surprises of his love and grace (Justification by Grace), should receive special attention from the pulpit.

Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18
This is a prayer for deliverance from personal enemies attributed to David. As we have previously noted, most Psalms attributed to the great king were not his work. In fact, this particular Psalm is probably of a later date, appended to the original collection which comprises Book 5 of Psalms. Thus it seems useful to reiterate that the conclusion of many scholars that references to David in the Psalms like this one may have been a way of using him to represent the inner life of all his subjects and so of all the faithful (Brevard Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture, p. 521). In that sense this song is about trust in God and his guidance in face of hard times that all the faithful experience. The inscription “to the leader” at the Psalm’s outset probably is addressed to the leader of musicians in the Jerusalem Temple.

The song begins with an affirmation that everything we have ever done or thought is known by God (vv. 1-6). We are “hemmed in” [closed in] by him. God is said to be active in our lives (v. 5). Such knowledge is said to be too wonderful [pili]. Knowledge of the psalmist since conception is attributed to God (vv. 13-16). The wonder/preciousness of it all is celebrated (vv. 17-18). All dimensions of life seem to come from God.

Application: A sermon on this lesson will celebrate God’s providence, that he has known us and kept us “hemmed in” our whole lives. He is present everywhere in our lives and can be trusted, no matter how bad things look.

1 Samuel 3:1-10 (11-20)
This book’s origin as a distinct work derives from the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures (the Septuagint), which divided the story of Israel’s monarchy into four sections (1 and 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings). It is probably the result of two or three sources: (1) Early traditions about Samuel and Saul; (2) Editor-molded materials into a connected history implying a critique of the events, deeming Israel’s kingship problematic, and so contending that the people must be set under the role of God and his prophet Samuel; or (3) Incorporating the previous strand into the more Deuteronomistic (D) history (the result of sweeping religious reforms in Judah under King Josiah in the seventh century BC). This lesson is the story of God’s first revelation to Samuel, when as still a boy he was lying down in the temple in Shiloh (where apparently the Ark of the Covenant was then housed) while his spiritual mentor Eli, the high priest and judge of Israel in the eleventh century BC, was lying down in his room (vv. 1-2). It is noted that this was a time when the Word of the Lord was rare and visions were not widespread. (This may refer to a lack of visions in this era, as they were equated with revelations to the ancient mind.) During the night while Eli and all slept, the boy hears his name called, but three times incorrectly responds, thinking Eli is calling him (vv. 4-8). Eli directs Samuel to remain lying down and if called again to respond to Yahweh. The lad complies when the Lord came to him again (vv. 9-10).

The lesson continues with Yahweh recounting to Samuel a warning he had already issued to Eli through an anonymous spokesman (in 2:27-36) that due to the blaspheming [qalal, literally "making themselves vile"] his sons had undertaken and his failure to restrain [kahah, literally "make dim"] them, the sin could not be abrogated by sacrificial offerings (vv. 11-14). Samuel lied there until the morning and was afraid to tell Eli (vv. 15-16). But after receiving reassurances from Eli, Samuel tells everything (vv. 17-18). It is reported that Yahweh was with Samuel as he grew, and all Israel knew him as a trustworthy prophet [nabi] (vv. 19-20).

Application: This lesson provides preachers with an opportunity to proclaim how God uses the most surprising means, a young child in the midst of great and trained religious leaders, to work his will. Thus we need to be alert to his presence in all dimension of life. These themes are all about Providence and God’s presence throughout Creation.

1 Corinthians 6:12-20
The lesson is taken from one of Paul’s authentic letters, written from Ephesus prior to his epistle to the Romans, to a church he had established (Acts 18:1-11). Relations had become strained with the church. The letter aims to address doctrinal and ethical problems disturbing the Corinthian church. The lesson addresses a controversy touched off by some Corinthians who were teaching that his views entailed that all things are lawful/authorized [exesti] (v. 12), and so they could indulge in satisfying sexual desire, much like we satisfy desire when eating. Paul responds by noting that not all things are useful and that the body is not made for fornication (v. 13). We are members [melos] of Christ (v. 15), one spirit with him (v. 17), a temple [naos] of the Holy Spirit (v. 19). Some things, like adultery, he adds, are not beneficial, and we should not be dominated by such desires (vv. 12-13). The resurrection of Christ is said to raise [egeiro] the faithful (v. 14). Our bodies dare not become members of a prostitute (v. 15), for we belong to the Lord (v. 14). He justifies these moves by noting that two become one flesh in sex, so that in sex with a prostitute we become who she is (v. 16). All the more reason to shun such behavior, as we are now a temple of the Holy Spirit, are no longer our own (v. 19). Paul reminds the Corinthians that they have been bought [agorazo] with a price, now belong to Christ, and may glorify [doxazo] God (v. 20).

Application: The main point of a sermon on this text should be to explore how Justification by Grace affords us a life of freedom from the law (Sanctification), and why such freed persons do not want to engage in evil. Another related sermon direction would be to focus on the Holy Spirit dwelling in us, for we belong to Christ. This both explains why as free we still want to do God’s thing (Sanctification as Spontaneous Good Works) and also highlights why in all dimensions of our lives God is present.

John 1:43-51
We have previously noted that this book is the last of the four gospels to be written, probably not composed until the last two decades of the first century. It is very different in style in comparison to the other three (so-called synoptic) gospels. In fact it is probably based on these earlier gospels. The book has been identified with John the Son of Zebedee, the disciple whom Jesus loved, and this claim was made as long ago as late in the first century by the famed theologian of the early church Irenaeus (Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 1, p. 414). It is likely that it was written by a disciple of John. Hints of that possibility are offered by the first post-biblical church historian Eusebius of Caesarea who claimed that the book was written on the basis of the external facts made plain in the gospel and so John is a “spiritual gospel” (presumably one not based on eyewitness accounts of the author) (Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. 1, p. 261). Its main agenda was probably to encourage Jewish Christians in conflict with the synagogue to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God (20:31).

This lesson is the call of several of Jesus’ disciples — Philip and Nathanael. There are no parallel accounts in the Synoptic Gospels. (Nathanael may be the same person called Bartholomew in the Synoptics [Mark 3:18; Matthew 10:3; Luke 6:14].) Jesus had just gained some of John the Baptist’s followers (especially Andrew and Peter) (vv. 37-42). Like Andrew and Peter, Philip is said to be from Bethsaidea, a town on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee. Philip and Nathanael recognize Jesus as the Messiah (“the one about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote”) (vv. 43-45). Nathanael expresses surprise originally that the Messiah could be from Bethlehem (backwater town that it was) (v. 46). Jesus recognizes who Nathanael is prior to meeting him (having seen him under a nearby fig tree), and Nathanael is led to confess Jesus as Son of God [huios tou theou] and king of the Jews (vv. 47-49). Jesus’ comments about Nathanael being a Hebrew in whom there is no deceit/guile [dolos] (v. 47) are probably a reference to the fact that the man named Israel (Jacob) received his original blessing through deceit (Genesis 27:35). After he had confessed Jesus to be Son of God [huios tou theou, an affirmation in John which entails his divinity], finally, Jesus challenges Nathanael as to whether he believed only because of this prophecy of identification, for there will be greater things to be seen in His ministry (vv. 49-50). The greater things to be seen are heaven opening, the angels ascending and descending on the Son of Man (v. 51). This reference to the opening of heaven may again refer to Jacob, to a dream he had (Genesis 28:12) after deceitfully receiving Isaac’s blessing. In this gospel, “Son of Man” [huios tou anthropou] seems to represent a link between heaven and earth (3:13; 5:26-27; 6:62).

Application: The account provides an opportunity to remind the flock that God’s presence is revealed not just in astonishing miracles, but that faith sees miracles in what seems ordinary. These points might be related to John’s titling Jesus Son of Man. Christ is the link between heaven and earth, so that in him we perceive ourselves here on earth always linked to God and in his presence (Christology).

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Authors of
Lectionary Scripture Notes
Norman A. Beck is the Poehlmann Professor of Theology and Classical Languages and the Chairman of the Department of Theology, Philosophy, and Classical Languages at Texas Lutheran University
Dr. Norman A. Beck
Mark Ellingsen is professor at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, Georgia
Dr. Mark Ellingsen