2nd Sunday after Epiphany

January 15, 2006
See Also: 
Reading 1: 
1 Samuel 3:1-10 (11-20)
Reading 2: 
Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18
Reading 3: 
1 Corinthians 6:12-20
Reading 4: 
John 1:43-51
By Rick Marshall

Psalm 139 is one of my favorite psalms, so I would find a way to use verses 1-18 as part of the liturgy for the morning. It’s best to preface it briefly, read it and let it stand on its own. The psalm expresses God’s deep involvement in all of life, in our individual lives. I’ve read this psalm during funeral services after speaking of love and how we take a risk in loving. God, too, takes a risk in loving us. It could easily be used as a private prayer to focus the mind and heart. I think it is best used in the sanctuary during worship when it becomes a statement of faith in the kind of God found in the Bible. Set to music, it is able to express our deepest parts as human beings, that liminal place where we meet the presence of God. How would we best express such depth but only through poetry, during worship, lifting our hearts together in amazement and praise.

In the context of the story of the call of Samuel in the 1 Samuel 3:1-20 text, Psalm 139 could be used as an expression of surprise at the divine presence. If the 1 Samuel text were used as the primary text, Psalm 139 could be the emotional conclusion to the Samuel story.

If we bring in Paul’s discussion of the body as a temple from 1 Corinthians 6, we could fill out a larger sense of the presence of God pervading all of life at every level, from within, from without and around, above and beneath everything.

If I were to use this set of texts (and I will), I would focus on the Samuel text. Begin by simply telling the story, filling it out with the imagination. Notice features about the story: its use of the repetition of three; its setting in the temple; the old man, after much confusion, finally recognizing the voice of God; the old man recognizing the importance of the child; the old man placing the child in the holy voice’s way; the feeling of suspense, even threat (esp. to the old man’s family); the love for the old man that would hold back the terrible message about Eli and his sons. This is a great narrative to display how God’s presence oddly moves in the story, making a decisive difference to the course of things.

The preacher could then turn to the 1 Corinthians passage and talk about God’s presence oddly moving in “the body.” There is even a hint of this odd movement in the John text when Jesus tells Nathaniel “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.”

Who is this God? Where is this God? What does God do in the world? In my life?

The presence of God is not necessarily a game of hide-and-seek, but there is a great deal of caginess about how God reveals God’s presence. It seems to be in everything, everywhere, yet manifests itself at unexpected times and places, moving within, behind, quietly, yet making a crucial difference in the way stories--and our lives--unfold.

The preacher could also focus on the “call” aspect of the stories, especially 1 Samuel and John. The call to Samuel is a classic one and would easily lend itself to imagining God’s call in other contexts, to other people. Or compare and contrast the call of Samuel with Jesus call to the disciples. How is Jesus’ call similar or different from God’s call?

The preacher could also use Psalm 139 as a backbone to a larger commentary sermon, or series of observations, that weave with the words of the poem.

All of this makes sense from a process perspective, because God is involved in every thing at every level, calling creation forth, moment by moment. The idea of “call” makes perfect sense, and so does the idea that God is present in everything, even as our breath is present in us, our spirit, the wind.

For a children’s time, the preacher could talk about breath and how important it is to us, so close, even in us, yet we can’t see it. “Where could I go to get away from your Spirit? Or where could I run from your presence?” Talk about the closeness and quiet sustaining power of God.

May you be aware of God’s presence as you preach.

Rick Marshall is co-pastor of Brea Congregational Church United Church of Christ in Brea, California, a church he has served for 24 years. He has contributed many resources to the Process & Faith website, including A Process-Relational Guide to Grief, Death, and Funerals.