A Reading from the First Book of Samuel (3:1-10)
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.”
Psalm (139:1-5, 12-17)
1 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 trace my journeys and my resting-places *
and are acquainted with all my ways.
3 Indeed, there is not a word on my lips, *
but you, O Lord, know it altogether.
4 You press upon me behind and before *
and lay your hand upon me.
5 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; *
it is so high that I cannot attain to it.
12 For you yourself created my inmost parts; *
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
13 I will thank you because I am marvelously made; *
your works are wonderful, and I know it well.
14 My body was not hidden from you, *
while I was being made in secret
and woven in the depths of the earth.
15 Your eyes beheld my limbs, yet unfinished in the womb;
all of them were written in your book; *
they were fashioned day by day,
when as yet there was none of them.
16 How deep I find your thoughts, O God! *
how great is the sum of them!
17 If I were to count them,
they would be more in number than the sand; *
to count them all, my life span would need to be like yours.
A Reading from the First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians (6:21-20)
“All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are beneficial. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything. “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food,” and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is meant not for fornication but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us by his power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Should I therefore take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Do you not know that whoever is united to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For it is said, “The two shall be one flesh.” But anyone united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Shun fornication! Every sin that a person commits is outside the body; but the fornicator sins against the body itself. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body.
The Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to John (1:43-51)
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 toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get 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.”
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
Nearly a century ago, the British writer, G.K. Chesterton, offered this observation on conservatism and change: “All conservatism is based on the idea that if you leave things alone you leave them as they are. But you do not. If you leave a thing alone you leave it to a torrent of change. If you leave a white post alone, it will soon be a black post. If you particularly want it to be white you must always be painting it again; that is, you must always be having a revolution. ”
If anything is going to stay essentially the same, it has to change, and to change over and over again. That principle applies to all living things, including the church. The church is, to use Luther’s phrase, always in need of reformation. Yet, with every new edition of the Prayer Book, and with every change to any aspect the church’s life or worship, there have always been, it seems, those who have resisted and refused to go along with the changes. They insist on trying to live in the past. It seems to be part of some people’s nature to try to avoid change, even though the only things that do not change are things that are dead. And the surest way to kill any living thing is to make sure that it does not change.
A stubborn resistance to change seems to have been the attitude of some people throughout human history, including those living in biblical times. Yet God loves us and loves our world enough that God sometimes goes ahead and makes changes anyway, whether we want them or not, because God knows that change is essential to life. God is always, it seems, doing something new. We hear of two of those new things in today’s first reading and gospel reading.
For about 200 years before the event in today’s first reading took place, Israel had been living as a very loose confederation of tribes, sometimes cooperating with and defending one another, sometimes at war with one another. But God was now about to do a new thing. God was in the process of raising up a prophet by the name of Samuel, who would lead Israel into a new age: to a way of being the people of God that it had never experienced before, to a way of living that would sustain it through the coming centuries. That transformation was apparently one that nobody saw coming, except, of course, God. And it was only by changing that Israel was able to maintain its core identity as God’s chosen people.
Over a thousand years later, at the time that the scene in our gospel reading takes place, God was again doing a new thing: something that no one seems to have expected, and something that no one seems to have especially wanted either. Even those who would come to play important roles in that “new thing” had a hard time seeing God’s hand in it. As Nathaniel remarked, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” That wasn’t the way things were supposed to work. That certainly wasn’t the way that God was supposed to be acting in history. But God never seems to worry much about what people think God is “supposed” to do. God is always, it seems, doing something new.
What new things is God doing in our time, specifically in the church? That is a question that believers need to face in every age, and that is a question that we need to be asking in our own time as well.
The church as it used to be no longer exists. The percentage of people who identify themselves as members of a church, any church, has dropped dramatically over the past half century. Being an active member of a church is clearly a matter of choice; it is no longer something that most people simply do. Many churches have closed. Others have combined with one another. Still others are looking at and experimenting with new ways of carrying out their core mission.
At our most recent Diocesan Convention, both the bishop’s address and the discussions that took place focused on the development of what the bishop calls “ministry partnerships.” The term refers to what is, for many churches, a new approach to the church’s ministries in the community. It asks how churches can be more effective in carrying out those ministries by leaving behind the typical, old approach of doing it by themselves. That familiar tactic is based on the idea of developing each church’s own programs and controlling those programs.
The ministry partnership approach, on the other hand, begins with the work to be done, on the service to be provided in the community. It then explores ways that we can work together with other churches, across denominational lines, and with other organizations in our area in order to address the needs more effectively. Instead of each individual church working as a standalone entity, it challenges each church to be what Jesus calls it to be: the leaven in the bread, the salt for the earth, the light for the world. We are to be a minority in service to the majority.
One major implication, one major change, in moving to a ministry partnership approach is that it requires all members of the church to do the work of the church. It is no longer tenable, at least in most churches, for people to leave the ministry of the church to the clergy and elected lay leaders. Partnering throughout the community requires us all to be looking for and participating in new ways of doing the work that God has entrusted to us.
Maybe God has been working through the current struggles of the church to bring us to this point, to bring us to this cooperative approach to ministry, and to bring us to recognizing that each and every one of us has been entrusted with being the church and with doing the work of the church. Or, to put it another way, maybe this is a way that God is leading us to take seriously our baptismal promises that we renewed here last Sunday.
As we prepare to participate in next Sunday’s Annual Parish Meeting and, in doing so, to begin another year in the life of this church, God might just be calling us to open ourselves up to a new thing that God is doing in our time. It might be something that we never expected, like something good actually coming from Nazareth. But it might just be in new approaches to the church’s life and ministry that God is at work bringing forth new life. It might just be in new approaches to the church’s life and ministry that God making the old new again.