“The Real Deal”

Epiphany 2

January 18, 2015


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


          Last Sunday we observed the Baptism of Jesus. We were reminded of how God claimed Jesus in baptism, and likewise how God claims each of us in baptism. We reaffirmed our baptismal vows, promising to live as faithful disciples of Jesus Christ and to represent Christ in the world.

          Today’s Scriptures, it seems to me, continue to expand on that idea. They further invite us to consider what it means to be a people whom God has claimed.

          First of all, let’s look at today’s psalm, Psalm 139. This psalm sings of a God who fashioned and made us, a God who knows us intimately and completely. We are fearfully and wonderfully made. God knows absolutely everything about us—far more than we know about ourselves. Now I find it really hard to wrap my finite brain around the idea that I am so completely known. I can’t even begin to imagine what that is like.

          I also find it easy to look in a negative light upon the idea that God knows me completely—that is, God knows all that is wrong with me. He knows every way that I sin. He knows all of the broken and hurting places in my life. If I only thought about the idea of God’s complete knowledge in those terms, I would be in despair. But God also knows what is right about me. God knows the places where I am faithful. God knows the places in my life where I am at least reasonably whole and healthy. And God’s knowledge of me is rooted in God’s love for me, both in my faithfulness and in my failings. God’s knowledge of me does not keep God from forgiving my sin through Jesus Christ—indeed, that knowledge is why God can forgive me, for God knows everything about me that needs to be forgiven.

          We see God’s complete knowledge of us demonstrated in the story of Jesus calling Nathanael as one of his disciples. As you recall, Jesus had just called Philip to follow him. Philip was from the same town as Peter and Andrew and probably was a friend of theirs already. Philip went and told another friend, Nathanael, that they had found the one promised in the Law and the Prophets: Jesus, son of Joseph, from Nazareth. Nathanael was skeptical: “Nazareth? Can anything good come from there?” Philip replied, “Come and see.”

          As Nathanael approached, Jesus said about him, “Now here’s a genuine Israelite in whom there is no deceit.” Jesus and Nathanael had never met before. Yet here Jesus was saying that not only was Nathanael part of the people whom God had claimed to be his own, but was the real deal.

          Nathanael asked, “How do you know me?”

          Jesus replied, “Before Philip called you, I saw you under the fig tree.”

          Well, that’s weird. Weird enough that the amazed Nathanael immediately confessed his faith, “Rabbi, you are God’s Son! You are the king of Israel.”

          Jesus replied, “That’s all it took for you to believe in me? You’re going to see far greater things. You’ll see heaven open and angels ascend and descend on the Son of Man.”

          Now some scholars try to find significance in the fact that Jesus saw Nathanael under a fig tree. But I don’t think that explains Nathanael’s amazement. Nathanael realized that Jesus could have only known him that well through divine means. He recognized that Jesus is God’s Son, recognized God’s claim on his life, and became one of Jesus’ followers.

          We also read about the boy Samuel, serving the Lord under the guidance of Eli, the priest at Shiloh. Samuel, you may recall, had been dedicated to God by his mother, Hannah, because God had responded to her prayer for a child after she had been unable to conceive. We find young Samuel lying down in the sanctuary at Shiloh one night, waiting for the sanctuary lamp to go out. Eli, who was elderly and had lost his eyesight, had already gone to bed. Samuel heard a voice calling him. Thinking it was Eli, Samuel went to him to see what he wanted, only to be told that Eli had not called. After this happened three times, Eli realized that the Lord was calling Samuel, so Eli told Samuel to go lie down again, and if he was called again, to answer, “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.” Samuel did so, God called again, and told Samuel of his plans to punish Eli and his family because Eli’s sons had been horribly unfaithful to God in carrying out their priestly duties, and Eli had not stopped them.

          Samuel was afraid to tell Eli what God had told him. Who could blame him? Imagine being just a kid and having to tell your mentor that he was in big trouble. However, Eli already knew God was not happy with his sons. God had already warned him about their conduct. I think Eli suspected that God’s message to Samuel was about that subject, for he insisted that Samuel tell him everything God had said to him, and wasn’t surprised when he heard it.

          God claimed Samuel to be a prophet, God’s spokesperson. Samuel came to be known as the real deal, as one who could be trusted to get it right when it came to what God had to tell his people.

          The Apostle Paul also tells us that we are to be the real deal in how we conduct our lives. Just because we are capable of doing anything we want to doesn’t mean we should.   Some things we are capable of doing are harmful rather than helpful. Some things involve giving away our self-control to an addictive substance or behavior. Paul reminds us that our bodies (the Greek word here actually refers to our whole self, not just our physical bodies) are temples of God’s Holy Spirit. Thus we should not live in ways that dishonor God. We should not engage in sexual immorality or gluttony. We are to honor God with our lives, for God has bought and paid for us through Christ. Because Christ died and rose for us, because God’s Holy Spirit lives in us, God claims us as his own. We do not belong to ourselves. We belong to God. If we are to be the real deal as people who belong to God in Jesus Christ, we must live our lives as God intended.

          Now having said that, I realize I am waltzing right into a hornet’s nest. For one thing, I know there are some among us whose lives have been impacted by behavior, sexual and otherwise, that does not honor God. For some, there is a great deal of hurt and pain attached to the memory of what happened. We must recognize, I believe, that Christian people don’t always live up to the ideals we profess. We don’t always act like we are the real deal.

          Another piece of that hornet’s nest is connected to the present disagreement in the church about whether or not homosexual behavior is immoral. As I read the Scriptures, I believe the passages traditionally used in opposing homosexuality are condemning practices such as men having sex with young boys, prostitution, and sexual activity used to worship false gods—and many others have come to similar conclusions. I do not see them having anything to do with a loving, mutual relationship between consenting adults. Of course, many of those holding to a more traditional understanding of the Bible will disagree with that statement. That is their right. I could be wrong. And so could those who disagree with me. This has taken me a long time, but I have decided that if I am wrong, I would rather be wrong on the side of grace than on the side of condemnation. As I look at the life and teachings of Jesus, I find that Jesus was not terribly interested in condemning those the religious leaders regarded as “sinners”. He was more interested in offering grace and forgiveness to those others condemned. In fact, when Jesus condemned people, it was the high and mighty religious folks who drew his ire. And when it comes to being the real deal as far as obedience to God goes, Jesus is as real as it gets.

          We belong to God. God has claimed in baptism to be his people. God wants us to be the real deal in speaking for him, living his way, following him, and representing him in the world. Yet deep down we know we don’t always live up that ideal. We are not always trustworthy representatives of God in our speaking or our living. We do not always act without guile or deceit. We don’t always treat ourselves as dwelling places of the Holy Spirit. We don’t always get it right, and we don’t always agree on what getting it right means. We belong to the God who knows all about us, right and wrong, who loves us beyond our imagining, and who forgives us our sin through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Therein lies our hope.


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