Intimacy With God

January 17, 2021. United Ministry Aurora, NY

Nothing about us is hidden from God. He knitted us together in our mother’s womb and we are fearfully and wonderfully made. There is not a thought that comes to our mind God does not know about even before it is spoken. God knows our thoughts even when we are far away from God’s presence. Nothing we do, nothing we have ever done, nothing we will ever do is without the permission of God.

The Good News, the amazing good news is God loves us still. God created us, knows us and God loves us and wants to be with us. God wants for us to know he is with us and loves us. God loves us and knows us more — and better than we know ourselves. To be a Christian is to nurture in ourselves a similar love of our neighbor, no matter what they think, no matter what they say, no matter what they do. Love your neighbor as God loves both you and your neighbor.

That is one of the themes in our readings this morning. We don’t often think about it, but our lectionary – the specific selection of readings set out for all services each Sunday and weekday – these are put together thoughtfully. They have been selected with the wise guidance of the Holy Spirit to help us make connections. The readings are designed to work together on us. So it can be fruitful for us to look for the themes, the underlying messages across the set of Scripture readings for any Sunday.

Many here are teachers. Teachers know no human textbook can possibly work equally well from elementary school through graduate school. The Bible does this. Our sacred scriptures are God’s textbook. As we allow our minds to stretch a little, as we see connections between passages, God’s deeper teaching opens up to us. The Bible’s lessons help us grow from adolescent humans to fully adult humans. And the Bible’s deeper lessons prepare and help transform us for the much longer life that follows our physical death. Our lessons today begin with a familiar Old Testament reading from 1 Samuel. We are told that the word of the Lord was rarely heard in those olden days. Young Samuel is lying down resting in the temple of the Lord. Samuel hears what he thinks is the voice of his teacher, Eli the Priest, calling to him. Samuel runs to Eli to answer. Eli tells Samuel, “I did not call, lie down again.” The third time this happens, Eli realizes Samuel has heard the voice of the Lord, and instructs Samuel on what to do. His instruction to Samuel; “Say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’”

Samuel does as his spiritual director, Eli instructs, and the Lord responds to Samuel. What happens next is less familiar to us. The Lord gives Samuel a prophecy about Eli. It’s bad news Eli has brought on himself by indulging his wayward children. Samuel was reluctant to share this with Eli, but, in the morning, Eli calls Samuel and drags the information from him. Eli hears the bad news, confirms to Samuel he received this from the Lord, and accepts it, saying, “It is the Lord; let him do what seems good to him.” As Samuel grew up, the Lord confirmed Samuel’s prophecies, his teaching, and all Israel accepted that Samuel was a trustworthy prophet of the Lord.

Scripture of course teaches us at several levels of understanding, as each of us is ready to receive. Being mature Christians we understand that Samuel, lying down in the temple of the Lord, has additional meaning to us. Our reading today from 1 Corinthians reminded us, “ 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?”

Our New Testament reading correctly teaches that we are the temple of the Lord, and the Lord lives within us as well as around, behind, and before us. Lying down at rest in the temple of the Lord is a metaphor for us being in quiet contemplation, with the inactivity of knowledge.

Inactivity of Knowledge. Here’s what we mean by, “the inactivity of knowledge.” Today’s Psalm 139 teaches us that when we come to the end of our knowledge, we are with God. The Psalm concludes with,” How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! I try to count them — they are more than the sand; I come to the end — I am still with you.”

When our knowledge ends, or we make it inactive and stop depending on it, we become aware of God’s continuous presence. The Psalm teaches God is always with us and God knows us completely, including our innermost thoughts. “Even before a word is on my tongue, O Lord, you know it completely. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it.”

We can become aware of this presence. Like Samuel we can learn to listen.

Today’s reading from John’s Gospel is also about how God knows us and calls us. Shortly after Jesus’ was baptized, Andrew heard John the Baptist’s account of Jesus’ miraculous baptism and, called by God through man, become a follower. Andrew in turn brought his brother Simon to Jesus, who looked at this rough fisherman and said, ‘You are Simon son of John; you shall be called Cephas’ (that is, Peter, ‘the Rock’).

Our Gospel reading picks up the next day as Jesus decides to go north into Galilee, where Andrew and Peter lived north of the Sea of Galilee. He meets their neighbor Phillip and says, “Follow me.” Phillip, now called immediately fetches Nathanael of Cana and tells him, “We have found him,” referring to the Messiah, “and he’s the son of Joseph from Nazareth.” Nathanael doesn’t answer the call so easily. Nathanael sneers, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

Nazareth is just a few towns over from Cana in the Galilee. Don’t we often disparage our neighbor more than those who live farther from us? Gently persistent, Phillip calmly says, “Come and see.”

As Jesus sees skeptical Nathanael coming he says, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael asks, “Where did you come to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Phillip called you.” Nathanael is stunned, and declares Jesus is the Son of God, King of Israel. Jesus tells him, “ believe because you’ve seen a small thing, you will see greater things than these.”

Jesus knew Simon Peter with a glance, and named him. To name something is to describe its essence. Andrew’s brother Simon was a rash, impulsive, Jewish fisherman, not the type we would figure was a solid rock upon whom the future structure of the church would depend. But Jesus, Son of God, sees with the eyes of the Lord, not the eyes of man. Jesus knew Simon Peter’s essence, his heart and soul. Jesus saw past the tanned rough exterior. He knew Peter’s soul. And he loved him. And Peter became the Jewish foundation stone on which our Gentile and Jewish, male and female, class and color egalitarian Church of Jesus Christ is constructed. God knew Simon Peter as he knows you.

Then, Nathanael with his skeptical sneer appeared before Jesus, ready to dismiss Andrew’s outrageous claim that this Nazarene could be the Messiah. Jesus, in just looking at him, knew him inside and out, what he had been, what he was, and what he would be. And Jesus loved him. To say he saw Nathanael under the fig tree doesn’t mean Jesus had a vision of the man resting under a Ficus bush. The fig tree is an ancient mystical symbol of Torah, which like the fig tree always provides new fruit as you grow nearer to it, since the fruit of the fig tree does not all ripen at the same time. It is a symbol of how the scriptures continually provide fresh learning. The scriptures meet us as we grow nearer to it, and provide us with the fruit we need as we are ready for it.

Jesus told Nathanael that he knew him and his true nature, not as a deceitful sneerer, as a diligent student and believer in the word of God. The spark of recognition and Nathanael suddenly understood he is confronting the living word; He who knows him; He who knit him in his mother’s womb, as he declares, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God. You are the King of Israel.”

Our charge as people of God is to build —and to be built on the solid rock of scripture. Scripture nourishes us children as we are ready to take in increasingly solid food. The wise rabbis said, “Woe to him who reads Torah only at the story level.”

This morning we looked at a few familiar passages with new eyes. Young Samuel at rest in the temple of the Lord when he first heard the voice of the Lord teaches us the virtue of contemplative quiet, and attentiveness to the presence and action of God within us who are the living temples of the living God. We saw how God who knits each of us in our mother’s womb knows us more intimately more completely than we know ourselves or are capable of understanding. And loves us all the same.

At first reading the story of Nathanael may seem to be an obscure aside. Not so. We see in Jesus’ promise to Nathanael, a diligent Bible student with childlike sincerity, that, “You will see greater things than these.” After Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. Nathanael was among the other disciples as they came in from fishing. A man on the beach was grilling fish and bread. ‘Come and have breakfast,’ he said. None of the disciples dared to ask ‘Who are you?’ They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came to them, took the bread and gave it to them. Jesus fed them with what they needed. The food of life.

Like Samuel, like Simon Peter, like Nathanael, we are known by God and have been called by God. In turn, we are called to meet God and love God, and love our neighbor and call our neighbor, as God loves us and calls us. When we say to our neighbor, “Come and see,” let them see the love of God in us and at work in us.