Nathanael under the Fig Tree. Painting by James Tissot. Public Domain.
See the texts, artwork and Revised Common Lectionary Prayers for this service at the Vanderbilt Divinity Library.)
Leccionario en Español, Leccionario Común Revisado: Consulta Sobre Textos Comunes.
Para obtener más recursos leccionario, Estudios Exegético: Homiléticos.
Lectionnaire en français, Le Lectionnaire Œcuménique Révisé
1 Samuel 3:1-10 (11-20)
Samuel had some difficulty responding to a call from God. The message with the call (verses 11-20) was even harder to deliver to one who had been a father and a mentor.
Psalm Response: Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18 (UMH 854).
Use Tone 2 in D minor if singing the psalm with the response. Whatever musical setting you may use, go for an intimate, meditative sound and perhaps a minor key.
1 Corinthians 6:12-20
Paul confronts the ease with which some in the church in Corinth could justify using prostitutes. This is no mere economic arrangement, Paul reminds. Just as in marriage we are made one with a spouse, so in baptism we have been made one with Christ. As spouses belong to and are united with each other, so we belong to and are united with Christ. We are to give glory and allegiance to the One to whom we belong.
Jesus calls Philip to follow him. Philip announces to Nathanael that he has found the one expected by Moses and the prophets. Nathanael is skeptical until Jesus tells him he was watching Nathanael as he was sitting under a fig tree.
We continue in the Season after Epiphany. Two streams of texts enable two distinct ways to help your congregation ready itself for Lent. The Old Testament/Gospel stream focuses on “outward” acts of preparation through calling and inviting persons to discipleship to Jesus, acts of deliverance, and acts of healing. The Epistle stream focuses on characteristics that enable the church to “surround [persons] with a community of love and forgiveness.”
This week and next are also rich with denominational, ecumenical and wider cultural events. This Sunday is also Human Relations Day (Discipleship Ministries Resources). Today also marks the beginning of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. January 19 (Monday) will be the Martin Luther King Jr. Day Observance. Next Sunday is Ecumenical Sunday (January 25).
As you plan to observe some or all of these in worship this week and next, keep in mind these words from the United Methodist Book of Worship: "Such special Sundays should never take precedence over the particular day in the Christian year" (UMBOW, page 422).
This is especially critical at this moment in this season. You’ve just kicked off this season last week. And this season has a clear and significant purpose critical to the mission of The United Methodist Church—getting your congregation poised for its “midwife work” of forming persons in discipleship during Lent. That purpose is best achieved by focusing on the texts for these Sundays, not the special emphases. So while you are encouraged to include the special emphases, find ways to incorporate them into the larger focus of this season rather than organizing the whole service around these emphases.
Human Relations Day calls the church to recognize the right of all people to fulfill their potential as human beings in all their relationships. Funds collected in this required churchwide special offering support community-based youth development, youth offender programs, and United Methodist Voluntary Service programs.
Today’s OT/Gospel readings especially support this emphasis. Everything in community building begins and ultimately depends upon successful one-on-one relationships with the people being served and community leaders. You might consider having a person who does community-based youth work offer a testimony about how knowing the youth and other community leaders well makes the work more effective.
Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday will be celebrated on January 19. For print resources related to Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, see The United Methodist Book of Worship 435. Discipleship Ministries also offers resources.
This week also begins the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (January 18-25). Also see "The Ecumenical Prayer Cycle" on the World Council of Churches' website. In addition, see the 2015 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity pages from the Graymoor Ecumenical and Interreligious Institute. We continue to include the Ecumenical Prayer Cycle as part of the worship planning helps (under Prayers and Concerns, below).
Lent is coming soon! Indeed, getting your congregation ready for the work of Lent and Easter Season to follow is why the Season after Epiphany is designed as it is. Our recent (and free!) webinar, Planning Lent and Easter Season for Discipleship, will help you and your planning team focus your efforts on making Lent and Easter Season powerful and effective seasons of forming, equipping and sending disciples of Jesus in his name and the Spirit’s power.
January 18 Human Relations Day (Discipleship Ministries Resources)
Week of Prayer for Christian Unity
January 19 Martin Luther King Jr. Day
January 25 Ecumenical Sunday in The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity
All Month: Black History Month (USA)
February 8 Scouting Ministries Sunday (USA)
February 15 Transfiguration of the Lord
February 18 Ash Wednesday
All Month: Women’s History Month
Atmospherics --OT/Gospel Stream: Listening and Responding to the Call to Follow
This week and next the gospel reading offers stories about Jesus calling people to become his disciples. How the call comes, and how different persons respond is different for each. This week we hear how Jesus called Philip and Philip called Nathanael to discipleship to Jesus.
The invitation to us during these two weeks is to do likewise: hear the call of Jesus to become his disciples and invite others to join us in this journey.
What is a call to discipleship?
We see the call to discipleship in its very simplest form in Jesus’ call to Philip in verse 43. “Follow me.”
The call was not, “Become a preacher.” Nor was it “Change the world.” The call from Jesus was to follow him. The call from Philip was to join him in following Jesus. In both cases, it was a call to become apprenticed to Jesus. It was a call to learn how he lived and to learn to do the same.
Early Christianity had a three-year apprenticeship process called the catechumenate. This was a time when one or a few others in the community would come alongside those seeking to become Christians to teach them, day by day, what it takes to follow Jesus. Early Methodism had a similar process in its trial class meetings, six months of learning how to live the baptismal covenant by learning how and helping one another practice the General Rules. After being in a trial class meeting (sometimes called a “trial band”) for these six months, people could apply to become members of the Methodist Society. If accepted, they would continue in a “regular” class meeting to continue to help them grow in their faithfulness to Christ. These apprenticing practices of early Christianity and early Methodism correspond to the reasons the early church created Lent in the first place—to be the final and most intensive stage of this formation in the way of Jesus.
Be ready for Yes!
If you are going to talk about what a call to discipleship means, be sure to be ready for some to say, “Yes!” This means being ready to point people to ways they can start pursuing discipleship to Jesus with you now. Some you may call may already be part of your congregation, even fairly regular attenders, but not yet committed disciples. For these, something like a Covenant Discipleship Group may be a good way to “jumpstart” them toward discipleship.
Others may be those you know who have never really had a connection with Jesus or the church, or those who may have been baptized, but have never committed themselves publicly to living the faith. These are folks you can invite to “come and see” with you now by joining in worship or forms of the church’s life, and then join a more intentional formational group designed to help people learn to live out the baptismal covenant and follow Jesus starting during the season of Lent and culminating with baptism or confirmation/reaffirmation at Easter.
Be ready for skepticism.
Philip said “Yes” right away. Nathanael did not. His responses were sarcastic. He seemed to think that Philip’s excited report about finding “the one foretold by Moses and the prophets” was simply unbelievable. Had his brother lost his mind? Could anything good come out of Nazareth?
Jesus was not deterred by the response. He played right back with Nathanael (verses 47-50). Was Nathanael being serious when he claimed Jesus was “Son of God” and “King of Israel” (verse 49)? Maybe not. But he did follow, all the same, through the ministry and death of Jesus, and beyond (see John 21:2).
Remember from this story a skeptical response is not a “No.” It wasn’t Phillip’s job to change Nathanael’s skepticism. Not even Jesus may have done so entirely, at least not right away. A skeptical response may be a response that say, “I’m not sure about this, but since you’ve asked me, and I basically trust you, I’ll give this a shot.”
What should disciples expect? Why would we answer this call?
Disciples should expect lots of ordinary life, to be sure. To follow a person as a disciple means you are with that person most of the time. And most of the time, most people, including Jesus, are doing fairly ordinary things, like walking, or driving, or eating, or sleeping.
But Jesus offers something far out of the ordinary when he invites disciples. “Truly, truly I tell you [all], you will see the heaven opened up and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”
Angels ascending and descending upon the Son of Man echoes the story of Jacob encountering God in a dream (Genesis 28:12). In the dream, the angels ascended and descended upon a ladder— the pathway from earth to heaven and heaven to earth. Here, Jesus indicates he himself is that pathway, and his disciples will come to know this.
“The heaven opened up” meant that the existing world order was being broken into and invaded by God. Discipleship to Jesus involves becoming able to see God breaking into this world and God’s kingdom encountering and upending its powers in real time. It means we get to see what others so easily miss—that this world, as it is, is deeply broken in ways that only God can (and will and does!) restore. It also means we get to be witnesses and collaborators with the inbreaking kingdom of God.
Do we expect to see the skies split and angels all around? That is exactly what Jesus tells these first followers to expect and what many Christians through the ages have come also to expect.
Do you expect this? How are you inviting others to expect this?
The reading from I Samuel complements the gospel reading by expanding on the experience of being called by God. Remember, the focus of these two weeks is the call to discipleship, not a more generic call by God. You may decide you need to start with what it means to experience a calling from God this week, and then focus on the more specific call to discipleship next week.
How do I know it is God calling me?
A voice calls us to take a next step or launch in a new direction. How do we discover that the voice we are hearing is God’s?
Our reading from Samuel today shows us how he came to understand this.
At first, Samuel thought the voice he was hearing was Eli’s. Eli had been Samuel’s trusted mentor for several years. It was Eli who most clearly represented God to Samuel.
Though it took a while for Eli to make the connection, it was Eli who finally helped Samuel understand that the voice he was hearing was the voice of God.
How do I/we listen for the voice of God?
Eli gave Samuel some basic instruction in listening to the voice he was hearing. Samuel was to offer himself and all his attention, letting God do the talking. Perhaps this was a form of prayer Samuel had not yet learned. How well have you learned, taught, or practiced this as a congregation?
A recent study of prayer practices by United Methodists indicated that only 16 percent of the surveyed congregations had in place any intentional process to teach people to pray. As the study notes, congregations seem simply to assume that people will learn these practices on their own, but as this Scripture reveals (and as a larger portion of the non-Anglo congregations surveyed practiced!), prayer turns out to be something that does not “come naturally” to many people, and so must be taught. Who teaches prayer? How do they teach it, and what do they teach? How might worship today offer at least a primer in some practices of prayer, and in particular, listening prayer, that people can take away from them and work with through the coming week?
Is God calling me? I’m no pastor!
The “call of Samuel” in today’s reading has nothing to do with pastoral ministry or congregations. Though Samuel was already being apprenticed by Eli to become a priest, in this story, God was calling Samuel to do something else entirely. In this case, God wasn’t even asking for a long-term commitment.
What did God want? God wanted Samuel to listen, and then to speak a challenging word of warning to his mentor. Responding to this first call from God opened Samuel to hearing God calling again many more times in his life and relaying what he heard to others. After years of hearing and responding to God’s callings, Samuel became known as a trustworthy prophet.
In Your Planning Team
The first task of your planning team is to think about how best to approach today and next week within your series. Will you have two weeks focusing on different experiences of the call to discipleship, or will you focus this week more on hearing a call from God (I Samuel) and next week on the call to discipleship in particular?
Once you have decided that, remember two common theme in both passages today. One is the theme of apprenticeship. Samuel was already in an apprenticeship to his mentor, Eli. Philip and Nathanael were being called into an apprenticeship to Jesus. Whichever path you choose (calling in general today/call to discipleship next week or call to discipleship both weeks), note the central place of a relationship of apprenticeship. There are still a few professions that offer apprenticeships before one enters into practice for oneself. Medicine is among them. So are a number of the building trades (plumbing, electrical, ironworking, to name a few). Ask your worship planning team to name or talk with people who have been through such a residency, apprenticeship or internship to describe the hands on, day to day life of following their teachers they experienced. Consider how to use images and snippets of the stories these folks tell in worship today as you explore or perhaps being to explore today what discipleship means.
The other is the awareness that a calling from God or a calling to discipleship is not necessarily a call to become a pastor or missionary. Such callings are more often to follow the Spirit’s lead for the short term or Jesus for a lifetime.
As it was for Samuel, experiences of the call of God may be confusing. Samuel needed Eli to help him understand what was going on. Even the call to discipleship is not entirely a call we offer entirely as individuals. Philip did not say, “I am calling you to follow Jesus.” He said, “We have found the one about whom Moses in the law and the prophets as well have written” (verse 45), and ultimately it was an encounter with Jesus himself (just as Philip had had in a different way) that led him to “come and see” what Jesus and discipleship to him were really all about.
Discuss in your planning team times when each of you have experienced callings from God or what you might call promptings of the Holy Spirit, how others may have been helpful in helping you respond, how you responded, and what happened. Share also how you came to discipleship, who was involved, and how both the Spirit and other people continue to help you discern the way. Let the stories you share here, and others you may be able to collect from the congregation (in person, in writing, or in video) inform how you talk about and illustrate through art and music the experiences of God calling and the call to discipleship this week and next.
Epistle Stream: Getting the Church Ready (to Surround Others with a Community of Love and Forgiveness)
Treating the Body as Temple of the Holy Spirit
Perhaps in US culture there could be no better “attraction” for the beginning of a worship series than sex. And that’s where this series starts!
I Corinthians is full of practical advice from Paul addressing specific issues that had become problematic among the Christian community in Corinth after he had left as their “founding pastor.” In nearly every case (including the cases we’ll be exploring during these weeks), the primary danger of these problems had to do with breaking the community apart. We cannot easily surround folks with a community of love and forgiveness if we are destroying our community from the inside.
Paul is clear that having sex with prostitutes and any other forms of sexual impurity are to be shunned and rejected by Christians. But he he does this with an appeal to how we treat our bodies. Our bodies, he reminds, are “a temple of the indwelling Holy Spirit” (I Corinthians 6:19, translation mine).
That is what we do when we allow ourselves to treat sex as a commercial or even religious transaction rather than a means of creating and sustaining the bonding of couples in marriage for a lifetime. Commoditized sex makes a community incapable of being a safe place for anyone, much less a community of love and forgiveness capable of supporting persons to become and remain faithful disciples of Jesus Christ.
Paul offers a remarkable turn of phrase to respond to the ways in which some in the church in Corinth were acting as if sex with prostitutes was acceptable behavior. He reminds them (and us) that each of our bodies has been recreated in baptism by God to become “a temple for the indwelling Holy Spirit” (6:19).
Temples were places where the community assembled or where one went to perform certain religious rites or duties. Whatever god or divine principle was worshiped there, that was the place where that entity was thought to dwell, and its rites were the rites appropriate for connecting with that entity. In some of the temples in Corinth, those rites included sexual acts with temple prostitutes as a means of uniting the individual with the divine.
Paul turns tables on such ideas of temple in this short phrase. Temple is now no longer, for Christians, a place where one goes. Temple rites do not unite us with the divine. Temple is now everywhere our bodies go. And our bodies are already the “indwelling place” of the Holy Spirit.
This is why shunning sexual impurity matters. Sexual impurity desecrates our bodies, the temple of the Holy Spirit. Sexual impurity represents forms of love that are, in fact, a danger to a community that seeks to love others well. And it creates situations that prove very challenging to forgive. So it seriously damages our capacity to be a community of both love and forgiveness.
Paul concludes this part of his letter by reminding the Christians then (and now) that we are not free to use our bodies any way we like if the Holy Spirit indwells us. “We are not our own,” Paul reminds, “We are bought with a price” (6:20a).
This is good news. This is one thing that can make it more possible for us to surround one another with a community of love and forgiveness that supports discipleship to Jesus, if we remember and act on this-- if we remember and enact that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, called to glorify God—not to commoditize or commercialize or be commoditized or commercialized, for any reason.
If our bodies are united with Jesus Christ, indwelt with the Holy Spirit, remade to glorify God, and we acknowledge we are not our own, we have far greater potential, at least, to express love in ways that are more properly bounded. And we face lower likelihood of finding ourselves dealing with having to forgive sexual sins against one another, sins that are very hard for us to forgive.
Avoiding sexual impurity is not the only necessary condition of being a community of love and forgiveness, but it certainly is among them.
But neither is it Paul’s only point here. His larger point is not simply to encourage shunning any improper use of our bodies, but to promote proper uses—all the myriad ways we can glorify God in our bodies.
The sexual issues matter. Whatever you can do with this during the “worship hour” will of course be only a start, though it may be in many cases far more than anyone may have provided in your church in a long time. Be sure to let that start lead somewhere! If you do not already have in place some good linkages to help people take the stewardship of their sexuality and their bodies seriously, find them or start creating them so what happens in worship today will be more than “Be warmed and filled” (James 2:16).
In Your Planning Team
This is a day to talk frankly about sexual purity and impurity, if you are pursuing this track. Paul did not shy away from this with first-century Christians in a highly sexualized culture. Neither should we.
And we should especially not shy away from this because how we function as stewards of our sexuality in the church has much to do with how or even whether we can function as those who surround one another with a community of love and forgiveness that supports disciples of Jesus Christ on the path that leads to life.
Paul did not believe whatever people did “in the privacy of the bedrooms” was okay as long as all parties were consenting and able to give consent. This may be the currently popular cultural standard in the US, but it is not at all the standard of the church. As United Methodists, we affirm the expression of consenting sexual love within and to nurture the bond of monogamous, heterosexual marriage. While we set the boundary of proper sexual expression only within heterosexual marriage, we are also clear we welcome all persons into our community, regardless of sexual orientation. We also specifically reject all forms of commercialization, abuse, and exploitation of sex (2012 Book of Discipline, Para. 161 F-H, pp. 110-112).
This is where The United Methodist Church stands on the bounds of sexual purity, and whose crossing participates in sexual impurity. Not all congregations, pastors or people in our church agree about homosexuality or the marriage of homosexual persons, but we have very strong agreement about support for monogamy as the proper context for sexual expression and rejection of all forms of commercialization, abuse and exploitation of sex as being unacceptable. You and your team know your congregation and how you draw or seek to draw such lines.
Making sure we are good stewards of our sexuality for the sake of being a community of love and forgiveness is part of why United Methodists enact Safe Sanctuaries policies for children, youth and older adults.
But these policies are more preventative, and to some degree, reactive than pro-active. They provide safeguards against poor stewardship of our sexuality, but do not necessarily help us learn how to become and remain good stewards.
Nor do these, nor our statements about boundaries of sexual purity actively encourage one another in all the myriad ways we can glorify God in our bodies.
So while you may choose to spend a good bit of time focusing on the boundaries of sexual purity and how you seek to support good boundaries and protect against their fracture, do not neglect to move that focus to the much more inclusive place Paul moved it. In your worship planning team, identify persons who have been outstanding examples of glorifying God in their bodies in a variety of different ways—and be sure to lift up their stories and examples in worship today. Ultimately, it is this focus on using our bodies to glorify God that gives richness and depth to the ways we may surround one another with a community of love and forgiveness.
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- BOW 305 (Second Sunday After Epiphany); BOW 307 (Human Relations Day)
- BOW 456 (John)
- BOW 315, 423 (Human Relations Day)
- BOW 313 (1 Samuel)
Canticle/Act of Praise following the opening prayer:
- UMH 205, "Canticle of Light and Darkness" (Psalm 139)
- UMH 125, "Canticle of Covenant Faithfulness" (I Samuel)
Response to the Word:
- UMH 463, "Lord, Speak to Me" (I Samuel)
- UMH 502, "Thy Holy Wings, O Savior" (Psalm)
- UMH 501, "O Thou Who Camest From Above" (I Corinthians)
- UMH 475, "Come Down, O Love Divine" (John)
- TFWS 2127, "Come and See" (John)
- TFWS 2130, "The Summons" (John)
Concerns and Prayers:
(There are many options for this week depending on the flow and direction of the service you plan.)
- BOW 423 (Human Relations Day)
- UMH 570, "Prayer of Ignatius of Loyola" (Human Relations)
- BOW 435 (Martin Luther King, Jr. Day)
- BOW 510, "For Discernment" (1 Samuel)
- BOW 519, "For Others" (Human Relations)
- BOW 526, "For the World and Its Peoples" (Human Relations)
- BOW527, Form of Intercessions (Human Relations, Samuel, John)
- BOW 544, "For Leaders" (John, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day)
- BOW 547, "For a Victim or Survivor of Crime or Oppression" (Martin Luther King, Jr. Day)
- Ecumenical Cycle of Prayer: Algeria, Libya, Morocco, Tunisia
- Prayer of Confession:
(Be sure to add Words of Assurance and/or Pardon following the prayer of confession.)
- BOW 480 (Psalm)
- BOW 492 or BOW 493 (last item) (Human Relations)
- BOW 478 (1 Samuel)
Prayer of Thanksgiving if there is no Communion: BOW 552 (3rd item, Psalm)
Dismissal with Blessing:
- A deacon or assisting minister/layperson could dismiss the people using BOW 559 and the pastor speak the blessing using BOW 561 (2nd item) or UMH 669.
- BOW 559 (Martin Luther King, Jr. Day)