The Unexpected God – Sermon 1.15.12

January 15, 2012 at 10:00 am Leave a comment

The Rev. Maurice C. Frontz, III, STS

Salona Lutheran Church; St John Lutheran Church, Booneville

2nd Sunday after the Epiphany

January 15, 2012

Grace and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

What I like about all three of today’s readings from the Bible

is the way that we find God doing unexpected things in unexpected places.

If you think about it, that’s what we should find God doing, isn’t it?

We’ve just been through Christmas, after all.

A baby is born to a virgin and laid in a feeding trough;

three Magi follow a star and give him gifts fit for a king;

God is always doing the unexpected thing in the unexpected place.

Eli and Samuel

Eli and Samuel

In the first reading,

we hear of God’s call of Samuel to become priest over the temple,

while Samuel is still the servant of the current priestly family of Eli.

This is an unexpected call,

because the people and even the family of the priest Eli

had long since stopped expecting calls from God.

‘The Word of the Lord was rare in those days,’

we read in the 3rd chapter of 1st Samuel.

It’s not that the Word of God is ever rare.

It more often that people rarely listen to it.

If you go back to the beginning of 1st Samuel,

it was Hannah, Samuel’s mother, who was seeking a Word from God,

a Word of divine triumph over her shame,

and God granted her a son whom he gave to the Lord.

That boy who heard God’s call

would grow to be the man who would be the last and greatest judge,

who would prophesy to the people

and anoint the first kings of Israel.

In the Gospel reading, we have Nathaniel,

who is, to put it mildly, quite surprised to hear

that the Messiah, the long-expected King of Israel,

hails from the hick town of Nazareth in Galilee.

This is like if a person from Lock Haven

had been told that the Messiah was some dude from Avis.

No offense to anyone who’s from Avis.

Of course, Jesus doesn’t just come from Nazareth – that is, originally.

He does not just come from Bethlehem either.

He comes from God; and Bethlehem, and Nazareth,

and he makes Bethlehem and Nazareth holy by his coming –

he makes holy the places to which he comes –

Lock Haven, and Avis, and Salona, and Booneville.

He makes holy the people to which he comes –

Nathaniel and Andrew and Peter and you and I.

But the second lesson is perhaps the most surprising.

It doesn’t seem so at first.

At first glance it is a straightforward moralistic instruction from St. Paul –

an instruction to avoid consorting with prostitutes.

It’s the kind of thing you expect from St. Paul.

I always get a chuckle out of this passage, and not for the reason you might think.

My wife Annette is Roman Catholic, and before we had children,

we would go to Mass on Saturday evening,

because on Sunday mornings I was the choir director at a UCC church.

And we were in church on a Saturday evening when this passage was being read.

Where our translation of 1st Corinthians reads ‘Shun fornication!’

the New American Bible the Catholics use

translates it a much more genteel way ‘Avoid immorality.’

Except the lay reader got it wrong.

“Avoid immortality,”

she said in such a serious voice

that it took all the restraint we had not to burst out laughing,

and when she said ‘The Word of the Lord,’

it was all I could do not to respond, “Well, sort of.”

What’s so unexpected about St. Paul’s counsel to avoid prostitutes?

It may not be unexpected to us,

but for first-century Corinthians it was.

They didn’t believe the body was important.

The physical life and the spiritual life were separate.

One could worship God and yet eat and drink and be merry in many ways.

Whereas St. Paul knew better –

soul and body are not separate,

but we are embodied souls.

What we do with our body has a spiritual meaning.

This is why Christians have historically reserved sex for marriage,

because the giving of our bodies is the giving of the whole self.

People live more like the Corinthians than we think these days,

for many people give and take from bodies what they like,

but hold back their whole selves.

But Paul knew that God was concerned with what is done in the body.

He knew that a man and a woman who join bodily

must be prepared to join their whole selves.

And he says something even more unexpected in the second-to-last verse.

‘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?’

God always does the unexpected.

He calls the boy Samuel,

His Son, the Messiah, is laid in an animal’s feeding trough

and comes from the hick town of Nazareth,

and he sends his Spirit to dwell in our bodies and the bodies of all the baptized.

Are we that important?

God thinks so.

We are important enough to him that the Son bought us

with the price of his own body and blood.

Therefore our bodies now belong to him in Baptism,

our ears to hear him in the Scriptures;

our mouths to receive him in the Eucharist and to proclaim his Good News.

our hands and feet to serve him in the neighbor,

our eyes to see him in the universe:

so that in whatever we do, we bring glory to him.

God is always the unexpected God.

We may think that the Word of the Lord is rare in these days,

but he is always calling us,

and if you hear him calling,

this unexpected God,

commanding you to follow him,

promising you the joy and peace of the Kingdom,

simply say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”

Amen

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