The emerging message: the headlines
Friday, January 12
1 Samuel 3:1-20
The young Samuel has his first encounter with God at night, hearing his voice in the Temple.
God knows our true heart attitudes, and we can’t hide from Him. At the same time, we cannot be hidden from His saving help and mercy.
The first fishermen-disciples find Nathanael who has an encounter with Jesus, who perceives exactly what he is thinking with prophetic insight.
In John’s lengthy encounter with heaven he witnesses a deed of ownership of the earth so top-security that only One has the right to hold and open it.
The emerging message
Friday, January 12
The Lord knows what is in our hearts, and seeks those who are open and true to Him.
The theme that emerges this week is about encounters with the Lord, and how the Lord knows us intimately. Two of these are about being trusted with a revelation of divine purpose, difficult to process and communicate, like the young apprentice priest Samuel in the Temple hearing a warning call for unrighteous Israel and its unrighteous priest, Eli, or the elderly apostle John seeing a mind-blowing vision of the majesty and authority of Christ being given legal charge over the world, and being the one to record it for posterity. The other two are more gentle pictures of how God knows exactly what is in our hearts and sees what He will help us become, as well as how we are now.
The grown up and mature prophet Samuel said of the youngster David, when God was first singling him out for service:
“People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart,” 1 Samuel 16:7.
Samuel, David, Nathanael Bartholomew and the apostle John were all special, godly and renowned people.
But does that mean that God knew them better, or took more of an interest in them? All were pretty ordinary at the time of their first encounter – a foster child, a youngest and somewhat despised son of a big family, a bookish Jew from an obscure up-country village, an apprentice fisherman. God is no respecter of persons – no lover of human pride, position or presentation. He looks for the qualities He find inside, in the heart – true or false, self-determining or submitted. We can’t choose the standing in society of our family, our educational opportunities, or to be born with influence and connections. We can choose to love God, know His love, love others with His love, and love His ways. We can choose to learn from Him and grow in Him. The qualities we see in the four whose encounters are described, are qualities we can aspire to All were wholehearted disciples – Samuel a literal apprentice, David a lifelong worshipper and close follower of God, turning mistakes into opportunities to learn painful lessons and grow from them; Nathanael was a named disciple of Jesus, as was his young friend John whose reflection and writing has given us a gospel account and invaluable New Testament teaching about the developing doctrine and practice of the early Church.
Four people who heard God and to whom God revealed Himself again and again in different ways at different times, as we know from the rest of Scripture. The common factor is their willingness and submission to His purpose, whether they understood it at the time or not; and a quality of transparency, able to be very honest with God about how they were. They were anointed, revered, had distinction and greatness – yet none is seen in Scripture as putting themselves forward or being self-promoting.
We can hear God, walk with Him, learn from Him and have memorable encounters with Him – exactly the same principles apply to us.
The emerging message – Friday, January 5 (Epiphany)
“Arise, your light has come…” The light of God’s glory has risen, and it is prophesied that all nations, meaning Gentiles, will come to this light. Meanwhile the nation of Israel is coming home, truly.
All kings, from the ends of the earth, will defer to the coming king who combines true greatness with a heart to rescue the poor and redeem them from oppression. The godly flourish during his reign, from shore to shore.
Distinguished visitors from afar recognise the significance of the birth of Jesus and come to worship Him. Gentiles coming to the Jewish Messiah show that he is their Messiah, too.
God’s plan, which astonished the culture of the time, is revealed by the Holy Spirit: Gentiles and Jews are part of the same church body, with equal share. This united church has spiritual authority and is marked by believers who have confidence in their new identity in Christ Jesus, and confidence coming before holy, almighty God.
How do we respond? We look beyond our walls and our ‘tribe’ with light and love.
This united church has spiritual authority and is marked by believers who show confidence in their new identity in Christ Jesus and before holy, almighty God. There will always be the human tendency, born of pride, to keep separate. But the Holy Spirit’s work is always to unify, from a heavenly perspective. Jews, Gentiles, Christians or not, denominational barriers, state church or independent – the Holy Spirit gives us a heavenly, rather than worldly perspective, if we allow Him to.
Who is Jesus and what is this Good News? Who is it for?
This is the mystery that was being revealed to those early believers who knew Paul. They struggled with it. But the Holy Spirit gave them a sense of heavenly perspective — the greater vision of what God was about.
This what had been shown to Abraham in those earliest times, composed as prophetic song by David a thousand years earlier, foretold by Isaiah and others more than 800 years before and grasped by Mary, then acted out in a remarkable way by distinguished Gentile visitors. The early church, mainly Jewish to begin with, had to come to a completely new understanding of what they were about.
And so for us — every generation has to get this revelation afresh.
This Good News has been given to us, but not for us alone. It is given, not for people like us, but for us to share with people who are not like us.
That is our task as church — to be confident in the inevitable spiritual battle for souls and for God’s rest and peace, and to be as generous as the Lord Himself in relating to those on the fringe of faith or outside it.
Where does this generosity come from? We are, as the renowned Archbishop Temple said, the only organisation on earth that exists for those who don’t belong to it. We are people on a mission – the mission that springs out of the mystery Paul writes about. It’s a mission that only makes sense as we become empowered by the Spirit of Mission.
Paul writes: “God did not reveal it to previous generations, but now by His Spirit He has revealed it to His holy apostles and prophets.” Paul wrote it, but God spoke it to Paul’s heart. This is Scripture —as meaningful for us as the prophecies about the Messiah were for the Jews and Wise Men of Jesus’ time.
This is what we see God doing, and so our call is to be willing to join Him in it.
Who are the ‘Greeks’ and ‘Gentiles’ of our world — the not-yet believers around us? Where is God working outside the church walls?
When we begin to address this honestly and join God in what He is doing, our church attendances and finances and very future will begin to look very different. The kingdom of God will be evident among us. As we seek to mirror something of God’s generosity of spirit, there will be a release. We trust God and give away what we have – and He finds us faithful and gives more.
For reflection and discussion – all the questions
1. Where do we see the Lord’s light resting, and what response is the Holy Spirit leading us to make?
2. If this is God’s pattern of leadership, and if this is a picture of Jesus’ kingdom rule, why does the church sometimes struggle financially?
3. Good science is good – but are you tempted to seek explanations from within our knowledge and experience, and fit the narrative accordingly? Why do we need to try to do this?
4. God’s plan and God’s purpose are mentioned half a dozen times in this short passage. How are you beginning to see God’s plan in your life, your church, your community?
5. What are good ways of focusing our attention on God’s plan and purpose and encouraging one another in it?
Readings this week for Sunday, January 7, (Epiphany):