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Worship, prayer and Bible resources

Second Sunday of Epiphany - Year B

Liturgical Colour - White or Gold


Introduction

Not long ago it was Christmas and we heard the angels telling us who Jesus was. Last week we heard about John the Baptist and he told us who Jesus was. In the reading from John's Gospel today we get a statement from Jesus about just who he thought he was. It is a big statement, Jesus likens himself to Jacob, the father of the nation of Israel. Using the illustration of Jacob's ladder, Jesus claims that he will be the bridge between heaven and earth.

In our New Testament story today from John 1: 43 –51, we read that Philip found Nathanael and told him, "We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph." "Nazareth! It is important that we continue this work of communicating the Christian message of Jesus. We do this in word, just like Philip did to Nathanael. But we speak our faith most loudly not in words but in deeds. As we care for others we show the love of Christ to our broken world and play our part in the healing of the nations.

Opening Verses of Scripture Matt 25: 36 & 40

For I was sick and looked after me. I was in prison and you came to visit me… I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it for me.
 

Collect Prayer for the Day — Before we read we pray

Almighty God, in Christ you make all things new: transform the poverty of our nature by the riches of your grace, and in the renewal of our lives make known your heavenly glory; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. CW

Eternal Lord, our beginning and our end: bring us with the whole creation to your glory, hidden through past ages and made known in Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.  Common Worship Shorter Collect

Almighty God, by whose grace alone we are accepted and called to your service, strengthen us by your Spirit and make us worthy of our calling; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen. Methodist Worship - Second Sunday in Ordinary


First Bible Reading  1 Samuel 3: 1-10

Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the LORD under Eli. The word of the LORD was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.

At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the LORD, where the ark of God was. Then the LORD called, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’ and he said, ‘Here I am!’ and ran to Eli, and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’ But he said, ‘I did not call; lie down again.’ So he went and lay down. The LORD called again, ‘Samuel!’ Samuel got up and went to Eli, and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’ But he said, ‘I did not call, my son; lie down again.’ Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD, and the word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him. The LORD called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’ Then Eli perceived that the LORD was calling the boy. Therefore Eli said to Samuel, ‘Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, “Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.”’ So Samuel went and lay down in his place.

Now the LORD came and stood there, calling as before, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’ And Samuel said, ‘Speak, for your servant is listening.’ Then the LORD said to Samuel, ‘See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make both ears of anyone who hears of it tingle. On that day I will fulfil against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. For I have told him that I am about to punish his house for ever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them. Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be expiated by sacrifice or offering for ever.’

Samuel lay there until morning; then he opened the doors of the house of the LORD. Samuel was afraid to tell the vision to Eli. But Eli called Samuel and said, ‘Samuel, my son.’ He said, ‘Here I am.’ Eli said, ‘What was it that he told you? Do not hide it from me. May God do so to you and more also, if you hide anything from me of all that he told you.’ So Samuel told him everything and hid nothing from him. Then he said, ‘It is the LORD; let him do what seems good to him.’

As Samuel grew up, the LORD was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was a trustworthy prophet of the LORD. NRSV
 

Second Reading  Revelation 5: 1-10

I saw in the right hand of the one seated on the throne a scroll written on the inside and on the back, sealed with seven seals; and I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, ‘Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?’ And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it. And I began to weep bitterly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it.Then one of the elders said to me, ‘Do not weep. See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.’

Then I saw between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders a Lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. He went and took the scroll from the right hand of the one who was seated on the throne. When he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell before the Lamb, each holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. They sing a new song: ‘You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slaughtered and by your blood you ransomed for God saints from every tribe and language and people and nation;you have made them to be a kingdom and priests serving our God, and they will reign on earth.’ NRSV

Gospel Reading  John 1: 43 –51

The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, ‘Follow me.’ Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, ‘We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.’ Nathanael said to him, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ Philip said to him, ‘Come and see.’ When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, ‘Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!’ Nathanael asked him, ‘Where did you come to know me?’ Jesus answered, ‘I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.’ Nathanael replied, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’ Jesus answered, ‘Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.’ And he said to him, ‘Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.’ NRSV 

Post Communion Sentence

God of glory, you nourish us with your Word who is the bread of life: fill us with your Holy Spirit that through us the light of your glory may shine in all the world. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. CW 

Commentary

There is an exhibition touring some of the cathedrals in England called, ‘Threads through Revelation’ which depicts the story of the book of Revelation through fourteen very large embroidered panels. More details can be found at: http://www.revelation-threads.co.uk/ It’s a stunning exhibition which illuminates the text and themes contained in this last book of the Bible. It’s also highly appropriate that is an exhibition based on stitch work, as the book of Revelation itself is a tapestry of different styles and themes brought together as it brings the bible to a close. It’s a mixture of poetry and strange visions, of symbolism and bizarre phenomena which we can struggle to comprehend.

However we understand and interpret the book of Revelation it’s difficult for us not to recognise that as canonical scripture comes to a close we have the ending of all endings. We read of good triumphing over evil and the New Jerusalem being established as we are finally and eternally untied with God never to be separated again. With a book as complex as Revelation it’s not surprising there are many different interpretations as to what it means and what we can learn from it. There are those who would see the book of Revelation purely relating to the events connected to the kingdom of Rome as it began to crumble and fail, others think many of the events described in the book are still to happen. There are some who think the events outlined in the poetry and prose of Revelation were fulfilled as the early church developed in the first few centuries and some who think the truths contained in the book have as a timeless applicability and are as relevant now as they ever have been, or will be in the future. With so many complex themes and competing ideas it’s easy to get side-tracked as we read Revelation as we try to work out for ourselves what the themes, the characters, the visions, the symbols and battles all mean. A crucial part to our understanding is that ultimately, Revelation is a book about Jesus. He Himself is the climax of scripture as God rolls up time and reveals His ultimate plan. If we fail to grasp this then Revelation will always be a mystery.

As we see Christ at its centre it begins to make sense. In our own world, we can often struggle to make sense of everything that we read and see happening through the media. Commentators offer different perspectives on the stories that unfold each week, interpreting them in alternative ways and trying to foretell what might happen in the future. Like Revelation, we may never fully understand until we see God face to face. Like Revelation, whatever happens around us, we should not lose our focus on the God who is in ultimate control. As God sent His Son Jesus to continue His work of redeeming a broken and divided world and offer hope and light in a world which so often seems full of chaos and darkness, He placed Christ at the centre of that work.

This is where today’s passage from Revelation takes up the story. We’ve had the introduction and the beginnings of John’s vision, followed by the letters to the seven churches, the church on earth. Chapter four gives us a vision of heaven and of God as Creator. Now we read of God the Redeemer, the lamb who we are told was
‘…slaughtered, and by His blood ransomed for God saints from every tribe and language and people and nation; He has made them to be a kingdom and priests serving our God, and they will reign on earth…’.

The theme of God the Creator and God the Redeemer are central to helping us understand the book of Revelation. Sometimes it is easy to feel caught up in life and trapped by the world’s misery and evil. We can feel that it’s difficult to break free at times as things seemingly spin out of our neat control. Our inability, and that of the world, to break free from forces that seem stronger that ourselves is real. This chapter of Revelation with its description of the seals that no one can break symbolises and stresses the world’s inability to break free in its own strength and power. But fortunately we know the story doesn’t end there. Through the lamb that was slaughtered the victory is won. The story continues. The seals are opened. That which binds is broken, and God’s purpose for the world is worked out. Not only does the story continue, it continues in a different and new direction, and one which might not have been expected. And as John turns around, things are not what he expected either. He turns round expecting to see a lion and in its place he sees a lamb. A lamb which carries the marks of sacrifice and slaughter.

For Eli and Samuel, and for Nathaniel, things were not as they expected either. God was breaking through in a new way in each of their lives and things were not to be as they seemed. Just as in was in the time of Eli it can feel like the word of the Lord is rare in our days and visions are no longer widespread. But things are not as they seem. Just like the characters in our readings we have a choice to make. Do we accept the way things are and remain trapped in our own limited understandings, where is seems difficult to heard God speak or see where He might be in our world? Or do we want to be open to the possibilities that our redeemed life offers taking hold of the birth right we are given as the new creations God has made us. Open to the fact that things might not be as they seem. We might be somewhat older than Samuel, but do respond as he did with a ‘Here am I, your servant is listening’ and see where it might lead us, whatever stage of life we happen to be? Sam Cappleman

 Meditation

We read about Nathanael today, who is never mentioned by the other Gospel writers. When Philip tells Nathaniel that he has found the one about whom Moses wrote in the Law and the Prophets, he was attributing to Jesus the fulfilment of the Old Testament Scriptures. Nathaniel raises a degree of scepticism, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Note that Nathaniel is not questioning that Philip could have found such a person, but rather that one so great could have come from a place called Nazareth!

Nazareth was not a famous city and it is never mentioned before the New Testament, nothing about it is found in the Old Testament, the Talmud or Midrash or even in any contemporary pagan writings. The fact that Nazareth was the hometown of Jesus has echoes of his birth in a stable. The derogatory tone which is struck by Nathaniel is just the beginning of this critical attitude towards Nazareth, for years afterwards Christians were dismissed by being described as the ‘Nazarene sect’ (Acts 24:5)

There is in Nathaniel a naïve bias about what God can and will do. He cannot come to terms with the fact that something so amazing can come from something so ordinary. There is an offence and contradiction in the word Nazareth in the same way that there is a huge leap in understanfing to think of the Word made flesh. We all make these kinds of assumptions about places and people everyday. Sometimes our assumptions are about other people; how they will behave, what they will say, what we can expect, what they think or believe. These assumptions are restrictive and they fail to acknowledge the potential within all things created by God. Assumptions act as limitations and they narrow our vision, they close off the possibility of change and growth. Our assumptions deny the possibility of reconciliation, healing, a different way of being, or a new life. Ultimately, they impoverish our faith and proclaim there is no room for God to show up and act.

We all have our Nazareths, our blind spots. They are about other people, places and indeed about our own lives. We cannot believe that God could be present, active, and revealed in certain people and because we know ourselves only too well, we cannot believe that God could be so revealed in us. We need to be reminded that for God, Nazareth is an opportunity for revelation and glory. Just as the Word is revealed in flesh, God is revealed in what the world regards as weakness, yes even in and through us. 
Nazareth was considered too be far ordinary, and God’s son should have a background more deserving, special and, holy. The Nathaniel in each one of us imagines that God cannot use people, or even ourselves, because we are just not special enough. However God shows up where we do not expect him because God will not be limited by our assumptions. 
The answer is shown by Philip when he says, ‘come and see.’ Every Nazareth is a potential place of God’s epiphany. Repeatedly Jesus meets us in the Nazareth places of our lives and we see God present and at work in the most unexpected places and people. Jesus is revealed in hopeless places, in useless people, like us, just like Philip we can be witnesses. Charles Royden  
 

Hymns

  1. I have decided to follow Jesus

  2. He is Lord

  3. Will you come and follow me

  4. Make me a channel of your peace

  5. I the Lord of sea and sky

     

Prayers for Sunday and the week ahead

Prayer is a plant, the seed of which is sown in the heart of every Christian, if it is well cultivated and nourished it will produce fruit, but if it is neglected, it will wither and die.

 

O God, you have called men and women of every land to be a holy nation, a royal priesthood, the church of your Son: unite us in mutual love across barriers of race, culture and background, and strengthen us in our common task of being Christ and showing Christ to the world He came to save. Amen

Our Father, whose Son came to bring wholeness to the lives of all people, we thank you for the wealth of knowledge brought to us through medical research, and for the healing ministry of doctors, nurses and all those involved in the ministry of healing. We pray that all those who work in different ways for the healing and wholeness of their fellow men and women that they may be inspired for their task and calling by the spirit of Him who is wholeness indeed. Amen

Lord God, whose Word and will are made known in Jesus Christ, inspire in us faith in that Word and obedience to that will, for our salvation and for your glory. Amen

 

Additional Material


Opening Verse of Scripture—Psalm 139:15-16

My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.

Commentary

Jesus was born in Bethlehem, but he grew up in Nazareth. Some years later Christians were dismissed as the ‘Nazarene sect’ Acts 24:5. Nazareth was not a place which was highly thought of and it was probably held in even less esteem by people from Cana a neighbouring village. In the Gospel reading today we read about Philip who was one of the Apostles. He believes that Jesus is the one whom all the scriptures point to. He brings a man named Nathanael, who came from Cana, to meet with Jesus. At first Nathanael rejects the idea that the messiah could come from Nazareth. However after meeting Jesus and hearing what he has to say Nathanael responds with a confession of faith. We are not sure what the substance of the conversation was but we can see that Jesus is able to tell Nathanael things about himself in such a way that Nathanael is convinced that Jesus is the Messiah.

Jesus tells Nathanael that what he has seen of Jesus so far is only the beginning and Jesus uses the imagery of Genesis 28:12, the vision of Jacob's ladder. It is important to remember the story of Jacob and what happened in order to appreciate why Jesus refers to this incident, otherwise it just doesn’t make sense. Jacob was the son of Isaac, the son of Abraham and he was very important. So important that his name was later changed to Israel. His children were the ancestors of the Twelve Tribes of Israel. You will remember Jacob as the younger twin of Esau. He tricked Esau out of his birthright and the blessing from his father which he should have received as the firstborn. It is appropriate that later in his life Jacob himself is tricked by his own sons who are jealous of their favoured brother Joseph. We all know from whom they inherited that kind of deceit! Jacob had to flee from his brother, the hunter Esau, when his twin tried to kill him (Genesis 25-28). Destitute he goes to his uncle Laban, but on the way he has a dream at Bethel. He saw a ladder or staircase which stretched up to the sky, with angels going up and down on it. In the dream he receives a blessing from God and a promise that he will return to the land and God would be with him. Of course all of this eventually took place. After working for his Uncle Laban, he married his daughters Leah and Rachel and after swindling him out large flocks and herds he returned home and was reunited with his brother Esau.

It is important to remember this story because Jesus clearly knew all about it and it’s importance. When he tells Nathanael that he will see ‘heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.’ Jesus is placing himself in the same position as Jacob. Every Jew knew that Jacob was the father of the Twelve Tribes of Israel, now Jesus is assuming such importance onto himself. Jesus is the new Israel ! God will no longer reveal himself at Bethel, God is present in the person of Jesus and it is Jesus who will link heaven and earth, not Jacob’s ladder. This is all a part of the process by which Jesus takes the message of the Jewish scriptures, applies them himself and brings about such a change in Judaism that it must become like a new religion. The old covenant has in Jesus been brought to an end and a new covenant has been offered to all people, not just the children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. With the birth of Jesus, the children of God will no longer be descendants of Abraham, they will be from all nations. So the witness of Philip must be one which we share in making Jesus known to others. Charles Royden

Commentary:Who Calls the Changes?

In the books of Joshua and Judges we read about the gradual settlement of the Israelite tribes into Palestine. As threats from other nations materialised these tribes would come together to combat such crises, and in each instance an individual was raised up by God to lead the tribes on that particular occasion. The books of 1 & 2 Samuel, which follow chronologically then tell of the extraordinary change in the way Israel is organised and governed around the end of the 10th century BCE, of how first Saul became king and is commissioned to defeat the Philistines, who by this time had become a significant and real threat to the very survival of Israel. The books describe how the new political and government structures evolve in Israel, how the voices for setting up a monarchy become stronger, and how it fell to Samuel, the last of the judges, to be instrumental in the wrangling between those who wanted a monarch and those who believed that God would continue to raise up leaders as required. At the beginning of 1 Samuel the centre of government was at Shiloh but by the time we get to the end of 2 Samuel, the centre of what is now an empire, has moved to Jerusalem, a fundamental shift in the manner in which God’s rule on earth is made manifest.

With the incarnation of Christ, the manner in which God’s rule on earth is made manifest changes once again. Through Christ, God intervened in our world in human form at Christmas and from then on ‘the government was on His shoulders’. The old regime and covenant was to be superseded by the new, graphically demonstrated at Epiphany as kings come to worship Jesus.

But in both the Old Testament and the New Testament we see a common thread in the rule and intervention of God in our world. God calls individuals. In the Old Testament reading today we see how God called Samuel, even though initially Samuel did not know it was God that was doing the calling. In the gospel reading God calls Philip and Nathanael, just as He had called Andrew and Simon Peter a few verses previously. All through history God has been calling individuals to serve Him; some of whom recognise His voice, others who don’t; some of whom respond to the call, others who don’t. Since that first Christmas, people from kings to stable hands, from the highest to the lowest have been declaring, ‘We have found the Messiah’ as they respond to the call of Jesus. And as He calls and speaks He simply says to follow the example of Samuel and the disciples; to look, to follow, to hear and to act.

Listening

Under Moses and Joshua the Israelites had moved into the promised land. There they had spread out as loose confederacy of tribes, each one being governed by a king-like head known as a Judge. These Judges had performed a real service for Israel as they rallied the tribes to resist the attacks of their various enemies, especially the Canaanites who came from across the Jordan. 
Now the Israelites faced a real crisis in the form of the Philistines, who had already overcome the tribes of Judah, Dan, Ephraim and Benjamin, and were still on the move. 
Israel needed a man of God who could offer both political and spiritual leadership to a people in danger of being totally overrun. Samuel was that man, and he came at a time of real crisis in the history of Israel sometimes not fully appreciated. 
Eli, who Samuel came to serve, lived at Shiloh, the central sanctuary of the confederacy, the place where the Ark of the Lord was housed. It was customary for the Israelites to make a pilgrimage each year to Shiloh to make their sacrifices to God. Eli and his sons were the custodians of the Ark, and it would appear that the Israelites tribes looked to unite around their priestly rule. 
This was not to be, for, after the call of Samuel, Shiloh and the house of Eli is destroyed and the Ark carried off by the Philistines when Samuel is probably around 20 years old. He emerges some 30 to 40 years later as a prophet of Shiloh, a national priest and the recognised leader of all Israel, as prophet, priest and king. The 40 years of Philistine domination were at an end as Samuel summons the tribes to a national assembly, castigating them for their sins and effectively leading them against the Philistines who ceased to be a trouble for the rest of his life. 
Perhaps more importantly, God uses Samuel to give the Israelites the first king, Saul, and a true national identity which was never to leave them. 
When the story is resumed, for Samuel to have this position as Israel's leader, indicates that all through the intervening years Samuel must have been travelling around the country speaking God's word and doing His will, perhaps quietly and unnoticed by many. But yielding, as the Covenant prayer suggests, all things to God's disposal during this time, whether rewarded, recognised exalted or not. As such Samuel serves as an example to us all, as a forerunner of the Christ who was to follow 1000 years later, as a true servant of God to be used mightily by Him. 
It's easy to overlook Eli in the story of Samuel. The course of history was changed because an old person (Eli) listened to what a young child came and told him. He didn't dismiss Samuel as just a child playing games and imagining things. Eli recognised the voice of God, even when spoken to a young person and encouraged Samuel to go on listening, something which apparently Samuel did for the rest of his life.

Meditation

Lord Jesus Christ, you said that you are the Way, the Truth and the Life; let us never stray from you, who are the Way; nor distrust you, who are the Truth; nor rest in any other but you, who are the Life, beyond whom there is nothing to be desired, either in heaven or on earth. Erasmus 1466-1536

It is interesting to reflect on the story that unfolds in the books of Samuel in light of the power struggles that often plague the church today and how they can detract from putting all our energy into the task of serving God effectively. It can be very easy in all aspects of life to be too concerned with how we are organised and led rather than focusing on what we should be doing and why we are here.

Hymns

We have a gospel to proclaim
Father I place into your hands
Take my life and let it be
Guide me O thou great Jehovah

Prayers for Sunday and the week ahead.

God, of your goodness give me yourself, for you are sufficient for me. To be worthy of you I cannot ask for anything less. If I were to ask for less I should always be in want, for in you alone do I have all. Amen Julian of Norwich 1342-1413

Grant, O God, that as we rejoice in the hope of the coming of our Saviour, we too may seek to prepare the way of His coming by demonstrating His love as we care for others. Amen


I, the Lord of sea and sky. I have heard my people cry.
All who dwell in dark and sin, my hand will save.
I who made the stars of night, I will make their darkness bright.
Who will bear my light to them? Whom shall I send?

Here I am Lord, is it I Lord?
I have heard you calling in the night.
I will go Lord, if you send me.
I will hold your people in my heart.

I, the Lord of snow and rain, I have borne my people’s pain.
I have wept for love of them, they turn away.
I will break their hearts of stone, give them hearts for love alone.
I will speak my word to them, whom shall I send?

I, the Lord of wind and flame, I will tend the poor and lame,
I will set a feast for them, my hand will save.
Finest bread I will provide, till their hearts be satisfied,
I will give my life to them, whom shall I send?

Will you come and follow me
if I but call your name?
Will you go where you don't know
and never be the same?
Will you let my love be shown,
will you let my name be known,
will you let my life be grown,
in you and you in me?

Will you leave yourself behind
if I but call your name?
Will you care for cruel and kind
and never be the same?
Will you risk the hostile stare
should your life attract or scare?
Will you let me answer prayer
in you and you in me?

Will you let the blinded see
if I but call your name?
Will you set the prisoners free
and never be the same?
Will you kiss the leper clean,
and do such as this unseen,
and admit to what I mean
in you and you in me?

Will you love the 'you' you hide
if I but call your name?
Will you quell the fear inside
and never be the same?
Will you use the faith you've found
to reshape the world around,
through my sight and touch and sound
in you and you in me?

Lord, your summons echoes true
when you but call my name.
Let me turn and follow you
and never be the same.
In your company I'll go
where your love and footsteps show.
Thus I'll move and live and grow
in you and you in me.