Come and See
1 Samuel 3:1-10 [11-20]
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 fulfill 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 forever, 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 forever.” 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.
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 get 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.”
Over thirty years ago Harrison Ford and Kelly McGillis starred in a movie entitled “Witness.”
The plot revolves around a little Amish boy who witnesses a murder in a public washroom. The cop, played by Ford who is assigned to the case, finds out that there is a dirty cop responsible, and both he and the little boy become targets of the dirty cop and his criminal cohorts.
So the cop goes undercover in the Amish community back to the little boy’s family to protect himself and the boy.
He is protecting the valuable witness.
Interestingly enough the plot is then less about the police officer protecting the witness, but about us witnessing the clash of cultures between the Big city police officer who carries a gun and who has shot and killed people, who often solves things with force and violence…. and a pacifist people who have largely turned away from media and modern culture.
The audience also witnesses how two people from different cultures fall in love, because beneath culture there is a more universal reality of us being human, and of humans needing each other.
So while the movie is about a witness being protected it invites us to be witnesses of culture and the human condition, so that we ourselves can go deeper into what it means to be human.
Witnesses are important.
Recently a book was released called “the Fire and the Fury.” Written by Michael Wolf, it is a book about the goings on in the White House basically in the first year of the Trump presidency.
Wolf claims that he spent months almost every day in the White House and that what he is putting in the book is the testimony of witnesses.
He claims he is writing about Trump, what people in the White House have experienced and heard and seen.
He doesn’t claim it to be the whole truth, but that he is writing down insiders’ version of the truth.
Claims in the book the Trump is childish, unfit, doesn’t listen and is functionally illiterate…
..were met with a tweet from the President that claimed he was “…a very stable genius.”
Which got the comedians singing things like:
“he is the very model of a very stable genius.”
I guess the point is that you can decide for yourself based on the evidence on the many witnesses and what you yourself witness.
But maybe the real point is not to judge Trump as much as it is for you as a witness, to think more deeply about what it means for yourself to lead, to inspire, to be an example and where one should put one’s energies to make a better world.
Today’s scripture lessons have their basis in those who “witness” to God.
The first story is that of the boy Samuel hearing the voice of God in the temple.
The second story is that of the calling of disciples in the gospel of John.
John the gospel writer paints a somewhat different portrait of John the Baptist in his gospel.
John the Baptist in the synoptic gospels is portrayed as a harsh, wild wilderness prophet, calling people, in a somewhat threatening tone, to repent.
Synoptic, by the way, means literally “seeing with one eye”, and is used by scholars to refer to Matthew, Mark, and Luke, who use a lot of common material and have similarities in style, while John’s gospel is a totally different style.
John’s gospel portrays John the Baptist not as a wild wilderness prophet but of that of a voice or a witness to the light.
In John’s gospel, it is the Baptist who witnesses the Holy Spirit descending on Jesus. It is the Baptist who witnesses that this Jesus is the Son of God.
It is the Baptist who calls Jesus Lamb of God.
It is the Baptist who basically tells two of his disciples that the real guy is here, so they stop following him and start following Jesus.
In fact all the people that first come to Jesus in John’s gospel come because someone else has been a witness. Someone had told them about Jesus.
In the synoptic gospels, Jesus goes along the shoreline and encounters people and calls them to be disciples.
In John’s gospel there is a witness who tells others.
Philip goes and gets Nathanael.
“Come on, Nathanael. This is the real deal. This is the guy.”
And Nathanael replies. “Can anything good come out of Cowtown?”
(Cowtown is a reference to Calgary which is Edmonton’s rival city in Alberta)
Actually he said Nazareth, but he said it because Nazareth was basically a small farming village of not much importance.
Or maybe he was just cynical about anybody being God’s anointed one, because every claim so far had been false.
But Philip says: “Come and see.”
And Nathanael does go and see and it changes his life.
He meets Jesus.
So on one level I think we are all challenged to be witnesses. …to tell people. “Come and see.”
To witness to where Christ is touching lives and hearts. To witness to love touching people.
To witness to the light of truth and justice and equality. To witness to a freedom found in Christ.
To be set free from our mistakes, and sins.
To be set free from everything which would keep us from people the children of God we were created to be.
To be set free to love.
When was the last time you told someone else: “Come and see. Come and see the one who loves me and understands me and accepts me and forgives me and show me what real love is…”
But “come and see” are also the words that Jesus uses. When disciples asked him where he was staying Jesus replied. “come and see.”
And so they follow to see where Jesus is staying. But where Jesus stays or remains or abides is a huge theme in John’s gospel…
And it is not about a physical place at all.
It is literally a journey of understanding to understand that Jesus abides where love abides.
To understand that Jesus abides in God, and that to see Jesus is to see God.
To understand that Jesus abides or live in us, and we become the place wherein God’s Spirit dwells, and we are witnesses to Christ not just by our words but with our very lives.
But “Come and See” is more that us being witnesses to Jesus..
And it is more than understanding that Jesus abides in God and in us and in love….
“Come and See” is the invitation of Jesus for us to go deeper into our own spiritual lives. Into our souls or our spirits.
Frequently in the gospels, Jesus will ask, something like “What are you looking for” or even more to the point “What do you want?”
A man who is blind. What do you want?
A man who is lame. What do you want?
Disciples who are wanting greatness. What do you want?
Disciples coming to Jesus. “What are you looking for?”
In fact Jesus give very few answers in the gospels, but he sure asks a lot of questions.
Because the invitation “Come and see” is an invitation for us to dig down inside our very souls and figure out what it is we really want and need…
And often it is much deeper than what we think.
What do you want?
I want more wine.
But the deeper need to for our hearts and lives to be changed from the water of legalism to the wine of grace.
I want to be healed physically.
But the deeper need is to be healed of emotional pain inside
I want to see.
But the deeper need is to see God’s love in action and Jesus active in this world.
I want to get up and walk away from my paralysis…
But the deeper need is to stand up for Justice and Truth and Equality and Inclusion and for those considered of little or no worth in our society.
I want to be fed..
Bu the deeper need is that we hunger after love and community and solid relationships and safe relationships..
I want to rise again at the last day.
But the deeper need is to rise again now, to be transformed, to be born again…
So that we grow up into Christ and be like Christ.
Jesus invites us to go deeper. To look inside our own souls. Prayer is not us asking God for a bunch of stuff, but it is to move through the outer layers of our identity, what we do and what people say about us, and how we identify ourselves, until we find the place where God lives in us. When we get through the outer layers and go deep inside then the Spirit of God starts working, starts transforming.
Most of us are just too busy to really do the inward journey. We pray for others. We pray for changes in the world. We pray for good things.
But we hardly ever get deep enough for ourselves to really change.
And that is why we have to be John the Baptist for ourselves sometimes.
We have to be witnesses and speak to our selves. Hey, that is light.
Hey that is goodness. Hey that is love.
Hey, Jesus is working in that person’s life.
Hey Jesus touched my heart in that book, in that scripture, in that story, in that friend, in that movie, in that encounter, in that street person, in that baby, in that church service, in that hymn, in that sermon, in that gift I gave, in that help I gave, in that help I received…
The John the Baptist inside us has to invite ourselves to “Come and See” ….every time something good happens, something loving happens, or some need is met.
To think about it, dwell upon it, see Christ in it and incorporate it into our selves…
So that the incarnation happens in us…
And Christ takes on our flesh and starts living in us.
A thousand years before Jesus a mother took her little boy Samuel to the temple to live there.
She had promised to dedicate him to the Lord and so he lives with old Eli the priest.
I am not sure what it would have been like to grow in the temple, whether it was terrifying, scary, an adventure or what?
Was he ordered around like a slave?
He must have witnessed something I think terrifying. Every day hundreds or animals slaughtered, blood everywhere and maybe little Samuel spend most of his days at the end of a mop cleaning up.
And then imagine sleeping in the temple. The Ark of the Covenant was there. Within it were holy sacred relics..
…the commandments, a container of manna, Aaron’s rod that budded…
And the rumour was that if you touched that Ark of the Covenant it could kill you.
…alone, without his mother living with blood flowing all day and sleeping near the Ark that could kill you at night….
…and one night he hears a voice calling to him.
Now what is interesting is that the scripture says that he did not know the Lord yet.
He is growing up in the temple and he does not know the Lord. What was old Eli doing?
Isn’t the priest of God supposed be teaching this little boy about God and introducing him to God. Isn’t the priest, the High Priest by the way, supposed to be the first and best witness to God.
And so there is something in the story here that is beyond the trite messages we often tell our children about Samuel.
You are supposed to be a good little boy or girl and go to church like Samuel did.
You are supposed to be a good little boy or girl and listen to the church elders like Samuel did.
You are supposed to be a good little boy and girl and say “yes” when God calls.
What I read here is that the voice of the Lord was rare.
It was rare because I think the priests and the people who went to the temple were not listening or being witnesses to the Spirit of God…
And God decided to pick someone outside the church hierarchy.
He picks a boy who doesn’t even know him yet. A boy who has had no spiritual or religious instruction…
A boy who is not an insider but an outsider…
A boy who has no power or status in the religious institution…
And shares with him the word that their rites and rituals are bankrupt.
As someone who works for and is paid by the religious institution it is a scary thing to think, but just as every person has sinned and come short of the glory of God, every institution is in the same boat.
There are times when the institution is so busy being the institution that the word of the Lord is rare.
There are times when we go through the motions but we forget to point to the light.
Is it possible that being in the church all the time dulls our ears or my ears to the word of God, and we are just going through the motions?
Is it possible we have stopped being witnesses and saying to people “Come and See.”?
Is it possible we don’t tell ourselves “Come and See” and stop looking for God in everyday life?
I think the good thing is that God doesn’t give up. He keeps calling to Samuel time and again until finally Samuel says; “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.”
And maybe that is the way it is with us. I don’t believe God in Christ ever stops calling our name or speaking to us. I think it happens time and time again.
Maybe most of the time we don’t pay attention to that voice, but I think it is happening all the time.
And every once in a while we stop and go deep inside and say: “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.”