Called Visionaries

Old Testament Lesson: 1 Samuel 3:1-20


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 


Gospel Lesson: 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 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.”



             “Come and See” are the words Philip uses to entice the interest of his friend Nathanael. “Come and See” are the same words just prior to this narrative that Jesus uses to bring along Andrew and a friend who sought where Jesus was staying. “Come and See” words that have been used throughout history of bringing people to see the glories of God.

We began a series last week called, called. A series that throughout this season of Epiphany is intended for us to have a vision of who God desires for us to be, and the many names by which we, who follow after and seek Christ in our lives, are called. Last week, we began with our identity as joint brothers and sisters of Christ, as God’s beloved through the shared Baptism of Jesus Christ. We spoke about the work of the Spirit moving us into paths of accepting God’s love for us, and our response to move into a relationship with God, a relationship that ultimately we strive to love in perfect love and have the mind of Christ. This week we begin to open our eyes to this identity of being visionaries.

I shared with you today two lessons, one lesson about a small boy who had an awesome encounter with the divine in the middle of the night, and yet another story about a man who believed to have found the Messiah and desires to share what he has seen with his friend Nathanael. Both the little boy and Nathanael, the man who was brought to see Jesus, have an encounter, a vision of the divine: one that seems a bit supernatural, while the other well seems as natural as you and I speaking right now. But both of whom then in turn responded to that encounter. God reveals a vision, and the human responds.

Samuel and Nathanael have something actually quite in common in both stories. They both are a bit skeptical, or at least a bit unsure about their initial encounter with their Lord. Samuel, we may remember mistook the voice of God to be that of Eli, the priest who looked after the small boy. And Nathanael in response to Philips claim that he had found the Messiah, the one whom Moses in the law and also the prophet wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth responded initially by saying, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” As I talk about Samuel and Nathanael and their initial encounters with the divine, I believe to settle on the conclusion that sometimes, well no, not even sometimes, but often we as a people, “even when confronted by the Divine”[1], are oblivious to God’s presence in our own lives. We experience God, but do not take the time to see God. In fact, an old tradition of Spiritual Direction in recent years has been making a comeback into the scene of the Church. Spiritual Direction, if you have not heard of it before, is the directing and guiding a person with his or her relationship with God.[2] It is sometimes through spiritual direction that people begin to finally open their eyes and begin to get glimpses of how God is moving in their lives, and perhaps how they have been shielding their own eyes from seeing the Divine. In some ways, you may say that a spiritual director takes on the role of being a visionary for that other person in whom they are guiding. A Visionary is someone who sees for others. They, with the presence of the Spirit, see God’s presence and direct the other to see it for themselves. Eli, in the story with Samuel, although blind, is the visionary, the spiritual director and sees God summoning Samuel. He instructs the boy to respond to this calling to say, “Speak LORD, your servant is listening.” And God does something that was rare even in those days, God reveals himself to the boy in both word and in vision. And through Eli’s direction, Samuel then becomes the visionary of the future of Eli’s household.  Samuel then sees for Eli, and later for an entire kingdom.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus is the visionary for which Nathanael comes to believe in the identity of Jesus. Jesus, as always in the Gospel of John, seems to be able to read the hearts of those whom he encounters, and Jesus reads the heart of Nathanael, someone whom Jesus had never met. Jesus looks within Nathanael and reveals to him something true about his personal character. In doing this, Jesus allows Nathanael then to see a glimpse of the glory of God when Jesus sheds light onto the identity of Nathanael. You could say that Jesus is much like a lighting director in theatre. It is the job of the lighting director to give enough light for the audience to see what is happening in the play. They are the visionaries for the audience. And when done well, the lighting director moves your attention exactly where they want it. It is light, the intensity of it, the color of it, that responds with our eyes in how we see. And so, we can say Jesus “is the light that illumines every person—he not only gives each person light; he also sees each person in his or her true light.”[3] Just as he saw Nathanael as he truly was.

Finally, in both stories, both Nathanael and Samuel respond to the encounter, to the seeing of the divine. Samuel, although afraid to tell Eli what was said, tells Eli all the things that was told to him. All about how all of Eli’s household would be punished for the way his sons acted, how they blasphemed against God. Samuel, through his vision of what God revealed to him, had to reveal then the tough news to his elder priest Eli. A formative experience for Samuel who later in his life must reveal tough visions to that of the whole house of Israel.

And Nathanael’s response to “Seeing” the identity of Christ exclaims and professes who Jesus is: “You are the SON OF GOD! You are the KING of ISRAEL! Bold statements that Nathanael breathed from seeing the divine in Christ. And in the Gospel of John it says that Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” But then in verse 51, the writer, John changes the tense in which we writes. It says in the English, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” This is a declaration that in the English seems like Jesus is only speaking to Nathanael, but as you read it in the Greek, the you is a plural you. It is a declaration by Jesus to anyone who believes will see, will encounter, will be a visionary of where the Divine and Earth meet. Jesus using the ancient imagery of Jacob’s dream, when Jacob had a vision of a ladder that went from earth to heaven with angels going up and down. Jacob awakes to realize that he was in the presence of God, the divine. Jacob awakes responds by setting an altar and names the place Beth-El, Beth which literally means house and El which means God and thus literally translates to the “House of God”. This is the promise to which Jesus makes about all who believe, that we will “see” the truth, which is that Christ, the Son of Man is the ladder by which the Divine and Earth meet.

As I close today, we have seen how Samuel and Nathanel, and even Jacob responded to the seeing, as you are called to be visionaries, those who see for others, how will you now respond?

[1]  (Hoppe 2011)

[2]  (Barry and Connolly 1989) 5.

[3]  (Brown 2011)

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