Listening to God with our whole being

Frances writes on Sunday’s Readings :- What does it mean to be a listening person, someone alert to the call of God and able to distinguish his voice amidst all the other sounds and voices or attractions and messages thrown at us by the world?

What is interesting is that Samuel (1 Sam 3:3-10.19) had been living with Eli in the temple at Shilo for years before he heard God calling to him. His mother Hannah had weaned him and then left him there in thanksgiving for the gift of her longed for son. We might have expected that this child who grew up in the temple would almost automatically have been attuned to God’s call, but clearly this was not the case. As our text indicates; it was only when both he and Eli were repeatedly accosted by the Lord that the penny dropped. Both the prophet and his servant Samuel had to come to a slow realisation that the Lord had some special task prepared for Samuel, and it was the Lord’s persistence that finally brought them to the state where they could actually listen to him. Perhaps Eli and Samuel were simply too busy with the daily round of ritual sacrifices, and their relations with ‘important’ visitors, to truly listen to God. When they finally did they would both embark on journeys to God which would be very taxing; Eli would see the loss of his own sons and heirs, and Samuel would rise to be a great prophet and a reluctant king-maker, one who would change the course of his nation’s governance and its approach to God.

When we come to our Gospel (John 1:35-42) what struck me was the way in which different men heard the voice of God speaking to them. First of all we have John the Baptist.He was already a significant figure in the world of ordinary Jews and challenged the power of the Jerusalem hierarchy. But, when he could have courted personal power, he was clearly sufficiently in touch with the divine to recognise the greater power of Jesus and twice hails him as ‘the lamb of God’. Now this was a deeply meaningful term for Jews looking for redemption of their own sins and those of the nation. Hundreds of years earlier, the early ceremonies on the Day of Atonement called for two lambs, one to be slaughtered for God and the other to be led out into the wilderness bearing the people’s sins. The Passover lamb also was the ever present reminder of their divinely given redemption from slavery in Egypt; it was literally the ‘making’ of the nation.

There must have been that in Jesus which John discerned from his long relationship with the Father that enabled him to understand that in some way Jesus would act as the new and definitive and ultimate redeemer and sin bearer for his people. Then there is the reaction of his disciples, who abandon John in favour of Jesus. Perhaps they had listened to John enough to realise that he was simply the forerunner of the redeemer. At any rate, such was their enthusiasm for Jesus that they followed him to his home and stayed with him and I imagine talked and listened to his ideas so that they could become his followers. Then we have the surprise that it is Andrew, a disciple of whom we know comparatively little, who announces to his brother Simon Peter that they have “Found the Messiah”. Now we might have expected Peter to have done the research and taken the action on his own behalf, but this is not the case. Simon listens to his brother and is persuaded by him to embark on this life-changing enterprise. Clearly then it can be the speech and actions of others, even those whom we do not think particularly significant who can be the all important announcers of the truth to us, and if we are alert and listening we shall be able to follow their lead.

Yet our reading from Paul (1 Corinthians 6:13b-15. 17-20) speaks powerfully of the myriad of different voices which assail our ears and tug at our attention span. Just as this is a great problem for us today, so it was for the Christians of Corinth. We have to remember just how small the Christian group in Corinth was in Paul’s day, probably numbering between 25-50 in the prosperous and densely packed international trading city. Corinth was a Roman foundation, the earlier Greek city having been destroyed in the 3rd century BC and refounded by Caesar. It was stuffed full of pagan gods jostling for elbow room and its competing attractions, from the theatres, the Games, with animal fights and gladiators and hunts, meant there were hugely competing interests vying for attention. Add to this the abundance of brothels and the chances of making a quick buck, and you can immediately appreciate that this was a city which was never at peace, indeed, hardly even slept; so that listening to the right voice and acting upon that information was no easy deal. Paul was deeply concerned about the integrity of Christian believers, and so he speaks of their bodiliness, here, soma, not the sarx of their flesh. He wants to get over to them that their entire being, flesh, soul, person, is wrapped up now in Jesus Christ. One cannot simply be a Christian in name only; one has to be one in one’s entirety; the integral wholeness of the individual is involved. As a way of entering into this teaching, he addresses the issue of sexual immorality – something which was of course not an issue to many pagans to whom the resort to prostitutes, of either gender, or the abuse of slaves was simply taken for granted.

It was Paul’s unique teaching on the  value of the common man and the total integrity of the human body which helped to make the Christian message so unique and so compelling, albeit frequently so difficult for them to achieve. The significance lies not in a narrow and shrivelled moralism full of ‘don’ts’, but instead in Paul’s insistence that the Christian is wholly one with God. God’s will for all of us is that we share his life, his being and as he says in Romans, that we are heirs of God with and in Christ. In our relations with others therefore, we must act as a corporate body, a single being, totally committed to God’s valuation of his creation, for we are the ‘body of Christ’. He goes on to spell this out “Your body…is the temple of the Holy Spirit…..you are not your own property; you have been bought and paid for.” Like the slave, the Christian is totally in the power of God, his master and owner, and must always be on the alert, listening out for his summons.

 

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