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God Is Present, No Matter What You Think

Commentary
What does it look like when God is present with us? What do God's emissaries look like? It may not be what you think! These three scriptures have a surprise at their core, and some people just don't get it.

God is speaking to and through Samuel, the boy who is literally an answer to his mother's prayer. Samuel himself doesn't realize at first God is speaking to him, so maybe we can't be surprised that Eli doesn't have a clue either -- but the third time's a charm, Eli figures it out.

Paul spent eighteen months in Corinth, establishing and nurturing the house churches there. Over the course of several years he also engaged in a lengthy, complicated correspondence with the Corinthian churches. Evidently some have questioned Paul's qualifications. They don't see God present in his ministry. So Paul stops to list his credentials -- the long list of his sufferings. Paul is the suffering servant -- and like it says in Isaiah, who would have believed what we have seen!

There's a similar confusion in this gospel passage. Jesus heals, works of power that demonstrate the presence of God. Yet his disciples are accused of breaking the Sabbath because they crunch a few husks of grain while walking through the fields, and he is condemned because he heals on the Sabbath.

1 Samuel 3:1-10, (11-20) and Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18
Backstory: Samuel's mother Hannah previously had no children. During a festival she came to the sanctuary to pray. In an era where people prayed aloud and even loudly, Hannah prayed silently, her lips moving, causing the priest Eli to assume she was drunk. Not so. Her fervently silent prayer is heard by God, Samuel is born, and he is dedicated to working in the sanctuary.

Meanwhile, Eli's sons are abusing their position as the sons of the priest, and potentially future priests themselves. God comes to speak through Samuel, and in what seems like a comic exchange the young Samuel mistakes the voice of God for the voice of Eli. Three times Samuel responded to God's voice by waking up Eli.

But God does speak through the young, and to Eli's credit, once he realizes who it is that is speaking to Samuel he insists on hearing what God has to say, no matter how bad the news. No matter what you think, God speaks through children if we take the time to listen.

2 Corinthians 4:5-12
Paul spent eighteen months in Corinth, establishing and nurturing the house churches there. He also engaged in a lengthy, complicated correspondence with the Corinthian churches. Some feel that 2 Corinthians has the remains of two to four letters, if not more. The theme of this passage is that despite outward appearances, our weakness demonstrates God's strength.

This is why Paul can speak of having this treasure in "clay jars," how we are the humble vessels which carry the image of Jesus. Clay jars, once they had fallen and broken into many pieces, did not lose their utility. Pottery shards were used as business receipts, for wedding invitations, personal letters, and official documents. In light of these clay jars Paul is more credible when he suggests his sufferings, the great suffering he has endured for the sake of the gospel, which makes him one with the Suffering Servant of Isaiah, is how we know God is present, sustaining him. In some of his most inspiring words (4:7-11) he transforms trials and tribulations into a mark of glory. This great passage of encouragement looks toward the eternal in an empire where concepts of eternal reward were vague or nonexistent.

Where else do we see this presence of God? The image of the earthly tent we currently dwell in is transfigured into the building of God. We seem impermanent, but the body of the future will have a strong foundation.

As many Corinthian Christians were probably slaves, this language, reminiscent of our tradition of the African-American Spirituals, spoke of true reward, true treasure in jars of clay, and true freedom in Christ.

The presence of God is found within us as well, as fragments of clay jars, and as tents that we set up, live in, take down, and move on. God's dwelling place was a tent in the wilderness. In our lives, in this tent that is our body, God shines brightly too.


Mark 2:23-3:6
Who or what defines our faith? Is it the religious leaders? Not necessarily.

It's not who you think it is -- it's the Lord of life, and we who are the disciples of Jesus.

This passage is just part of a series of controversies involving Jesus and religious authorities. Jesus heals. His works demonstrate the presence of God. Yet his disciples are accused of breaking the Sabbath because they crunch a few husks of grain while walking through the fields, while he is condemned because he heals on the Sabbath.

Jesus responds to the accusations of religious leaders about the way his disciples supposedly broke the law of the Sabbath, when they defined preparing food as munching on crunchies, by using an example from the Hebrew scriptures. Abiathar the priest used the sacred showbread, reserved for divine purposes, to stave off starvation for King David. Jesus shames the authorities who might have thought of this example themselves if they were more concerned for mercy than legalism.

And when they accuse Jesus of breaking Sabbath law because he healed the man with the withered hand they again show their ignorance of scripture. Their answer to Jesus' declaration that he is the Lord of the Sabbath is silence -- a resentful, murderous silence.

Some people, upon reading this passage, simply dismiss these ancient leaders as hidebound, stubborn, and legalistic. But this is not what you think -- Jesus is holding up a mirror to our own hidebound, stubborn, and legalistic tendencies. Our churches have gatekeepers who decide the right way to do dishes, which hymns are holy, or what is reverent and what is not. God is doing great works of power in our midst. There are children like Samuel who are speaking words of wisdom while we mumble something about children being the church of the future while trying to shush them silent. There are saints bearing marks that tell of physical, emotional, and spiritual trials and tribulations, yet we dismiss them and the good news of the gospel visible in their lives. 
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