Next Sunday is the Second Sunday after the Epiphany. The readings in the three-year lectionary, Series B are 1 Samuel 3:1-10 (the calling of Samuel), 1 Cor 6:12-20 (flee from sexual immorality) and John 1:43-51 (the calling of Philip and Nathanael). Which got my blood boiling.
Here’s a preview of part of the sermon I’m writing for this Sunday. I’m so narked that I’m letting off some steam here. Perhaps I’ll sound more measured in the pulpit as a result.
I am told that there is a Lutheran professor of theology who tells his students that unless a seminarian or pastor thinks he can preach a better sermon than the one he is listening to, he has no business to be in the ministry. No doubt he is exaggerating to make a point—at least I hope so. I do wonder, however, how many seminarians or pastors have looked up the readings for a given Sunday and thought that they would have been able to come up with a better lectionary than the one in front of them. Arguably, this Sunday’s lessons are a case in point.
Normally, the lectionary is constructed along these lines: the Gospel text is chosen according to the time of the church year so that, for example, on Christmas morning the Gospel will focus on the incarnation of the Son of God. Then the Old Testament reading is selected to complement the Gospel, so that on Christmas morning you might have an Old Testament prophecy of the coming of the Christ. Finally, the Epistle reading is added. Sometimes, the Epistle is also related to the theme of the Sunday; at other times, the Epistle readings over a period of consecutive Sundays take the congregation right through a whole book, regardless of the themes of those Sundays.
Now, given this principle, let me ask you: What Old Testament passage came to mind when you listened to Jesus’ words at the end of today’s Gospel: “Truly, truly I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” Let me give you a clue: it has something to do with an epiphany or appearance of God to a person, involving angels of God ascending and descending.
That’s right: Jacob’s ladder. Not the calling of Samuel. After all, we are in Epiphany season, which focuses on the epiphany, manifestation of the Son of God among us. Important a theme as the calling of disciples is—and today’s Gospel does teach us about that, too—within the church year there is a proper time and place for that. John’s point in recording the calling of Philip and Nathanael was not to tell us about disciples or discipleship. He wrote what he wrote in order to tell us about Jesus, about who Jesus is.
Not only that, but it turns out that the three-year lectionary favoured by the publishers of the Lutheran Service Book has not managed to include Jacob’s ladder at all, in three years’ worth of OT readings.