God Known By the Word of the Lord - Second Sunday after the Epiphany
Rev. Charles Westby, Pastor
January 17, 2021

I was driving home last week and was listening to the radio. A song started playing. Part of the refrain went like this: “I’m not your friend, . . . You think that you’re the man, I think therefore I am.”

Some of you may recognize this song as performed by Billy Eilish. The title of it is “Therefore I am.” It was written by Eilish and her brother, Finneas O’Connell. It was released through Darkroom and Interscope Records on November 12, 2020. I was quite surprised and intrigued to hear the phrase, “I think; therefore I am,” in a pop song on the radio.

This phrase comes from the philosopher, René Descartes. We talked about Descartes a couple of years ago in Bible class to try to understand the basic assumptions of the way our world thinks. Descartes is foundational for this.

But Descartes died in 1650. So what is the phrase that reflects his philosophy doing in a song by Billy Eilish in November of 2020 that you can hear on the radio today?

It is not known exactly why Billy Eilish uses this phrase from Descartes in her song, though she must find it significant in some way. It probably has something to do with how she establishes her own identity over against whoever or whatever the antagonists in her song are. She may be finding that phrase meaningful in that way, as she wrestles with her new found fame. In this fame, critics and fans can be quite critical and mean, and so she may be struggling to find a way to assert herself over against the critics and the way her fans think she is supposed to be.

One could find that understandable, as far as that goes. Yet, the true way to define oneself against one’s critics but still be in the good is by looking to the word of the Lord, and in Him, to look for what is objectively true.

Now what Descartes meant was that the only way you can be sure that you exist is by reference to yourself and that you are thinking. Thinking here does not mean just rational thinking. It means mental activity of any kind, even emotional activity. The mere fact that you have this kind of activity is the surest proof of your existence. But then there is not really an evaluation of which kind of thinking is best. So Descartes’s formula can lend itself to rational thinking as the measure of all things as well as emotion, will, and desire being thought of as a way to the truth.

This leads to a world view where whatever I am, whether I exist, whatever I am to be, has myself as its reference point; has myself as the authority and determining factor. And the part of oneself that is in view here is the thing that thinks. One’s body is not in view because you are this thinking thing. Not even your body can define what you are in any way. Thought, idea, will, desire determine and establish what is true and what you are and you impose this on everything else. At the end of this road, where reason destroys itself, as it sems to be doing today in many respects, the only thing one has left is the will to power.

What is missing in this picture in terms of how we are sure that we exist and what is true and right and good, and ultimate reality? God is missing. Descartes tried to bring God back into the picture in his philosophy for a certain philosophical purpose. But the fact is that when the self is made the basic ground of existence and all things, God becomes unnecessary. And this is what has happened in the modern way of thinking. And then religion, or relationship to God, like all other things, becomes simply an expression of one’s self about ultimate things, or an expression of a group about such things. And what an ultimate thing is is left to the determination of the individual or a group. God speaking to us, doing for us, creating, sustaining, and redeeming us, is not in view.

But having one’s self as the surest ground of existence places a burden on the self that it is not able to bear. Indeed, having a worldview where all reality is supposed to be determined and guaranteed by human beings burdens human beings beyond what they can bear.

But it should be self-evident that the self which is made the ground of all things does not bring itself into existence. One does not create oneself. And the self’s ability to think is given to it, by God. One’s body is given by God and redeemed by God. It is God who gives life and sustains it. And so the self in its own conception as being the ground of all things severs itself from its maker who gives it life. In that way it severs itself from the source of all goodness, truth, peace, and joy. It struggles to find the good, but cannot find it.

What a different picture Samuel provides. We see Samuel as a boy. He was ministering to the Lord at the tent of meeting where it was set up at Shiloh. He was ministering there in the presence of Eli, the high priest. He is lying down to try to get some sleep where the Ark of the Covenant was, in the holy of holies (1 Samuel 3:1-3).

Suddenly, he hears someone calling his name: Samuel (1 Samuel 3:4). This voice was not in his head but outside him, coming to him. He hears the voice with his ears. So he gets up and runs to where Eli was sleeping. He speaks to Eli: Here I am. But Eli is confused because he did not call out to Samuel. He tells Samuel to go back to his bed (1 Samuel 3:4-5).

The same thing happens a second time. Then it happens again a third time. After the third time, Eli catches on. Oh, it is the Lord who is calling you Samuel. So he instructs Samuel what to do the next time it happens. Say speak Lord, for your servant is listening (1 Samuel 3:8-9).

In verse 7 it says that “Samuel did not yet know the Lord for the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him” (1 Samuel 3:7). Later it says that the Lord revealed himself to Samuel at Shiloh by the word of the Lord (1 Samuel 3:21). So the Lord’s interaction with Samuel teaches us that the Lord is known by the word of the Lord.

So the Lord calls to Samuel a fourth time. It says that the Lord came and stood where Samuel was (1 Samuel 3:10). The Lord came to him. How could the Lord stand there? He had to have some form. It was undoubtedly a human form so Samuel could see him, though not yet incarnate. Yet the Lord came to Samuel and stood there and spoke. He came to Samuel as the word of the Lord and called Samuel’s name.

Samuel did as Eli instructed him. He said, speak Lord, for your servant is listening (1 Samuel 3:10). Samuel’s self was addressed by the word of Lord.

Samuel does something quite different from the modern view. He listens to the Lord speaking. And in this listening, the Lord’s speaking becomes definitive for Him. This is the Christian way. Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.

The Lord’s speaking establishes where we came from, as He created us by His word, through which His will and power works all things. And so His word written for us now tells us that we are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14). This word relieves the burden of making oneself the ground of all things. This word allows one to rest in the power and goodness of the creator who gives and sustains life.

Human beings since Descartes have tried to find the answer to things and the way to goodness with the self being the measure of all things. But this is an empty road. The only way to find the good is when God is the measure of all things; God whom we know through the word of the Lord. For then we can know the truth and then we can know our redemption, forgiveness, and peace; then we can know personally the source of all good, the One who is life.

One day around a thousand years after Samuel, Nathanael was sitting under a fig tree. His friend Philip comes up to him with the most surprising news. He says to Nathanael: “We have found the one Moses talked about. The Savior. It is Jesus from Nazareth.”

Nathanael is doubtful because he does not think that anything good can come out of Nazareth.

Jesus sees Nathanael coming toward Him. Jesus and Nathanael had never met before. Yet, Jesus speaks of Nathanael’s character. How could Jesus know this about me, says Nathanael. Jesus says that He saw Nathanael sitting under the fig tree before Philip called him (John 1:43-48). This seeing is the way God sees. Jesus knew Nathanael the way God knows Nathanael.

Nathanael is standing face to face with the word of Lord. The word of the Lord came and stood to speak to him, as He came and stood to speak to Samuel. But now He came and stood fully as a true, flesh and blood human being, Jesus from Nazareth.

Jesus is the word of the Lord. He is truth. He is grace and mercy. He opens heaven for us and commands all the heavenly host. He has redeemed us with His body. We belong to Him. We hope in Him. Let us live for Him in the body, using our bodies according to His will, as we partake of His body in the bread. We know His will in His word, written for us, so we can know and believe. Let our self worship Him for in Him, in His being, His truth, His mercy, we find the fulfillment which we need and for which we long. And this fulfillment is good, as He is good. And this fulfillment is everlasting, as He is everlasting, having risen from the dead. Amen.  


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