Today we were joined by Rev. Cn. Rich Simpson, Canon to the Ordinary in the Diocese of Western Massachusetts. You can read his sermon, "A Fishing Story" on his blog, Rich's Rumination's: http://rmsimpson.blogspot.com/2021/01/a-fishing-story.html
Let’s begin by looking at the story of Eli and his household, which begins a couple of chapters earlier. Eli is the established leader in the temple, and he is anything but ideal. Hannah, Samuel’s mother, comes into the temple to pray at the beginning of 1 Samuel, and Eli confuses her prayer for drunkenness (1:12-18). An indication of his dimming senses and grossly off balance intuition. (We likely have all experienced getting away from our self-care and relationship routines--with God or loved ones. When we do, things easily can get off balance and we begin missing things that might seem obvious to onlookers).
Possibly of far greater concern is Eli’s complete and utter failure at managing the behavior of his sons, who serve as priests in the temple. His sons have completely misunderstood the responsibilities of priestly ministry. They are actually described as ‘scoundrels’ (2:12). It was routine for people to bring sacrifices for the temple, and the very best cut was always meant for God. Eli’s sons kept that portion for themselves (2:12-17). They also have a history of sexually assaulting and raping women who serve at the entrance of the tent of meeting (2:22).
As appalling as the behaviors of Eli’s sons are, what is far more disturbing is Eli’s gross neglect. He simply sits on his throne, negligent, letting abuse after abuse take place. God warns Eli to stop his sons, yet Eli’s love of power and privilege prevents him from taking God’s voice seriously (2:27-36). A bit like a child who thinks they could probably get away with a bit more.
Turning to Samuel...His mother had been unable to have children, though following her trip to the temple (the one where Eli thought her prayers were the behavior of a drunk woman) she became pregnant. Hannah was overjoyed and promised to give her child as a servant to God. After Samuel was weaned, she brought him to Eli, to minister in the temple, while she went on to give birth to five more children (1:28; 2:21).
When we meet Samuel in today’s lesson, he is asleep on the temple floor near dawn.
A voice cries out: “Samuel! Samuel!” (3:4).
Samuel assumes it must be Eli calling after him, so he runs off to find Eli.
“Here I am, for you called me” (3:4)
Eli, who had been asleep, says, I didn’t call you, go back to sleep.
Samuel returns to the temple floor, only to hear his name again. He goes back to Eli who says the same thing--go back to sleep. Then it happens a third time. Eli begins to realize this may be God calling Samuel. While it might seem they are both slow on the uptake, in reality, Eli has been the one in a leadership position and should be well versed at recognizing the voice of God (in spite of his choice to disregard God), while Samuel is a newbie and needs a bit of help deciphering what is going on.
Eli instructs Samuel to go lie down, and this time should he hear his name called, he was to respond,
“Speak God, for your servant is listening” (3:9).
Samuel returns to the temple floor and when he hears his name being called, he lets God know he is listening.
“Speak God, for your servant is listening” (3:9).
In response, God says to Samuel:
“See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make both ears of anyone who hears it tingle” (3:12).
God then goes on to explain all that will befall Eli’s family, since Eli did not heed God’s warning.
Samuel laid back down, and in the morning, Eli insisted Samuel tell him everything God had said. While a bit reluctant, Samuel spoke the truth in love to Eli that his family would soon lose everything. Eli essentially said, May it be so.
This lesson contrasts two different responses to the voice of God. On the one hand is Eli whose senses have grown dim--both literally and metaphorically. God has asked Eli to put an end to the abuses of power taken by his family. And yet….nothing. Eli does absolutely nothing. His household’s love of power has become their primary driving force and they will not stop until God forces them out.
On the other hand is Samuel. Who answered God each and every time. Samuel has a servant’s heart and he holds a posture of listening. Samuel was informed by his mother’s powerful love, which helped shape his calling to prophetic ministry from within her womb. Eli learned at a young age how to speak the truth in love to those who did not want to hear it---something that can only be done with the power of love driving us. Samuel goes on to become a trustworthy prophet of God whose ministry is focused on putting an end to corruption.
It seems pertinent that this particular story shows up in the lectionary on the weekend we remember Martin Luther King, Jr. and in the days before our nation seeks a peaceful transition of power. A little over sixty-three years ago, a dynamic Black preacher offered a sermon on “Loving Your Enemies” at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery Alabama. Martin Luther King, Jr. preached about the redemptive power of love in that sermon, and the words are still ringing out to us, crying out for our attention, maybe more urgently than ever before.
“We must discover the power of love, the power, the redemptive power of love. And when we discover that we will be able to make of this old world a new world. We will be able to make men better. Love is the only way.”
In the calling of Samuel, God reminds Eli and any corrupt leader who will ever hold power, that the power of love is more powerful than the love of power.
The power of love is redemptive and can transform us into better people, a better society, a better world.
This is the message that Jesus proclaimed again and again.
Love is the only way.
This is the message that grounds us.
Love is the only way.
This is the message that must light the fire within each of us, within every local church, and within the universal Church.
Love is the only way.
This is the message that must ground our nation as it seeks a peaceful transition of power.
Love is the only way.
This is the message that we must hold tightly to as we move forward in uncertain times.
Love is the only way.
We arrive at a parking lot still in the cool of the forest and still surrounded by deep greens, browns, blue and dots of white that have been a part of our day for the last several hours and we walk a path marked by signs directing us to Glacier Point. Just ahead we suddenly see the trailhead opening out to a view of the sky and to our right the top of Half Dome. You might have seen images of Half Dome. It is a huge granite mountain that looks like God took a knife and cut it in half down its center from top to bottom. It is gray as you would expect to see a mountain of granite. Think about the granite you have seen on the side of a building or on a counter top and them envision an entire mountain made of that material with shadows cast by the formations of the rock. There are charcoal grays and light grays and dark grays nearing black. As we continue, the light brightens as we leave the forest and enter the opening of the Glacier Point lookout. The greens and browns that have surrounded us have fallen away and we see the full brightness of this summer day. Our view is filled with the shades of gray of the granite mountains and of Half Dome in particular. The grays are blanketed in large swaths of evergreen forests that look like great green carpets from our view a thousand feet above the Yosemite Valley floor. We have to blink at the brightness of the light as it floods our eyes and, as we look toward Half Dome, we see dark thunderheads rising up behind it. Lightning arcs between the bald top of the mountain and the dark brooding sky. We see sheets of rain falling on Half Dame and then torrents of water steaming off of the rock as the rain washes the scene.
When that vista met my eyes I drew in a breath and held it and my eyes teared up. For a moment I could not breathe. I almost felt like I was floating as I gazed at the beauty God had created. I could feel God surrounding me. I had no thoughts just awe. When a thought finally worked its way into my consciousness it was that surely there has to be a God that has created this.
Epiphany is defined as “a moment of sudden revelation or insight”. While not all of us have had the chance to go to Glacier Point we have, most of us, had an experience of suddenly coming upon a view that has taken our breath away. I remember this one so clearly because it resonated so deeply inside me. The colors in the Fall, a waterfall in the woods, a raging stream in the Spring, a snowfall that coats all the bare branches, a magnificent sunset, all of these can evoke the kind of feeling I had at Glacier Point.
When I hear or read the passage from Isaiah that we just heard I get that feeling. The awe that accompanies the coming of our Lord to us. Theologians call it the enfleshment of God among us. The glory we hear in Isaiah and the psalm is like the presence of God in our world in places like Glacier Point. It takes our breath away and we are compelled to come and see and bring gifts. Our psalm today, Psalm 72, paints a picture of this glorious King’s son who cares for the poor and crushes the oppressor and yet is as gentle as rain upon the field. And the son brings peace and abundance forever. He is recognized by the powers in this world and they honor him. Most impressive though is that he delivers the poor and has pity on the lowly and preserves the needy; those who can offer him the least. All they can offer is themselves and their love and yet it is they who the King’s son preserves. Come and see this wondrous sight.
Come and see. You might remember that as Jesus was calling his disciples the call was to come and see. Paul, in the epistle reading today, is calling the gentiles of Ephesus to come and see “the mystery of Christ” “the boundless riches of Christ” and to carry that vision to “the rulers and authorities” This is Good News. And it is good news for the gentiles because it illuminates their inclusion in the promise that they too are heirs with the Hebrew people and members of same body in Christ Jesus. It should illuminate for us that all of creation is bathed in this light of Christ which we all can come and see.
One other place I find awe and wonder is in the eyepiece of my telescope. I would like you to think about those wise guys from the east who obviously kept an eye on the night sky. Imagine their surprise and delight in finding a new star in the heavens that seemed to portend a royal birth. I could say a lot about Herod and his wicked conniving to try to find and destroy the infant king. I think that speaks for itself and I think we sometimes don’t pay enough attention to awesomeness of God’s enfleshment in that tiny baby.
Any baby is awesome and the birth of a baby is double awesome. I have had the joyful honor of attending the birth of my three children and one of my grandchildren. It never gets old. It evokes feelings of tearful joy and breathless wonder. Now consider, for these three wise men from the east this was a trip of great time and distance to visit and honor a king whose coming called forth the heavens to produce a star. No minor tribute that. They arrive at a tiny wayside village and an out of the way cattle stall to find a poor family with a beautiful new born son being honored by the peasants from the surrounding community. They must have rechecked their calculations several times before they concluded that yes indeed this is the king whose star they have been following. And there, in that simple child was the glory of the universe. How could that not take your breath away. What a grand revelation!
Revelation. Wise men from the east. Shepherds from the fields. A poor family. The King’s son preserving the needy. All are the heirs of God. All these are revelations from our readings today. A revelation was given to me one cold winter evening at an outdoor service in Northampton. A friend who has lived in the streets gave witness, a very difficult witness, to how God entered her life, and then after she spoke she disappeared. I wanted to share the peace with her so I searched high and low but could not find her until the very end of the peace. “You couldn’t find me could
you?” she asked. No I admitted I couldn’t. She told me how her witness had brought back memories that terrified her and she sought comfort “in the back row along the wall where the people who live under the bridge stand.” “They have nothing,” she said, “all they have to give is themselves and their love and they give that freely.” I think we have a Christmas carol that speaks to that, it’s called In The Bleak Midwinter. Pay special attention to the last verse the next time you hear it.
God is present. God is in the world today. God is present in all that I saw on Glacier Point. God is present in every sunset. God is present in every waterfall. God is present in every child. We are surrounded by God every minute of every day. God is in every person we encounter, no matter who they may be. Epiphany should bring to mind the wonder of God’s presence in the world and the awe that attends that presence. Where will you see God today? Amen.
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