1 Samuel 3:1-10, Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18
All Things New: Samuel
Youmight remember me mentioning during Advent that Mary’s song in the gospel ofLuke, the Magnificat, is extremely similar to Hannah’s song in the OldTestament, when she gives thanks to God for the life of her child, after yearswhere she was not able to give birth. Hannah is so thankful, and had prayed sofervently for a child that she promised God she would dedicate that child toGod’s service – and so she did. She gave Samuel to service in the temple, and thatis just where we find him today – in the temple, serving under the guidance ofthe priest Eli. Our passage opens with the narrator noting that “The word of theLord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.” This kind of commentis not unusual in the Old Testament. When we read about leaders and judges andkings, we often hear a quick description of whether they followed God or did whatwas evil in God’s sight. So, here we read that when Samuel was a boy, peopleseemed to be far from God, not attending to God’s words or experiencing visionsof what God had planned.
Eliis laying down at night, and Samuel was resting in the presence of the ark, whichcarried the law of God. God calls Samuel:“Samuel, Samuel.” He think the voice is Eli, so he runs to him and says, “HereI am!” Eli says he did not call the boy, so he goes back to bed. This exchangerepeats two more times, and Eli realizes God is calling the child. Eli directsSamuel to answer God next time Samuel is called. So God calls again, and Samuelresponds, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” So begins Samuel’s lifeas a prophet to
Israel andan eventual mentor to the first Kings of , Saul and David. Israel
Buttheweird twist to this story is in what God first says toSamuel. What God first tells Samuel is thatSamuel hasto tell Eli about theend of hishousehold.You see, Eli’s two sons, also serving in the temple, were corruptand abusing their positions. Eli had already been told byGod thathisown family line would not continue. And yet, Eli still has thisrole to play, acting as an interpreter of sorts to Samuel, helping himunderstand who is calling, and how to respond to God. WhenSamuel finally tells Eli what God revealed to Samuel, Elisays: It is the Lord; let [God] do what seems good to God.Even though Eli faces pain and suffering, he keeps Samuel on theright path. Eli and Samuel’s stories are bound together, andEli plays a critical role in Samuel becoming who God is calling himto be.
As you haveheard me mention a few times now, this Friday is our ecumenical dinner, anopportunity to be together with our brothers and sisters in Christ in thecommunity. The timing of the meal is not accidental – we celebrate now becausefrom the 18th to the 25th, we celebrate the Week of Prayer for ChristianUnity, actually in its 100th Anniversary this year. The emphasis onChristian Unity is meant to remind us that our common life in Christ, ouridentification as members of the body of Christ, is much more important than thethings that separate or differentiate us. And this isn’t meant to be somefluffy notion – it isn’t just about holding hands and being together and ignoringdifferences for a week of the year. No, it is about recognizing that we have acommon purpose, meaning, and calling – we are in it together, and we are meantto help each other work life out together.
It isalso no accident that the Week of Prayer falls so close to Martin Luther KingDay. Dr. King wrote frequently about his disappointment with white churches duringthe Civil Rights Movement. White church leaders kept urging him to take things slowlyand not push for so much radical change, even if they thought it was right. Kingcouldn’t understand how those who were united with him in Christ could fail toact for the cause of truth and justice. In 1965, King gave the commencementaddress at Oberlin College, a speech called, “Remaining Awake Through aGreat Revolution.” King spoke abouthis travels in India where he went to learn about nonviolent resistance tooppression. Reflecting on the extreme hunger and poverty he witnessed there hewrote, “As I noticed these conditions, something within me cried out, “Canwe in America stand idly by and not be concerned?” And an answer came,”Oh no! because the destiny of the United States is tied up with thedestiny of India and every other nation.” I started thinking about thefact that we spend millions of dollars a day in our country to store surplusfood, and I said to myself, “I know where we can store food free of charge- in the wrinkled stomachs of the millions of God’s children in Asia andAfrica, in South America, and in our own nation who go to bed hungry atnight.”
All I’msaying is simply this: that all [humankind] is tied together; all life isinterrelated, and we are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality,tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects allindirectly. For some strange reason I cannever be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. And you cannever be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be – this is theinterrelated structure of reality. John Donne caught it years ago and placed itin graphic terms: No [one] is an Island, entire of itself; every [one] is apiece of the continent, a part of the main… And then [Donne] goes on towardthe end to say: any [one]’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in [humankind];and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.And by believing this, by living out this fact, we will be able to remain awakethrough a great revolution.
“Forsome strange reason I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you oughtto be.” To me, that is what Christian unity is about, indeed, what our humanjourney together is about – I can’t be what I should be unless I am involved inyour being what you ought to be. That means if you are suffering, it doesn’t justmatter to me, it impacts me. If you are sick, it impacts me. If you are doing whatis wrong, it impacts me. If you are full of joy, it impacts me. Within this congregation,we can only fulfill our purpose in God as far as we are also part of making sureeach person here is finding their purpose. We can only be what we are meant tobe if we are involved in wholeness and justice for all people because injustice for some means our life is not as full as God means it to be.
“Forsome strange reason I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you oughtto be.” Last week, I shared with you from one of my texts for the DMin class Icompleted this last week, where the author said that we are too often trying todefine ourselves externally – I shop,therefore I am – remember? Another of our texts, a collection of writings bySouth African Arch Bishop Desmond Tutu, speaks about the African conceptof ubuntu, essentially – “I ambecause we are.” Or “a person is a person through other people.” I am because we are. Tutusays this is “how my humanity is caught up and bound up inextricably with yours(21-22).” For Jesus, this meant love of neighbor was always tied to love ofself and to love of God. You have heard me say this before: myleast favorite phrase is “that’s between me and God.” No! Whatis between us and God is our neighbor. We cannot truly grow closer to God unlesswe grow closer to one another. Because I can never be what I oughtto be until you are what you ought to be. As long as we are convinced that wecan be complete and be holy and connected with God while leaving others behindfor any reason, we will never be what we can be, who we ought to be, who we arecalled to be.
As you thinkof people of faith who inspire you, who have shaped the world, I think you willfind people whose lives were formed by the helping hands of others, and who, inturn, focused their life work on serving others. We love God by loving one another.I am because we are. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you oughtto be. So, as we celebrate the work of Dr. King, and as we celebrate our Christianunity, let us commit to following God together.Speak to us God, for your servants are listening. Amen.