Sunday, January 18, 2015

Sermon for the Second Sunday after Epiphany, 2015 - Samuel, Disciples, Dr. King, Call

Today we hear, in our first reading, 
about the call of the young prophet, Samuel, 

the call that often reminds a lot of Lutherans 
of the kind-of-famous hymn: 

You know the hymn: 

“Here I am Lord. Is it I Lord? I have heard you calling in the Night. I will go, Lord… If you lead me…” 

I believe we’re going to sing it later in the service, actually….


“Samuel, Samuel,” God calls… 

“Here I am,” he replies…

The call that reminds a lot of folks of a hymn. 

And that’s great. 

However, sometimes, 
in the good feelings that come 
with such pretty songs, 
sometimes caught up in nostalgia or sentimentality, 
or a snappy melody,
or whatever—(all good things…)

(I know I love a snappy melody.)

Sometimes, caught up, 
we forget that Samuel was a young man 
charged with a message that was…

well, difficult. 

And a message that was, 
if nothing else, unpopular, 
or at least unpopular to the family of his aging mentor, 
a man well known, 
and for many years, 
well loved by the people of Israel. 

You see, Eli was the chief priest at Shiloh. 
And… yeah: he was kind of  a big deal, 
charged with the great responsibility 
of ministering to God’s people, 
and protecting the ark of the covenant—the contract which God had made with God’s people. 

He was, as far as pretty much anyone was concerned, 
a good 
and faithful man. 

But he had a little trouble with his kids. 

See, Eli’s sons, the Bible tells us, 
were “scoundrels (2:12).” 

They were drunk with power.
They were abusive.
They received special treatment 
simply because they were related to Eli,

and they used their privilege to take advantage of those 
not quite so far up the hierarchy as themselves—
and they used their privilege, of course, 
to take advantage of those 
not even a part of the hierarchy. 

You can read about all the details, 
if you wish, in Chapter 2 of First Samuel.

[1 Samuel comes right after Ruth, 
and right before 2 Samuel—
but just a warning, some of the accounts and behaviors contained therein are not necessarily “kid-friendly.”] 

One example of their corruption—that is, one example
which was particularly frustrating (to God, says the scripture), 
and an example that is symbolic of the even greater corruption beyond it—
a small, visible, example pointing toward 
what was going on in even more excess behind the scenes—outside the view of the newspapers and the historians and the Bible writers,

…One small example was:
“when anyone offered a sacrifice,” 
and I am quoting directly from Chapter 2 now, 
“When anyone would offer a sacrifice, 
the priest’s servants would come… 

[so these guys, these priests, 
Eli’s sons, had servants at their command, 
and they would come to the people doing the actual work, and they would come] 

“while the meat was boiling, 

“with a three pronged fork in [their] hand, 
and [the servant] would thrust [the fork] 
into the pan, 
or kettle, or caldron, or pot; 

and all that the fork brought up, 

the priest would keep for himself (2:13-14);”

The account goes on, and gets more specific, 
even down to threats of violence from the brothers,
that is, the “priests”
if the person offering the sacrifice
would not give them the good steaks
or prime cuts
for themselves, 
instead of sacrificing them to God, 
as they had intended to do. 

Eli’s sons were so impatient, 
says the scripture, 
that sometimes, 
they would not even wait for the burnt offering. 

(Sometimes they’d at least let it look like a sacrifice first).

they’d take the meat while it was still raw… 


Let me say it more clearly:

Eli’s sons, the priests who were sons of the chief priest,
“the scoundrels,”
stole the sacrifices 
that everyday people brought to offer to God!


The priests stole the sacrifices meant for God. 


The Bible adds, 
“They had no regard for the Lord, 
or of the duties of the priests to the people (2:12-13).”

One example, of a much deeper problem exemplified by Eli’s sons. 

The Bible tells us that 
though their father, Eli, 
was incredibly distressed by their actions, 
pleading with them, 
begging them to change their ways, 

they kept on
in their corruption and in their abuse, 

so that, 
says the scripture, 
God sent a prophet to Eli with these difficult words:

Again, from 1 Samuel: 

“A man of God came to Eli and said to him, 

"Thus the LORD has said, 'I revealed myself to the family of your ancestor in Egypt when they were slaves to the house of Pharaoh. 

I chose him out of all the tribes of Israel to be my priest, 
to go up to my altar, to offer incense, to wear an ephod before me; 

and I gave to the family of your ancestor all my offerings by fire from the people of Israel. 

Why then look with greedy eye 
at my sacrifices 
and my offerings 
that I commanded, 

and honor your sons 
more than me 

by fattening yourselves on the choicest parts 
of every offering of my people Israel?'  

Therefore the LORD the God of Israel declares: 
'I promised that your family and the family of your ancestor should go in and out before me forever'; 

but now the LORD declares: 
'Far be it from me; for those who honor me I will honor, 
and those who despise me shall be treated with contempt. 

See, a time is coming when I will cut off your strength and the strength of your ancestor's family, 
so that no one in your family will live to old age. 

Then in distress you will look with greedy eye on all the prosperity 
that shall be bestowed upon Israel; 
and no one in your family 
shall ever live to old age.” 

In other words, God said through the holy man, sent to Eli:

I liberated you from slavery.
I put you in charge and fed you and made you comfortable, 
and now you are letting greed and corruption rule you, 
rather than God, your liberator and deliverer. 

The God who is your provider, 
is now the God from whom you steal. 

You’ve been chosen to guard the ark of the covenant,
but you’ve broken the covenant in your actions.

“Deal’s off,” said God through God’s messenger.  

“And now, your family’s gonna die.” 

And the scripture goes on. 

Soon after all of these things, 

Samuel, the boy, who is growing old  
and serving in the temple, 
is called by the same God who sent to eli the aforementioned holy man. 

Samuel, Samuel…”

And Samuel is not just called to be the one who is called.

“The called One.”

More than that, Samuel is called to, the Bible says, to tell Eli and his family

that the prophecy made to him 

in response to his sons’ corruption, and abuse, 
and greed,
and so on, 

about their disregard for God, 
and God’s people, 

was about to be fulfilled,

and that Eli’s sons would soon die
as a sign. 

[sing:] “I will go Lord, if you lead me…” 


was Samuel’s first responsibility, 
Samuel’s call as a young prophet, 
a rising worker in the Temple 
and a servant of God.

Samuel was called to tell his mentor that his family would be punished, and that his sons surely would die…

A difficult calling for a young man,
but one to which he responded, 
and grew into a “trustworthy” prophet, 
says the scripture. 

A call to which he responded…

Fast forward a few centuries…

Again, this morning, in the Gospel of John, 
centuries later, 
we hear the call of Jesus’ disciples: 
and then his friend, 
who he invites along, 

In the previous chapter in John’s Gospel, was the call of Andrew, 
who then invited his brother Simon, 
the one who would one day be called “the rock,” 
or Peter, 

the one who would one day become a pillar in the first century Christian Movement—
Peter, the guy who was dragged along 
into this whole Jesus thing by his brother. 

(You never know how your invitation might change someones whole life). 

And not only do we hear of another call

(as well as a much better set of brothers)

we again also see a response—
we see
motion, movement… 
We see them, literally, following

Especially in the case of the disciples, 
the call by Jesus was not to believe intellectually. 

(Although that’s fine, too.)

But the call was: 
to follow. 

Let’s go! 

Let us be on our Way. 
Let your light shine…


To proclaim Jesus was to follow Jesus, 
to respond to the call 
was not so much emotional 
as it was physical. 

More than belief, discipleship was a call to action. 

This was the beginning of a journey that would reshape these disciples’ lives—and the lives of those they would touch,
and the lives of the communities they would build, 

And this was the beginning of a journey,
that would both 

cost them their lives,

and make their lives deeply meaningful
and full of Resurrection. 

This is a journey that we, too, 
are invited into, 

to be a part of today. 

It’s certainly appropriate that 
as we remember and celebrate 
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
on the occasion of his birthday,
this weekend,
that we should also read about 
the call of the prophet Samuel, 

and the call of the disciples. 

It is certainly appropriate that we should read about call.  

It’s appropriate that we read about a young man called to challenge those in power, and, yes, to proclaim judgement— where abuses and corruption persisted and resisted. 
To call for a new order, 
a new way, 
a restructuring of the world as it is, 
and the promise of an ending to the way that things are. 

It is certainly appropriate that we should read about call.  

It’s appropriate that we read about disciples who invite others into the work of the Gospel—
their family members, and neighbors, and friends, 
and acquaintances—those along the river, the sea, 
along the streets and the alley ways, 
called to follow the light and life of the world that outshines the shadows that threaten to swallow 
and oppress and divide us. 

Called to shine into the shadows, transforming hate into love, condemnation into forgiveness, division into unity, and death and oppression into life. 

It is certainly appropriate that we should read about call.  

And, it’s appropriate that we hear again our call—
to follow where God leads, 
to challenge the voices that threaten the voiceless, 
the powers that would devalue God’s children or God’s creation, 
treating them and us as less than human or less than “good.” 

It’s appropriate that we remind ourselves 
that we—you and I—are called—beloved, loved, 
nut also empowered by God 
called into action—

not just loved, but empowered
to live out God’s call in our lives—by virtue of our baptisms (Lutherans might say), 

and really, by by virtue of our existence
we don’t need the title of prophet or priest 
or organizer or activist
or teacher or nurse or plumber or race car driver
or anything else—
we don’t need a title, sisters and brothers, 
to know that we’re called…

by virtue of existence, as Children of God, each and every one of us,  
entrusted with this age-old, 
about the Good News for the poor, 
the release of the captives, 
and the Resurrection and the Life, Abundant and Eternal, meant for all the Crucified, in all the ways the world remains crucified and beaten,
oppressed and bleeding.  

It is certainly appropriate this morning that we should read about call.  

And Action. 

And following. 

And Movement. 

And it’s appropriate this morning that we should read about God. 


Lastly, this morning,  

We may not all be called to be Samuels or Peters 
or Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Juniors.

We might not all be as famous or as infamous as them, (depending on one’s vantage point).  

But we are baptized into the same water as the disciples, the same waters as Dr. King,
in the same waters as Christ himself. 

We are all anointed by the same Spirit as Samuel and the prophets, “the same Spirit is in you that raised Christ from the dead,”

And we are and called,
in our brokenness, in our fears and insecurities, 
in our sadness, in our joy, by virtue of our existence, 
where ever we are and however we are
each and everyone of us 

to let our lights shine, 
to listen for the call, 

and to follow where God will lead. 

And whether we live or die, 
as we journey, God calls us into meaningful lives, 
and lives full of Resurrection and Abundant life.  


Hymn of the Day: Odetta's Spiritual Trilogy

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