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Who Is Wise?

Epiphany 2, Common Lectionary Year B

1 Samuel 3:1-10

©2018 Rev Elisabeth R Jones

Who is wise in this story?
Who is wise?
Have you noticed this tendency in yourself,
when asked a question like that,
I know I have,
we feel this urge to choose,
to single out and anoint,
to exclude and deride.
Who is wise?
Is it Eli? Is it Samuel?
Hey let’s take the smart route and say
“Only God is wise!”

While I was preparing for the sharing of the story this week,
I browsed a lot of child-friendly cartoons,
even a Lego version of the story,
that we might have played on the screen,
but OMG!
Pretty much every one of the versions I looked at
answered the question just like that:
only one can be the wise one, the other must be a fool.
These childish versions turn the story into a
moralizing, polarizing pantomime,
Eli comes across as a crook or a crock,
a wrinkled, addled wreck, with a slimy voice.
And too often little Samuel, with no textual merit, is portrayed
as a smooth, well-toothed wunderkind,
not wise, so much as ‘smart’, or ubercool.
And God as a daunting, distant greybearded male.

But the story is so much richer, deeper, wiser than that.
It’s a story as deep with wisdom
as the one we shared last week about those Magi,
the wise ones, whose journey to encounter
with God’ with Us, Emmanuel, (slide)
was one in which the wise are full of questions,
open to mystery,
willing to be humble in what they did not know,
overwhelmed with joy at the encounter with wisdom,
and ridiculously generous in response to God’s grace.

Let me show you what I’ve discovered.
Right at the beginning, if you recall,
we heard this seemingly ‘sidebar’ line
““The Word of the Lord was rare in those days,
visions almost unheard of.”

We know what that’s like, don’t we?
Churches may dot the landscape, like the temple in Shiloh;
the machinery of religion is all around us,
but is God’s Dream, God’s Word what really shapes
the way the world is currently working?
The Eli’s – the priests – of state religion
still go through the motions,
shore up the trappings of religion,
turn up at the government prayer breakfasts,
but see little, and say even less,
about the Dream of God for justice, for abundance for all,
of generosity and joy for the lost, broken and least,
of banquets of blessing for all creation.
““The Word of the Lord was rare in those days,
visions almost unheard of.” Indeed.

Which makes what happens next in the story,
not pantomime, but Epiphany.
The showing up of God in the world.
In a time, in a place, in a world, where God
is no longer expected to show up,
(then or now), God does.

Who is wise in this story?
Almost before it begins, it is God’s wisdom we see.
God is, right here.
God knows to creep in barely noticed
above the snores of the sleeping,
God knows to be the insistent whisper
in the gap between our breathing,
the nudge, the night-time niggling
of a deeper dream and wiser way.
God knows to show up shrouded in mystery,
rather than caged in pomp, certainty, or dogma.
Who is wise?
We would be wise to remember this.
God shows up, not in the certainties of power,
but in the innocent dreams of children.

Who is wise?
What I’ve come to deeply appreciate about this epiphany
is how little light there is, how absent of fanfare,
how devoid of dogma or certainty it is.
Watch Eli, and watch for wisdom, for there is hope for all of us.

A voice in the night awakens the young boy,
who in turn awakens Eli.
How laughable he seems,
but then so are we,
if you think of it, coming week after week,
but not really expecting God
to actually show up… God’s house.
Eli dismisses the voice, and the boy, as night-time noise,
go back to sleep.”
The first time, and the second.
But the third?

Was that wisdom?
Not the sage wisdom of the scholar perhaps,
but the true wisdom, of being unsure.
Of being open to mystery.
To ‘what if’?
A remembered voice, perhaps,
a day when,
a recollection of how he’d once heard
his own name called?
Who knows?
Oh Eli, will you be our wise one here?
Remind us to stay open to small voices,
to be open to uncertainty,
even, or especially in the midst of our age-worn
experiences of the ordinary?!

Once we remove from his aging shoulders the pantomime
cape of dogged stupidity,
Eli becomes wise like so of many of us are wise,
almost by accident.
And we see in Eli yet more of God’s strange wisdom;
Do you see his humility and generosity?
I do.

The generosity and humility it takes for us old, sage ones,
to let the younger ones hear God’s voice for themselves,
to not crowd out the new names on God’s lips,
to trust that voice, even if this call of God to the young
may include our own indictment?

That’s what happens. When God and Samuel speak,
it is to call Samuel and his generation into a new way of being God’s people,
to let the old ways go, to step beyond those certainties into the dream of God.

That takes holy wisdom!
I see this old man,
the one with all the credentials, the power,
ceding his place to a young boy,
schooling him just enough to listen into the silence,
to be open to the mystery, the darkness, the unknown,
and to trust it with the holiness of God’s Dream…

I see old bones, touching lightly young shoulders,
“Sam, when you hear your name, trust that it’s God
calling you into a future
you and God will make together,
so be open, be humble, let God be your guide, and listen?!”

Oh Eli,
Who is wise?

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