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Epiphany 2B

Eyesight and Insight
(1 Samuel 3: 1-20)

by Elisabeth R. Jones

The preaching text for today is from the Hebrew Bible, from the first book of Samuel.
The books of Samuel tell the story of the transition of Israel, from a confederation of tribes fighting for survival against common enemies, into a unified kingdom under Saul and then David. But as with any book of the Bible this is not just a story of people, but a narrative of God’s involvement with the people.  Today’s text tells the story of the call of Samuel,
who was to become prophet or God’s mouthpiece, to Saul and to David.

This has to be one of my favourite stories  in the Bible.
It’s a shame it’s in the Bible, really,
because its mixture of almost pantomime humour
and dramatic tensions get   squashed down
like errant bangs with a lick of gramma’s tongue!
Read from a lectern it is too easily tamed, flattened.
So let’s not.

Let me tell you the story instead.
Today I’m going to weave the sermon with the text,
to get under its skin, and into its innards,
so that we can find its heartbeat, and our own, within it.

(I’ll need your help part way through, and ask you to take MV and turn to 161 now, so we’re ready when we need it.)

Let’s begin.

Once upon a time, long, long ago,
in the land of Israel, in the town of Shiloh
An old priest, age decaying his eyesight to near blindness,
– probably with lentils in his beard,
and meat juice down his chest,
and the elbows worn through on his linen coat,
lies down for the night in his toasty little room beside the ovens in the Temple of Yahweh, the temple of God.

A young boy,  eight or nine maybe,
exhausted from lighting, and relighting and
filling oil lamps and tallow candles
all day, every day (not just Xmas eve, Bob),
scraping ox fat off the altar,
and shovelling ash and … other stuff from the floor,
crawls onto his mat, tucked in beside
the golden seraphim guarding the ark of God’s covenant,
and curls for sleep.

It’s almost silent;
only the sound of settling stones,
and scurrying of mice working the night  shift,
vacuuming the floor of leftovers,
gathering scraps of straw for their nests in the crevices.

It’s almost dark, just the one single lamp still glows,
the lamp of the Lord, symbolizing the eternal presence of the
Almighty  God.
Not that people really took that much notice,
being an era when the word of God was rare,
and visions almost unheard of.
The temple was still, dark, silent.
pause…. long…. pause…

Then…  (VOICE) “Samuel….. Samuel…..”
Hum part of the tune…. “I have called you”

He bangs his head on one of the seraph’s wings,
as he jumps to his feet.
The old man must have lost something again.
He runs across the gloom to Eli
“Here I am, here I am.. you called me?”

“Huh? Whuua?
I didn’t call you! Go back to sleep!”
Talk about grumpy!
Both of them harrumph a little as they settle back
into the dark silence of the night.
Sleep comes.

pause…
Hmm “I have called you by…”
VOICE:  “Samuel…. Samuel…”

He stubs his toe on the steps this time
as he scurries in to Eli,
“I am here, you called me “ (again).
Eli sits up on his bed and stares blindly towards Samuel’s young voice.
“Son, I didn’t. I truly didn’t call you.
You must be dreaming,  (I wish I was.)
Now, go back to sleep, please.”

Samuel trots back and lays himself down,
eyes clamping shut onto the sleep of the innocent.
Eli lies down, but sleep doesn’t come.
Dreams do,
echoes of a Voice almost forgotten,
tempt the corners of his mind,
and stir visions, memories, unfocussed, nebulous.
Gradually, even the mice fall silent in that deep dark
before the edge of dawn, and Eli sleeps.

Hum “I have called you”
VOICE.  “ Samuel… Samuel!”

This time even Eli heard something.
Bolt upright now, he waits for Samuel to come.
Samuel is wary this time.
He heard the voice, but he has no clue….if not Eli, who?
Even though  he had been a temple boy
for half his short life,
watching the sacrifices, singing the psalms,
polishing the brass on the ark,
catching stray pigeons,
and herding the crowds out at the end of the day,
he ‘did not know the Lord’.
He had no idea that God was actually… you know… present.
Sure that wee light was always lit…. but….

Anyway this tousle headed boy
scrubs the sleep from his eyes,
and tiptoes quietly this time to Eli’s room,
“Here I am…. did you call?”

“No.”  Eli’s voice isn’t gruff, or angry, or even tired.
Eli speaks with the strength of … what?
conviction? hope? insight?….
“It wasn’t me, Samuel.  But I heard it too.
Go back and lie down, and if you hear the Voice again, say
“Here I am, speak, great God, for your servant is listening.”

Samuel’s eyes…. well what do you think?
They would have been as big as saucers.
His heartbeat….
I don’t know whether it would have skipped a beat, or raced like a train.
Hands clammy, knees knocking, in a daze,
he goes back to his corner.
His hand strokes the seraph’s beak, flutters its brass wings.
“Really,….? The Voice is God’s…calling me?”
He crouches down.
Does he sleep?
Or are his eyes peeled back against the dark,
watching for a Voice?
Dreading and hoping, dreading and hoping.

Hum… I have called you.
VOICE  “Samuel….. Samuel…!”

“Yes!!  It’s me!  I mean.  Erm, ohhh!!
Speak… speak… erm. yes.  I’m listening!
Your servant… me that is… I’m listening!  G-god.”

And the Voice started to sing.
An ancient language we don’t know, but the words were these.

Sing v. 1 MV 161. (Everyone)

Well, actually that was just the beginning
of what the Voice said to Samuel that night.
The scriptures say that the words God spoke next
were enough to make one’s ears tingle to hear them.

You see, when God calls,
something is up!
God always calls for a reason, not just to chat.

Lots of people would be quite happy
never to be woken in the night by the strange call of God,
especially if it makes your ears tingle.
But others crave it, long for it.
Not because they want to be some ‘holy prophet’
or to be simply holier than thou.
In fact few people of sound soul and mind would want that call
(and I’m not being facetious)
Those who crave for the call of God in the night,
are those who are longing
for God to tear open the heavens
and come into a benighted world
with salvation,
saving the world from the worst of itself,
from global warming, or too many wars,
or too much poverty, or too much graft, corruption.
Those who crave the call of God in the night,
are those who long for  God to turn a loved one
back from the road to perdition,
to quit drinking, or gambling, or self-harm.
Those who crave the call of God in the night,
are begging for God to bring healing.

But a lot of us, most of the time,
are like Samuel or Eli,
We live in a world, where the word of God is rare,
and visions, unusual to say the least.
A lot of us, like Samuel,
haven’t heard that voice before,
others are like Eli, we heard it once,
or long ago, but barely remember,

Now, those words that make your ears tingle? what were they?
(there’s a whole other sermon to preach with those words,
but in a nutshell, the kernel is this.)
God’s words indicted Eli’s world
for becoming satisfied with going through the motions
of a functionally agnostic religiosity.
For not listening,
and for losing sight of God’s Dream,
and for forgetting their own God-given role to make it happen.

Remember God’s Dream?
You know, of a world of rainbow people,
working together with God
to share the abundance of creation’s gifts with
all God’s people, all God’s creatures.
God’s Dream that we be God’s partners in peace with justice,
God’s workers of mercy, God’s lovers of all.

So, God calls.
Whenever and wherever
the sight is failing, the visions rare,
the words of God’s Dream are almost forgotten,
Whenever, and wherever the longing and craving
for saving, healing, renewing, is acute,
God calls.
Because God is never going to quit on her Dream,
nor is God ever going to quit on us.

That being the case, expect a call.
It goes something like this…..
“I have called you, by your name, you are mine.
I have gifted you, and ask you, now, to shine.”

Let’s sing it together.. verses 1, 3, 4.

MV161 v. 1, 3, 4.  (seated)

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