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Pentecost 2 Proper 4B RCL June 3, 2018

1 Samuel 3:1-10, (11-20)
Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17
2 Corinthians 4:5-12
Mark 2:23-3:6

Our first reading this morning gives us the privilege of looking into the temple at Shiloh. Samuel is being trained by the elderly priest Eli. The lamp of God has not yet gone out. It is the middle of the night. The text tells us that the word of the Lord was rare in those days. Visions were not widespread. Eli’s sons have committed blasphemy. Eli has not been able to stop them from doing this. Eli is almost blind. He is slipping a bit in his duties. Samuel is sleeping in the temple. Eli is sleeping in his room. As Eli’s sons have been sinking into sin, Samuel has been growing in spiritual depth.

At this moment, a voice calls, “Samuel! Samuel!” The young man immediately responds and runs to Eli, thinking Eli has called him. This happens three times. In spite of all that has happened to his sons, and in spite of his own disappointment, Eli realizes what is happening. He tells Samuel that God is calling him and instructs Samuel on what to do. When God calls again, Samuel responds.

God now tells Samuel that God is bringing in a new order. Eli’s family will no longer hold their priestly offices. Samuel lies awake until morning. How would we feel if we had to tell our long-time mentor and guide that God was going to remove him and his sons from their ministries? A prophet’s job is never easy.

Morning comes, and Eli asks Samuel about his talk with God. Samuel has the courage to tell the whole truth. Eli does not retaliate against Samuel. He does not lose his temper. He has the grace and humility to accept that this is the will of God and even prays that God will “do what seems good to him.”

God is doing a new thing.

In our gospel for today, Jesus and his disciples are walking through a field on the sabbath and his disciples pluck off heads of grain and eat them. The Pharisees immediately challenge this behavior. Under the law, the disciples are harvesting on the sabbath. Jesus counters with the example that David and his companions ate the bread of the presence in the house of God. Our Lord comments that the sabbath is made for human beings and not human beings for the Sabbath.

Then Jesus goes into the synagogue and sees a man with a withered hand. Jesus asks, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life, or to kill?” The Pharisees say nothing. Jesus heals the man. The Pharisees go out and immediately begin to conspire with the Herodians to kill Jesus.

In the ministry of Jesus, God’s love and healing overrule the law. For centuries, the law had been the structure that bound the people together. Now, it is becoming a burden that interferes with the loving and healing work of God.

St. Paul will later write about how his sincere efforts to follow the law made him feel as though he was in prison. Paul writes eloquently about the power of love and grace. That is what we are witnessing in these two vignettes from the gospel.

What is more important, to save life, or to kill?  Jesus is bringing in a new order. He sees a man with an injured hand in God’s house, the synagogue. He heals the man. This power, the power of God’s love and healing, is a threat to the existing structures.

In both our Old Testament reading and our Gospel for today, God is bringing light into darkness and giving birth to new things. In our epistle for today, Paul writes, “For it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”  Paul speaks of all the challenges he has faced in carrying the good news “so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies.”

Eli’s sons are not able to be spiritual leaders for the people, so God calls Samuel. In our gospel, old structures are getting in the way of God’s healing and saving work, so God comes among us to show us the way to newness of life. Over and over again, when the light is failing or when old structures are no longer able to nourish our spirits, God comes and brings light and life.

May we listen for God’s call. May we respond with faith and courage.      Amen.

 

Our first reading this morning gives us the privilege of looking in on God’s call to Samuel. Samuel is a young man who is being trained by Eli, the priest at Shiloh. The text tells us that “the word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.” Biblical scholar James Newsome notes that the fact that Eli’s eyesight has begun to grow dim may be more than a comment on his physical health. Newsome writes, “The implication is that the absence of visions concerning Yehweh’s will among the people does not arise out of a withholding by Yahweh of the truth,  but that the people, because of the blindness of their leader, and thus of themselves, are unresponsive to Yahweh’s overtures. Eli’s blindness is emblematic of the blindness of the people.” (Newsome, Texts for Preaching Year B, p. 364.)

 

Eli’s sons have committed blasphemy. While the sons of Eli have been sinking further and further into sinfulness, the young Samuel has been growing in spiritual depth, and God is now going to call Samuel to be a prophet. But when God calls him, Samuel thinks that it is Eli calling. This happens three times until Eli realizes that the call is from God and instructs Samuel on how to respond. Samuel receives the message from God. Eli and his sons will be removed from their duties because of the blasphemy of the sons and the failure of Eli to stop them and correct their behavior.

 

Eli senses that something is afoot, and he asks Samuel to tell him what God said. Imagine how it wild feel if you had this message to give to an older man whom you loved, a man who had taught you everything you know. Samuel has the courage to tell the truth to this man who has been his mentor and guide for many years, and Eli has the faith and humility to see this as the will of God.

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