Offering Our Whole Selves
“Offering Our Whole Selves”
A sermon by Rev. Dr. Andrew Kukla
January 14, 2018
1 Samuel 3:1-9
Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread. 2At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; 3the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was. 4Then the Lord called, “Samuel! Samuel!” and he said, “Here I am!” 5and ran to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call; lie down again.” So he went and lay down. 6The Lord called again, “Samuel!” Samuel got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call, my son; lie down again.” 7Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. 8The Lord called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy. 9Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.
1 Samuel 3:10-20
10Now the Lord came and stood there, calling as before, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” 11Then the Lord said to Samuel, “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make both ears of anyone who hears of it tingle. 12On that day I will fulfill against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. 13For I have told him that I am about to punish his house forever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them. 14Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be expiated by sacrifice or offering forever.”
15Samuel lay there until morning; then he opened the doors of the house of the Lord. Samuel was afraid to tell the vision to Eli. 16But Eli called Samuel and said, “Samuel, my son.” He said, “Here I am.” 17Eli said, “What was it that he told you? Do not hide it from me. May God do so to you and more also, if you hide anything from me of all that he told you.” 18So Samuel told him everything and hid nothing from him. Then he said, “It is the Lord; let him do what seems good to him.”
19As Samuel grew up, the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. 20And all Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was a trustworthy prophet of the Lord.
The first text (more truly the first half of the single text) that we read today is likely to be quite familiar to you. We like that text. It speaks truths we already wished to claim before we ever opened the book to read– it confirms our hopes. We wish to celebrate youth, the importance of a child’s role, AND the ideal of a dutiful student focused on every word of both his master and his Lord with syrupy sweet attention. Samuel is the kid you wished was your child, and we celebrate his readiness, his innocence, and the steadfast faith of his statement, “here I am, ready to listen and obey”.
But… then we stop. Traditionally by lectionary reading or personal choice, the first verse of our second reading is where we end: Samuel – now knowing its God, not Eli, calling him – proclaiming his intent to hear the Lord’s word to him.
But that word the Lord gives him, we would rather not listen. We don’t want to travel to the stories vision… it does nothing for our preconceived hopes and dreams and opinions and so…we simply stop reading. This innocent boy, the fulfillment of his mother Hannah’s heart-wrenching hope to have a child and now given to the priesthood, has come into that role in a time of great transition and not-just-a-little messy internal political drama.
Eli has been told previously that his unwillingness to curb his son’s philandering and abuse of priestly power, his “keep the peace” mentality with his sons, has profaned the name of God and that cannot be tolerated to go on anymore and so the High Priest Eli’s household must be removed from office to make way for one who will restore prophetic integrity to the office.
Basically – Eli and his household are going to die.
Samuel is now told this same thing. It’s like getting your dream job, the one you have been training for since BEFORE you were born, but you will only get it because your only friend in the world, your father figure whose household you grew up in, and the mentor and teacher, is getting fired in the harshest way possible. You don’t get excited about that – the way you get the job negates the joy before it even starts… and Samuel is petrified, lying awake all the night and morning terrified of what he will say when his master asks him what the Lord had to say in the morning.
How often have you laid awake on just such a night? How often have you found yourself weighing your words? What questions are running through your head:
Did I hear right? Do I tell him?
How would I tell him? Do I hold some of it back?
Do I weaken how sure I am that this is going to happen?
What will he do to me? Is it even safe to tell him?
In April of 1963 the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference organized a joint series of sit-ins and marches against racism and segregation in Birmingham, Alabama. Throughout the rallies it was a group of dedicated, trained, and non-violent protests to blatant oppressive injustice and, predictably Martin Luther King, Jr. as well as many others ended up in jail. This was not a surprise to Dr. King. What came as a shock to him was one of the things that happened next.
A letter was issued a week later by a group of eight clergymen who agreed that social injustice existed but argued against the protests and “King’s methods” of non-violent protests with what they called “A Call for Unity”. Their newspaper letter’s call for unity centered on the sense that King’s protests, while non-violent, caused violence and undue hast to change the acknowleged oppressioin. They urged him to slow down the move to justice and give the oppressor time to get comfortable with it all… as if the last hundred years wasn’t enough time. This spurred the writing of one of my favorite pieces of literature: Dr. King’s Letter from Birmingham jail in response to them. He wrote it, first on the edges of the newspaper article, and latter on paper the guards were allowed to give hm. I read the letter every year at this time and it timely matches up with Samuel and Eli’s story… and with our call to prophetic integrity. I recommend you read it in whole but here are two paragraphs that hit me particularly this year:
But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” Was not Amos an extremist for justice: “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” Was not Martin Luther an extremist: “Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God.” And John Bunyan: “I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience.” And Abraham Lincoln: “This nation cannot survive half slave and half free.” And Thomas Jefferson: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal …” So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary’s hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime—the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.
(…continuing further in the letter…)
There was a time when the church was very powerful in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being “disturbers of the peace” and “outside agitators”‘ But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were “a colony of heaven,” called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God intoxicated to be “astronomically intimidated.” By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide. and gladiatorial contests.
King is incensed at the idea that we would see injustice and stand-by… or ever worse, publicly cry out to people to stop pushing for justice and righteousness because the oppressors “need more time” to get comfortable with idea of abdicating their unjust power and control. For King – the Church is nothing if not the body of individuals called to root out injustice everywhere. And hard word or not – it is our obligation as those called to the way of Jesus Christ to preach the gospel at all times. No matter how Samuel wants to answer that lists of questions that worries him in the night the answer is made clear by none other than Eli himself, who must know what is coming – God had previously told Eli through another unnamed prophet that it was going to happen eventually. Eli knew his mistakes and furthermore for all his mistakes and failings he makes a great teacher in this moment. His message: don’t do what I did, Samuel, don’t be a bystander to injustice. Be an upstander to the powers and principalities when they make our neighbors into less-than-human fodder to their whims and plans. Tell the whole truth and nothing by the truth, for all your days.
And he does.
Samuel stands as the last the judges and the first of the non-literary prophets. He stands as an example of all time one who would stand up and not let his words fall to the ground (unspoken) in the interest of “calls to unity” but would give his whole self, the truth as he saw it, regardless of how that might make himself and others uncomfortable. In a world – as the text says – without vision. Samuel trained in seeing, hearing, and speaking. And we must do no less.
We must answer Eli’s charge to Samuel, and Dr. King’s charge to the generation that came before us and set aside our comfort in the name of extreme love and justice. We must be prophetic in our ministry or our ministry has lost its vision, its purpose, and any point at all.
Here we are, speak Lord, for your servants are ready to listen.
This is the word of the Lord, thanks be to God.