The Second Sunday after Epiphany: January 14, 2018
Preacher: The Rev. Leigh Mackintosh,
Associate Rector of St. Michael’s Church
These are dark times, there’s no denying it. Recent events over the past year and this past week have revealed the hard, shameful truth that the roots of racism, hatred, and violence are alive and well; and those roots run deep.
We have been caught slumbering along the mundane routine of life while an evil seeped deeper and deeper into the soul of our society silently sowing seeds of discord and division in the darkness. Seeds of racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, domestic violence, sexual abuse,poverty and fear have grown between us. Now, the fruits of this evil have come to light, sprouting like weeds to choke and destroy the communal bonds of life, liberty, and love that we hold dear.
In times like these, we long for the return of a prophet to rise up, to resist, to restore us to a rightful path.
In times like these we long for prophetic, visionary leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we long to hear God’s Word bubbling up among us once again,that justice might pour forth like waters and righteousness rain down like an ever-flowing stream.
As we remember King…his profound faith, his courage, his compassion, his creative vision… we lament that his work, his dream remains unfulfilled. We still look to the horizon for “a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” (Martin Luther King, Jr. – “I have a dream” speech.) We look to a day when people will not be divided by creed, by class, by country or continent.
Our struggle, our longing is not a new one. Long ago, Israel faced a time when they too longed for the return of a true prophet who would restore them to the path of righteousness.
The High Priest Eli’s sons were corrupt, filled with greed, they cared not for God’s law…only for themselves and whatever or whomever they could put their hands on. Eli himself condemned their behavior, but nothing changed.
And so God told Eli that the blessing upon his house would become a curse. His house would fall, his sons would perish.
Eli did nothing more to restrain his sons. As the years went by, he grew in age, his eyesight dimmed, and the evil continued… it would seem all hope was lost.
But hope for Israel was born again in a young boy named Samuel. At a very early age, Samuel had gone to live in the sanctuary to serve and minister with Eli and learn the ways of the priesthood. One night, God broke his long silence and spoke again in Israel to a boy named Samuel… On that special night, this boy heard God’s call. And a prophet rose up once more in Israel speaking the truth in love.
Eli, a powerful high priest could have easily overlooked Samuel as a small, inexperienced boy. He could have surrendered to the darkness of his fate,living out his final years depressed and despairing over his doomed house and his dying dreams.
But Eli did not despair. Eli wakes up and realizes that God is present and active in Samuel. Eli helps Samuel learn to listen to God in prayer. Hope is ignited once more for Eli in his final years. And that hope burns for all of Israel.
But when Samuel hears God’s horrible prophecy of what will befall the house of Eli, When he thinks of the truth he must say to his beloved mentor, priest, and father figure he is afraid.Eli again has the opportunity to dismiss Samuel and God. To use his love and relationship with Samuel to discourage truth and transparency.
But Eli did not back away, falling upon his faith and his deep trust in God, Eli opens the way for truth to come out.Eli’s trust in God opens the way for Samuel to speak the truth in love. Eli’s trust in God opens the way for evil to die and for the legacy of his house to live on in Samueland grow into Israel’s most trustworthy prophet and a wise, discerning priest.
Eli’s trust in God allows him to face the hard, painful truths of life–To see God’s vision of death and darkness as a place for God’s light to be born. I imagine Eli and Samuel praying our Psalm from this morning,
God you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down. Where can I go from your Spirit, where can I flee from your presence? If I climb up to heaven, you are there; if I make the grave my bed, you are there also. If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand will lead me and your right hand hold me fast. If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me turn to night,” even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, the light will become what the darkness was.
Who do you relate to in this story?
Eli, a good, faithful man who speaks out against evil, but fails to take action; who cannot bring himself to restrain others from doing wrong.
Eli who blames himself for the sins of his sons. Who feels a failure as a parent, and is afraid of failing again. Eli who finds courage in the darkness to lead a little child to the light of God.
What hard, painful truth might God be calling you to hear and act upon? Where are you struggling to find the light in the darkness?
Samuel who is young and uncertain… who makes mistakes. Who is afraid to speak the truth because it is too hard and painful. It’s so much easier to be polite…to pretend than risk wounding someone you love with the truth — Even if that means the beginning of healing and new life.What truth is God stirring up in you? What truths do you need to speak in love through words and actions?
As we begin a new year in hope and uncertainty, we may ask, “where have all the prophets gone?” Look around you… you are the prophets. I tell you, rise up as prophets in your own day. Rise up and listen for the Word of God in all people, even if that means hearing a hard, painful truth. Speak the truth in love through words and our actions. Resist evil, restore justice, raise up the vulnerable and victimized. Remember the prophets who came before, who continue to walk with us now Who encourage us to bring God’s dream to life, Remember Martin Luther King and his words:
“In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.
Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.
True redemption, true reconciliation, true restoration begins when we realize that “[my] destiny is tied up with [your] destiny…[your] freedom is inextricably bound to [my] freedom. We cannot walk alone.” But we can walk together. Amen.