The darkness and coldness of winter prepare us to hear two stories, that complement the season’s mood of lost-ness and isolation.
The first story has us reading ourselves into a nighttime scene in the Hebrew’s Temple in Jerusalem,
where Samuel, a student in training under the aged high priest Eli, is described as not yet knowing the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.
In some dark place a teenager may be today’s Samuel, literally “in the dark” as to what to make of his or her life, not knowing how to bear the weight of a parent’s expectations, with the undertone being, "We' are paying all this money, and what are we getting in return? - plus the gloom of the dismal predictions of future.
Someone, maybe someone here, is like Samuel, who was in training under Eli to be God’s servant in a future filled with political unrest, vicious competition for power, the end of the rule of the judges and the beginning of the reign of a king, with the first being the mentally unstable, Saul.
Someone, like Samuel, may be in need of guidance and counsel. For Samuel it came from aged Eli, chief priest of the Temple. For today’s Samuels who might that Eli be? Hopefully a parent or grandparent working hard at living out the vows of Baptism; hopefully, a Church School teacher, volunteers in the church, members in the choirs, ASP team leaders, the Pastor, and everyone who is described in a story told about Francis of Assisi, namesake for today’s Pope.
One of the young brothers in his order was eager to travel with him, to hear his sermons, and learn from him how to preach to the people. But Francis didn’t give a single sermon, and on the way home the brother expressed his disappointment, and he was told the “preaching” was through their actions, not their words.
Soren Kierkegaard, the ninetieth century feisty Danish pastor and philosopher liked to ask if people saw us walking down the street would they get the idea that we are followers of Jesus?
The question that has us asking, “Who might be the young Samuel in need of Eli’s counsel?”
And “Who among us, the aged, are the Eli, who have the faith experience, the spiritual maturity, the perception to give counsel like Eli gave to Samuel, Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’”
So that, with that mentoring counsel, a teen will give that response, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”?
A critical question to raise in these times of age-labeling, with one generation isolated from the other, is:
“Do today’s “Samuels” see today’s “Elis” as the ones who breaks through that barrier, an older generation to whom the younger can turn?”
Might the scene in the temple, the counsel of Eli and the response of Samuel, be a call to that ministry today?
And the second scene follows, from in the temple to under a fig tree which is about fifteen feet tall with branches spreading out about 25 feet, like an umbrella, creating a space that is almost like a personal chapel, a space to get away from a crowded house, and a crowd of people, to read Scripture, to reflect, to pray.
But also, a place to sit, as Peter Woods, a blogging Methodist minister from South Africa, (posted January 9, 2012) reminds us, that what we may have in common with that under-the-fig tree Nathaniel, is like him, we may be sitting in the comfort of the shadowed security of his prejudiced opinions and updating his “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” with our present-day bigotries, our narrow, set in concrete convictions.
Like him, might we be searching for a religious faith that gives us the Scriptural quotes to isolate ourselves from the world beyond a church’s doors? The world where Jesus was and is!
Might we need to be convinced to get up and follow Jesus – as Nathaniel did, and like him, let Jesus pull us out of a prejudiced practice of faith?
Might we need to be convinced to get up and “Follow?”- as a disciple whose name will be etched in history, perhaps like his, who Peter Woods reminds us his only mention “after his meeting with Jesus under the fig tree, is on the shore of the Sea of Galilee” where he is named as being in the after-Easter company of the other disciples.
His claim to being numbered with the others is that he abandoned his religious and racial prejudices,
convinced by Jesus’ call, “Follow me.”
I think of the sub-title under the date on today’s bulletin “Martin Luther King, Jr. Sunday.”
How timely that is! The timeliness of the need for Christians to be convinced to follow Jesus, Who in being followed, will get us to our feet, knowing as Dr. King preached:
Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.
The love of God shining through Jesus.
And Dr. King;s words:
Life's most persistent and urgent question is, 'What are you doing for others?'
The question that carries the echo of Jesus’ words, “I have not come to be served but to serve.” And, turning to His disciples said, as He washed their feet.” “I have set you an example.”
How timely today’s Gospel is! The timeliness expressed in Arthur King’s poem:
You and me under spreading trees,
or peering at the sky through windows;
you and me at our office desks,
fingering the plastic of keyboards;
you and me in our living-rooms,
or sitting at our kitchen tables;
you and me, so yearning for hope,
so longing for meaning, truth, or joy –
may we become aware of the One
who is searching for us;
awake to the One who knows and calls our names
longing for us to listen:
the God of promise and of invitation.
Longing for us to follow Eli’s counsel and say,
‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’
Longing for us to be convinced to yield to Philip’s urging,
“Come and see.” Amen.