Homily for Proper 2, Year B
Sunday, January 18th, 2009
Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Thornhill
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: 1 Samuel 3:1-10
“The lamp of God had not yet gone out.”
-- 1 Samuel 3:2
“The word of the LORD was rare in those days.” These words preface God’s call to the young Samuel, who served in the Temple, an apprentice to the old priest Eli. To those who lived in those days it might seem that this saying was true, that the word of the Lord was indeed rare. Eli, himself, may not have been the best priest in the world, for he was willing to toss Hannah out of the temple when he mistook her prayer for a fit of drunkenness. However, later realizing her faithfulness he took Samuel, her miracle child, under his tutelage. But if Eli was a man of fickle spirit, his sons were outright scoundrels, guilty of all sorts of evil and abuses; men not fit to be priests in the Lord’s temple. Clearly, the author of 1 Samuel intended the wicked sons of Eli to stand as symbols of the social and religious decay of the time. Thus, with such examples before our eyes, we can understand why those of that day would have felt that the word of the Lord was rare indeed. And yet, it was in the midst of this corruption and decay that a Word came to young Samuel, a word that would shape the future of the Hebrew people.
It might be equally tempting to say that the word of the Lord is rare in these days. Few of us can claim to have heard the voice of the Lord in audible terms, fewer still can claim to have witness a bona fide miracle, and those who have seen visions are often characterized as deranged or worse, as suspected of being charlatans. And as we look about us, it is certainly easier to see the evil in the world overcoming the good, than to believe in an active God. It may seem as if moral decay has eclipsed any sense of decency and “good will amongst all people.” It may appear that our old notion of progress has been unmasked as destructive regression. But what is more frightening is the sense that God seems absent from our descent into this abyss.
There will be many out there that will capitalize on our fear, and upon the apparent absence of God, with apocalyptic stories of destruction and wrath. And there will be many who, because hope seems so faint, will buy into these tales and simplistic ways of understanding concepts of God’s justice. However, I would caution against such a simple black and white reading of events. I would argue that although we witness signs of evil and destruction every day in this world, the signs of God’s presence are not invisible, and when finally discerned they are signs that give us victory over our pessimism and hopelessness.
As young Samuel slept and the dawn neared, the Lord called to him. The text tells us that the lamp of God had not yet gone out. Now, this may be a very simple way of telling us what time it was, namely, that it was nearing the dawn because the menorah still burnt and had not yet been extinguished. However, taken on another level, in the night of pessimism, in the night of moral decay, in the night of sadness, the lamp of the Lord had not gone out. Even as we sleep; even as the world slumbers; even as we lose sight of the light, the light burns still. And as young Samuel slept, the light continued to burn. Thus, in the early hours, when the night seems like it will never end, a word was heard under the light of that lamp, a word to Samuel.
Samuel was initially blind to the light and deafened to the word, for although he had been under the tutelage of a supposed holy man, he did yet know the Lord, so he could not recognize his voice. At first, young Samuel thought the voice that of his mentor Eli, but it was not. Sadly, Eli was not quick to rise to the task of helping Samuel. He sloughed off Samuel’s inquiries in his own drowsiness. Eli’s response calls to mind for us how the fatigue of life can often numb us to the excitement and urgency of God. It is something akin to being a new parent. When the little one stirs in their crib, every cough, every gurgle, every noise is a call to us to jump up from our nominal sleep and check to see if that little one under our care is fine. Yet time goes on, the child grows, and so does our weariness at the world and with our task of parenting. The child soon has to come to our bedside, shake us, “wake up Dad, the house is burning down!” To which, at this stage in my life I might be tempted to respond, “That’s nice son, go back to bed, I’m sleeping.” Such was the case with Eli, who should have been attuned to the possibility of a word from the Lord, but in his weariness with the world, was not.
But the word still came. This time it did not come to the Holy Man, but to the boy. And thankfully, the boy persisted. Thankfully, too, old Eli, even in his drowsiness, offered some little guidance, for he in his younger days had known the Lord, and still had some small remembrance on how to test the Spirit. Eli sent young Samuel back to bed, but told him if he heard the word again, to respond with the words, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” Indeed, the Lord spoke again, and Samuel responded as told.
It is not for us today to probe the depths of the frightening call or the powerful words that Samuel was called to proclaim. That is for another day and another homily. What is important for us today, though, is to ask the question, is the Lord calling us today? Of course he is. He calls us continually. His lamp has not gone out and his voice is ever issuing the call. How will we know his voice? How will we hear the call?
The Good News is that Jesus, the Good Shepherd knows his own and his own know him. We know the sound of his voice – we, his sheep know his voice. Samuel did not know the Lord. He had not been revealed to him. Although Samuel had lived amongst the priests, no one had really told him about the Lord. Yet, God is gracious beyond measure, for even through the tired sinfulness of old Eli, Samuel was given guidance, and at last he recognized the voice of God. But again, we know the voice of the Lord. We have heard it from the cries of manger-cradle, through the cry of anguish on a cross. We have heard it in parables and seen it lived out in acts of healing and restoration. We have heard it read from the pages of Scripture and we have heard across the pages of our lives. We have heard his voice.
Thus, when the night seems darkest and longest, let us ever remember that his lamp has not gone out. When the powers of the day seem hell-bent on self-destruction, let us recall that even through old Eli did God give guidance to a young lad who became a great judge and leader of his people. When the voices of confusion seek to overwhelm us, let us remember that there is a voice that has searched us out and known us before even we knew ourselves. Let us remember that there is a Good Shepherd calling in the night. Let us remember that amidst that cacophony of voices we can cut through the noise and hear the voice of the one true God with these simple words, a simple prayer indeed, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”
Text copyright 2009 by the Rev. Daniel F. Graves. This homily may not be reproduced or redistributed, either in whole or part, by any means, without the express, written permission of the author.