Our Saviour’s Atonement Lutheran Church
Reverend John Zachary Flack
1 Samuel 3:1-10 [11-20]
Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18
1 Corinthians 6:12-20
Church ought to be a holy place of joy. Holy, of course, because here we look and listen and search and receive holy things—the Word of God, the Sacraments, the holy presence of the gathered people of God. And it ought to be a place of joy, because we gather in the holiness of God and are made holy by God’s sanctifying spirit. It ought
to be easy to come to church, and when you leave here, a song ought to be on your lips and in your heart, and there ought to be some fire in your belly. I hope OSA is like that for most of you most of the time, although I know it isn’t always. I know that some of you have been hurt by church, or have had to break fellowship from time to time with a church. Church is not always what we hope it is, or what we promise it is.
where the Israelites of the region would bring their sacrifices. Sacrifices were an integral part of ancient Israel religion, and they were also sometimes excuses to party with a big barbecue. For some sacrifices, you gave a little bit to the priest to give to the LORD, or you gave a little bit to the priest, so that the priest could eat, since priests were not allowed to own land. Good priests took a little portion and gladly assisted the people as they sacrificed to God. But some priests got greedy.
Eli was a good priest. When Hannah, Samuel’s mother, came to the temple to pray, she was grieved in her heart because she could have no children. Eli comforted her, and soon she gave birth to Samuel, and after he was weaned, she gave him to the temple as a gift back to the Lord. Someone ought to talk about that next Stewardship Sunday. But even though Eli was a good priest, and comforted the heartbroken, he was not a good father, and did not raise his sons to love God. When the Israelites came to sacrifice, the sons would roam around and cut off the best parts of the animals and eat them, or they would fish around in the boiling pots and pick out the meat and eat it. They took advantage of their role, and took the offerings as payment. The story of Hannah and Samuel and Eli and his sons is a striking contrast between gratefulness and generosity on the one hand, and greed and selfishness on the other.
Now, God does not like it when those who placed in charge of the holy things, arrogate the gifts meant for God to themselves. I think of Eli’s sons waddling from pot to pot, fire to fire, with knives and forks, eating the fat and growling at the protests of the people. The LORD warns Eli to tell his sons to knock it off, but Elli doesn’t. One night Samuel, given by his mother for the service of God, lies down, and we have perhaps the cutest call story in history. God says, “Samuel, Samuel,” and Samuel trots off to wake up Eli, who says, “What on earth?” until he finally gets it. “It’s the LORD, Samuel. So next time, say, “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.” And that’s just what Samuel does. It’s so cute—imagine your seven year old coming into room saying, “Here I am,” and it turns out God was talking to him!
Well, it’s actually not so cute. Samuel is like a son to Eli, but he is not a son. Instead, he is a prophet. And here’s how you know he’s a prophet. When it’s time for him to tell Eli what God had said, he doesn’t want to say it. He is scared, because the news is bad. It’s real bad. His job is to tell Eli that he had plenty of warning, that he should have listened, he could have done more, but now it was too late. His sons, the ones who took the offering for the Lord and scooped it into their own mouths, the ones who stole from God, were going to die. And there was nothing Eli could do about it. And a few years later, it all happened, and when Eli heard the news, he fell on his own neck and died, and Samuel became judge over Israel.
In seminary they teach us that the job of the preacher is always to give good news. Samuel hadn’t been to seminary yet, but he knew, even as young lad, that people don’t like bad news. And it is part of the tragedy of Eli is that he fears the Lord, and accepts what the Lord has to say: “It is the LORD,” he says. “Let him do what seems
good to him.” But the bad news is there, and the word of the Lord, as a much later prophet will say, accomplishes its purpose.
There was some pretty bad news this week. And I think we are in an Eli situation. We know what we are doing wrong. We know the signs point to change. We know we are at fault. We can see the devastating consequence of refusing to change—and yet, we don’t. 2014 was the warmest year on record. Every single sign points to a rapidly warming world, in which life will become increasingly difficult, not just for amphibians and little creatures here and there, but for human beings. Last week, in the journal Science, we learned that we have passed 4 of 9 boundaries that guarantee human life on the planet. These are the rate of species extinction, deforestation, fertilizer runoff into the ocean, and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Beyond these boundaries, we travel
into the unknown. We might survive as a species, we might not. We might live in bubbles. We might not. But we do know this: unless we change, things will get worse and worse. Species will go extinct, sea life will die, and unless we do something and change, life on this planet as we know it will be no more.
This presents a challenge to our normal theology of salvation by grace, and not by works. I don’t know if God will, by some miracle, magically change the atmosphere so that we can keep on polluting. I do know that that Paul wrote somewhere, “Should we keep on sinning so that grace may abound? Certainly not!” But shall we we be like Eli, and know the truth of the warnings and yet not heed the call?
We are also fortunate this Sunday to hear the story of the call of Nathaniel, as he sat under a tree taking it easy. I kind of think Nathaniel was the beatnik or maybe hipster disciple. He was just sitting back in his vintage sandals and ruminating on the absurdity of existence when somebody came and told him that Jesus was the Messiah.
Nathaniel was a skeptic. And yet Jesus still calls him. As far his skills go, it seems Nathaniel was armed with sarcasm and skepticism, and an earnest desire for the truth. Some people say he was also called Bartholomew, and was flayed alive in Armenia, where they believe he is the patron saint of their church.
But like Samuel, Nathaniel overcame his initial confusion and followed the Lord. He gave his life to God. And the world benefited and prospered because he gave himself. When we hear God’s call, we should lie still, like Samuel and hear what God has to say, and share the news, even it means, as the Earth shows, that we are not to
continue on just as we are, but that we should change, indeed must change. And yet, there is good news in all this bad news—we have seen and built amazing things, we human beings. Maybe, if we listen, if we follow, we will see even more amazing things then these. Amen.