In order to appreciate the significance of God’s call to Samuel in this morning’s first reading we need to focus briefly on what was going on in the land of the Hebrews at the time. In fact to read the Hebrew bible without some attention to the historical context in which it was written is to miss many points. Just as the gospels and the apostolic letters reflect the sack of Jerusalem, the destruction of the temple and Paul’s missionary journeys beyond Jerusalem and Galilee, so the books of the Hebrew bible share a dominant theme…God calling God’s people to a life of faithfulness again and again….because it appears that regularly they abandoned their identity as God’s people in favour of foreign gods, or cultural practices that were not in keeping with the Law of Moses as contained in the Torah. After Joshua lead the people across the River Jordan they settled down…more or less. It appeared the days of wandering were finally over and they could get on with a life of agriculture and city building. But one of the big bones of contention was who should settle disputes, who should rule this rather fractious people. There were a number of people who were called the judges….see the Hebrew bible book of the same name, to whom people brought their issues and who made judgement…not unlike our contemporary high court system. But there was always an issue around kingship…other nation groups had kings. Why didn’t they? Well they didn’t up to this point because God was to be the ultimate ruler.
The high priest in the temple was a very influential person, a sort of quasi ruler. The temple after all was where God was believed to dwell…and a high priest had a huge amount of influence on the state and fate of the country. People looked for and listened to prophets who would speak the word of the Lord…..and so our reading this morning begins ” The word of the Lord was rare in those days. Visions were not widespread. “and old Eli the temple high priest is described as losing his eyesight…..literally but on a metaphorical level we could ask what Eli hasn’t been seeing. One thing it appears he has been turning a blind eye to is the profligate behaviour of his sons, one of whom might expect to inherit his father’s position as high priest in the temple. So not only are Eli’s sons abusing their positions but generally ” visions were not widespread.” How might we understand ” visions”. Great leaders regularly talk about how they hope to see the state of things in their countries. They work to realizing those visions. In spite of the challenges Justin Trudeau and our own Primate Fred Hiltz have a vision of indigenous equality of opportunity and participation in our country, of sincere reconciliation with the first people’s of these lands. Trudeau’s powerful apologies to First Nations elders and to thousands of gay and lesbian people who have been so frighteningly treated even by our own government….these are examples of powerful visions. ( Read your Active Page). Primate Fred and Bishop Logan have equally powerful visions for reparations and reconciliation with our aboriginal brothers and sisters and for full access for gay and lesbian couples to the marriage rites of our church. Being a visionary doesn’t always make you very popular…being a prophet in your own land is almost a guarantee of hostility.
Be that as it may, there had not been a lot of vision in the nation of Israel and then we have the powerful scene in this morning’s reading…..a young boy, Samuel, probably about the same age as Ezekiel, has been serving the temple priest Eli…a priest in training so to speak. And into Samuel’s sleep comes the voice of God….”Samuel, Samuel” And Samuel believing it is Eli calling him runs to his master to do his biding….But it wasn’t Eli calling the boy…and so it goes until Eli understands that it is the Lord who is calling Samuel and instructs the boy to respond ” Speak Lord for your servant is listening.” So the first question for each of us is where and how is God calling us? And then the Lord replies that he is about to do something that will make everyone’s ears tingle….what an interesting expression.
When do our ears tingle or any other parts of our bodies for that matter….surely it is from excitement…those times when we know we have heard something very important. I recently watched Justin’s speech of apology to the entire gay community The air was electric….it tingled…the tears in people’s eyes, his included, glittered, tingled. I also watched the installation of our new Governor General Julie Payette. Her remarkable speech spoke of visions for who and what we can be, who we need to be on the world stage. My spine literally tingled listening to both of these powerful visionaries. And how the world needs their visions!
And so we have Samuel, a boy…charged with being God’s voice…no words of his will fall to the ground the text says. No accident that we read this text early in this season of Epiphany when we remember another baby who becomes a boy, then prophet, healer and redeemer.
Now Samuel was sleeping when God called him…literally sleeping….when we are asleep we are almost unconscious.
To take action we need to be summoned from our sleeping state…just as surely as Samuel was being summoned. In this morning’s gospel there is major emphasis on looking and seeing, about 15 words in a short passage point to looking and seeing and being called. What my friends are we hearing and seeing? How might God be calling us to live into, step up to, a bolder vision for the future of this island, this province, this country and the world? Will we hear God’s call or will we continue to nap?
So not napping let me tell you what I did yesterday afternoon..John Aitken’s ” Fumbling to reconciliation”. John is Cowichan and coast Salish with some Scottish and Haida thrown into his heritage His great grandparents were among the aboriginal people on Mayne….might well have been related to some of the First peoples here on Galiano. Last fall John extended an invitation to people to meet with and listen to an elder friend of his who had been in residential school…to hear her story..to look at some of her family pictures. Yesterday John hosted a talking circle he called ” Fumbling to reconciliation”. Now we certainly didn’t solve any of the huge problems we face here…we only had 2.5 hours. But what we did do was listen to each other talk about our own origins and how we had come to the islands. We didn’t accomplish anything concrete so by our western cultural standards we really didn’t get anywhere in that sense. But what we did do as the talking stone moved around the circle for several rounds was really listen to one another. We experienced the building of deep listening and respectful relationships. I would go so far as to say we experienced the call to holy listening. Sometimes like Eli with Samuel we heard descriptions of situations or relationships that resonated with our own. Eli knew from his own experience that it was God speaking to Samuel. As in John’s gospel we were invited to come and see, to look at, to experience other perspectives, and for me anyway most tangibly to make room for the holy….for the spirit to be present…if we could listen, if we could hear. And I was struck by the importance of listening to one another at that level. What might happen if we were to be able to really listen like that to one another all the time, to appreciate that we each have the stories of our lives.. I believe that we need to begin this kind of listening right here, in our families, in our communities, in our province, in our country. And when we do this we just might discover there is no you and me or us and them, but only we….people open to be lead by the spirit to be agents of healing to be people enspirited with a new vision of peacemaking.
I think it’s up to us. Will we go on with business as usual or will we allow God’s call to interrupt our lives and take us in a new direction. Amen