Texts: 1 Samuel 3:1-10 [11-20]; 1 Corinthians 6:12-20; John 1:43-51
Most of us were probably asleep and unaware when the power went out in the early hours of Wednesday morning. Except, perhaps, for a few wide-eyed night owls, sufferers of insomnia, or those awakened by the sound of the storm’s fury. Some awakened in the night realizing either the absence of familiar lights and sounds, or the presence of unusual ones.
The storm came upon us with fury. Perhaps you recall that about four years ago the County Emergency Management team warned us of a windstorm on the path toward our islands bearing destructive winds. Many households prepared with extra food, batteries, and whatever things are necessary for safety and security. But the storm never came. And so, perhaps even those who knew that the storm was coming this past week did not overly concern themselves.
But come the storm did. Ferociously. In the course of the next eighteen hours or so we had to find our way without electricity. Some fortunate people have generators, but even then the power is not as robust and life becomes more complicated.
Meetings were rescheduled; meals on alternative cooking sources were planned. In the darkness of early morning and late afternoon we needed light. Solar powered lights seemed like a great idea but were hampered by the reduced sunlight necessary to charge them. Flashlights have their limitations too. The oldest technology of all - candles and oil lamps - became priceless for their dependability and broad casting of gentle light, despite the safety issues associated with them.
How many of us, coming onto a dark room reflexively reached for a light switch? You knew it wouldn’t work. But it’s a habit that’s hard to break. The power, the light, is just…always there.
And what a relief it was when the power finally came back on in mid-late evening on Wednesday.
Some of us might even be moved to change some habits or make different preparations for the next time this happens. Because we cannot control the furies of nature. We can only respond to them with the best resources and wisdom we have.
Most of Israel was asleep and unaware when the light began to dim in the temple of the Lord at Shiloh. Although the lamp of God was always lighted, it was not sufficient for Eli the old priest to see with his dimming eyesight. Fortunately his youthful assistant Samuel was sleeping nearby, ready to waken at the sound of his master’s call.
Years before, Samuel’s mother Hannah dedicated her boy to the temple. She had hungered for a child and in the face of persistent infertility, prayed to God for a remedy. She became pregnant after Eli’s rather unenthusiastic assurance that God would provide. Samuel was God’s answer. His grateful mother gave her firstborn child to God’s service as soon as he was weaned. She visited Samuel every year, bringing him a robe to cover him with her love and envelop him in her sweet, strong faith. He in turn, grew into a trusted and faithful temple servant. In his later life Samuel became the last of Israel’s Judges who ruled before there were any kings.
In stark contrast, Eli’s own sons were busy using their God-granted powers for the purpose of raking in the best goods they could find. They did not even hesitate to threaten people who protested giving to these men the things that rightfully belonged to God. It amounted to blasphemy – disrespecting God by stealing not only goods, but God’s own authority.
Their grasping self-interest was so egregious that Eli was informed by God that his sons’ lives would be forfeited. Moreover, Eli’s family would lose forever the right to serve God before the Ark of the Covenant. It’s not overly harsh to say that Eli’s failure to serve God was in part about his unwillingness to hold his sons, and also Israel, ethically, morally and spiritually accountable.
Israel awoke to a power failure, in which God’s Word was restrained and God’s light was dimmed. This silent darkness can be traced back to the powerfully destructive forces inherent in human nature. How then to restore the power of righteousness? God’s agency is Holy Wisdom, the energizing force found in the hearts of God’s children of the Light and of the Day. Of whom then, Samuel, was God’s best hope. Samuel, whom Hannah had clothed with guiding faith and filled with love so deep, that even when she was far from him, he stayed steady and strong.
This season of Epiphany is about light coming into a storm-dimmed world. Summoning light-bearers for God to shine in the night was, and is the work of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, who as John said, is God’s very Light. Anyone might be a light-bearer. Surely you know that Hannah was one, and Samuel was also. Eli and his sons, not so much.
The disciples were all called to the light of Christ. Even Nathanael who questioned the origins of Jesus. He scorned Nazareth and wondered how Jesus could possibly know him. But when he asked Jesus what their connection was, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree.” The fig tree is a cultural reference no longer available to us but the possibilities include receiving God’s provision as in Genesis and seeking the fruits of wisdom. No wonder Jesus called Nathanael, “…an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!”
And yet, this is not about individual servants of the light. Nathanael joined Philip, Andrew, and Peter to follow. Their following involved shared commitments. To be transparent to God’s greater light, to carefully discern the nature of energies surrounding them, to subdue their own will choosing instead to let God’s ways form and direct their lives.
Yet even the greatest faith does not keep God’s community from faltering in this following. The Corinthian Christians struggled with dimness of faith. Some lost their way in the confusing labyrinth of social life in which they had pardon from sin and freedom from onerous purity laws. Their own inner light grew faint as they lent their energies, their bodies to things that, when revealed in the light of day, became a source of regret, even shame. And so Paul invoked a particular power over them – “God raised the Lord and will also raise us by his power.”
No one is immune to storms and darkness. Many people are looking at the coming week with apprehension about our country’s stability. Resurrection’s power can light our way. So I invoke our baptismal discipleship. Minds may differ, but the Holy Spirit makes us one. We have said yes to God’s call and invitation – Come, and you will see greater things. Like Hannah, Samuel, and Nathanael too. Disciples of Jesus; we bear God’s light together, steady and strong. Amen.
The Rev. Beth Purdum Eden is an ordained minister in the Evangelical Lutheran Church. She has served in more than 6 parishes in the Western United States for 30 years.