Sunday, January 18, 2015
The Word of God Was Rare in Those Days
The Word of God Was Rare in Those Days
That sure sounds like current events to me.
Open a newspaper, turn on the news. All the jarring headlines and brutal imagery we see is so deeply disturbing, because none of these things has anything to do with the God we know and love. There are vicious and violent words and deeds, that are heard done from various fundamentalist corners of the religious world. They make us shudder to think of them.
And yet as we read the holy words of Moses, Jesus and Mohammed we stop to think about the one who brings us out of slavery into freedom, the one who faces down sin and death and rises victorious up from both, and the one whose quiet soul listens to Allah the All Merciful and writes for us the words of the Holy Koran.
Oh for the storytellers!
The ones who can tell us of the little boy Samuel and how he had yet to hear of who God was and is. How can anyone “teach” God? Just yesterday, I prayed, how can I tell my own children? Or other people I love. How can I share this sense within my heart that God often comes to us in the night season as we rest? God can call us by name as he did for the little boy in the Temple where he served faithfully the old man Eli; “Samuel, Samuel”
Did I hear somebody call my name, the little fella said? So he scampered off to Eli. “Yes, you called me.”
And the old man Eli said “No, go back to bed. I did not call you.”
And then, he lay there surrounded by the darkness and the fulsome silence wakeful because he was certain that there was a voice that called his name. And then, perhaps as he was dozing off, there it was again; “Samuel, Samuel”
The little fella said, “Yes, I did hear somebody call my name”. So he scampered off again to Eli, and now insisted “You did call me”.
“No, go lie down, I did not call you”
Then the Scripture makes it all clear. Samuel did not yet know the Lord. He did not yet know that God speaks to us in the very depths of our souls, in the dead silence, in the deepest corner of the heart, where the truth resides. It is here that God speaks to us all. I’m not talking about voices that you might hear in a psychotic episode. I am talking about the kind of voice that is always within you as your friend and companion reminding you to go deeper and face the truth; the truth about yourself with compassion and abiding love for yourself and those you love the most.
This is the Truth that shall make you free. It is the Truth that shall bring you to God.
And then you see, he heard it again, that “voice” that something that speaks the truth within, and off again he scampers to the old man Eli; “Here I am, for you called me”.
The old man knows now that this is how God speaks to us; often in the night season, in a restless moment or two, in our youth, where there is hope. Eli knew that he and his sons had made a mess of things in the Temple and that God was not the least bit pleased.
Maybe, God had a word for him. Be that as it may, Eli perceived, he “discerned” that what was really happening was that God wanted to have a word with the little fella. After all, as we all know from sacred history, “A little child shall lead them”, as in the case of Samuel, David, and Jesus.
This time the old man said; “Go back to your bed and when you hear the Silence speak in your heart once more, you stay there still and say, Speak Lord for your servant is listening”.
What God has to say is not the least bit pleasant because it spells the end of Eli’s priesthood. He had betrayed the trust of God and had let his unruly kids run rampant throughout the holy place. It was time to clean up the place once more and make God’s holy place fit for the Glory of God.
I have always loved this story. When my grandmother first told us that story, I was fascinated by the idea that a child could be called by God to serve the church. So I asked her, “Ma, does that mean that God can call children to be ministers in his church?” This is back in the days when we spoke of the clergy as “ministers” and not as “priests”.
And her eyes twinkled with delight as she said, of course God can call children to serve the Church. I went off to see the priest at the time and made an appointment to see him in his office. I remember that my legs still hung over the side of the chair not quite reaching the floor, as he smiled at me with that kindly smile of the clergy of our church.
“What can I do for you young man?”
“I want to know what it takes to become a parish priest.”
To his eternal credit he didn’t laugh, but told me. Graduate from Hight School, go to College, preferably a secular college where you faith can be tested, and then go to Seminary, there is one right here in Cambridge. You’ll need to pass a number of tests, you’ll need the sponsorship of a local congregation, and the approval of the Bishop and Standing Committee obviously…but that’s the essence of it.
And so that’s is what I did.
For as long as I’ve lived out my priesthood in the church, I have often wondered what it is that makes the Church endure. Though the rise and fall of empires, as nations come and nations go as fashions and fads shine and then fade away, there is the enduring quality of the human heart in contact with the enduring Presence of God.
And then I remember that we belong to a kingdom not of this world; in this world, to be sure but not of this world. God’s kingdom belongs to those whose heats belong to God.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus is rounding up his disciples at the beginnings of his ministry. He said to Phillip; “Follow me”. He did.
Then Phillip said to Nathaniel; “We have found him of whom Moses and the Prophets spoke, Jesus of Nazareth.”
“Nazareth!, can anything good come out of Nazareth?”
But when Jesus meets Nathaniel, he says; “Nathaniel, I saw you under the fig tree.”
Now, I have no idea what it was that Nathaniel was doing under the fig tree, but whatever it was, the fact that Jesus knew about it, brought Nathaniel to his spiritual knees and he was able to proclaim “Rabbi, you are the Son of God!”
Imagine, God knows us that intimately. It is in this manner that God seeks to build a whole new kingdom, a new Empire, built not with armies, weapons of mass destruction, or acts of violence but with compassion, love, forgiveness, and reconciliation.
This is the kingdom to which we have been called.
In the collect for purity the very first prayer from the very first Prayer Book ever written in English, Thomas Cranmer made it clear what our relationship to God was to be like;
"Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known and from you no secrets are hid, cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy name through Jesus Christ our Lord."
That’s God’s kingdom, God’s Empire. We are God’s citizens. God is our King and our Emperor. And to meet our King we need look no further than within our own hearts.
As the old adage goes; “God is closer to you than the very next breath that you will take.”
If the Word of God seems rarely heard in these days, it is only because we rarely listen. We need look no further than within your own hearts.
It is true, the body is the Temple of God’s Holy Spirit, as the Apostle Paul puts it.
And the Psalmists says it in soaring and magnificent language;
My body was not hidden from you, *
while I was being made in secret
and woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes beheld my limbs, yet unfinished in the womb;
all of them were written in your book; *
they were fashioned day by day,
when as yet there was none of them.
How deep I find your thoughts, O God! *
how great is the sum of them!
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.