By The Rev. Sherry Deets
2 Epiphany – January 15, 2012
1 Samuel 3:1-20 and John 1:43-51
Tomorrow we celebrate the person and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. And Martin Luther King loved to tell his story. He did not want to be a national civil rights leader. He had gone into the ministry mostly because his father was a pastor (his grandfather too) and he always did what Daddy King wanted him to do. Martin wanted a quiet life as a professor, possibly President of Morehouse College someday. Through an odd turn of events, as a young pastor he was thrust into the forefront of the Montgomery bus boycott. He came home late one night, tired, frightened. The phone rang. An angry voice on the other end said, “We’re gonna get you Nigger!”
Martin Luther King stood in his kitchen, frozen in fear. He wanted to call Daddy King for reassurance and advice. But Daddy King wasn’t there. Then he said it was like a voice. “Martin, you do what’s right. You stand up for justice. You be my drum major for righteousness. I’ll be with you.”
He had heard his name called. He knew what God wanted for him. His life was forever changed and through his life, used so well by God, was the world changed. ( William Willimon, unpublished sermon, The Dangers of Going to Church, 1/19/1997.)
In the first verse of our Old Testament text we hear the words which describe our age as well: “And the word of the Lord was rare in those days; there was no frequent vision”.
Today’s story from 1 Samuel is a promise and a warning. The promise is that though in times like ours the “word of God is rare,” God is not forever silent. One night, when we are minding our own business, or one Sunday when we’re in church just going through the motions, there is a voice, we hear our named called, and like little Samuel, our world changes.
I like this story about Samuel. Not only was the word of the Lord rare, but Samuel himself did not yet know the Lord. He was ministering to the Lord under Eli, yet he did not know him, scripture tells us!
I have to wonder if Samuel knew that he didn’t know the Lord. He’d been given to Eli as an offering to the Lord by his mother when he was still a toddler, and had been ministering to the Lord under Eli’s tutelage ever since. But you know how it is when you’re raised to something since early childhood: you don’t think too much about it or question why you do what you do; you just do it because that’s the way you were raised. Many of us begin to question later in life, but Samuel’s not at that point yet; he’s still a boy. And he’s ministering to the Lord, though he doesn’t yet know the Lord.
This lesson reminds us of God’s surrounding presence throughout our endings and beginnings-whether personal or human history at large. God is going to do a new thing, so large that it will make us tingle. And God is going to do it through a young boy. God is going to give us pins and needles and use a child as the delivery system. This story sounds a lot like the Christmas story!
My friend Donna tells of a time when she felt a tingle. It was when a two-year-old visited her house and played with the cat. She writes: In the middle of our living room is a large hassock. It is there to keep eyes turned toward each other in our “living” room and away from the TV, which is in the corner. Six chairs and couch surround the hassock, on which many people put up their feet. On this particular evening the circle was comfortably made around the hassock, and only the child and I knew that the cat was hiding under it. The child kept confirming his wisdom, giggling and pointing out that the cat was under the hassock. The adults were amused for a while, then tired of the game, and went on in their own pursuits. The child kept pulling up the upholstered skirt of the hassock and giggling. Things moved on. We ate. We ate some more. The child built a few blocks and knocked them over. Then the child returned to the hassock, and the cat was not there. Disaster ensued. The child began crying uncontrollably and had to be comforted, after which he went back to his blocks. Then I saw the cat slip under the hassock. I told the cat’s secret to the child. The boy lifted the skirt, began to giggle, run back and forth, yell, scream, carry on and tingle with the joy he had in finding the cat. I found it contagious and added my pins and needles to his excitement. God is in the heavens, and all is possibly right with the world. That little feline experience carried me a long way toward understanding what happened with Eli and Samuel and God. I do not know much tingle—and just this little bit helped me understand the magnitude of the visitation of the “tingle”.
Eli and Samuel’s encounter with God has a dramatic motion similar to the little hassock story. An old man and a young man collaborate to hear God’s vision for a new Israel. They are unsure at first that something authentic is happening. The old man knows the ways of the Lord and guides Samuel to listen in. Eli senses the possibility of forgiveness—or at least an end to his mourning—and listens up. Samuel “did not yet know the Lord’ but finds his way by a superb guide. The news is said to “tingle” in the KJV. Our version reads, “I am about to do something…that will make both ears of anyone who hears it tingle”.
When was the last time you felt a “tingle” about the word of God to you? When was the last time you experienced hope kicking into high gear, forgiveness writ loud, pins and needles all over your body because you were so excited?
With its promise of “pins and needles”, this passage is a kind of spiritual acupuncture. It brings us by way of thrilling news to a time of renewal and forgiveness. Often we make decisions because we have experienced the tingle of fear. We heard the doctor say our cancer was back, or we heard the judge say the child would be convicted for using drugs or stealing computer data. We were put on full body alert at the possibility that our pension was going to be taken away. We were so scared at how close we came to hitting the other car that we had to stop and rest a minute in order to experience our body’s adrenalin rush. We tingled in fright.
What this passage recommends to us is that we begin to make decisions based on the tingle of hope. Martin Luther King made a decision based on the tingle of hope. Oddly, the passage assures us that what God is going to do will make both ears tingle. So, let one ear tingle with fear. Fear is legitimate under many of the circumstances of our lives. A lot has gone wrong. A lot of danger lurks. But listen now with the other ear. Hear what Samuel was reluctant to hear: God is going to do a new thing, which will make both of our ears tingle. Give the other ear a little exercise. Let it tingle too. Imagine a world beyond gimmicks, with no gotchas, a world where things are fair, where you are well, where those you love are well, where swords have become art schools and weapons have become warming centers for the elderly. Imagine a world of enchantment, where you look outside at a child playing on a safe street.
Imagine good things and then believe that they are coming. God has plans, already executed in Jesus, to do good things. The way to tingle is to open both of your eyes and look around. Look under the hassock, look back to the scripture, look forward in hope. Open both of your ears. Soon they will tingle.
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