Almighty God, in Christ you make all things new: transform the poverty of our nature by the riches of your grace, and in the renewal of our lives make known your heavenly glory; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
Eternal Lord, our beginning and our end: bring us with the whole creation to your glory, hidden through past ages and made known in Jesus Christ our Lord.
Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.
At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was. Then the Lord called, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’ and he said, ‘Here I am!’ and ran to Eli, and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’ But he said, ‘I did not call; lie down again.’ So he went and lay down. The Lord called again, ‘Samuel!’ Samuel got up and went to Eli, and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’ But he said, ‘I did not call, my son; lie down again.’ Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. The Lord called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’ Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy. Therefore Eli said to Samuel, ‘Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” ’ So Samuel went and lay down in his place.
Now the Lord came and stood there, calling as before, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’ And Samuel said, ‘Speak, for your servant is listening.’ Then the Lord said to Samuel, ‘See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make both ears of anyone who hears of it tingle. On that day I will fulfil against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. For I have told him that I am about to punish his house for ever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them. Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be expiated by sacrifice or offering for ever.’
Samuel lay there until morning; then he opened the doors of the house of the Lord. Samuel was afraid to tell the vision to Eli. But Eli called Samuel and said, ‘Samuel, my son.’ He said, ‘Here I am.’ Eli said, ‘What was it that he told you? Do not hide it from me. May God do so to you and more also, if you hide anything from me of all that he told you.’ So Samuel told him everything and hid nothing from him. Then he said, ‘It is the Lord; let him do what seems good to him.’
As Samuel grew up, the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was a trustworthy prophet of the Lord.
1 Samuel 3:1–20
1 O Lord, you have searched me out and known me; •
you know my sitting down and my rising up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
2 You mark out my journeys and my resting place •
and are acquainted with all my ways.
3 For there is not a word on my tongue, •
but you, O Lord, know it altogether.
4 You encompass me behind and before •
and lay your hand upon me.
5 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, •
so high that I cannot attain it.
12 For you yourself created my inmost parts; •
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
13 I thank you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; •
marvellous are your works, my soul knows well.
14 My frame was not hidden from you, •
when I was made in secret
and woven in the depths of the earth.
15 Your eyes beheld my form, as yet unfinished; •
already in your book were all my members written,
16 As day by day they were fashioned •
when as yet there was none of them.
17 How deep are your counsels to me, O God! •
How great is the sum of them!
18 If I count them, they are more in number than the sand, •
and at the end, I am still in your presence.
Then I saw in the right hand of the one seated on the throne a scroll written on the inside and on the back, sealed with seven seals; and I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, ‘Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?’ And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it. And I began to weep bitterly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. Then one of the elders said to me, ‘Do not weep. See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.’
Then I saw between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders a Lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. He went and took the scroll from the right hand of the one who was seated on the throne. When he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell before the Lamb, each holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. They sing a new song:
‘You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for you were slaughtered and by your blood you ransomed for God
saints from every tribe and language and people and nation;
you have made them to be a kingdom and priests serving our God,
and they will reign on earth.’
The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, ‘Follow me.’ Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, ‘We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.’ Nathanael said to him, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ Philip said to him, ‘Come and see.’ When Jesus saw Nathanael coming towards him, he said of him, ‘Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!’ Nathanael asked him, ‘Where did you come to know me?’ Jesus answered, ‘I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.’ Nathanael replied, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’ Jesus answered, ‘Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.’ And he said to him, ‘Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.’
Sermon on Second Sunday after Epiphany
“The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.” When do you think those days were? I think the story about Samuel could be told about anyone right here and now.
Whenever someone says that he or she has had a vision, don’t we all tell them to go back to sleep just as Eli did – at first. I think we do this to our friends and acquaintances time and again. There is nothing bitter and twisted about our lack of belief in what they are saying, only a revelation that we aren’t as good friends as we should be.
One of the ancient philosophers wrote a treatise called On Friendship, in which we can read about the great goodness of a true friend. The one thing I always remember is that a friend will always accept what you say, never judge you, but always talk with you about what you are saying to see whether there is truth in it. This, I think, is where our society has gone awry, for we certainly do not delve for truth in all our conversations and I wonder about people in calling them friends in that strict definition of the philosopher. Rather, we say that you can trust no one, and, even worse than that, is that we believe everyone lies purposely. Why is that? I don’t know but I think we certainly treat no one like a true friend.
Our time is full of difficulties and we are a little to selfish to speak to larger matters than whether someone is lying because they want something from us. – I remember being in Detroit with a friend at a local community centre. I was just myself and talking with a few children, as you do. It was a nice time, and later my friend told me that the kids didn’t know what to make of me because the only people who ever talked to them wanted something from them. No one ever talked with them for themselves. That was where I was different from everyone else they usually met in that city. Everyone had an angle they were running on the kids. However, I was running no scam: I didn’t want anything from them. They did not know what to make of me. I suppose I wanted to be for those children that philosopher’s dispassionate and compassionate friend. I was willing to listen to them for their own sake.
That experience in Detroit encapsulates what I fear is the problem all around us. Everyone is trying to play some scam to “make a few bucks” or to “mess with your head.” Everyone does it, don’t we? So what do we do when our friend comes to tell us their vision? — Well, I think we should really talk about it. I think we both could learn something about each other if we could engage with the message of the vision. We both could learn. I would learn about your hopes and dreams, and I could learn about myself, about my own hopes and dreams as we talk about your vision. In this discussion you would learn about yourself and your place in the world because of your vision.
Isn’t this what happened with Samuel and Eli? Three times he asked Samuel to go back to sleep, but at the third, he realised that something else was happening, that the voice had to be heard for what it truly was, no longer the master to a slave, but the Lord of the universe was calling to him from the depths of space and time. It is up to Samuel to listen to that voice and up to Eli to help interpret the vision with Samuel for their own time. In other words, we have to encourage the other to listen to what they have encountered. We all need to take our perceptions seriously.
So, what are the visions we have? Some are little daydreams – how we would like to care for a loved one – some are revelatory – what we would like to do for the rest of our lives for the sake of the world. Our visions are statements of intent, aren’t they? Our visions focus us on a goal out there, sometimes they are really out there beyond our usual compass, but usually the goals of our visions are limited. We are not the world’s visionaries, are we? Rather, we would like to live our lives of desperation quietly, don’t we? We don’t want the trouble of the world beating their way to our door for our paltry insights into life and how to live.
But imagine if the words we have heard were like these which Samuel heard, “I am about to do something that will make both ears of anyone who hears of it tingle.” Wouldn’t we rise and do what we have been asked? But, as I said, we don’t have those big things in our lives, do we? Or do we? Haven’t we heard the Word of God week in and week out? Haven’t we had those words tingle both of our ears?
I think we have – why else would we come here week after week? Our vision is one that must be shared, isn’t it? Why do we stand alone against the bulk of the population talking with one another about our hopes and fears? Who knows – perhaps they have heard something that has tingled both their ears. What should we do for those friends?
I think we should talk with them with that philosopher’s attitude, to learn about meaning with them through their visions. We should take them as seriously as we take ourselves – to discuss their hopes and fears out there in their world, just as we do with each other here in Church. Their hopes and fears out there in the world are just as real as our own here within the church’s sanctuary.
“Eli said, ‘What was it that he told you? Do not hide it from me.’” Are these the words we ask our friends when they rise from their visions? Do we reply truthfully when our friends ask us about what we have seen?
The joke about answering whether these clothes make me look big is not without its point. How many times have we said, “Those clothes do nothing for you”? We cannot disappoint anyone, can we? Aren’t we just like the court around the emperor when he showed off his new clothes? We say nothing, and the vision the emperor has is faulty and may even harm someone. Is this what friends do for each other?
Let us be good friends. Let us speak with clarity and honesty with our friends. Let us be clear about our vision and share it with our friends, so that everyone will benefit.
Sometimes visions are extraordinary things – we see something others don’t. Speaking to Nathaniel. “Jesus said, ‘Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree?’” If we talked with others, our visions could have a life of their own for people who will be true friends, and no one need be left out.