Second Sunday after Epiphany

2 Epiphany: January 18, 2015

I Samuel 3:1-10; Psalm 63; 1 Corinthians 6:11b-20; John 1:43-51

Homily preached by the Rev. Canon Linda S. Taylor

“The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.”

This phrase sets the context for Samuel’s call to ministry. This Hebrew scripture speaks about a turning point in the relationship between God and God’s people.

Two parallel stories lead up to this turning point. Samuel was the son of Hannah, a woman scripture names as barren. She had prayed for years for a child, promising that if she were given a son, she would give him back to God. A son was born, and when he was old enough to be weaned—maybe five years in those times, she took him to the temple and gave him into the keeping of the Eli, the priest. Samuel grew up in the temple, with Eli taking care of him and teaching him.

The second story is about Eli’s own sons. Priesthood was an inherited in those days, and Eli’s sons were notorious for their corruption and their behavior that flew in the face of all the teachings and laws of Israel. Eli tried to bring his sons into line, but they didn’t change their ways, and Eli gave up any attempt to make them turn away from evil. Eli has given up. He no longer hears the voice of God or has dreams and visions for God’s people

Today’s story begins with Eli sleeping in the temple. The boy Samuel is also sleeping. I always imagine him as on a pallet, perhaps in the innermost part of the temple. Samuel hears a voice calling him, and he immediately goes to Eli. Three times Samuel hears a voice that he believes to be Eli’s summons, and he goes to the old man’s side, only to be told that Eli had not called. After the third time, Eli finally understands that it must be God’s voice that Samuel is hearing. He tells him to go back to bed, to listen for the voice and to respond when he hears the call again. Samuel obeys, and when he hears the call the fourth time, he makes a simple response: “Speak, for your servant is listening.” Samuel listened as God spoke to him, and he obeyed God’s word. Down through the years, he became known as the judge and prophet who brought God’s word back to the people of Israel.

“The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.”

Almost sixty years ago, another man heard God’s voice. Tomorrow, we celebrate the life and ministry of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. His birthday is the 15th, but we celebrate on a Monday so we’ll get a three-day weekend. I don’t know how Dr. King heard his call to ministry. Perhaps the knowing was always there. Perhaps he knew when he was a little boy, sitting in Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, listening to his daddy preach—or his granddaddy preaching. Did he hear his call in the Bible verses about God’s justice for the poor and the oppressed? Did he hear his call in the preaching—or was his heart simply moved by the pain he saw in the lives around him?

I tend to forget how young Dr. King was. He’s a man of such stature in our history that he seems ageless to me. He began his ministry early, and he made enemies quickly. He told the story of a night in 1957. He was only 28, but he’d already been jailed several times—he was jailed 30 times during his ministry—and the threats and violent actions against him and his family were already part of his life. Late at night, the phone rang. It was another vicious threat. He was alone, and he sat down at the kitchen table and wept—wept from fatigue and fear and the burden of his ministry—and he prayed. He heard God’s voice speaking to him: “Martin Luther, stand up for righteousness, stand up for justice.” And he heard the voice promise never to leave him alone, “-no, never alone.”

Dr. King named the evil in our world. He engaged the evil in this world, he shined the light on it so the whole world could see the shame of our country, and he brought the light of the Gospel—the good news of Jesus Christ to bear against the evil in this country of ours. His ministry was instrumental in the passage of the Civil Rights Acts of 1964, 1965 and 1968. He had a dream—that all people would be treated as children of God—that all children could live into the American dream–that this country could live into our creed all people are created equal. He had a dream, and he worked for that dream, and he lived for that dream, and he died for that dream.

He was killed in 1968—in August. He was 39 years old.

You know what’s coming next.

Samuel and Martin left us a legacy. We are called—each one of us—to continue their work. We are called to name the evil in the world, to bring it into the light of day, to engage the evil in the world, and to bring the light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to bear upon it.

We don’t know what lies ahead. The way will not always be easy, the way will not always be clear. But we can trust in one thing. No matter what happens, we will never be alone – no, never alone.

Thanks be to God.