Sunday, January 17, 2021

2 Epiphany, 20201-B: Our greening

Lectionary: 1 Samuel 3:1-10(11-20); Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17; 1 Corinthians 6:12-20; John 1:43-51             

En el nombre del Dios: que es Trinidad en unidad. Amen. 

Epiphany is the only season on our liturgical calendar where the color changes mid-stream: from white to green. As with all things liturgical in the Episcopal church, that’s intentional and the reason is: we are shifting our collective focus from the revelation of the heavenly light of Christ to its earthly implementation.

In our Collect, we pray that we may shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory. Why do we want that? 

If our answer has anything to do with our own benefit, like getting to heaven or being judged a good child of God, we’ve missed the mark. The answer in our Collect isn’t very satisfying to me either because while knowing, worshiping, and obeying Jesus are wonderful outcomes, they were not his goals.

Jesus didn’t come to be served, but to serve. He said that very explicitly. (Mt 20:28) He came to connect us to God and one another in a way that would lead to new life in complete and perfect unity with God, one another, and all creation.

It may not come as a surprise to you after the last couple of weeks, that we aren’t there yet. But take heart.

Sometimes the reconciling love of God acts first to disrupt and dismantle systems and structures we have built, structures by which we have gone astray. We tend to resist this kind of divine correction, but our story from the Old Testament today, shows us that a faithful person, even one who has gone astray, can return to faithfulness and concede to rather than resist the will of God - even when that means being held personally accountable for the wrongs done and losing the honor of former days.

Let’s begin with a little context. You may remember that the boy, Samuel, is the son of Hannah, the barren woman who prayed to God for a son, the ancestor who inspired Mary’s Magnificat. In thanksgiving for her son, Samuel, Hannah dedicated him to God giving him over to the care of Eli, the chief priest, to raise in the temple.

In our story today, Samuel hears a voice calling his name in the middle of the night, so he runs to Eli assuming he called him, but Eli hasn’t called him and sends him back to bed. After a few times, Eli realizes it is God calling to Samuel and tells him to answer “Speak Lord for your servant is listening” the next time he hears the voice.

Good advice from an experienced priest.

The next time he hears the voice call his name, Samuel responds the way Eli told him to, and God imparts a terrible truth to him, one he might rather not know, and one is afraid to share with Eli. Samuel lays in bed till morning and it’s probably a safe bet that he didn’t sleep much.

How scary it must have been to hear God speak so forcefully about punishing Eli and his line for their iniquity, which, by the way, was no secret to anyone at that time. The abuses of Eli’s sons were widely known but the system that enabled them was deeply embedded in Jewish tradition and Eli’s privilege as a Judge within that system meant could have - and should have - interceded, but he didn’t.

Eli knows God has spoken to Samuel and coerces Samuel to tell him what God said. So, Samuel does, even though he will likely lose not only his home and his temple community, but also the man who was like a father to him.

Eli’s surprising response was: “It is the LORD; let him do what seems good to him.”

Eli had to know this was coming. He was an experienced and deeply faithful priest and judge. He knew the sins being committing and that one day he would be held accountable for not intervening. As we say in our Confession, forgive us for what we have done, and what we have left undone.

So when the moment of accountability arrived, Eli didn’t justify himself or his choices, or try to weasel out, or declare an alternative truth. Instead, he acquiesced, restoring his faithfulness to God and to his role as priest and judge.

Eli continued serving God whom he loved, in the temple for many years - until the Philistines attacked the temple. As the story goes, Eli, who was 98 years old by then, was so shocked when heard the Philistines had stolen the ark of the covenant, which he was charged to guard and tend, that he fell off of his chair, broke his neck, and died. His sons were also killed in the battle. It was the end of the family and household of Eli.

Samuel then became the Judge - the last one for Israel. As such, he anointed Saul and later David as Kings of Israel. It was King David through whom God established a path to peace and prosperity for the people of God.

Jesus descended from the line of David and as the Messiah, it was hoped he would bring peace and prosperity to Israel the way his ancestor, King David, had done. But God had a different plan, a bigger plan. By coming to us in the person of Jesus, the path to new life God opened was not just for the people of Israel, but for the whole world.

This bigger plan is what Jesus is beginning to reveal in our Gospel story. In his conversation with Nathanael Jesus demonstrates a little divine knowledge and Nathanael flushes with excitement: You are the Son of God, the King of Israel! But Nathanael is speaking about the expected Davidic King.

“Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree?” Just wait and you’ll see greater things, Jesus replies. Then he uses images of angels ascending and descending - such rich symbolism - calling to mind the stories of the patriarch, Jacob, and his ladder, the book of Daniel, and Jesus’ own baptism where heaven and earth were opened to each other in real-time and experience.

In each case, the systems enabling the desolations of the current age were disrupted and God established a new pathway, a divine pathway leading to new life. In each case, the new pathway took years to be established.

Tomorrow we celebrate the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a prophet who radiated the true light; and who, like other biblical prophets, was imperfect and faithful. Dr. King’s message of the value and dignity of every human being threatened the status quo, so they killed him almost 53 years ago now. They may have stopped him, but God was not stopped. The pathway God established through Dr. King is still an open channel and God is still flowing through it establishing a new path of life for us.

The systems enabling the desolations in our time are being revealed to us in an undeniable way lately. Many among us who could have - and should have- stopped the abuses in our systems didn’t.

The moment of our accountability and divine correction is upon us. How will we respond?

We can begin by looking to Eli and Samuel. When the divine correction began for them, Eli and Samuel didn’t stop loving one another. They didn’t demonize or exile the other. They stayed faithful to their relationship with God and one another so that in God’s time, the new path was forged through their cooperative obedience.

This isn’t easy. How do we prepare ourselves to walk through our moment of accountability and systems disruption without demonizing or exiling the “other side”?

This is exactly what this green portion of our season of Epiphany offers us. Having been illumined by the Word and Sacraments, we now open ourselves to what Hildegard of Bingen called “viriditas” - the greening power of the Divine - an invigorating, healing power that flows from God into us and through us into the world, connecting us, and leading us to the new life God is preparing for us.

Hildegard’s principle of connectedness can be understood in this homey example: when a person eats a

healing plant or herb like chamomile for sleep, or ginger for stomach upset we are connected in a very real way to another part of God’s creation and a pathway is established for the healing power of God to flow through our connectedness. It is important then, to keep ourselves nourished in body and spirit so that our connections to God, others, and creation remain open channels for the flow of Divine love.

Nourishment of our bodies - the rich and poor bodies among us - requires that all of us have access to food that is nutrient-rich and affordable. Nourishment of our souls requires the continual practice of prayer and service: gathering online for Sunday worship and weekday Daily Offices, practicing private meditation, supporting Calvary’s Blessing Box, Loaves and Fishes, or participating in dismantling racism in our diocese - all of these are pathways of connection, channels through which the healing power of God flows.  

Whatever chaos happens as our current systems are disrupted and divinely corrected, we know that the redeeming love of God in Christ connects us and leads us to new life. Let’s keep our channels open and watch for the greater things. Amen.

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