Sunday, January 14, 2018

One Question. 2nd Sunday OT 2018

The story of God calling Samuel has a troubling side and an encouraging side. On one hand, it’s a dark time for God’s people. There are a number of problems, one of the biggest being bad priests. That is heartbreakingly relevant; there was another disgrace this week. It hurts.

No explanation or theology is going to make it not hurt. But if we’re students of the Bible, we’ll learn from Samuel as from so many others that God has ways of working around sin. Sometimes the medicine is hard, though. In Samuel’s time there is devastation and wrath. Eli and his sons will be dead in the next few verses. Israel’s enemies will swarm over her and crush her. Worst of all, the Ark of the Covenant will be lost, carried away by the Philistines. Remember what the Ark was to them: it was God’s dwelling in their midst. It was where they looked for holiness and assurance. With that stripped away, they seemed forsaken and abandoned — not just sinful, but having lost even the hope and principle of renewal.

It’s in this dark context that Samuel hears a voice. He misunderstands at first. No one is hearing God’s voice very often those days, the story says, so it’s no surprise God doesn’t get through to Samuel right away. But God keeps at it. He doesn’t give up on Sam and eventually, with the help of Eli, the boy understands. “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.”

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Epiphany 2018

The story of the wise men from the East is a story about coming to meet Jesus. That’s going to make it a very interesting story, if you agree with me that coming to meet Jesus is the most important thing — and the best thing — that can possibly happen to a human being.

The Biblical details are sparse. We know that magi, usually translated ‘wise men’, followed a star to where Jesus was. They brought Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh. They arrived via King Herod but chose to avoid him on the return journey.

There’s a reason that this first reading from Isaiah 60 is paired with the story of the Magi; Israel always knew that their mission was to reveal God to everyone. They were the chosen people, but they weren’t chosen only for their own sake. Their purpose and mission was to reveal God to the rest of the nations. Isaiah dreams of that mission being fulfilled. He dreams of all the nations streaming toward Jerusalem to worship the God of Israel.

If you look at the Church of Jesus Christ today, you will see that dream fulfilled to a great extent. Isaiah’s words, and all the Bible, have been translated into every language, taken to every corner of the Earth. If you go to the main centers of the global Church… the seat of Peter in Rome, or the Holy Land… you will see something very like Isaiah’s vision, all nations streaming toward the Temple of God.