December 18, 2016
The United Churches of Olympia
1 Samuel 3:1-10
Like 19: 1-10
I love the way that 1 Samuel Chapter 3 begins: The Lord’s word was rare at that time and visions weren’t widely known. These phrases do not occur anywhere else in the Hebrew Scriptures…the Lord’s word was rare. This word “rare” would typically describe something like an item of jewelry, or something that was extremely valuable due to a pure lack of supply. Apparently, the extremely valuable word of the Lord was rare at that time. In verse 2 we learn that Eli the priest had eyes that had grown so weak that he was unable to see. Samuel and Eli are in the Temple. This is the place where God (supposedly) dwells. Samuel is even sleeping next to the God box: the Ark of the covenant, where God lives, yet no one in the temple can hear or see God. Just read back in chapter two of 1 Samuel and you will affirm that the word of the Lord was indeed rare. There was a lot of crazy, abusive and oppressive stuff happening in the temple, this place where God was to dwell. In this moment, God speaks to a child, a child who thought that it was the priest Eli who was speaking to him. After three attempts of hearing God speak to Samuel, Eli advises Samuel just to go lie down and listen and listen hard.
As we have traveled with Ebenezer Scrooge over these weeks of the Advent Season, we find that Scrooge himself was unable to see or hear the misery that was all around him. He could not see how his actions contributed to the misery. He could not hear the cries of the poor and needy. After visiting his past and looking at the present, Ebenezer Scrooge finally meets The Ghost of Christmas Future.
Of all Dickens’ ghosts, the Ghost of Christmas Future is the creepiest. Dickens describes the character this way: “The Phantom slowly, gravely, silently approached. When it came near him, Scrooge bent down upon his knee; for in the very air through which this Spirit moved it seemed to scatter gloom and mystery. The ghost was shrouded in a deep black garment, which concealed its head, its face, its form, and left nothing of it visible save one outstretched hand.” Although the Ghost never speaks in the story, Scrooge seems to hear it.
When the Ghost makes its appearance, it transports Scrooge to a scene of three wealthy gentlemen making light of a recent death, remarking that it will be a cheap funeral, if anyone comes at all. One businessman said he would go….if lunch were provided. Next, Scrooge is shown the same dead person’s belongings being stolen by Scrooge’s charwoman Mrs. Dilber, Scrooge’s laundress, and the local undertaker and sold to a receiver of stolen goods called Old Joe. He also sees a shrouded corpse, which he implores the Ghost not to unmask. Scrooge asks the ghost to show him anyone who feels any emotion over the shrouded man’s death. The ghost can only show him a poor couple indebted to the man momentarily rejoicing that as the man is dead, they have more time to pay off their debt. After Scrooge asks to see some tenderness connected with death, the ghost shows him Bob Cratchit and his family mourning the passing of Tiny Tim. Eventually, the spirit takes Scrooge to a rundown churchyard and shows the repentant miser his own grave; and then Scrooge realizes that the dead man of whom the others spoke ill was he himself.
Horrified, Scrooge begs the ghost for another chance to redeem his life and “sponge away the writing on this stone.” For the first time the hand appeared to shake. “Good Spirit,” he pursued, as he fell to the ground: “Your nature intercedes for me, and pities me. Assure me that I yet may change these shadows you have shown me, by an altered life!”
Finally, the story of Scrooge reaches its climax. Scrooge finally sees how his life and his choices have caused misery and agony for others, and he wants to change. Even more, he wants to redeem what he has done in the past and be redeemed.
Our story from Luke is a familiar one. All of us who attended Vacation Bible School can sing the song “Zacchaeus was a wee little man, a wee little man was he…” It seems like a fun and sweet story to a child. Here is a man who climbs a tree, because like his counterpart in the Hebrew scriptures and our friend Scrooge he cannot see and he really wants to see. As children we called him a “wee little man” which children love…someone who is more their size, more accessible, someone who can climb a tree. The Greek word is more correctly translated “least.” In the same way that God reached out to the boy Samuel, a child, Christ reaches out to Zacchaeus who is the least, but who like Scrooge also is in need of redemption. After their brief exchange, Zacchaeus joyfully receives Jesus’ invitation to come to his house with him, and receive redemption. Zacchaeus’ response is immediate, he excitedly volunteers to give half of his possessions to the poor. He also promises to repay people that he has cheated four times as much.
Scrooge too receives redemption. When he awakens, he realizes that he is not the man that he thought that he was. He promises to honor Christmas in his heart all year long and to remember the lessons that he has learned. He feels differently! He is joyous, light as a feather. Immediately he sets about sharing of his wealth and making things right. And later it is said of Scrooge that he always “knew how to keep Christmas well if any man alive had the knowledge.” He was redeemed.
I’m going to remind us what redemption is all about. The Hebrew word for redeemer, go’el, is referenced Leviticus 25:25, we read: “If anyone of your kin falls into difficulty and sells a piece of property, then the next of kin shall come and redeem what the relative has sold.” You see, really poor people had to sometimes sell off some land and sometimes they had to sell a child into slavery so as not to starve. If this happened, it was the duty of the nearest male relative to act as the redeemer. That male relative would use their own resources if they had them to “buy back” the land or the child. This was a way to keep family lands and family resources together.
Redemption, in short, it to make things whole again, to make them just and fair and right. It might look like a “transaction” in scripture: I use my resources to save you from slavery. The transaction is the process. The goal is to create wholeness. The family is restored, the lands are restored, honor is restored. All are whole again. Scrooge and Zacchaeus experienced redemption by sharing their ill gotten wealth with the poor, thus making lives whole again. In the process of their sharing, they were released from the bondage of their own greed and selfishness, and experienced redemption for themselves. They participated in redemption and they received redemption. That is how redemption works. We participate in it and we receive it.
Perhaps you feel this Advent season that The Lord’s word is rare at this time and visions aren’t widely known. Many feel like God is silent as we remember again the loss of 20 children’s lives and 6 adult lives four years ago at Sandy Hook Elementary. And mass shootings continue with sad regularity. Perhaps we feel that God is silent as we listened to the chilling testimony of Dylann Roof this week, who gunned down nine people at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church last year, people who had gathered to study the Bible. Perhaps we feel as though God is silent when we read the tweets and Facebook feed of the last people standing in the bombed out city of Allepo. Perhaps we feel as though God is silent.
But my guess is that we are not listening. Just as Eli finally understood that it was God who was speaking to Samuel and told Samuel that he needed to go back and lie down and LISTEN, we too need to listen. Create space, lie down, and listen. Un tether ourselves from technology and listen. Listen attentively to those around you. Listen carefully to people with whom you disagree. Listen in the midst of silence. I don’t think the word of the Lord is rare in these days, I think that we are sometimes just deaf to it. God is still speaking. God is still speaking. Redemption is near.