Monday, February 27, 2012

1 Samuel 3

A former student, Rev. Dr. Carol Jablonski, sent me a link to this sermon she preached a few weeks ago at St. Andrew's Church, College Park, Maryland.

1 Samuel 3:1-20

The calling of Samuel is one of the most memorable call stories in the Old Testament. It stands out from the call stories of other prophets because it’s not clear to Samuel that the voice he is hearing in the middle of the night is the voice of God.

Samuel thinks Eli is calling. Eli, the priest of the temple, is there with Samuel. The two of them are sleeping in the temple, where Eli is a priest and Samuel an acolyte.

Eli belonged to an ancient family of priests that could be traced all the way back to the time of the great exodus. God told Moses to tell the people of Israel, the people who had escaped the evil of slavery and crossed through the Red Sea, that they were special to God. God had chosen and called them, and set them apart to be a holy people. God wanted them to become a nation, a kingdom of priests—and be a sign to the Gentiles—a sign of God’s power to save. (Exodus 19:3-6)

But God’s people were afraid--afraid of getting too near to God. They didn’t want to be too overwhelmed by God. And so God made Moses and Aaron his priests, and concentrated the priesthood on their descendants.

By Eli’s time, many centuries later, the priesthood was very narrowly understood and poorly practiced. And that’s the way it was with Eli. In our reading today, we hear that Eli’s vision has grown dim. Much is failing Eli besides his eyesight. His sons are saying wicked things against God, and Eli can’t constrain them. His inner sight had also grown dim.

Our reading begins with the sad declaration that “The word of the Lord was rare in those days: visions were not widespread.” The people Eli serves have not heard God’s word. Even Samuel, the acolyte who serves in the temple, “does not know God. The word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him.”

One night, Samuel does hear God’s word, only he doesn’t know that. He thinks it is Eli who is calling his name. “Samuel, Samuel.” It’s the same form of address that God uses every time he wants to get someone’s attention in the Bible. “Moses, Moses.” “Samuel, Samuel.” When you hear your name repeated like that, you don’t need to check to see who is calling. But Samuel doesn’t know any of this yet. He thinks Eli is calling him, and so he gets up to see what the older man needs.

The third time Samuel hears the LORD call him, Eli tells him to say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” And when God calls Samuel a fourth time, that’s exactly what Samuel does.

There is something very satisfying about Samuel’s response to God’s call.

At first Samuel doesn’t know who is calling him, and then he does.

Eli is nearly blind, but he is able to see that it is God who keeps waking Samuel up.

Despite being a flawed priest and failed father, Eli is still able to help a young person in his charge do the right thing.

But there is also something disconcerting about the story that is sometimes left out of the lectionary. And that’s what God tells Samuel. God tells Samuel that he has news that will make the ears of anyone who hears it tingle. God tells Samuel that something new is about to happen. It’s so new, God says, that it’ll make your ears tingle.

What kind of news makes our ears tingle? Think for a moment about the last time you heard something that made your ears tingle. I know that for me, it’s when I hear news that changes everything I know and care about.

Sometimes the news is good news, like when I was 19 and my older sister told me she was getting married. I was happy for her, but I knew that nothing was ever going to be the same in our family. There is also sad news, the news we hear when someone we know has been in a car accident, has been given a poor prognosis, or has died. And some of the news we hear that can make our ears tingle is about things that happen in our school or workplace, our community, or our nation. When our ears tingle, it’s not always easy to stay cool, calm, and collected.

That’s what makes Eli’s response to what Samuel tells him so interesting. God tells Samuel that God is going to put an end to the corruption and wickedness of Eli’s house, and that nothing could be done to stop it. Eli says, “It is the LORD, let him do what seems good to him.” Eli continues to have a role in the Book of Samuel. He continues to be linked with the failure of the old religious system.

And so in that larger story, the calling of Samuel signals the passing of the torch between a religious system that isn’t working and a new one that will take its place. It’s a hinge story between a complicated past (that isn’t quite over) and a future that will be different from anything God’s people have experienced before.

The story of Samuel’s calling has special resonance for us during the Epiphany season. During Epiphany, we remember that Christ came not just for us, but for the world. And the reason that news makes our ears tingle, especially in these days, is that the old religious order, the way we have experienced the church, is changing. There are many reasons for that. Some of them are demographic. Some of them are cultural and ideological. Some of them are theological. And some of them are economic. The fact that we are facing financial challenges, not only here at St. Andrew’s, but throughout the church, means that we have to listen all the more carefully to what God is saying to us.

The new thing that God is doing with us will take time to discern and to process. In the coming months and years, we are going to need to keep saying, “speak Lord, we are listening,” and be willing to listen to one another as each of us is given a word to share. And we should be especially alert to what our children and youth, and all our members, new and old, who are young in the faith, have to say to us.

Like Samuel, you may have been given a word that makes your elders uncomfortable. You may be given a word that makes you uncomfortable sharing it. But we need to hear and ponder what you have to say.

And all of us need to pray that God will give us the grace to listen as Eli did, with respect and love for one another, trusting God’s power to bring about this new thing in the church and in us.

This day, it is good for us to remember that we belong to God. We are God’s own people, called and chosen, and set apart. Because Christ has come to us, and lives in us and among us, we do not have to live in fear. God has come near. God is with us even now. Even as we listen for God to open our hearts and minds to God’s call for us, let us remember that we share in Christ’s own priesthood. We belong to the priesthood of believers. Now let us pray for the grace to follow Christ’s example, and show the world the saving power of our God.

Friday, February 24, 2012

First Friday of Lent: The Prayer of St. Ephrem

Saint Ephrem's Prayer is traditional during Lent. This is a simple video from YouTube with the words set to music.

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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Friday, February 17, 2012

New VTS Chapel: Sketches and Models!

Last evening Virginia Seminary launched the public phase of our campaign to raise 13 million dollars for the construction of our new Chapel for the Ages (about 10 million dollars are already raised). Below are never-before-seen sketches and models of how the architects envision the new sacred structure (click the photos to enlarge them):


Above is the view from outside the campus, looking north-west from a vantage on Seminary Road. The new chapel is to the right, Aspinwall Hall is center, and the transformed Welcome Center is to the left.


Above is the view from the campus Grove. The new chapel is in the center of the sketch, with the Welcome Center to the right and the old campus Federal House to the left.


Above is an aerial view of the central campus, with Aspinwall Hall in the upper left. I’ve added a blue arrow to point to the New Chapel.

Scale Model of the new chapel amid the VTS campus

Above is a fly-through of the campus with its new chapel. Towards the end of the video, you can see the ruins of the old chapel between the new chapel on the left and Meade Hall on the right.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

VTS Forum on January’s Holy Land Trip

In this snapshot, some of the students who travelled to Israel/Palestine last month are describing the fields near Samaria where Naboth’s Vineyard would have been located…


Tuesday, February 14, 2012

HAL-OT Lexicon Now Available for iPhone and iPad

Just out today: Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (HALOT) by Ludwig Koehler and Walter Baumgartner, for Apple iPhone, Android, and OliveTree Reader on PC Windows-7 on Mac on Lion. Alongside BDB I consider HALOT an updated and essential lexicon for serious students of Bible.

I've just purchased my own copy, even though I already owned it for my BibleWorks-9 program. It's worth it to me to have it on the iPhone. To get it from the OliveTree site, click here.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Psalm 14, Earnest Illustrations

As ancient as Psalm 14 is, the Rev. Earnest Graham believes it speaks powerfully to the world today. Here is his latest addition to his psalms project (click images to enlarge), about which I am very excited. A full-size pdf-version is available on his website: His new work on the Epistle of James is scheduled to be published later this year by Peace Hill Press, a division of Norton Publishing. His Parables series will be published shortly afterwards.

Friday, February 03, 2012

Free Unicode Typeface: “The Brill”



Brill has taken the initiative of designing a pretty cool typeface. Named “the Brill,” it presents complete coverage of the Latin script with the full range of diacritics and linguistics (IPA) characters used to display any language from any period correctly, and Greek and Cyrillic are also covered. There are over 5,100 characters in all. I’ve downloaded the fonts and tested some Hebrew transliteration on my laptop this morning. All seems to work perfectly. Be sure to download the user-guide pdf to get the complete list of unicode characters. One way to enter a character in MS-Word is to type the Unicode value and immediately hit alt-x. To download the free fonts (which, in Windows 7, you then simply slide into your fonts folder), click here.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Happy Groundhog Day!