Sermon: Willing and wise enough to be an Eli
What catches my attention in these two readings is the ministry of helping others listen to a new voice or word of God in times of transition in the religious landscape.
Both readings are about times of transition in the religious landscape, and people who are able to help others move into the new religious reality of their day.
In I Samuel, after living in the Promised Land for about 200 years as a loose collection of twelve tribes centrally led only by a family line of priests (a kind of "religious royalty" appointed by God to be leaders of the tribes), the time has come for radical change. As happens with institutions over time, the priesthood has grown corrupt -- so corrupt that old Eli alone remains as a half-worthy, half-blind priest (kind of like Graham Greene's "whiskey priest"?), with his two sons destined to die in their extreme sinfulness, and no one left to carry on the priestly leadership. The people as a whole suffer because of this "vacuum" at the heart of their life together, and things have to change.
In this situation the young boy Samuel is entrusted to Eli's care, and in this reading Eli teaches Samuel to listen to a voice of God that Eli himself is not able to hear, even though it inspires young Samuel to help create a new style of leadership for the people (a king!) and bring to an end the institution that Eli himself has been part of, and has tried to serve well.
Are we in a time of transition today? Can we be as faithful and effective as Eli in helping others (like our children and grandchildren) to listen to a voice of God that maybe we can't hear ourselves? And even if it may mean the end of things we have loved, and given our lives to?
In the Gospel, the evangelist John emphasizes more than the other Gospels, that some of Jesus's first disciples were first of all disciples of John the Baptizer, and that when Jesus appeared they shifted their allegiance to him because they saw in him the "something" that John, for all his spiritual power and charisma, did not have. It could not have been easy to make the change, but seeking more than anything to be faithful to God they helped one another do it.
Can we be as good in helping one another embrace the work of God in new ways and places in the world today? Can we be as open and honest as Philip in helping our brothers and sisters know that we have changed our minds and commitments in light of a new understanding of how God is at work in our midst?