Tuesday, January 20, 2015

What made our ears tingle? The 3D’s. An outline of a discussion I lead with the Raritan Cluster

Below is a recap of a discussion I guided as Counselor of the Raritan Cluster—it might be helpful for others.

“To recap for both those who were at today’s Raritan Cluster meeting and those who were not:

We started off with the premise that those things “that will make both ears of anyone who hears it tingle” (1 Samuel 3:11) included the centralization of worship and government (vs. the Prophetic Bands and Tribal Judges tradition) and that the Israel that existed before Samuel was extremely different than the Israel that existed after Samuel. These changes were a mixed bag—God was no longer King, a civil war transpired, the Levitical Priests living outside of Jerusalem starved, Israel was more politically stable, etc.
From there we thought a bit about trends and changes we’ve experienced and where they may be going. What a before and after Samuel world could be for the ELCA and our congregations in particular. Here are the three categories we mainly looked at:

Disestablishment of the Church—Being a good citizen in America doesn’t mean being a good Christian in the minds of most people
--We’ve all ran into the problem of kids playing sports, this is a symptom of disestablishment; now being a soccer mom is just as much a sign of being a good American as being a Christian.
--Additionally, in the future this may change our not for profit tax status. Being taxed will shock us into thinking anew about being a community attached to a building.
--The good news is we no longer have to “play nice.” The Church is freed from the shackles of respectability…
--for example, when I first started Pub Theology one person asked, “What will people say?” “No one will say anything, being part of a church that meets in a bar won’t push you into society’s margins.” They followed up, “You might as well be in a brothel.” I was able to respond, “You know of a brothel in town? Point me in that direction, they need to hear about Jesus!”

Decentralization—Small groups of people without anyone in charge can now influence the world
--Two examples of decentralized systems would be Terrorist cells and the internet
--Thinking about what the internet does, in addition to being decentralized it is also semi-anonymous and depersonalized, which makes people crabby and hurtful… congregations are often non-anonymous and highly personal, that can be valued in an internet world.
--Decentralization often delegitimizes central authorities, these include: the Church writ large, Pastors, and denominational loyalty.
--It also gives us new mediums for preaching the gospel, for example small groups and putting sermons and songs on YouTube.

Demographics—America is changing both racially and economically
--Lutherans are often an ethnic club with a religious grounding… when we come to grips with the fact that there are no new immigrants from “the old country” coming, we can focus on what makes us uniquely Lutheran—hint isn’t not the Lutfisk or the bratwurst.
--The ELCA tends to draw members from the “Middle Class”… but in the last two decades what it means to be Middle Class has changed—less manufacturing jobs, more student debt, the necessity of two incomes, etc… the middle class is being squeezed and so is the ELCA… the time and money of middle class people is in short supply, the Church is lacking both of them. Perhaps this will allow us to take the cries of the poor more seriously, being that we are beginning to feel the bite of what they have for so long been mauled by?”

Monday, January 19, 2015

Samuel Sermon

         Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the LORD under Eli. Visions were not widespread then, and The word of the LORD was rare in those days…
         Those days, those days after Moses had died, after Joshua and the Israelites had entered the Land along with the Tabernacle in which God resided. They had conquered large swaths of the Land.
         The 12 tribes each set out and settled in a place, they become a decentralized tribal confederacy—and that tended to work… for a time.
         They would laze and lounge on their own, each tribe as their own entity, for a generation—and in that time they would fall into sin, creating Idols and oppressing the least and the lost—in those days.
         Then a threat would come along, and chaos would reign, each tribe picked off one by one—divided they fell, only when united they stood.
         And so, in those days, when things got rough, when enemies would come and swallow them up tribe by tribe, they would call on the LORD, and the LORD would send them a charismatic Shofet—a Judge, and that Judge would rally the tribes together, like twelve fingers coming together and making a fist—and together they would restore justice and righteousness to the Israelis. He or she—yes she… have you heard of the Great Prophet-Judge Deborah?—the Judge, would defeat the present threat—and for a while all would be calm, the 12 tribes could get back to doing their own thing, separated again from one another… until they committed apostasy, and an enemy rose up, and they cried to God and they were yet again delivered from their enemy by a Judge.
         But in those days, by the time of Samuel and Eli, this ongoing cycle, Apostasy, enemy, asking for divine assistance, and the arrival of a Judge, was wearing thin.
It was winding down,
it was unsustainable.

         At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room, the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the LORD, where the ark of God was.
         Samuel—this little child, the apple of his mother’s eye… do you know his story?
         Samuel’s mother, Hannah, was teased and mistreated for being barren—and so badly did these barbs hurt, that she went out to the tent of God and prayed
—cried out to God in agony and ecstasy
—with so much sincerity and emotion, that Eli the Priest heard it and assumed it was the revelry of a drunk, and he tried to chase her out of his presence.
         But Hannah refused, and God did a new thing with her
—she became with child
—she bore little Samuel
—and she sang of that joyous birth a song that centuries later Mary would remember and sing as well, when she found out she too was pregnant with our Lord Jesus
—and out of thanksgiving to God Hannah gave Samuel to Eli, that very same priest who did not recognize her prayer.
         How special it must have been, for little Samuel, living there, next to the Ark
—next to the very footstool of God
—essentially a little kid camped out on God’s living room floor.

         Then the LORD called, "Samuel! Samuel!"
and he said, "Here I am!"
and ran to Eli, and said, "Here I am, for you called me."
         But he said, "I did not call; lie down again."
         Eli, the Priest of God had a history of this—just as he misinterpreted the prayer of Samuel’s Mom, Hannah, as drunken ramblings, so too, even in the very tent of God, where God lived—he did not stop and say, “Perhaps God is speaking to this child.”

So Samuel went and lay down.
         The LORD called again, "Samuel!"
Samuel got up and went to Eli, and said, "Here I am, for you called me."
But he said, "I did not call, my son; lie down again."
         I would imagine little Samuel is starting to wonder if old man Eli is getting a little funny—and I would also imagine Eli is starting to regret letting this child live there in the temple.

         Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD, and the word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him.
         Visions were so rare in those days and the Word of the LORD was so infrequent that even there at the center of it all—as an apprentice to the Priest of all of Israel, little Samuel does not know the LORD!
         The LORD called Samuel again, a third time.
And he got up and went to Eli, and said, "Here I am, for you called me."
         You can imagine, at this point Samuel is beside himself…
lucky for him, third time is the charm, because then Eli perceived that the LORD was calling the boy.
Therefore, Eli said to Samuel, "Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, 'Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.'" So Samuel went and lay down in his place.

         Now the LORD came and stood there, calling as before, "Samuel! Samuel!" And Samuel said, "Speak, for your servant is listening."
         Then the LORD said to Samuel, "See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make both ears of anyone who hears of it tingle.
         Would it ever
—a new thing with this special new boy… things no pious man would ever dream, not a righteous woman would ever utter.
         Yet, happen they would
—God, in his Ark that Samuel slept near, would be stolen by foreign pagans
—God was Arknapped.
This would cause a crisis that collapsed the ailing cycle of judges and topple the priesthood and change the prophethood for good—everything different after Samuel.
Judges and independent tribes replaced by King Saul and a consolidated monarchy. Saul in turn overthrown by King David
—his son Solomon tearing down the tent and building a temple for the Ark of the LORD, a grand house for God.
A new kind of stability and a national strength.
         These things that will make all ears tingle
—are strange fits and starts of change,
no easy thing,
not even a good thing necessarily
—yet it’s what happened
—the reality that little Samuel was to presided over.

         On that day I will fulfill against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. For I have told him that I am about to punish his house forever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them.
         Do you know the horror? These boys who intend to inherit the Priesthood there at Shiloh
—they take the finest meat of sacrifice, giving their least to God
—leaving even less for the poor
—not allowing the poor to take the leavings from that temple barbeque as is required of them…
         And not only that
—the women who serve at the temple—that tent of God
—these priests, these Eli’s sons, force themselves upon them…
 God have mercy.
         Lord Acton was right, “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
         “Therefore, I swear to the house of Eli,” said the LORD, “that the iniquity of Eli's house shall not be expiated by sacrifice or offering forever."

         Samuel lay there until morning
—a sleepless night to be sure. Blown away by a full-on experience of the Word of God,
but also, imagine his dilemma
—how to tell his mentor, this surrogate father, that the LORD was not pleased?
         When he could not put it off any long, he opened the doors of the house of the LORD. Samuel was afraid to tell the vision to Eli, how could he not be?
         But Eli called Samuel and said, "Samuel, my son."
He said, "Here I am."
         Eli said, "What was it that he told you? Do not hide it from me. May God do so to you and more also, if you hide anything from me of all that he told you."
         So Samuel told him everything and hid nothing from him.
         Then he said, "It is the LORD; let him do what seems good to him."

         As Samuel grew up, the LORD was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was a trustworthy prophet of the LORD.
         In all those changes, when the fabric of society was shifting.
With Judges and tribal loyalties evaporating into the ether of Kingship.
With foreign aggression and civil wars.
With God’s very presence shifting from place to place.
         It was good that they still knew where to find a trustworthy prophet of the LORD.
It was good they knew where they could hear the timeless truth of God.
It was good that amongst the changes that made their heads spin and their ears buzz, they knew that God was still faithful in all of that.