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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

Come and See God's Post Pandemic Creation - 01/17/2021

There is one verse in this account of the child Samuel being called into his vocation as a trustworthy prophet of the Lord that consistently catches my attention. In fact, it helps set the whole tone and scene for this part of God’s story. Samuel is a child, we learn right away. He was studying to be a priest and prophet under Eli.

And … “The word of the LORD was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.” (1 Sam 3:1)

I have a couple of questions about that apparent absence of God.

First off, I’ve often wondered, what kind of days are those? What awful thing must be happening that God withholds life-giving word and God’s people are not comforted and inspired by even glimpses of the wholeness and healing God is preparing for the future? What must be going on in the homes and worship spaces, the social and governing gathering places that God would abandon the people to their own fallenness?

And then 2020 happened and I think we can all now imagine, maybe a little too vividly, a world in which “the word of the LORD was rare” and “visions were not widespread.”

For many of us, our regular patterns and venues for hearing the Word of the LORD have been disrupted. We can make all kinds of time for study and meditation of God’s word at home. I have seen that happen with many of us in quite a few of us doing that in these last 10 months, and it’s good in so many ways … even though we must admit, it cannot replace what we once took for granted: That we could get up on Sunday morning, or get ourselves organized on Saturday night, to come hear the Gospel proclaimed and to be among others who cling to that rock. When we do come back together, as I am confident we will, I pray I never take that for granted again.

And what about widespread visions?

I think we can make an argument that visions are not widespread in this time, as Samuel could have in his. While the vaccine and the first efforts of a vaccination program are most definitely signs of hope breaking into this long pandemic wilderness gripping humanity, we are still shrouded in a lot of uncertainty. The end of this wilderness is promised AND we’re not quite there. Both of these things are true at the same time.

While our vision of the future can never by crystal clear, we typically feel like we can have some vision. We can usually envision that our kids will be in their classrooms for more than a week at a time. We can usually envision that if we go to the doctor and find out we need medical intervention, there will be a hospital bed available for us. Most of us can typically envision that we will continue go to work, get paid at the end of a pay period, accrue vacation time (AND use it to actually go on vacation!), and even occasionally become annoyed by bosses and co-workers.

But in these days that vision, along with the Word of the LORD, is disrupted.

And so now, when that verse catches me in 1 Samuel – “The word of the LORD was rare in those days; visions were not widespread” – I feel like I know all too well what kind of days those might have been. And I suspect, many of you do too.

I said there was another question this verse often prompts. Who is this Word-withholding, checked out God? Because that doesn’t really sound like the God Jesus talks about, or the God I have known in my life, or the God I hear many of you talk about.

I mean, yes, God is serious about the law handed down to us through Moses and the prophets. And sometimes it feels like we get popped upside the head with a 2x4 when we disobey God’s law.

It is also true, however, that God entered into this whole relationship with humanity knowing that we would fail and disobey and mess things up endlessly and that God would have to find ways to come to us through all that messiness … because of all that messiness.

This is what is revealed to us in Jesus, after all. God coming to us with the vision of freeing us from sin, and so, freeing us to love; freeing us from earthly tyrants, and so, freeing us to worship God and God alone. Christ is risen. Alleluia.

And so, I do not actually think Samuel’s time or our time, or any other time in humanity, has been or will be one in which God withholds life-giving Word and abandons the people to visionless life.

So, what is causing the disruption of word and vision?

Well, I’m afraid this is most likely an Occam’s Razor situation here. The simplest answer is probably the most accurate. And the simplest answer is: It’s us.

In Samuel’s day, it is true that Eli’s greedy and unethical sons probably could not hear the word of God, and that the apathetic and complacent high priest Eli probably saw no more visions… as good and true a teacher as he was to young Samuel. But it is not so likely that happened because God wasn’t offering word and vision up.

Samuel could hear the Word and see visions of the LORD. So, it was there, for those with eyes to see and ears to hear.

It is more likely they didn’t take time to hear the Word of the LORD, to mediate on that word and live their lives as prayers rising up to the Glory of God. Instead, they have wandered from God’s law and, like so many others around them apparently, cannot see visions of God either because, well, they are looking in the wrong direction.

And we have that Word and vision of God available to us too … all we need are our own eyes to see, our own ears to hear.

We can detect it in our Gospel reading from John today.

“Come and see,” Philip says when Nathanael doubts anything good can come out of Nazareth, let alone the Messiah.

“Come and see,” is an important invitation in John’s Gospel. Jesus is the first to say it, just before the calling of Philip and Nathanael. Peter and his brother Andrew were curious about Jesus. Jesus asked them “What are you looking for?”

“Rabbi, … where are you staying?” they ask.

“Come and see,” Jesus says … as if to say, the answer to that question is so much larger than you can even begin to imagine. Still, I will show you as much as I can. As much as you are willing to see and hear.

It is the call to discipleship, and it’s catchy. It’s only a couple of verses later, yhat Philip invites Nathanael into discipleship. And then we hear it again, just a couple of chapters later when the invitation to “come and see” breaks out of the Jewish circles and the Samaritan woman at the well is telling her people, “come and see the man who told me everything …!”

And finally, as though signaling the lesson on “come and see” discipleship is complete, the words are uttered as Jesus weeps and asks where the body of his friend Lazarus is. “Come and see,” Mary and Martha mirror back to their beloved and grieving teacher.

Come and see.

I wondered if that precious call could serve us in a Samuel-like way in this, our time of disrupted word and vision.

“Come and see,” we might hear in this gospel the first time. And so, we rouse ourselves from whatever has occupied us, and we go to our usual sources, the news, social media, maybe other people or our own egos, and we see this terrible pandemic continue to ravage God’s people. We’re told to prepare because it’s going to get worse before it gets better. We thank God for safe and effective vaccines and then feel frustrated by the challenges we face in getting the vaccines into people’s arms.

And so we go back to what previously occupied us, but it happens again. That call to discipleship, “come and see.” Like Samuel we check in with our familiars again, but all we see is a divided nation, the breakdown of civil discourse, the painful consequences of systemic racism, unchallenged white supremacy and apathetic citizenry.

It’s too much, and so we return to what previously occupied us and still …  “come and see,” this Gospel calls out to us and we do and it’s more of the same chaos and lament. And we despise it, It all makes us angry and anxious. We wonder “where is God?” And “why is this happening?” Maybe we cannot find peace until we remember, there is something else. It might not feel familiar or expected, or even enough at first, but could this be … Word of the LORD? Vision of God?

And so when it happens again, as we know it will, we respond differently.

“Come and see,” the Gospel calls, and we say “speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.” And as they grew, the LORD was with them and let none of their words fall to the ground.

***

Friends, this is a time when hopeful word seems rare for too many and vision of the future is unsatisfyingly short for all. We are disciples of Jesus and we have something to offer into this world. Hear the call of our Gospel today. Come and see. Let if rouse within you the child Samuel with ears to hear and repeat God’s Word of hope; and with eyes to see and tell of God’s glorious vision for the days to come.

Come and see. It’s Jesus invitation to us, and our invitation to the world. Amen.

Pastor Ann Gonyea

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~ contact@edenonthebay.org

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