06/03/18 – Call of Allegiance

THE CALL OF ALLEGIANCE

June 3, 2018
2nd Sunday after Pentecost
1 Sam.3:1-11; Ps.139; 2 Cor. 4:5-12; Mk. 2:23 – 3:6
Rev. Denise Clark-Jones

 

In the role of a minister of Word and Sacrament, I have been asked to bless congregations, food, school book bags, and pets. But, the most unusual blessing service I ever conducted was in a hospital pre-op room when I did a “blessing of the ear.” You see, a young man in my congregation had been born without a formed ear on one side of his head. What he had was a mass of unformed skin on the outside and an under-developed hearing system on the inside. Not only was his deformity an embarrassment to him, he was a musician who could only hear in monophonic rather than stereo sound. After several surgical procedures, he was going to the hospital for the final operation that would give him both a normal looking ear and hearing. He asked me to come to the hospital before he went into the operating room for a blessing. John had a great sense of humor, so I included verse 11 of the second chapter of First Samuel: “And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” And the LORD said to Samuel: “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make the ears of everyone who hears about it tingle.”

This is the introduction to the message God called the young Samuel to deliver to Eli, the chief priest. There are many stories in the bible about people being called by God for a purpose. In fact, that is the only reason folks are called. God doesn’t bestow titles. Abraham, Moses, and all the prophets were each called at a time in history to serve a purpose for God on earth. What is unique about Samuel is that he didn’t realize he was being called. It took an old priest, who was nearly blind, to see that God was trying to get Samuel’s attention.

The author tells us the story right from the start that there is a reason Samuel might not have recognized God’s voice calling him. “The word of the Lord was rare those days; visions were not widespread.” The question is: Was God not speaking or were the people not listening? Or was God’s voice drowned out by other voices?

Here, as always, we need to start reading before this passage. In the previous chapter, the reader learns that Israel is threatened from the outside by the Philistines and threatened from the inside by its own government. At this point, Israel was divided by clans and governed by judges and temple priests. In the previous book of Judges, we learn that “Everyone does what is right in their own eyes,” (Judges 21:25). The system of government was breaking down.

Though Eli was a good and faithful priest, his sons used their positions of privilege as the next in line for Eli’s post to further their own interests. The abuses of power we read about are Eli’s sons’ bullying others for their own profits, for special treatment, and for sexual abuse of women. Alas, these are still the temptations of those who have been given positions of leadership.

Eli’s sons had strayed from God and betrayed the people with whom they were destined to lead. God decided it was time to “drain the swamp” and start anew. The line of succession had to be broken to establish a new house of leadership. Poor Eli was condemned not for any actions he took, but for his failure to stop the evil actions of his sons. Now there’s some food for thought.

In our gospel reading from Mark, we learn that Jesus also challenged the leaders of the children of Israel. By this time, they had lost their land and nation status, controlled by their conquerors, the Roman empire. In their own province, however, they were also ruled by their religious leaders, the temple.

Jesus challenged the Pharisee’s authority using their own version of “blue laws,” also known as “Sunday laws.” I don’t know if Illinois had them, but they were prevalent in most areas of the country east of California and other far western states. Although almost all states with these laws banned the sale of alcohol, there were some strange inconsistencies about what you could buy or sell on Sunday. Oddly, in Texas, you could buy liquor, but you could not buy diapers. Undoubtedly that law was passed by men who had no experience caring for infants.

For a faithful Jew in Jesus’ time, there was to be no work on the Sabbath. Jesus could have kept his disciples from plucking grain for a snack until sundown. And, the man with the withered hand was not having a medical emergency. The withered hand could have been healed a few hours later. Jesus, however, set up the confrontation with the Pharisees to unmask their true intentions.

Jesus uses the Hebrew Bible to support his claim that human life is more important than ritual observance. The preservation of life is fundamental to Jewish Law. Jesus cited the passage in which David is instructed to eat consecrated bread in the temple while he is on the run from King Saul who had vowed to have him killed. Jesus revealed that the Pharisees were willing to act against the very foundation of their faith for the sake of maintaining their authority over the people entrusted to their care. Sound familiar?

Mark tells us that the Pharisees, having lost face, immediately left the scene and began plotting Jesus’ end. They felt no compassion for the man who had been healed. This man did not just regain the use of his hand, he was restored to wholeness. Now, he could be accepted in his community and contribute to its well-being. He had been given a whole new life. The Pharisees were less interested in preserving life than preserving their own power and privilege.

Paul states emphatically that ultimate power comes from God, not from religious or worldly leaders. “

6For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. 7But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. (2 Cor.4:6-7)

Just as God created light to break into the darkness that began the process of our world, God sent Christ to reveal God’s self that we may become new creations. God is the voice we are to listen to above the sounds of all other voices. Samuel’s call was not to an easy task. The young boy had to deliver a terrible message of judgment to the man who was his mentor. It wasn’t easy for Jesus to challenge the respected religious authorities of his day. It wasn’t easy for the Corinthian congregation to remain faithful to their call and to their faith community in the face of opposition, oppression, and persecution. If it feels like we are living in a time when God is being silent, perhaps we are choosing not to listen. Perhaps we do hear but choose to let the treasure of the gospel remain hidden within us, we the clay jars out of fear of rejection or the loss of our own worldly authority and privilege.

Jesus, in his rebuttal to the Pharisees’ charge that he had violated Sabbath laws, said: “The Sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the Sabbath;” (v.27) God created the Sabbath as an act of compassion and justice. The Sabbath has given God’s children rest from the slavery to production and consumption. On the Sabbath even, slaves and work animals were given the gift of rest from their labors. When we observe the Sabbath, we can hear God’s voice over all competing voices. We have the gift of fellowship and blessing one another.

When we come to the Lord’s Table, we take part in a ritual to be sure. It is a ritual that shines the light on God’s truth. In Jesus Christ, God is revealed to us. As it was for the disciples, Christ is revealed to us in the breaking of bread. Christ’s love is revealed to us in the sharing of the bread and cup with our neighbors. May it be so for us this day. Amen.

 

© Rev. Denise Clark-Jones, 2018, All Rights Reserved
Westminster Presbyterian Church – Peoria, Illinois