May the words of my mouth and the meditations…
This week, Samuel is the one who gets called. We’ve had call stories all through this season so far. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, God’s people in the wilderness. And our resounding theme has been trusting in God through it all.
This week, looks like Samuel is the one who gets called. (Samuel is the one who will grow up and anoint David the shepherd boy king.) God calls Samuel at first glance, and yet I’d like to reflect on Eli’s call, and on God walking with us as we share leadership — as longtime, sometimes broken leaders step aside and new leaders are invited to come forward.
You have to have noticed our opening verses here today: “The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread….[and] Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down...”
See, the institution was languishing. The sermons had become rather drab and monotonous. The prophet’s visionary leadership had begun to fade. Not to mention the corruption and controversy in his family. His sons were stealing the offering and sleeping around, they were bringing absolute disgrace, not just on Eli, but on the whole people of Israel. Eli didn’t like it, but he was ineffective at stopping it. And something had to be done. God is always doing a new thing.
New leaders are always coming to the fore. It’s exciting really, and it can be difficult sometimes to step aside, relinquish power, voice and control, and let others occupy our seats in the “room where it happens”. Maybe you’ve had experiences like this...
I was at Cal Lutheran, on Thursday and Friday. I’m a Convocator for the university, along with about 60 others across the West. Convocators are advocates and links between the church and the university. Every year we gather in the fall, and it’s always so much fun to see and hear all the new things that are happening. When I was there, now 20 years ago, I think I was a student leader, a voice for change. But now...all I can do is cheer and give thanks.
Now, stepping aside is rather forced when it comes to college, right? -- that graduation robe pretty much bumps you right out of the institution, and yet I definitely get the sense, and sometimes my classmates and I marvel at how, this school has changed so much since we were there. I love that institution, and had nothing to do with it’s amazing progression in recent years. It seems like a new building is being dedicated every year. On Friday it was the new School for Arts — state of the art! But I feel a little more like Eli — when it comes to Cal Lutheran — out of touch, dim visions, lying down. All I really know is the way it used to be. All I can do is cheer from the sidelines, and give thanks.
See, there are two calls in our text today. Samuel is called in the night. And Eli is called too.
Samuel’s call and conversation with God actually leads him to challenge the institution, to Eli stepping down. His mentor! Samuel has to speak a difficult, prophetic word to the prophet.
And yet look at how Eli responds: “It is the Lord. Let him do what seems good to him.” Eli accepts God’s call to step down, enabling others rise in his place and take his chair.
This is a compelling message for us: Please understand, I’m not saying our leaders here at church need to step down (by any means)! But it is a wonderful reminder of how church and world work well: Leaders lead, and then when their time has come, they move aside and into the backdrop, into supportive, cheerleader roles from the sideline...and that’s so important too (R.Rierson): “Ok. Let God do what God will do next.”
God certainly walks with us as leaders in the church, in the university, in the wider community, in the nation, in the world come and go. Some leaders and prophets are good for us, some are less than effective. All get to a point where their vision is blurred, and all they can do is go lie down like Eli, broken and tired, crippled by controversy. And yet, friends in Christ, God stays with us through all the foibles and flaws and changes. AMEN?
We are called in this day too. Perhaps called to step up, perhaps called to step aside, maybe both. But I know God is calling us to faithfulness always — faithfulness to each other, in love and cheerleading and support...and faithfulness to God.
Our theme through the fall has been trust in God. In my September newsletter I summed up each lesson in an article I titled “In God we (try to) trust...again”...
We started with the creation story: “Trust in God, who called you and all creation into being.” Then that difficult text about Abraham and the binding of Isaac: “Trust in God, and remember it all belongs to God.” Then Jacob’s dream: “Trust in God, even and especially when you’ve messed up.” Then Moses being called from the burning bush: “Trust in God, and go where God sends you, even when it’s dangerous” Last week it was manna in the wilderness: Trust in God, you have enough.”
I drag you through all that, yes, to review where we’ve been, but also to rehearse the sacred remembering again when we’re backed into a corner. In one of my favorite Eucharistic Prayers before communion, we say, “God of weary years, God of our silent tears, you have brought us this far along the way. in times of bitterness you did not abandon us but guided us into the path of love and light.” God’s never abandoned us through this leader — this bishop, this pastor, this president, this pope, this council member, this chancellor, this governor, this mayor — through this leader to that. God’s walked with us as we discern the call to step up and step aside, the call to acts primary visionary or support the vision of those who come after us, God’s always held us. In times of bitterness, God did not abandon us, but guided us into the path of love and light.
“Ok. Let God do what God will do next.” In God we trust, or more honestly, in God we’re trying to trust...again. In the meantime, all we can really do is give thanks, as one of my newly-favorite-bible-characters Eli did.
God’s got us, still. AMEN.