1 Samuel 3:1-10, (11-20)
Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the LORD under Eli. The word of the LORD was rare in those days; visions were not widespread. 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. 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.” So he 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.” Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD, and the word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him. 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.” 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. 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. Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be expiated by sacrifice or offering forever.”
Samuel lay there until morning; then he opened the doors of the house of the LORD. Samuel was afraid to tell the vision to Eli. 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.
One sabbath he (Jesus) was going through the grainfields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?” And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need of food? He entered the house of God, when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and he gave some to his companions.” Then he said to them, “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.”
Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come forward.” Then he said to them, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.
The summit between President Donald Trump of the United States and Comrade Leader of North Korea, Kim Jong Un, is on again. I think.
It was on, it was off, it was on, but until it actually happens I think we’ll just be wondering.
And even if it does happen, there is speculation about whether any substantive change will happen.
The Proof is in the pudding, goes the old saying. We are looking forward to the Pudding of peace.
And I bring this up because the scripture texts today are about leadership.
And it makes us wonder: “What makes a really good leader?”
Do we even know?
There are those who didn’t like Obama and say he was a bad leader. Other said he was a great leader.
There are those who think are current Prime Minister is great and those who think he is a terrible leader.
It seems to be the same for every leader.
Now, there are leaders in this world who seem to be very bad. There are brutal dictators in this world.
There are groups who have seized power in countries and they curtail free speech and free press.
We could go on and on about bad leaders.
There are roughly 49 dictators ruling countries in this world.
Some of the world leaders that make the top ten list of bad leaders in the last few years
Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe
Jacob Zuma, South Afric a
Bashar- Al-Assad, Syria
Vladmir Putin, Russia
Myanmar’s military leader Min Aung Hlaing
China’s Xi Jinping
And North Korea’s Kim Jong Un
While each supposedly having different faults, some of their supposed crimes, include theft, extortion, torture, invasion, brutal repression of dissidents, war, secret services that jail torture and execute critics, gulags or special jails of hard labor for critics, ethnic cleansing…
And I am not offering proof, but just retelling what some in the media think are the worst leaders in the world.
It is not hard to come up with those who are the worst leaders…
And maybe if you went back into the days of the people of Israel you will find that old Eli was not a great leader in his day.
Eli was a high priest, but he was also a Judge. He was the second last of the judges to rule Israel. So he was both a spiritual leader and a political leader.
He is an old man and blind when young Samuel comes to live at the temple with him.
And his physical blindness is a metaphor for his spiritual blindness and the way he turned a blind eye to his sons who were sleeping with the women who served at the temple, and stealing the meat that people brought for sacrifices.
They had no regard for the rituals of the temple and Eli knew about it, and while he wanted it to be different, he really did nothing about his son’s transgressions.
It was a time according to scripture that people did what was right in their own eyes.
It was a time the scripture said when the word of the Lord was rare.
Therefore it would have been a great time for some good leadership, but instead of good leadership, who did the Israelites get? Eli and his sons.
But there is someone who can hear the word of the Lord. And it is a young boy named Samuel.
I kind of feel sorry for old Eli. He really wasn’t trying to be so bad. It was really his sons and having wayward children is a curse, that is for sure, and sometimes when one has a prodigal child or children, all one can do is wait for them to come to their senses and come home to their right mind and back to those who love them.
And the end of the story is that Eli’s sons lead the Israelite army into battle and are totally annihilated by the Philistines and the two sons of Eli are killed.
When old Eli, 98 years old, hears about the battle and the loss of his sons, he falls back off his chair and dies.
I sometimes wonder what Jesus might have said to old Eli. Was there a word of grace for Eli?
For there was that moment of grace when he realized that God was speaking to Samuel and he told Samuel to go back to bed and next time the Lord spoke, answer: “here I am.”
While Eli couldn’t see or hear the Lord any more he had the grace to understand that God was speaking to Samuel.
It is a cautionary tale and it was meant to be I suppose. If you do not listen for the voice of God, if you are blind to what God wants you to do, you can go down a path of destruction.
I think the problem today is that most of us don’t here an audible voice like Samuel did, and maybe we are even suspicious of someone who shows up to church trying to tell us how we should live, because they say God spoke to them last night in the middle of the night in a dream. Was that really God speaking or was it the pizza with anchovies?
But let me tell you , we don’t need to hear audible voices to hear the word of the Lord.
We know a whole bunch of the words of Jesus.
This is my commandment that you love one another.
Let your light shine before others that they may see your good works.
Judge not that you be not judged.
Inasmuch as you did it unto the least of these you did it to me.
Blessed are the peacemakers.
Anyone who wants to be first, must be the very last, the servant of all.
God loved the world so much that he gave his only son.
For the son of man came not to condemn the world but to save it.
If a person sins against you seven times a day and turns back to you seven times and says I am sorry, you must forgive.
Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.
Love the Lord your God with everything you have.
Love your neighbour as yourself.
Maybe the problem today is not hearing the word of the Lord, but actually doing the word of the Lord.
Who is the person who helps you hear the word of the Lord? Who is the person who points out to you, “Hey God is speaking to you.”
And in what other ways does God speak to you beside scripture?
Are you looking for God, listening for God in conversations, when you read books, when you are at the movies, when you go for a walk in nature.
We believe in the church that God calls everyone’s name and everyone can hear the voice of the Lord through scripture and prayer at worship and in many other ways.
And what makes good spiritual leaders, maybe, is those who are really attuned to listen for the word of God in all of their experiences.
In my experience and study, what I think makes a good leader is a person who stay calm and keep his or her head, when all around are losing theirs and blaming it on the leader.
A good leader knows what they think and feel and believe and invites others to communicate what they think and feel and believe.
A good leader does what it right and true even when there is pressure to do otherwise.
A good leader leads. That is they don’t sit around waiting for everybody to agree, nor do they force people to agree with them or follow them. A good leader starts going in the right direction, and those who want to do follow will follow.
A good leader cares for everyone, is not judgemental, or reactive, and makes decisions in the best interests of the ones he or she leads.
Jesus himself came into conflict with the spiritual and political leaders of his day.
Our gospel lesson is about such conflict.
The disciples are walking through fields of grain and a Sabbath and being hungry, they pluck some of the grain and eat it. Makes you wonder if uncooked grain was more edible in Jesus’ day than our day.
And the Pharisees’ criticized Jesus and his disciples. No observant Jew harvested grain on the Sabbath, nor prepared meals. Meals for the Sabbath were prepared ahead of time. One didn’t cook on the Sabbath.
Sabbath was for resting and worship.
But Jesus challenges the Pharisees and recounts a case of King David when he was hungry how he took the sacred bread reserved for the priests.
And then when Jesus goes into the synagogue and there is a man with a withered hand, but it is the Sabbath. Again the Pharisees had their eagle eyes on Jesus, because they wanted to accuse him. Jesus asks them: “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath.”
And Jesus heals the man.
And the scripture reads that after these two incidents the Pharisees were already plotting to kill Jesus.
The Pharisees were interested in the law. Was Jesus following the law?
I sometimes wonder if the Pharisees were really interested in following the Law that closely, or more about just using any excuse to find fault with Jesus.
Certainly the Pharisees as leaders were about power and controlling the power and eliminating any threat to power.
The sad thing is that we as sinners often tend to be more like the Pharisees than like Jesus.
Jesus faces two issues.
What is lawful when people are hungry?
What is lawful when people are suffering?
Jesus answers that the deeper of Law of God, that is based not in writings and doctrine and legal opinion, is the nature and character of God himself…
That God cares for the hungry and the suffering.
Law is there to help us, not to hinder us.
The Sabbath is made for us, not us for the Sabbath.
Jesus reminds us again that good leaders are servants of the people they lead.
And that good spiritual leaders not only are listening for God in all areas of life, good leaders ask these questions
Who among us is hungry and how can we help?
And who among us is hurting and how can we help?
Believe or not, leaders who ask these questions sometimes will be crucified.
People and Institutions, even with the most noble of intentions and motives are fallen and broken, and religious commitments and values, can harden and turn oppressive, and act to preserve the stability and power of the people or the institution.
We are only in the second chapter of Mark and they already want to kill this spiritual leader because Jesus says there is a deeper law than the laws of their institutions and their scriptures…
to care for people in need.
The good news is that Jesus, who really believes in the Sabbath, is committed to life, and to you, and to your life, and he cares. And not only does he expose religious hypocrisy and corrosive tyrannies of control and legalism, he can set us free from them.