1 Samuel 3:1-10
1 Corinthians 6:12-20
I have some different tools here that help people see in different ways. Maybe you can help me figure out what they are and what they are for.
-magnifying glass—A magnifying glass helps make the image of items right in front of you larger. It’s great for seeing things more closely. Some people use a magnifying glass to read books with small print or study the fine details of small objects.
-binoculars—Like a magnifying glass, binoculars make small images larger. But they aren’t for things up close. They’re for things far away. You can use binoculars to better see the details of something that is way on the other side of the room or even across a field or down the street.
-telescope—Like binoculars, a telescope makes far away objects easier to see. But a telescope isn’t used for something down the street or across the field. It’s used to see far into space. And the larger and more precise a telescope is, the more details and even farther you can see. The most famous telescope is the Hubble Telescope which is actually set up in space.
-microscope—A microscope is more like a magnifying glass than a telescope. It lets you look really close at the tiniest particles of something right in front of you. With a microscope, you can see cells and micro-organisms and viruses and bacteria and all sorts of other fascinating things.
But here’s something that is different than all the others. It’s a mirror. What do you think makes a mirror different than a magnifying glass or a telescope? That’s right—you don’t look at something else. You look at your own image in a mirror.
Now, which of these tools can we use to see God?
They’re all great ways to see evidence of God—to see what God has done and is doing. But none of them show you God—especially the mirror. However, the mirror does show you something very important. It shows you the image of God. It shows you the face of Christ. And you can see the image of God and the face of Christ on every person in this room—every person in this city—every person in this world. The thing is, most people are good at hiding that image, and most people aren’t very good at recognizing it when they see it.
So, I’ve got one more tool for you to use in order to recognize Christ in the world. You know what this is? It’s a cross. The cross reminds us that in Jesus, God was human and died. But it also reminds us that in Jesus, God not only died—God experienced everything we experience: God lived. God loved and suffered and laughed and danced and cried. God got frustrated and God was surprised and hopeful. So, when you look in the mirror—and when you look at other people—I want you to remember that you’re looking at the face of Christ—the image of God. You’re looking at someone who is so loved by God that God wanted to be a part of everything we experience.
Let’s pray. Thank you, God, for opening the eyes of our hearts to see you in all of creation, especially in ourselves and one another. Teach us to treat others with the compassion and care you have for your people, in the name of Christ. Amen.
Today’s story of Samuel begins by saying, “The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread. And 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.”
The word of God was rare because people had stopped listening. Visions were rare because people had closed their eyes to God and God’s purpose for them. Even Eli—physically blind—was also spiritually blind. His own sons were stealing from the offering, and he turned a blind eye to their ways. Offerings in the temple weren’t money but sacrificial animals. The meat was then prepared for the poor to eat. But the sons of Eli, the priest, were keeping the choice cuts for themselves—stealing from the poor to lavish their own bellies.
And yet, it says, the lamp of God had not yet gone out. It refers to the nightlight kept lit until dawn—but I think it goes deeper than that, as well. There was still hope. There was still an image alive of what God could do. So, God called Samuel, a nobody kid dedicated to the service of the temple because his mom was grateful that God had blessed her with a child. He was the one God chose. But the message he was to deliver to Eli was that Eli’s leadership was over. Samuel would have to tell his own mentor and friend that God was kicking him out of the temple because he hadn’t done his job. He hadn’t spoken up against evil. He hadn’t protected the vulnerable. He hadn’t stood up to those who oppressed the poor. He hadn’t stopped his own sons from abusing their place of privilege. And Samuel would have to tell him the truth of what God saw.
We, too, cannot remain silent when the image of God in others is denied. Our eyes must be opened, our hearts opened, our hands opened, our ears opened, and only then can we open our mouths and proclaim God’s Word.
This past week marks the 8th anniversary of the death of a beloved friend of the congregation—Ben Larson. He was a seminary student, recently married, and had fulfilled his internship time here at Our Saviour’s in 2008-2009. He was a phenomenal musician and deeply committed Christian. He brought joy to all he encountered.
Back at seminary for his final year of study, he and his wife Renee and his cousin John spent their J-Term in Haiti, working and living alongside Haitian boys rescued from slavery. Partway through their time there, the earth began to shake. In the end, Renee and Ben’s cousin John would escape. Ben would not. He spent his last minutes under the rubble of St. Joseph’s Home for Boys singing of God’s love—just enough to offer peace to his loved ones who could hear him but couldn’t reach him. He shared the image of God with others, even to the very end.
That day, this congregation grieved a son, a friend, and a future pastor. Today, we grieve sentiments that suggest the people that Ben loved are little better than animals and certainly not worth the time of day. Haiti and countries of Africa and South America were referred to as—we’ll use the term—‘stink’holes.
This isn’t what I had intended to preach today. But it weighs heavily, and something must be said. Like Samuel, we must speak truth to what we see—to what we suspect God sees. And God sees the truth about us—all of us.
Today’s gospel passage starts out saying that Jesus went to Galilee and found Philip. After that, Philip runs to Nathanael saying, “We’ve found the one Moses and the prophets spoke of!” Wait—who found whom? And Nathanael says, “I doubt it. Can anything good come of the stink hole called Nazareth?”
Perhaps you can’t blame Nathanael too much. His was a world built around proper place, society, shame, and pride. In fact, the reference to him being under the fig tree is one that meant he was studying the Torah before Philip came along. He was well-versed in the Law and what to expect of God—and backwoods nobodies had no place in the story—at least according to him. He was simply stating how things were.
But he was turned around as soon as Jesus began speaking. “Where do you get to know me?” he asked. Jesus says, “I knew you before you even heard my name. I knew you when you only thought you understood the Torah. In fact, I knew you before your own mother did.” I’m embellishing—a bit. The point is, God is in our midst and knows us before we know ourselves—and certainly before we can even claim to know God. God knows our hearts before we choose good or bad. God knows our struggles and our joys before they even become possibilities. God knows because God is there.
God is there—in the rubble of life snuffed out too quickly. God is there in the stinkhole towns and countries abandoned by the rich and haughty. God is there among the poor and weak and hungry and lost. God is with those on whom we dump our stink when we think no one is looking. And God is there, speaking a word of hope to the hopeless—hope encompassed by a vision of the kingdom in which the disparities of this world are no more; in which the bullies have been brought down and the mighty taken from their seats of power.
God is among the stink because God has chosen the cross above the crown.
I’d like for you all to stand, if you will, and look around at the faces and people in this room right now. There may be someone here you don’t know; someone you don’t particularly like or respect; someone you don’t understand; someone you wish to know better. Look deeper at these faces. Can you see the pain they’ve experienced in life? The loss they’ve suffered? The disappointed they’ve endured?
Look closer. Can you see the hopes buried under the rubble? The flicker of love waiting to be kindled? The possibilities and potential pushing at the gates?
Look even closer. Can you see the face of Christ? Haitians and Norwegians; Africans and Germans; gay and straight; poor and rich; employed and unemployed; old and young—the face of Christ is imprinted on every single human being in this world. When God looks at you and you and you…God sees God’s child, God’s son and daughter. God’ beloved. God sees Christ.
Pastor Tobi White
Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church