Fathers’ Day 2018: Happy Fathers’ Day, Dad

My dad has been dead now for over 14 years. In some ways it seems like an eternity, that he was never here, but thankfully I know that’s not true. I still miss my dad as much as I did the day he died but I am really happy for him because I know where he is. I know he is healed from all that bedeviled him in the last years of his life. I know he is reunited with mom and the rest of his family. I know they are enjoying their rest in the Lord and are safely in his care. How could I be anything but glad for him?

My dad continues to influence me in a thousand different ways. He’s instilled in me a sense of responsibility for my family. He instilled in me a love for life and made me understand the importance of being a responsible and good community member. He also taught me a thing or two about honoring my family name, although I haven’t done a very good job with that.

I have his fierce streak of independence in me in ways that I am only now beginning to understand. Dad owned his own business and because it never grew very big, he struggled financially. But I know he wouldn’t have traded it in for anything in the world. He loved being his own boss and contributing to the growth of his community in that capacity. In fact, he was voted as outstanding young businessman by the JCs shortly after he returned home from the Army. Maybe that is one of the reasons I enjoy being the rector at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church.

I am proud of my dad for serving his country during WWII. He loved his country, but never blindly. He kept a balanced perspective on life and loved to be with his friends, especially mom’s and his dear friends, the Terrys.

I am proud of my dad for the courage and grace he displayed throughout his life, especially in the last years when his body slowly robbed him of his mobility. I know that had to be hard for him, very hard. But he never complained, never lost his good spirit or sense of optimism. Dad always believed things would work out for the best and he lived that belief right up to the day he died.

Dad also taught me to persevere, to never tuck my tail and run. That has helped me in many ways over my life because perseverance can indicate a belief in our ability to get the job done, even if we need a little help from our friends on occasion.

Our home was always stable and I could always count on a sense of regularity and familiarity. I knew when to expect him home. I knew when he would be at work. I didn’t have to worry about him running around or being reckless with our family’s resources. This familiarity did not breed a sense of contempt. Instead, it fostered a sense of security and stability.

Like my grandpa Maney did with him when he was a boy, my dad took me to a ball game every year, starting when I was 5 years old, and that string continued unbroken until the last year of his life when he could no longer get to the ballpark. We would usually go to Cincinnati, but during the baseball strike in the early 1980’s we went to watch the Toledo Mudhens game so that our streak would not be broken. He would let me invite a buddy to come with me and I am sure we drove him nuts on more than one occasion. But he never complained, never got angry with me or my invited friend.

Dad also played catch with me on a regular basis when I was a kid. Hit me in the mouth with pitched balls on more than a few occasions (well, maybe I just missed the pitched balls, which then hit me in the mouth—but I like my story better).

Another fond memory I have of dad is when he took me to Canada to go fishing a couple of times. Neither one of us were great outdoorsmen but we survived somehow and got along just fine.

I worked for my dad at his shoe store and he was a tough boss. He always told me that working for your dad was the worst thing you could do because dads expected more out of their kids than out of their regular employees—and he practiced what he preached. But in hindsight that was a good thing for me because it taught me to do my best.

I could go on and on but I’ll stop here and just enjoy some more fond memories of my papa.

I hope that some day, God willing, I can be the man my father was. I’m going to be 65 next month and I’m not there yet, not even close. But even if I don’t reach the goal, I am thankful that God blessed me with my dad for almost 51 years. Thank you, God, for blessing me with my father, John Fox Maney. Thank you dad, for being the Father you were to me. Happy Fathers’ Day, Bear. I love you.

A Prayer for Fathers’ Day 2018

Heavenly Father,
you entrusted your Son Jesus,
the child of Mary,
to the care of Joseph, an earthly father.
Bless all fathers
as they care for their families.
Give them strength and wisdom,
tenderness and patience;
support them in the work they have to do,
protecting those who look to them,
as we look to you for love and salvation,
through Jesus Christ our rock and defender.

Fr. Terry Gatwood: Seeds of Faith

Sermon delivered on Trinity 3B, Sunday, June 17, 2018, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

Father Gatwood has gone completely illiterate so there is no written text for today’s sermon. Click here to listen to the audio podcast.

Lectionary texts for today are 1 Samuel 15.34-16.13; Psalm 20; 2 Corinthians 5.6-17; Mark 4.26-34.

An Easter Sermon for (Not So) Ordinary Time

Sermon delivered on Trinity 2B, Sunday, June 10, 2018, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

If you prefer to listen to the audio podcast of today’s sermon, usually somewhat different from the text below, click here.

Lectionary texts: 1 Samuel 8.4-20, 11.14-15; Psalm 138; 2 Corinthians 4.13-5.5; Mark 3.20-35.

In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

We recently entered “ordinary time,” the period after Trinity Sunday that runs through All-Saints’ Sunday and celebrates the ministry and mystery of Christ, God become human. During this liturgical season it is unusual for preachers to focus on resurrection because that topic is usually reserved for Eastertide. But you’re going to get an Easter sermon today because, well, I’m kinda unusual (I know, I know; you already knew that), because today’s Lectionary texts allow it, and because we live in a sin-sick world and need to be reminded on a regular basis about who God is and why we as Christians have a hope that is uniquely ours.

We would have to be utterly blind not to see that there is something wrong with God’s breathtakingly beautiful world. From natural disasters to personal illness to frustrated hopes and dreams to sudden catastrophes to living with the consequences of our sin to broken and dysfunctional relationships, we don’t have to be told that all is not right with God’s world or our lives. As we saw last week, in ancient Israel’s life as well as our own, everyone increasingly did what seemed right in their own eyes, which did nothing but bring about increasing lawlessness, anxiety, and disorder to their society and ours. When the creatures decide to tell their Creator they know better than the Creator, chaos, one of the primary signs of Sin and Evil, will surely follow.

Each of our lessons this morning speaks to this reality as well. In our OT lesson, e.g., God tells old Samuel that in demanding a king like the other nations, God’s people Israel were rejecting God, not Samuel’s leadership. And God commanded Samuel to tell the people that if they got a king, injustice and all kinds of other evil would ensue. The psalmist speaks about God rescuing him as he walks in the midst of trouble, especially from the fury of his enemies. And if we read the overarching story of Scripture carefully, we will see that our sin and rebellion against God not only results in our death, it also allows the powers of Evil to operate more freely in God’s world to corrupt and destroy it. As St. Paul tells us in Ephesians, our enemies are not flesh and blood, i.e., other humans, but the powers and principalities, i.e., the unseen forces of Evil, arrayed against us (6.12). To be sure, we usually deal with the human agents who cooperate with the dark powers, wittingly or otherwise. But our real enemy is the unseen forces of Evil that often control and/or manipulate sinful human behavior. As St. John writes, “…when people keep on sinning, it shows that they belong to the devil, who has been sinning since the beginning (1 John 3.8a).

If we understand this dynamic and acknowledge the real presence of Evil in God’s good world, enigmatic and mysterious as that can seem, we are ready to examine what is really going on in our gospel lesson. This in turn will help us appreciate what Scripture is trying to tell us, that God is not an absentee landlord who cares nothing about his tenants and who turns a blind eye to our cries. To the contrary, our acknowledgement of the real presence of Evil in God’s world and our lives makes us want to cry out to the Lord in the manner of the psalmists: 

I cry out to God; yes, I shout. Oh, that God would listen to me! / When I was in deep trouble, I searched for the Lord. / All night long I prayed, with hands lifted toward heaven, but my soul was not comforted. / I think of God, and I moan,  overwhelmed with longing for his help. / Has the Lord rejected me forever? Will he never again be kind to me? / Is his unfailing love gone forever? Have his promises permanently failed? / Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he slammed the door on his compassion? (Psalm 77.1-3, 7-9)

Our gospel lesson testifies to the fact that God has both heard our prayers for deliverance from Evil and has acted decisively to defeat Evil be sending Jesus his Son to rescue us. That’s what this story is about and we need to have eyes and ears and minds of faith so that we don’t miss it. St. Mark never tells us explicitly that Jesus was performing an exorcism in the house but surely that was the case. We conclude this based on the exchange between Jesus and the religious authorities who had come down from Jerusalem to check him out. If Jesus wasn’t exorcising demons from an afflicted person, their criticisms of him make no sense at all, nor does Jesus’ response to their criticisms. Placing this story on the heels of previous exorcisms and healings, which in turn came after the story of Jesus’ victory over Satan during our Lord’s 40 days in the wilderness (Mark 1.9-14, 21-32), St. Mark surely wants us to see that in these exorcisms, Jesus is extending his initial victory won over Satan in the wilderness, i.e., Jesus has bound the strong man, Satan, and has begun to plunder Satan’s house. Jesus, God’s Son and Messiah, is the stronger man and through him and his work, God is going about defeating the powers and presence of Evil. St. John tells us the same thing in his first epistle, except much more boldly. He states that, “The Son of God came to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3.8b). Of course, St. John makes this claim immediately after writing that those who still sin belong to the devil as we saw earlier. From this we can reasonably conclude that release from Sin’s power over us through the Son of God, and only the Son of God is part of defeating Evil. But how?

The cross, of course. In addition to the exorcisms and healings our Lord performed during his earthly ministry, signs that he truly is God’s Son and Messiah, the NT writers are adamant that on the cross God defeated the powers and principalities, but in a most surprising way. God didn’t send in the tanks. God sent his only Son to take on himself the full brunt of Evil and bear the punishment for our Sins, thus further breaking the power of Evil. We therefore have nothing to fear in this world or the next because we believe that in the blood of the Lamb shed to cleanse us from our sins, we are reconciled to God, our only Source of life, and freed from the power of Evil and Sin. And when we are freed from the power of Evil and Sin we are therefore freed from the power of Death because as St. Paul writes elsewhere, the wages of Sin is Death (Romans 6.23). By dying for us in a shameful and godforsaken manner, the Son of God freed us from the dark powers who hate us and want to destroy us (Romans 8.2). Even more remarkable is the fact that God did all this for us while we were still his enemies (Romans 5.6-9).

All this is the Good News of Jesus Christ and is part of the Easter proclamation. But before we look at the heart of the Easter proclamation contained in our epistle lesson, let us stop and consider what this all means for us. First, a word about the unforgivable sin about which Jesus talks in our gospel lesson. I know it has caused a lot of anxiety in faithful Christians. Have we committed the unforgivable sin? The short answer is no, unless you attribute the mighty acts of healing and power performed by Jesus, exorcisms included, to Satan himself. Knowing most of you as I do, I think you all can breathe a sigh of relief and let go of this particular anxiety, because that was the context in which Jesus spoke about blaspheming the Holy Spirit. 

Second, Jesus’ claim to have bound the strong man (Satan) so that Satan’s kingdom could be plundered, i.e., that he was reclaiming God’s good world from the forces of Evil, is also meant to alert us to the reality that the world is full of spiritual dangers. “Go out there with your eyes open,” we hear him say. “Expect to be tempted. Realize that when bad things happen, evil powers may well have a hand in them. Don’t naively suppose that life ought to be like a leisurely afternoon at the beach and then blink in surprise when some sort of evil explodes into the middle of your existence.” Jesus announces that we live in a world held hostage by formidable evil powers, powers always on the prowl, but Jesus has the power to defeat them. He hasn’t defeated them completely, of course. In fact, I was reminded of this reality in a terrible way while writing this sermon. It is precisely at this point I received the news of Dawn Dunlap’s death yesterday. Now I am not suggesting the powers of Evil were behind her death, only that we live in a world where bad things can and do happen, even to good people. So while the evil powers have been defeated, they have not been fully vanquished. That won’t happen until the Lord returns to consummate his work won in his death and resurrection. This can be a challenge to our faith and it is here we must return to the psalmist who has cried out in desperation and anger, asking God where God is and why God allows evil to exist. The psalmist, of course, doesn’t receive an answer to his why questions. Instead he engages in holy remembrance. He remembers who God is and God’s mighty works on behalf of God’s people. Listen to him now:

I said, “This is my fate; the Most High has turned his hand against me.” / But then I recall all you have done, O Lord; I remember your wonderful deeds of long ago. / O God, your ways are holy. Is there any god as mighty as you? / You are the God of great wonders! You demonstrate your awesome power among the nations. / By your strong arm, you redeemed your people. (Ps 77.10-11, 13-15a)

God’s people Israel were to remember God’s rescue of them from their slavery in Egypt. For Christians, our go-to remembrance is Jesus’ death and resurrection for the reasons we have just talked about along with the mighty acts of power like Jesus’ exorcisms and healings. 

Third, the presence and power of Evil in God’s world, combined with our utter helplessness to free ourselves from our slavery to Sin and Death remind us we are dealing with powerful, alien forces who hate us and want to destroy us. If we are to be conquerors, therefore, we must rely on help from an outside power who loves us and wants to heal us, especially from the ultimate evil of Death. The NT teaches us, and we believe, that that help comes from God the Father himself who sent his only Son to die for us and free us from our slavery to Evil and Sin, and who broke the power of Death by raising Jesus from the dead that first Easter morning. As St. Paul tells us in our epistle lesson and elsewhere (cp. especially Romans 6.3-11), we are united to Christ in a death like his so that we can also be united to Christ in a resurrection like his. In other words, we share Christ’s reality, both in this world and the next. We did nothing to deserve it, but God offered Christ to us anyway because of God’s great love for us. Do we have the good sense to accept this most precious gift in the world? I pray we do, my beloved.

I can hear some of you saying right now, “I just can’t imagine any of that: God’s love for me, the strange way God defeated Evil, and the resurrection of the dead.” Well of course you can’t. None of us can, not even those of us who actually believe the gospel. We can’t imagine it precisely because this is about the God who raises the dead and calls into existence things that do not exist (Romans 4.17), not us. Last time I checked, none of us can do either of those things; so yes, it is unimaginable in that regard. But it’s true, despite our inability to imagine the power and mercy and love and grace of God behind it. When by God’s grace we do believe the Good News of Jesus Christ and learn to have a realistic view of Evil in the world, we are given the power to overcome that Evil and to persevere when it afflicts us as it inevitably will. 

This is what St. Paul was talking about in our epistle lesson. He had been defending his ministry to the Corinthians because it looked so weird to them. He talked about power in suffering for Jesus. He talked about dying to self and living for Christ, proclaiming nothing but his cross. St. Paul wasn’t a handsome, sexy leader. To the contrary he had suffered terribly for his Lord. And because some in the Corinthian church couldn’t imagine this is how God has chosen to rescue us from Evil, they questioned St. Paul’s legitimacy as an bona fide apostle of Christ.

In response, St. Paul tells them (and us) that he doesn’t lose hope or heart despite his immense suffering on behalf of Christ. In fact, he tells us that when we are faithful to Jesus we can expect to suffer too, and sometimes mightily! That is when we must stop and remember what God has done for us in Jesus’ death and resurrection. He’s rescued us from the enemy and our slavery to the evil powers so that even if we are killed, we have nothing to fear. Paul is not telling us he never had anxiety or fear. Read what he says in 2 Corinthians 1.8-11 about being crushed and overwhelmed in Asia beyond his ability to endure, even to the point where he expected to die. So St. Paul is not offering us some magic elixir full of happy juice that will suddenly make our troubles and sufferings disappear. No, St. Paul is offering us something much better: union with the crucified and risen Lord who has conquered the dark powers and all that can truly harm us, and claimed us as his own. That, proclaims St. Paul, not to mention countless Christians after him, is enough to help us persevere when we are afflicted by Evil because we know our eternal future is secure even if the fleeting present is still chaotic.

And what is that future? Resurrection! New bodily life patterned after our crucified and risen Savior. When St. Paul speaks of things seen versus unseen, he is not talking about the physical world versus the spiritual world (heaven), denigrating the former and exalting the latter. He is talking about the present world in contrast to the future world, the new heavens and earth, with its new type of physicality that will include us with our resurrection bodies that will be impervious to sickness, suffering, sorrow, or death. When God raised Jesus from the dead, God demonstrated decisively that death had been defeated. It was the turning point in history! And Jesus’ resurrection is a foretaste of our own resurrection because as we have seen, as Christians we are united with Christ in a resurrection like his. We have this promise, despite our ongoing sin and wickedness and rebellion against God because we are united to Jesus in a death like his, where he broke Sin’s power over us and spared us from God’s justice being imposed on us, thanks be to God! Amen? If this future hope is not enough to sustain you in times of darkness and suffering, my beloved, I don’t know what can. Let us therefore ask the Holy Spirit, whom God gives us to strengthen and guide us, to give us the faith to believe the unbelievable (in human terms) and to imagine the unimaginable (again in human terms). Let us love and forgive and encourage each other as we proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ, crucified, risen, and enthroned as Lord over the entire creation, to a world that desperately needs to hear it. And let our proclamation sustain us in our own sufferings because we know we are proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ, which means we are proclaiming the defeat of all that is evil, especially Death, now and for all eternity. That proclamation, my beloved, will preach during Eastertide and any other season as well. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever. 

In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

June 6, 2018: On a Personal Note

On this date in 2010 at First United Methodist Church in Van Wert, OH we debuted the anthem commissioned in my mother’s memory, Longing to Draw Near by Craig Courtney. My grandparents Maney were married 101 years ago on this date in 1917, my dad participated in D-Day on this date in 1944, I graduated from high school on this date in 1971, and my daughter Bridget graduated from high school on this date in 2008. June 6 has been a big day for the Maney family!

June 6, 2018: General Eisenhower’s D-Day Speech

From here:

Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force! You are about to embark upon a great crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers in arms on other fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.

Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well trained, well equipped and battle hardened, he will fight savagely.

But this is the year 1944! Much has happened since the Nazi triumphs of 1940-41. The United Nations have inflicted upon the Germans great defeats, in open battle, man to man. Our air offensive has seriously reduced their strength in the air and their capacity to wage war on the ground. Our home fronts have given us an overwhelming superiority in weapons and munitions of war, and placed at our disposal great reserves of trained fighting men. The tide has turned! The free men of the world are marching together to victory!

I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full victory!

Good Luck! And let us all beseech the blessings of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.

— Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower

June 6, 2018: Remembering D-Day

Today marks the 74th anniversary of the D-Day invasion, the greatest amphibious assault the world has ever known (and hopefully will ever know). Sadly, most of those valiant soldiers are now dead, and our country is the poorer because of it.

The Normandy invasion was a terrible and costly effort on the part of the Allies and must have been horrendous to those who had to face the deadly onslaught of the Nazi defenders. I would commend Stephen Ambrose’s book, D-Day, to anyone who is interested in this monumental battle. Ambrose was a wonderful storyteller, which all good historians are, and meticulous in his research. He weaves an absolutely riveting and terrifying tale of what the first troops landing in Normandy that day faced, and anyone with a semblance of imagination who can put himself in those soldiers’ shoes is sure to wonder if he could have faced that deadly fire with the courage and resoluteness that those soldiers did. I am simply awe-struck by it all.

John F. Maney at Normandy waiting to land.

I am also proud that my own father, John F. Maney, was part of that great and historic event. Fortunately, he did not have to hit the beaches until D+2 because it wasn’t until June 8th that our forces were able to establish a beachhead substantial enough to land a significant artillery presence, of which he was part. Like many of his generation, my dad is now dead, but one of my fondest memories is when we went back to Uffculme, England in 1984 to visit where he was stationed. We went into a pub to get some supper and find a place to sleep that night, and ultimately were led to a man who had been a “honey-dipper” while dad was stationed there, prior to D-Day. When Roy entered the pub that evening, he shook my dad’s hand and said to him, “Hello, young soldier.” He then welcomed dad back and thanked him for his service. It was as poignant a moment as I have ever experienced because my dad was no longer young and was no longer a solder; but he had been there, and he had been part of that monumental effort. I will always treasure it.

Thank you, young soldiers, for your bravery and determination in defeating an unspeakable evil that was Nazism. You paid a terrible price so that the rest of us can enjoy our freedom. I hope and pray we do not forget you or your generation, or the price freedom sometimes requires to persevere. Likewise, I pray we will not forget what it means to live responsibly in this democracy of ours so that we will not abuse the freedoms for which so many of you fought and died.

Who are your heroes from that generation? If they are still alive, take a moment today and thank them for being who they are. Then post their stories in the comments section.

The Word of the Lord Was Rare in Those Days (and Ours)

Sermon delivered on Trinity 1B, Sunday, June 3, 2018, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

If you prefer to listen to the audio podcast of today’s sermon, usually somewhat different from the text below, click here.

Lectionary texts: 1 Samuel 3.1-20; Psalm 139.1-6, 13-18; 2 Corinthians 4.5-12; Mark 2.23-3.6.

In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

What are we to make of the strange and intriguing story found in our OT lesson today? What can it possibly have to do with us? Much, because underneath the intrigue and the terrible act of judgment pronounced on old Eli and his sons lies a message of hope and we all could certainly use a fresh infusion of real hope.

Before we look at the actual story, some context is needed to help us interpret it correctly. This story is set in the time of the judges in Israel. Israel’s great leaders, Moses and Joshua, the men whom God chose to lead God’s people out of their slavery in Egypt and to conquer the land God promised to their forefather Abraham, were dead and Israel had no one to lead them. Given our corrupted human nature, the results were predictable. The Israelites did what was evil in the eyes of the Lord instead of being his faithful image-bearing people to bring God’s healing and goodness to the land, and God punished his people for their evildoing by bringing new conquerors to oppress and enslave them. The people in turn would cry out to the Lord, who in his great love and graciousness raised up leaders in Israel called judges, to lead God’s people and free them from their oppressors. Interestingly, some of the judges whom God raised up were themselves deeply flawed individuals, Samson being the poster boy, but God used them anyway to bring freedom and relief to his persistently rebellious people. This in itself should give us hope that God can use even us, deeply flawed as we are, to help achieve God’s purposes. The writer of the book of Judges sums up the period this way: “In those days Israel had no king; all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes” (Judges 21.25). 

We would have to live with our heads buried in the sand not to understand what the writer was saying about the darkness the enfolded Israel without a godly leader who would encourage God’s people to live truly as people of God because we too live in a land where people do increasingly what seems right in their own eyes. When we do what is right in our own eyes, darkness and chaos inevitably follow because we are hopelessly corrupted and sin-sick. So, for example, we have jihadists who murder innocents to achieve some sense of perverted justice in their own eyes. We have young people who shoot up schools, in part to achieve a sense of justice for being left out and/or ignored or bullied. We are asked increasingly to endorse sexual relationships and gender confusion in the name of tolerance and love, all the while ignoring the fact that these things run contrary to God’s created order and will surely not turn out well overall. We have folks who take to social media to say racist, sexist, and hateful things about those they do not like. We don’t argue ideas anymore. We try to shame and discredit those with whom we disagree because doing so seems right in our own eyes. We turn a blind eye to all kinds of injustice and evil in the world and come up with all kinds of rationalizations to justify our own questionable moral and ethical behavior. And Christians are not exempt from any of this. Look no further than the fiasco that has engulfed some of the old-guard leadership in the Southern Baptist Convention over their treatment of women who have been abused or raped because these men were doing what seemed right in their own eyes. This isn’t a white man’s problem. It is a human race problem because as Saint Paul reminds us grimly, all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God in whose Image we are created (Rom 3.25). In addition to the hopeless condition of our sin-sickness that prevents us from pulling ourselves up by our own moral bootstraps, we are a nation increasingly susceptible to this phenomenon of doing what seems right in our own eyes because for years now we’ve been told to think for ourselves. We’ve been urged to reject the wisdom and teaching of our various traditions and look what it has brought us. Not all is bad, of course, and some traditions need to be challenged, especially when they have become distorted by folks doing what seems right in their own eyes. That’s one of the points of our gospel lesson after all. But in the areas of moral and ethical behavior, we are essentially no different from the people of ancient Israel. We are more interested in doing what seems right in our own eyes than seeking to obey the word and wisdom of God as revealed in Scripture. No wonder the word of the Lord was (and is) scarce and visions far and few between.

This was the historical context for our OT story today. If that weren’t bad enough, old Eli had two sons who had apparently turned the Tabernacle of the Lord, the very place where God chose to live with his people, into a brothel (with stuff like this, who needs reality TV?). As the writer explains earlier, “Eli was very old, but he was aware of what his sons were doing to the people of Israel. He knew, for instance, that his sons were [having sex with] the young women who assisted at the entrance of the Tabernacle” (1 Samuel 2.22). Eli rebuked his sons, but not in a way that got them to change their behavior, and he apparently did nothing further to stop this serious problem from occurring. It seems that even the priestly family was doing what seemed right in their own eyes. With all this in mind, is it surprising that the word of the Lord, i.e., God’s guiding presence, was rare in those days? We see the same thing happening in our country as people increasingly refuse to submit to the life-giving power of the word of the Lord and do what seems right in their own eyes.

Hey Father Maney! I hear some of you saying. You told us this was supposed to be a sermon about hope. If this is your idea of preaching hope, please stop and let us slit our wrists. That kinda seems to be what is right in our own eyes. Patience, grasshoppers. If we are not willing to take a hard look at our own reality, we will hardly be in a position to see hope when it presents itself. Despite the darkness that enveloped God’s people, despite the fact that the word of the Lord was scarce in those days (and ours), the writer reminds us that God had not totally abandoned God’s people in judgment because that is not who God is. God did not create us for destruction. God created us for relationship and life. And so we are told that the Lord’s lamp, a symbol of the very presence of God, had not gone completely out. God spoke to the young boy Samuel, who despite being dedicated to the Lord by his mother Hannah (1 Samuel 1.19-28), did not initially recognize the Lord was speaking to him, precisely because the word of the Lord was scarce. It was so scarce that it took a groggy Eli three times to recognize that it was God who was speaking to the boy. Once Samuel responded to God, however, I’m pretty sure he wished he hadn’t because the first word Samuel heard was an oracle of judgment against his beloved mentor, Eli, and his family. What a predicament for the youngster! God was ready to bring about the hope of a new beginning but first a terrible ending had to take place. God will not be mocked. We must realize that doing whatever seems right in our sin-sick eyes will not lead to our healing and restoration. The world, including parts of Christ’s Church, is in the mess it’s in precisely because we are not willing to submit to God’s wise leadership over us contained in God’s word. We are too busy trying to cling to equality with God and have been from the start!

But God does not abandon us because God is faithful to his created order (us included) and because God loves us, despite our rebellion and the judgment it brings. We must remember that stories like this fall under the overarching story in Scripture of how God is going about rescuing us from our death-producing sin and the evil it unleashes in the world. Even when the darkness of our sin and rebellion threatens to totally consume us and we wonder why God has abandoned us or how God could possibly love us in the first place, stories like this remind us that God is still in charge of God’s created order and is actively seeking us out to have a life-saving relationship with him. As the psalmist reminds us in our psalm lesson this morning, God is actively and intimately involved with us, even while we are being formed in our mother’s womb (listen if you have ears)!

As God’s people in Christ, we are reminded of God’s love and care for us in the death and resurrection of his Son, who died for us while we were still God’s enemies (Romans 5.6-11). Saint Paul reminds us in our epistle lesson that the light and love of God always shines in our hearts, despite the darkness that dwells in us and the world that seeks to snuff out God’s light and life-giving love for us. As the apostle also reminds us, we have life only by dying to ourselves, only by actively putting to death all that is in us that is actively opposed and hostile to God. We can’t do this on our own, of course. We do it in the power of the Spirit who lives in us and who makes our risen Lord available to us every day. The folks of Samuel’s day did not have this privilege. God only poured out his Spirit on a select few, mainly the prophets. But at Pentecost that all changed and now all believers have an Advocate, God himself, to defend us against the Accuser and his minions (and ourselves). This lifelong, difficult, and often messy process of putting to death our desire to be God’s equals so that we can do what seems right to us allows us to share in Christ’s life-saving death on the cross. And when we share in Christ’s death, we also get to share in Christ’s resurrected life, as Saint Paul reminds us in today’s lesson, Rom 6.3-5, and elsewhere. We are not saved by our works, by our status or our money or our power or—I know this is hard for you who are looking at me to believe—our looks. We bring nothing to the table that gives us hope for life with God, either in this world or the next. We have this hope only in the death and resurrection of the Son of God, whose story is contained in Holy Scripture and whose presence is available to us in the power of the Spirit. Without this hope we still live in darkness. Without this hope, frankly healing services like today’s are nothing but a farce.

So here are two of many things to reflect on this week from this story of Eli and Samuel. First, God never imposes God’s will on us. God created us for relationship with God and each other and invites us to accept his invitation. If we choose to enter that relationship we must also be willing to submit to God’s authority contained in Scripture and revealed supremely in Jesus Christ. It’s never a good thing for us to think for ourselves when it comes to matters of God and God’s word. We must call on the Spirit and the collective wisdom of Christ’s Church to help us know God. Second, there are times in our lives and in our culture (like today) where it seems that God has abandoned us. The word of the Lord is scarce and visions are few, i.e. it appears that God is far away and doesn’t care about us or our plight. The story of Samuel and Eli suggests otherwise. God is always present and acts in sometimes very surprising and unexpected ways. After all, who expected the Creator of the universe to become human and die a terrible and shameful death on a cross to rescue us from our sin and its resulting death? Of course, the enemies of the cross seek to silence us and we can expect to be harassed and even persecuted for proclaiming the word of the Lord, and that can make us afraid. And in the context of our healing service, we become afraid when we come to the Lord for healing and nothing apparently happens. When we become afraid, we must ask the Spirit to reveal Jesus’ presence to us and to open our minds and hearts to God’s word, which is critical for our faith. After all, the last book of the Bible (Revelation) was written by a man exiled by the Roman authorities for his faith in Jesus. There he wrote about the eventual victory of God and his Christ over the powers of Evil and Death. God will judge all that is wrong with God’s world and that includes us. But we aren’t afraid because we are people who believe in the power of the cross and God’s love poured out for us there. That faith, that hope, and that love unite us with our resurrected Lord and remind us light and life are our destiny and present reality, not darkness and death. And that story is contained in God’s word. So hang on to that hope, my beloved. Encourage each other as you proclaim it to the world because you know you are proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ, now and for all eternity. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever. 

In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.