Sermon for the Second Sunday of Epiphany 2024 1 Samuel 3:1-10
John 1:43-end I have always had a particular love for lampposts. Strange? Maybe. But where I live, I can see two beautiful lampposts, they have a rather forlorn and gracious aspect, and in the dark of night or in the dark of early morning they beautifully cast light into the darkness. My younger daughter once got into the habit of embracing lampposts. It seemed to me a perfectly reasonable attitude. So much around us, you see, is said to be inanimate, dead matter. But it isn’t. If you pause and look at a lamppost, or a fence, or a gate, or a wall, you just start to sense something other, something beyond, something beautiful.
Has he finally lost it? Here is the problem. We find ourselves in a dis-enchanted world in some radical, dreadful and dreary sense. Scientific materialism, taken to its extreme, can be used to make the case that the world around us is full of energies yes, but it’s also full of dead stuff, full of things, and that this stuff can always be fully and finally known. Now please don’t get me wrong. Some of my best friends are scientific materialists. If I met scientific materialism at the local pub, I’d probably buy it a pint. It’s done great things, scientific materialism, but if it is believed in too fanatically, it can narrow our minds and hearts. It may narrow our vision.
In our first reading from 1 Samuel this is said. ‘The word of the LORD was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.’ What a wonderful line. It captures our own now perfectly. The dis-enchanted, mechanized now. ‘The word of the LORD was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.’ This is what happens when our sense of the divine has somehow disastrously dwindled. Listen further, ‘At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so he could not see, was lying down in his room; the lamp of God had not yet gone out.’ Eli is losing his capacity to see and sense the divine, along with the culture of which he is a part. But ‘the lamp of God had not gone out.’ This refers to a light in the temple, used to signify God’s presence, but it is also a symbol indicating that the presence of God is still accessible, even in the midst of failing spiritual vision.
In the end Samuel hears God’s call. The divine presence wells up. ‘Then the LORD called, “Samuel! Samuel!” and he said, “Here I am!”
When we lose our sense of divine presence, when we lose touch with the God, the Christ, within us and among us, then ‘visions are not widespread’ and our sense of ourselves, each other, and the surrounding world and cosmos, lose their riches of enchantment, mystery and depth. Of course, there is a beauty, a mystery, to scientific materialism, but it is a beauty that is always also an explanation and explanation can only take us so far, after all.
But, go for a walk, walk in a forest, look at the stars, look at a face, look at the sea, and a wonder and a strangeness and a life can be sensed which is far deeper than any material explanation. But some of us have grown conditioned by cramping worldviews, as well as the way technology seems to rob us of our capacity for wonder, and it is easy to see why our visionary sense has grown dim like Eli’s eyesight.
We might say Jesus came to re-connect us to our visionary, spiritual nature. Jesus saw differently. He looked and sensed with the divine sense. The divine sense looks at people and nature, all of reality, as aspects of the infinite, never as ends in themselves. The divine sense never takes a reductive view of reality since reality is always known as a part of God’s manifestation. At the end of our gospel today Jesus says to Nathanael, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” This is one of the gifts of faith, to always see and receive more. God doesn’t run out.
Take a walk through a town or a city, and as you walk pray, it’s like a meditation, perhaps you say a silent word or a prayer as you walk to keep yourself focussed. If walking is hard, you can sit in a public place and watch and pray. As you journey, or as you sit, just notice how you see and sense more as you thread prayer through the reality that surrounds you. It’s as though you are looking and sensing with a greater love, a deeper vision. “You will see greater things than these.”
And then Jesus says, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” Here is the divine sense, the divine vision. If we can learn to look through Christ’s eyes, we will see visions and we will dream dreams. Lampposts casting their halos of light into the dark. The ordinary daily walk, or ordinary daily surroundings, becoming a site of hidden marvels. God is coming to meet you through the manifold manifestations of reality. This kind of vision takes practice, it takes prayer, but it is open to all of us.
When Jesus says “you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending” he is quoting from Genesis and the scene of Jacob’s ladder. It is from chapter 28. Jacob, ‘dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.’ In other words, Jacob is gifted with the divine sense, the divine sight, and his dream vision tells him reality is not shut up from the divine, rather reality is inter-connected to the divine. Jacob wakes up and says one of the greatest hymns in the entire Bible, ‘Surely the LORD is in this place-and I did not know it! How awesome is this place! This is the none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.’
That is the vision, the new seeing, that Jesus comes to share. The inexhaustible sense that God is in this place and that this is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.
The Reverend Ben Brown