Epiphany Moments in a Pandemic Time

Epiphany 2021

1 Samuel: 3-20

The Lord Calls Samuel

3 The boy Samuel ministered before the Lord under Eli. In those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions.

One night Eli, whose eyes were becoming so weak that he could barely see, was lying down in his usual place. The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the house of the Lord, where the ark of God was. Then the Lord called Samuel.

Samuel answered, “Here I am.” And he ran to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”

But Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.” So he went and lay down.

Again the Lord called, “Samuel!” And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”

“My son,” Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.”

Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord: The word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.  A third time the Lord called, “Samuel!” And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”

Then Eli realized that the Lord was calling the boy. So Eli told Samuel, “Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.

10 The Lord came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!”  Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

11 And the Lord said to Samuel: “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make the ears of everyone who hears about it tingle. 12 At that time I will carry out against Eli everything I spoke against his family—from beginning to end. 13 For I told him that I would judge his family forever because of the sin he knew about; his sons blasphemed God,[a] and he failed to restrain them. 14 Therefore I swore to the house of Eli, ‘The guilt of Eli’s house will never be atoned for by sacrifice or offering.’”

15 Samuel lay down until morning and then opened the doors of the house of the Lord. He was afraid to tell Eli the vision, 16 but Eli called him and said, “Samuel, my son.”  Samuel answered, “Here I am.”

17 “What was it he said to you?” Eli asked. “Do not hide it from me. May God deal with you, be it ever so severely, if you hide from me anything he told you.” 18 So Samuel told him everything, hiding nothing from him. Then Eli said, “He is the Lord; let him do what is good in his eyes.”

19 The Lord was with Samuel as he grew up, and he let none of Samuel’s words fall to the ground. 20 And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba recognized that Samuel was attested as a prophet of the Lord. 21 The Lord continued to appear at Shiloh, and there he revealed himself to Samuel through his word.

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Epiphany Moments in a Pandemic Time

For those who know me, you know that Epiphany is my favorite season of the year.  The reason I love it is because, as much as people consider me the master of efficiency, there is a subtle lazy streak in me.  That lazy streak is why I love this church season!

 Unlike Epiphany, the two seasons preceding it, Advent and Christmas come with extensive to-do lists.  Epiphany on the other hand has none.  I don’t have to cook.  I don’t have to clean. I don’t have to move furniture, find extra beds for company, or take on mountains of laundry.  There is no planning, no shopping, no cooking and baking, no decorating, no putting up a tree, and no dragging out gifts in the middle of the night.  No heavy lifting for me, because you see, God does all the work.

He picks the time and the setting; he provides the content.  He sets up the scene, supplies the decorations and the props.  He auditions and picks the players; he writes the script. God is fully in charge, you see.  We cannot make one.  It is what we experience.  Which is why I love this reading.  Samuel did not have to do anything to experience an epiphany moment of message in the dark quiet of night.  All he had to do was go back to bed.

Forgive me!  I’m jumping into the middle of our story.  Let me give you the context and history.  Samuel is the son of Hannah and her husband, Elkanah.  For years, Hannah struggled with infertility. Her in-laws were no help.  They taunted her as barren and convinced Elkanah to marry another woman who could bear him many children, which she did.  She also taunted Hannah, reducing her to tears repeatedly with her cruelty.  Even her husband failed her with his clumsy attempt at comfort, “Am I not better for you than ten children?”

On a yearly pilgrimage to Shiloh, Hannah went into the Temple to pray.  Grieving, moaning, sobbing, she begged God to give her a child.  And in a desperate attempt to up the ante, she promised that when the child was weaned, she would give him to God to serve in the temple.  While she prayed, Eli observed her behavior and misinterpreted it, “Ma’am, you can’t be in here drunk.  Leave!” She explained through her tears that she was not drunk, rather praying for God to lift her infertility and bring her a child that she would consecrate to his service.  Upon hearing her story, Eli sent her on her way with his blessing.   

God kept his promise. He gave her a child she named Samuel, “asked from God.”  She kept her promise.  Once Samuel was weaned, she took him to Eli.  Every year after that at pilgrimage, she visited and gave him a new coat.  She later bore three more sons and two daughters to Elkanah.

  Our supporting actor, Eli, head priest at the Temple in Shiloh was a good man, honest, caring, and kind.  For Samuel, he was an intuitive, clear spoken loving father figure and a spiritual guide.  In our story, he never fusses at Samuel for waking him three times in the night.  If it had been my kid waking me with some cock and bull story that I’d been calling him to my room, I am sure I’d have been less than kind.  Eli on the other hand was gentle the first time Samuel woke him.  The second time, lovingly he calls him, Son and urges him to get some sleep.  The third time, instead of exasperation clouding his epiphany, he says to Samuel, “The Lord wants to speak to you: go, wait, listen.” 

Once, twice, three times, Samuel hears a voice calling to him.  The third time, he listened, and in the silence, God spoke, giving him powerful words of strength and painful words of tragedy.  Following this epiphany, Samuel was still.  He let it sink in.  He didn’t distract himself.  He did not start playing with his phone.  He didn’t go out to take a walk or to shoot baskets.   He waited.

By morning, he was ready for his first lesson in leadership.  Eli asked him to reveal what God had spoken.  Even though he was afraid, Samuel in his new-found strength, spoke the hard truth, a characteristic for which he would be honored as he grew into the strongest prophet and judge of the Hebrew nation.

In the season of Epiphany, we are called to be like Samuel, in quiet communication with God.  For some, the pandemic has given us more time on our hands than ever before to do just that.  Finding time for a daily ritual of meditation and silence has been easy.  Others have no spare time at all, consumed by the responsibilities of a full-time job, working from home, supervising children’s virtual education, and keeping the family afloat.  Add shelter in place guidelines keeping all of us from our friends, co-workers, church and extended family, we found ourselves searching for new ways and sources of companionship.

That search spurred a run on animal shelters and breeders all over the country.  Everyone wanted a kitten or puppy to keep them company at home, including me.  To secure a puppy, I had to pay a deposit before my little bundle of joy was even conceived.  July 9, 2020, he was born, one of ten siblings.  Labor Day, he came to our home.  He is now seven months old, weighing in at forty pounds, and still able to curl up in my lap which he does every morning.  He greets me bedside as I awaken.  He follows me to the kitchen and waits patiently by the rocking chair while I empty the dishwasher and make a cup of coffee. 

Before puppy, I would have gone on to fold a load of clothes and wipe down the counters.  Now I sit down.  The puppy climbs into my lap and nuzzles his head on my shoulder.  And we rock. That’s it.

It might appear to observers that nothing is happening in that silence.  They would be wrong.  I am convinced that the cozy scene in my kitchen was orchestrated by God setting the time, the players, and the content for an epiphany. God gave me the silence, the place, the puppy, the light, and the moments with no words.  In that silence, I felt God’s assurance that His presence, warmth, and love are filling my home.  And here, all will be well.

Out there, we are challenged with the incessant noise of information coming at us from all directions. While we are helpless to stop it, we are not helpless to do something.  Samuel was helpless to save Eli and his ne’er do well sons from the consequences of their sins, but he was not helpless to do something.  He went back to bed.   He waited in silence.  He received an epiphany challenging him to grow into a man of God, always speaking the truth with strength and power.

God sent Jesus into a world filled with sin, violence, and conflict, much like Samuel’s and our own.  God revealed Him as His Son when Simeon recognized him in the temple. He empowered Him in his baptismal epiphany, affirming his identity.  God strengthened Him in the isolation of wilderness as he stood up against the evils of temptation.  God provided Jesus with one epiphany after another confirming his destiny and preparing Him for his long and treacherous road to the cross.

 God continues to orchestrate epiphany moments preparing us for our own Lenten path, leading us on a spiritual journey to Jerusalem and the cross. He provides us with one epiphany after another because we need them.  Make space for them.  Make time for them.  And, when they come, be still.  Don’t think.  Don’t dismiss them.  Just be in that moment of light.   It will come.  God knows how to do this.  He is fully in charge, remember? Besides, He is used to the heavy lifting and his strength is limitless! 

We pray.  O Lord, allow your epiphany to identify us as your own, to prepare us for whatever lies ahead, and to equip us to walk with Jesus to Jerusalem, as he would have us do. Amen