January 2021

Being Faithful and True to God’s Way

2nd Sunday After Epiphany, January 17, 2021
1st Samuel 3:1-10, John 1:43-51

– The Reverend Dr. Arnold Isidore Thomas –

My children grew up reading and viewing the Star Wars’ sagas, which, in some ways, influenced my son Devon’s path to ordained ministry. I remember him saying that the Jedi knights reminded him of Christian clergy because they represented a fading spiritual order that had to find new ways of gaining relevance if they were to serve as a source of salvation to others.

Not long ago I treated a group of young pastors to lunch, where the topic of conversation centered about the future of their vocation and the Christian Church in a world where church attendance had been usurped by a spiritual solitude that has given in to prevalent means of personal piety. They agreed that spiritual solitude is often rejuvenating, but social salvation does not come by spiritual separation but communal engagement. The church must, therefore provide a space for spiritual solitude as well as spiritual fellowship.

Jesus said, “In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And when I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am there you may also be.” (John 14:1-3)

The chapter preceding today’s reading from the Book of Samuel informs us that the Prophet Eli’s children no longer followed the path of their father or the way of God. God, therefore, chose Samuel, an apprentice of Eli, in the place of his children.

Like Jedi knights, Christian clergy and the church, Samuel had to appropriate himself to a new context of ministry, whereby people no longer followed the one of God’s choosing, but a ruler of their choosing. In this new context, Samuel would be delegated to the office of spiritual advisor or chaplain to the king. But the voice of God would be no less prevalent.

The Christian Church has experienced many phases of relevance throughout its nearly 2000-year history. And in each phase our most sincere efforts to embody what we believed to be God’s way have encountered as much resistance from our members as well as our adversaries.

It is easy for us, in our present day and age, to look back on those Christian-led social movements we deemed righteous in their attempts to overcome slavery, misogyny, antisemitism, poverty, homophobia, xenophobia, segregation, and the like, without acknowledging that they all confronted as much resistance among their members as well as external resistance.

The Civil Rights Movement under the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr faced all kinds of opposition, not only from hostile Southern whites, but also from the caution of Christians of every race and region of the country who felt the Movement was moving too fast and dangerously.

In every phase of our ministry together it remains crucial that we assess our priority of purpose to one another according to our understanding of God’s intent, with an intimate awareness that God is watching us.

With the sense that God is watching, I’m reminded of Hans Christian Anderson’s fairy tale entitled The Emperor’s New Clothes in which two imposters posing as weavers deceive and convince a self-absorbed emperor to wear an exquisite garment that only his most intelligent subjects can see. His followers, not wishing to be seen as unintelligent, persuade themselves that their naked emperor is regally attired, until a little child blurts out that the ruler is wearing nothing at all.

People of God, we live in an age where many have been conditioned to believe and follow baseless assumptions and lecherous leaders whose lies are nakedly revealed. These are not only political guides, but loved ones of our own family and household that require us, with the divine candor of childlike innocence, to speak the truth in love so that those for whom we care are not destroyed by their own deception.

The church, like our nation and world, will fade away at the deception of false guides unless we, like Jedi knights whose light sabers are the ways of peace and whose garments are the robes of righteousness, rise to our role and responsibility as children of God.

Let us not be caught butt-naked in the eyes of God, but greatly rejoice with the Prophet Isaiah that God has clothed us with the garments of salvation and has covered us with the robes of righteousness. (61:10)

Thanks be to God! Amen.