A Baptism, on the Second Sunday after the Epiphany

1 Samuel 3:1-20

The sons of Eli were scoundrels
who did not know the Lord.
That’s what the Book of 1 Samuel has to say about them.
They were priests, like their Dad,
serving in the temple at Shiloh.
And when the people would
bring meat as a sacrifice to the Lord,
the servants of Hophni and Phinehas
would take it before it could be properly offered.
They stole it from the Lord
and they demeaned the people
who made real sacrifices to fulfill their
obligation of thanksgiving,
only for it to be swallowed up by these priests.
They did this to everyone—
everyone knew that when they went up
to the temple at Shiloh they would
face these scoundrels and their forks and bellies.
Which is to say that that Eli knew,
and he let them go on like this.
One of the people who came up to Shiloh
in those days was a woman called Hannah,
who was a childless second-wife.
And she was desperate. She silently
poured out a plea to God for a son.
Eli saw her, and once she made him
recognize what was happening,
he blessed her and prayed
that she may have what she has asked for.
She became pregnant and gave birth to a boy.
On that day at Shiloh she promised God
that she would offer the child to the Lord’s service
and that’s what she did:
she took him to the temple
as soon as he was weaned—he was only two or three—
and left him there with Eli.

She left
him and went home,
and every year would try and
guess how much he’d grown
to make him a new little robe,
to give to him on their yearly trip to the temple,
when Eli would pray that she might be
blessed for this gift of Samuel.
And now we’re getting into today’s story.
The boy Samuel is asleep one night
and he hears a voice calling him by name,
and he answers “Here I am.”
But he thinks its his master calling him,
so he runs to Eli to ask why. And Eli says,
like a father says in the night, “its nothing son.
Go lie down and sleep again.”
It happens again, and Eli sends him to bed again.
But the third time, Eli realizes that the voice
the boy hears is the voice of the Lord,
and he becomes a teacher, he becomes the midwife.
This falling, failing priest becomes the midwife for the thing
which is about to happen in Samuel’s life.
He tells the boy just what to do and say:
“go lie down and when he calls again, you say:
speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”

What Samuel hears is a terrible word
against the man who, as far he was concerned,
may as well have been his father.
And in the morning, he was afraid to tell it.
Eli knows its bad, but he calls for the boy,
and in a gentle, but absolutely clear way,
demands the truth, demands that Samuel
be the prophet and priest the Lord has made him.
God is seeking Samuel to be
a remarkable person among and for his people.
But becoming that person
depends on the willingness of his parents
to give him up to that identity.
And it depends on Eli becoming his guide.
It depends on Eli respecting the possibility in this child.
The Lord calls Samuel, but he calls him through Eli;
he doesn’t name or reveal himself.
He chooses to require an interpreter: Eli.
A person who has failed his vocation,
failed his people, failed his sons.
He chooses Eli.

We are going to baptize Margot today.
And for the people who love her
that will mean entrusting her to the Holy Spirit:
the same breath that hovered
over the waters in creation, mothering, loving
all that is into being, and that hovers over her now,
and always will. Re-creating her, enlivening her.
And that Spirit is beyond our control. Like Hannah,
you can only give her up to that.

And at the same time,
she becomes a part of our life and our calling.
We receive her into the family of God
in which each of us bears the obligation to always,
always see her through the lens of this moment,
remembering that she is a child of God
and therefore a child of infinite possibility,
and to trust the possibility that God may reach toward her through us,
as God did through Eli.
Through our regard for her as a sister bearer of God’s image,
through our encouragement,
our care and honest concern,
our walk and witness as baptized people.

In a few minutes
we are going to reaffirm our baptismal covenant,
as we do at every baptism.
And I beg you to hear yourself saying these words,
to hear one another saying them. Together.
Because this is who you are,
this is who we are called to be.
This is what it means to be joined into
the life of Christ through the water of Baptism,
to be joined into the resurrection here and now,
into that inexhaustible, transforming, creating power.

Will you continue in the apostle’s teaching and fellowship,
in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?
Will you choose this way of life?
Will you let your life be shaped
by the body which you’ve been made a part of—
by the teaching and tradition carried
by the Church across centuries,
by the patterns of prayer that have been the root of her wisdom?

Will you come to this table
where the whole story of God with us becomes present,
and where we’re asked to risk seeing
God’s hope and future already present
in the faces those we love
and those we struggle to get along with?

Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?
Will you refuse to allow what distorts and breaks us,
what turns us away from the light and our own aliveness,
the pain of sin that we endure,
to make you forget that there is a bond between you and God.
Will you remember that perfectly faithful
relationship is the nature of God,
and that God holds onto you.

Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?
Will you be a witness?
A witness in what you say
and in the way you go
that Jesus is here, at work in you and in the world;
reconciling, gathering all things to himself.
Will you try, one commonplace decision at a time,
in your times of reckoning,
to try and live like that’s true?
Will you live like that?
Will you practice to die like that?

Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself? Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?
The willingness to see Christ
in all persons will take us places we may not want to go.
We can’t strive for justice at a safe distance,
without placing ourselves, our hearts and bodies,
where injustice lays its wounds in the vulnerable.
To strive for peace
means placing ourselves where peace is being broken.
To respect the irreducible dignity
of God’s own image within every human being
challenges some of our deepest
and most distorted
instincts to separate and devalue
what God has made precious.
Living that kind of life means seeing with the eyes,
feeling with the heart, of Jesus.
And we have to be reborn, remade,
again and again for that.
And it begins here, in water.
So let us pray, as we baptize this child
that she, and we ourselves, be upheld
in that life by the Spirit we have received,
because it isn’t easy. And let us give thanks,
because it is a beautiful life.

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