Meditation on 1 Sam. 3:1-20 & John 1:43-51
Pastor Karen Crawford
Jan. 17, 2021
The Presbyterian Church, 142 N. 4th St., Coshocton, OH 43812
Audio of this message:
“The time is always right to do what is right.”
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
These are just some of the great words spoken by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, whose life and legacy will be remembered tomorrow throughout our nation. The champion of non-violent resistance to fight for racial and economic injustice, peace, and economic equality struggled with his own human frailties; he worried that he wasn’t good enough and never did enough to advance the cause.
He left us powerful words.
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
“I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”
“Forgiveness is not an occasional act; it is a constant attitude.”
King was not the only one with powerful words in his day. There were others—men and women, such as Prathia Hall Wynn, one of the first women to be ordained in the American Baptist Association. MLK is quoted as saying, “Prathia Hall is one of the platform speakers I would prefer not to follow.”
Prathia believed that she was brought into this world and given a voice and a keen intellect for a reason – to integrate religion and freedom. She would become well known as a “womanist, theologian, ethicist, and civil rights activist,” credited with inspiring MLK’s 1963 “I Have A Dream Speech.”
Her first experience with racial segregation was when she was 5 years old in 1945 and took a train from her hometown of Philadelphia to Virginia to visit her grandparents. She, her mother, and her sister, Teresa, were forced to be reseated in a segregated car when the train crossed the Mason-Dixon line (the Pennsylvania-Maryland border).
While Prathia was working on her bachelor’s in political science at Temple University, she began participating in the Civil Rights Movement. She was arrested, along with 10 other demonstrators, on Nov. 11, 1961. Her crime? Sitting in a Barnes Drive-In Restaurant in Annapolis, Maryland that excluded Black customers. She was held in jail without bail for two weeks!
Prathia became the first woman field organizer for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in Southwest Georgia. White segregationists’ nightriders fired into the house where she was staying on September 6, 1962. She and two other civil rights activists were wounded. Four days later, Prathia led a prayer vigil at the site of Mount Olive Baptist Church the day after the Ku Klux Klan burned it and Mount Mary Baptist Church to the ground. MLK attended that service, hearing Prathia repeat the phrase, “I Have A Dream.” This inspired King to start using it in his speeches and sermons.
Prathia would go on to earn a master of divinity, master of theology, and a doctor of philosophy from Princeton Seminary. Then, the Lord used Prathia’s voice, giving her powerful words when she began serving as pastor of Mt. Sharon Baptist Church in Philadelphia in 1978, the church her father founded 40 years earlier.
In 1997, Ebony magazine named her number one on their list of Top 15 Greatest Black Women Preachers. She continued to use her powerful words when she joined the faculty at Boston University School of Theology in 2000, where she held the Martin Luther King Chair in Social Ethics. She served God faithfully until her death from cancer on Aug. 12, 2002, in Boston, MA. She was 62.
Prathia, like King, left us with many inspiring words, such as, “We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes.”
Sometimes, it feels like we are in a time like the one First Samuel describes in chapter 3, when “The word of the Lord was rare in those days,” and “visions were not widespread.” It was a dark time, when God seemed silent and far away. Evil had seeped even into God’s Temple, corrupting its leadership. The priest, Eli, who had grown old and blind, could not or would not control his wicked sons who stole from God and God’s people. They helped themselves to raw meat given for the sacrifice for the sins of the community, before it was offered up on the altar to the Lord.
It was during this dark time when young Samuel first heard the Word of God and did not even know it was God! Samuel was the firstborn son to devout Hannah, born after many years of her not being able to conceive. She and her husband, Elkanah, dedicated Samuel to the Lord and brought him to live in the Temple as soon as the child was weaned. He slept in a room near the ark of God. Hebrews 9:4 tells us that the ark contained “the golden pot that had manna, Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tablets of the covenant”—the Ten Commandments.
With the lamp of God burning brightly, Samuel heard a voice calling his name. “Samuel! Samuel!” The boy responded immediately, “Here I am,” running to Eli, who sent him back to bed. When it happens again and a third time, Eli, who has never heard the voice of God, realizes God is speaking to young Samuel. He tells the boy to respond to the voice, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” Later, though Samuel is afraid to share God’s word with Eli, for it’s a message of judgment against the house of Eli, the boy, chosen by God, is faithful to his prophetic calling.
He is obedient, though it means speaking hard truths to power and being the only voice of wisdom in a dark time. I Samuel tells us, “As Samuel grew up, the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was a trustworthy prophet of the Lord.”
On this day when we remember and honor the prophets of old and new, through whom God spoke, it is right for us to consider our own faithfulness. Are we listening for the voice of the inescapable God, the one who, in Psalm 139, knows our thoughts and every word we are say before it is on our tongues? Are we living in obedience to the God who knows all the days that were formed for us, when none of them as yet existed? How are we using our voices? Have we grown weary, as Paul warns the Galatians in 6:9, of doing good, giving up before we reap the harvest of faith? Let us join with the psalmist, who prays, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
In this historic week for our country, the threat of violence hangs heavy over our nation, disturbing our peace. Let us listen attentively for God’s voice. For the Lord is calling to us “over the tumult of our life’s wild, restless sea: day by day his sweet voice soundeth saying, ‘Christian, follow me.’”
Let us welcome the Lord’s transforming work in our hearts and lives. God’s not finished with us, yet! The Lord wants to speak through us powerful words. Let us seek Him in the quiet and darkness of night, saying, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” And, “Here I am, Lord.”
MLK would have celebrated his 92nd birthday on Jan. 15, if not for his assassination on April 4, 1968, while standing on a motel balcony. As he followed God’s call on his life to the point of giving up his life, he left a legacy of powerful words:
“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”
“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?”
“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”
“If you can’t fly, then run; if you can’t run, then walk. If you can’t walk, then crawl. But whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward.”
Let us pray.
Holy One, thank you for speaking to us through your Word, spoken by the prophets of old and the faithful in more recent times. Thank you for your love for us and trusting us with your Word. Your voice comes to us in the darkness, when we are quiet and still, ready to obey. Give us courage to speak the truth to power and to walk in your loving ways. Lord, we live in a violent world where freedom does not ring out from every mountainside. Not yet. But we believe that with your Son, your words spoken by the prophets will come true— that every valley shall be exalted and every mountain shall be made low. The rough places shall be made plain and the crooked places straight. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed. And all flesh shall see it together. This is our faith. This is our hope. Amen.