June 06, 2021*
By Pastor John Partridge
1 Samuel 3:1-20 Mark 2:23-3:6 2 Corinthians 4:5-12
What’s in your tube of toothpaste?
I have – at more than one church – taught a children’s message with a tube of toothpaste. Well, to be fair, it used to be a tube of toothpaste. But some time ago, I took most of the toothpaste out of it and carefully refilled it with chocolate frosting. When I teach this lesson, I ask the children what they think is in the tube and, since it says “toothpaste” right on it, and it has a major brand name and familiar logo, the kids don’t hesitate to guess that it is filled with toothpaste. But, when I open it, and squeeze the tube, they are surprised, and maybe a little revolted, when what come out looks is brown. At that point, at least one child has announced to the congregation that it was full of poop and then, to prove that it wasn’t, or maybe just to see their reaction, I ate some.
The point of this surprising visual aid is to remind everyone that our lives are like that tube of toothpaste. What come out of the tube when it is squeezed and under pressure, is whatever we put in it in the first place. If you fill the tube with toothpaste, that’s what come out when you squeeze it, but if you fill it with chocolate, you’ll get that instead. Over the course of our lives, we will fill our hearts, our minds, and our souls… with many things. And when we are squeezed by life, when we find ourselves under stress and pressure, what come out will be the things that we put in. If we fill our hearts, minds, and souls with good things, generosity, goodness, faith, then good things will come out. But if we fill ourselves with profanity, greed, selfishness, and those sorts of things, then that is what will come out of us when life inevitably puts the squeeze on us. And that is exactly what we see in our scriptures for today in some expected, and some unexpected ways. We begin with the story of God’s judgment of Eli, the priest who was training the prophet Samuel. Eli was generally a good man, but his sons weren’t and, well, let’s read the story (1 Samuel 3:1-20).
3:1 The boy Samuel ministered before the Lord under Eli. In those days, the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions.
2 One night, Eli, whose eyes were becoming so weak that he could barely see, was lying down in his usual place. 3 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. 4 Then the Lord called Samuel.
Samuel answered, “Here I am.” 5 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.
6 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.”
7 Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord: The word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.
8 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. 9 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, 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.
Eli tried to be a good man and a good priest, and he generally succeeded, except for when it came to his sons. His two sons became priests who were without morals and who, although they wore the clothes, and had the job titles, didn’t follow God. God had warned Eli that he would be judged if he did not correct his sons but even with and explicit warning, Eli did nothing. The harsh condemnation from God that we read here was that Eli, and his family, would be judged forever “because of the sin that he knew about” and did nothing. Eli was the senior priest. He outranked his sons in status and seniority. But even though Eli knew about the terrible things that his sons were doing, he did not rebuke them, or correct them, or reprimand them, or punish them, or remove them from office. Despite knowing that his sons were abusing their power, blaspheming God, and hurting people, Eli… did nothing.
This is a harsh reminder for us because Eli is not condemned for doing evil or for being a bad person. Eli’s sin was in knowing that wrong was being done… and doing nothing. Eli’s sin was not in what he did, but in failing to do anything to stop what he knew was wrong. God’s condemnation of Eli is a stark reminder that we are our brother’s keeper, and that God will hold us accountable for our inaction when we fail to do anything when we know that evil is being done even if we aren’t the ones who are doing wrong.
And, although once again the bad guys in the story of Mark 2:23-3:6 are church leaders, we are told of an entirely different sort of condemnation.
23 One Sabbath, Jesus was going through the grain fields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. 24 The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?”
25 He answered, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? 26 In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.”
27 Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. 28 So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”
3:1 Another time Jesus went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. 2 Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath. 3 Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Stand up in front of everyone.”
4 Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent.
5 He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. 6 Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.
The pharisees were following Jesus and looking for things with which they could accuse him. This is a lot like one of those police dramas on television where a dirty cop follows someone around just so that they can give them a ticket of accuse them of some other violation. What happens is that while they are walking, Jesus and the disciples get hungry, snap the heads off some wheat, and eat it. Ignoring for a moment that our twenty-first century dirty cop might accuse them of petty theft, the dirty pharisee cop accuses them of violating the law by harvesting on the sabbath. But in response, Jesus reminds them that King David, whom everyone loves, committed a far worse act by eating the bread that had been left on the altar and consecrated to God. The law was clear that only priests were allowed to eat such bread, but Jesus says that the sabbath was made to serve the followers of God and not to enslave them.
Jesus saw this same prejudice as he was preparing to heal a man with a shriveled hand. He knew that his nitpicking critics would accuse him of working on the sabbath if he healed the man’s hand, and so he asks them in advance if it is lawful do good, or to save a life, on the sabbath. Jesus’ question corners them into silence because they couldn’t openly say that doing good, or saving a life, was against the law but because Jesus had outwitted them, again, and publicly embarrassed them, again, they began to plot to kill Jesus instead.
But what does any of that mean for us twenty-one centuries later?
And as is often the case, people in the church were asking the same question twenty centuries ago, and in his second letter to the church in Corinth (2 Corinthians 4:5-12), Paul offers this answer:
5 For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.
7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 8 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 11 For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. 12 So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.
Paul says that we are alive, but we are “given over to death.” Or to think of it in another way, we are alive, but we must endure the life that we have, we must suffer, struggle, and go through trials and difficult times for the sake of Jesus so that Jesus might be revealed in us and through us. That’s so important I’m going to say it again. We go through difficult times and endure difficult experiences, SO THAT Jesus might be revealed in us. We are squeezed so that the world can see what is inside of us. We come under stress and pressure so that the people around us can see what we have inside.
But what comes out of us when we are squeezed, depends entirely on the things with which we have allowed ourselves to be filled. Even though he was a priest, Eli’s comfort was so important that he did nothing about the injustice, sin, and blasphemy being committed by his sons. And God, and everyone else, saw it. Even though they were the church leaders, when Jesus pushed back, the darkness, greed, and addiction to power that they harbored inside of them came to the surface and was revealed to the world.
Everyone knows that this life is rarely easy. At some point, all of us will be squeezed, and what comes out will reveal to our neighbors, and to the world, what things we have fed to our hearts, our minds, and our souls.
It isn’t optional.
It will happen.
The only question is what you will choose to pour into your heart, your mind, and your soul.
You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/WUuARhsZ4AI
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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page. Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio. Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you. Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership. You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org. If you have questions, you can ask them in our discussion forum on Facebook (search for Pastor John Online). These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.