“When he heard the words, ‘Chest of God,’ Eli fell backward off his stool where he sat next to the gate. Eli was an old man, and very fat. When he fell, he broke his neck and died. He had led Israel forty years.” – 1 Samuel 4:18
When I read this scripture for today I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I have just retired after forty years of leading the church. Some think I am old. Some even think I am fat. Thankfully, I got a well-intentioned roast as I got ready to retire – and there was no fire – and no neck breaking – just gracious people having a good time as they celebrated my leaving and the coming of a new pastor. That’s the way it should be… know when to retire… and expect and encourage a refreshing new spirit to follow.
What a horrible retirement speech at the end of a long career. No one wants to be remembered the way Eli was in today’s scripture. We’ve all seen that happen before. The leader who builds something impressive but can’t see when it is time to step aside. The retirement that happens a few years too late. If he’d stepped down a few years earlier, the retirement celebrations would have had a whole different feel to them.
What are we going to do without you around here? Did you mean it when you said we could call you about anything? I can’t imagine this place without you.
But when the person stays too long, people might say all those things, but they don’t really mean them. There’s a hollow ring to the speeches of people trying to be kind, when what they are really thinking is: It’s about time.
Eli, who had a genuine call from God, should have stepped aside and allowed the people to celebrate his years of work. Instead he stayed, and started listening to all the wrong people. His degenerate sons started stealing the temple meat, but even worse, they lost the ark of the covenant. How do you lose the ark of the covenant?! They took it into a losing battle and lost it. And when their father heard the news, he skipped the retirement party and keeled over.
When the scripture mentions that Eli was fat, it was not a comment on his physical fitness. He was fat because he too had been eating the fat marbled temple meat. He had benefited from his sons’ corruption. He had truly lost his calling.
Why couldn’t he see it? Why couldn’t he see himself with any clarity? When did he lose his vision?
Dear Lord, guide us in accepting our callings and also in accepting when it is time to allow someone else to follow theirs. Let that be the right person, the one who has a calling too, one who will bring an exciting new spirit to us all, in and through Jesus. Amen.
Grace and Peace