Listen Up!

“Listen Up!”

1 Samuel 3:1-10 (3:9) – January 17, 2021

            Have you ever been on the other end of a conversation over the phone or over a two-way radio or walkie-talkie, and had problems hearing the other person? Exactly that happened to me the other day. I was on the cell phone with a UCC pastor colleague, and we had a whole lot of muffle-muffle, crackle-crackle on the line. We could hardly hear one another – that is, until we hung up and reconnected with a new phone call.

             Our scripture reading today comes from 1 Samuel 3, and we can tell the boy Samuel wasn’t quite sure what – or who – he was listening to. But, we are getting ahead of ourselves!

            Let’s set the scene. Chapter 3 begins with the boy Samuel, who lives and serves in the Tabernacle, a special tent where the altar to the Lord God is housed. The elderly Eli is currently the high priest, except Eli had difficulty with his eyes and could not see much any longer.  I can relate to Eli, since several members of my extended family had or currently have problems with their eyes and vision. I wear very strong contact lenses myself, and I thank God that I live in a time and place where I can get corrective lenses to help me to see!

            This Bible reading mentions both seeing and hearing – two senses so important for people to navigate through life! Not that people cannot live, and live well, without these senses of eyes or ears, but in Bible times, people had real, acknowledged difficulty without them.

            I suspect that Samuel was a real helper for Eli, helping with the everyday duties of caring for the Tabernacle. Just so, the elderly Eli had problems seeing. Verse 1 of our reading makes a fascinating editorial comment: “In those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions.” In those days, rare was the person who heard from or saw God: an uncertain, precarious time, indeed.

Certainly, a person might think serving in the Tabernacle – or Temple, or church – would give someone a pipeline to God! But, maybe not.  

Samuel helped Eli on a regular basis, and slept in the same part of the Tabernacle where the ark of the Covenant was kept. In this narrative, the Lord speaks to Samuel in an audible voice. That means, a voice just the same as yours and mine. Or, perhaps a bit more special. Think of voices like James Earl Jones, or Charlton Heston, or Morgan Freeman.

We hear about Samuel running through the dark Tabernacle to wake Eli, saying, “Here I am; you called me.” But Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.” So he went and lay down. 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.”

Perhaps Samuel did not understand the voice. Perhaps he hadn’t quite tuned in. Maybe there was some static, or maybe the voice was muffled at first. Let’s listen to what happens next: “A third time the Lord called, “Samuel!” Samuel got up, went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.” Then Eli realized that the Lord was calling the boy. 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.”

Does a special voice get your attention? Or, can your attention wander? Once your attention is captured, is the message conveyed by that special voice easily received?  

            As commentator Carolyn Brown mentions, “God speaks in other ways, too.  Sometimes we read something in the Bible and know it is meant for us.  Sometimes when we are scared or sad, we feel God very close to us helping us be brave.  Sometimes when we are outside, we see something God has made and feel God loving us.  Sometimes we have a feeling deep inside that God wants us to do something to take care of another person.” [1]  The Lord can communicate in a great variety of ways! God’s word and God’s instructions come to a great variety of people, too. And, not just to “religious people,” either!

            God’s words and instructions come to people for their own encouragement, sometimes. But, God can also mean for us to take action. Sure, we ought to listen up! It is truly an awesome thing to hear from the Lord. Plus, God sometimes wants us to go – do – speak – take action!

            Two days ago was the 91st birthday anniversary of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. January 15, 1929. This day has been declared a Federal holiday, and also been commemorated as a national day of service. This day “is the only federal holiday designated as a national day of service to encourage all Americans to volunteer to improve their communities. This day of service helps to empower individuals, strengthen communities, bridge barriers, address social problems, and move us closer to Dr. King’s vision of a ‘Beloved Community.’” [2]

            This vision, this phrase “Beloved Community” is a great part of the United Church of Christ’s vision for our world, as well. Just as the Lord called Samuel to act and to speak, just as God calls many people to go, to do, to speak for God, perhaps God is calling you to step out for others? As Americans, as believers in God, we are all encouraged to serve others on this day. This day, and every day.

            Listen up! Listen to God, and see where God would have you serve today.

And, serve with joy and love in your heart as you do your part to bring about the “Beloved Community” of God. Alleluia, amen!


[1] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2011/12/year-b-2nd-sunday-after-epiphany-2nd.html

Worshiping with Children, Epiphany 2B, Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2012.

[2] https://americorps.gov/newsroom/events/mlk-day

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

With Thanksgiving

“With Thanksgiving”

phil-4-6-dont-be-anxious-pray-instead

Philippians 4:4-7 (4:6) – November 20, 2016

It’s that thankful time of the year, and this service is where we all gather to say “thank You” to God. We say thanks for all sorts of good things. Wonderful gifts. Exciting opportunities. We gladly come before God and mention how thankful each of us is—to God.

One of my favorite biblical websites (and, I fully consider her a bible commentator) is “Worshiping with Children,” written by Carolyn C. Brown. This is what she had to say about Thanksgiving: “One of my favourite times with the children was the year we learned how to say “Thank you” in many languages from our congregation, and ended by using those words for our prayer together.” [1]

Saying “thank you.” I know I taught my children how to say “thank you” when they received gifts, and compliments, and lots of other things. It’s a common thing, for grown-ups, parents, and grandparents to instruct children in these considerate, valuable, and grateful words.

Our scripture passage for the morning comes from the letter of the Apostle Paul to the church in Philippi, in the last chapter. Paul previously said what he wanted to say in the body of the letter, and this is the final few paragraphs. What we have here are closing remarks. And, what remarks! Reading verse 4:6 again: “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

This letter Paul wrote to the Philippian church was, in part, a thank you letter. We can see how Paul weaves thankfulness and gratitude in several parts of this letter, including right here. Except—he throws in a number of last-minute recommendations and commands, too. Paul mentions worry, right up front. “Do not worry about anything.”

How can worry affect us? True, it can be so difficult to follow Paul’s advice! Everyone has something to worry about. Some people have lots of things to worry about, it seems. Let’s take a closer look, and see what the background to this advice is.

When Paul wrote this letter, he wrote it from prison in Rome. He had been sent to the emperor’s court on a capital charge. He was on trial for his life. And yet—the apostle Paul writes this joyful, thankful, gratitude-filled letter.

Let us count off difficulties and challenges that Paul faced: not only the upcoming trial—for his life, but on top of that, Paul considered himself to be responsible for many of the churches he had planted on his missionary trips in Asia Minor and throughout Greece. Such heavy burdens on Paul. Yet, here in chapter 4 we see him writing almost blithely to the Philippian believers.

When we look at the people who were on the receiving end of this correspondence, few of them were living comfortable lives. One of the commentaries I consulted said, “Many were poor, many were slaves and few of them would have known the meaning of security. In marked contrast, those of us who live in comparative wealth and luxury today are frequently those who are most worried and anxious.” [2]

Isn’t that a true description of us, today?

Sometimes there IS stuff to worry about! A lot of times, people (yes, even Christians) worry about all kinds of stuff! Aren’t we tempted to be worried and anxious when finances are a challenge or the car is giving big problems? Or, how about when we or one of our loved ones is unemployed? Or, in the hospital or dealing with a chronic illness? What about in an accident, or even in jail? Some would say it is natural, even part of the human condition to be worried.

Something to think about, certainly. Especially at this grateful, thankful time of the year when we are encouraged to count our blessings.

Let’s look at the next part of this verse, the part that comes after Paul tells us not to worry: “but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

Sometimes it can be extremely difficult to pray and request with thanksgiving. Sometimes exterior circumstances can make things such a challenge for us to be thankful. There are even worse things: sometimes people can be absolutely at the end of themselves, spiritually and emotionally. Look at people like Paul, when we consider him in prison, on trial for his life.

From a commentator comes this challenging illustration about Corrie ten Boom, a devout Christian who hid and saved dozens of Jews from the Nazis: “Imagine how difficult it was to pray and worship with thanksgiving in a concentration camp in Germany. ‘Corrie ten Boon’s memory of leading forbidden worship in a World War II concentration camp might shed some light for us. Almost crushed by the effort of offering praise amidst wretched, flea-infested, frigid surroundings, they worshiped God.  Always fearful of discovery and punishment, they lifted whispered prayers of thanksgiving not only for the beloved community in that unholy place but also for the hardships they helped each other bear.

‘Months passed as their cherished worship continued uninterrupted by the usually brutal guards, offering encouragement to their battered spirits. Decades later, Corrie encountered a former prison guard who admitted he had never ventured into her barrack because he feared the overwhelming flea infestation. God was indeed in that place, utilizing every means to bless those worshipers.’” [3]

If we “don’t worry,” and do the “requesting with thanksgiving” part, what happens then?

God’s peace will then guard our hearts and minds.

Yes, it can be a challenge to make our requests, and to pray with thanksgiving. Especially when we give thanks “while staring down hatred, injustice, poverty or sadness. It may strain our faithfulness. Discerning God’s love while receiving cancer treatments, caring for a critically ill loved one or agonizing over a wayward child may challenge our belief.” [4]

Yet, we have Paul’s testimony that—even though he was locked away in prison for a capital offence—he could still write this joy-filled, thankful letter to the Philippian believers. And, Paul reminds his listeners that there is a wonderful result of laying out our cares to God. “God’s peace, which is more wonderful than anyone can imagine, will stand guard over our hearts and minds. While we are still vulnerable, we are also assured of God’s concern and protection.” [5]

What a promise. God personally grants us peace. God has promised to stand like a sentinel over our hearts and minds. Yes, things can be difficult, and challenging, even heart-wrenching,  yet Paul reminds us: be thankful.

These thankful words came from Paul, and they are for believers all over the world. It does not matter who we are; we all are encouraged to say “thank you.” It doesn’t matter where on earth people are from, or what language they speak. We all can use these words for our prayer together: Dear God, thank you for Your good gifts. Merci. Danke. Sheh-sheh. Molte grazie! In Jesus’ precious, powerful name we give thanks, amen.

[1] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2013/09/year-c-thanksgiving-day-october-14-2013.html

[2] Hooker, Morna D., The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary (Vol. 12,The Letter to the Philippians), (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2000), 547-48.

[3] https://fosteringyourfaith.wordpress.com/author/econgregtnl/

[4] https://fosteringyourfaith.wordpress.com/author/econgregtnl/

[5] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=470  Commentary, Philippians 4:4-7, Michael Joseph Brown, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2009.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2016: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)