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!

On the Lookout

“On the Lookout”

Matt 2-11 Adoration_magi_Pio_Christiano_4th cent. sarcophagus, Vatican museum

Matthew 2:1-12 (2:2) – January 7, 2018

Christmas Day has been over for two weeks. To modern-day Americans, this was a long time ago! But the full holiday isn’t really over on December 25th. There are the twelve days of Christmas (remember the song about the twelve days?), during which many would have parties and feasting and especially Twelfth Night celebrations.

As we think of Nativity scenes or paintings, how often do we see them with shepherds and sheep, as well as the three wise men? All of them at the same time visiting the baby Jesus in the manger?  That is not quite the way it was, as presented in the Gospels. We are all familiar with the Nativity narrative from Luke chapter 2, “In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. All went to their own towns to be registered.”

For the visit of the wise men, we need to turn to Matthew’s gospel, chapter 2: “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi [or, wise men] from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the One who has been born king of the Jews? We saw His star when it rose and have come to worship Him.”

Here we have some wise men—probably noblemen who know a great deal about stars and constellations. They have been studying the heavens for years and years, as well as studying religious books and writings. Just as it says in the gospel record, a great sign (or star) rose in the sky, so these wise astrologers knew that something momentous was going to happen.

These wise men, or Magi, were not Jewish wise men, but instead were Gentiles. Non-Jews. “Could an unusual phenomenon in the night skies have caught the attention of some of them—interest in the stars was legendary in the region—and led them to set out to Jerusalem? That people of other lands and religions are drawn to Jesus, even as a child, is also significant: in Christ, God is speaking to the hearts and minds of all people.” [1] It is important to point out that they were on the lookout and knew which way to go—towards Jerusalem. And, eventually, they turned up at the palace, on King Herod’s doorstep.

What was King Herod’s response to the question of these noble Gentile wise men? “When Herod heard this, he was frightened and all Jerusalem with him.” “Why was Herod so frightened? Of a baby? What did he have to lose and how did he see this baby as a threat?” [2]

For the how and the what, we need to look at Herod’s psychological profile, which is not nice at all. He was bloodthirsty, cruel, narcissistic, and always on the lookout for trouble brewing that might affect him. Herod was installed as a puppet king of Israel by the Roman overlords. I suspect he did not feel very secure to begin with. When he heard about a newborn King of Israel, you can imagine how his anxiety level rose. Herod did not want any rival claim to the throne.

Herod is sneaky, and sly, and ruthless. Listen to his response to these wise men: “Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

That leads me to ask some uncomfortable questions. We know Herod was threatened by the thought of a newborn King. Are we threatened by the thought of Jesus? Does the newborn King make us anxious? We know that cruel King Herod had horrible plans ahead for the boy babies and toddlers in the area of Bethlehem. But, are our motives clear when we think of our fear and anxiety concerning strangers and visitors coming into our hometown?

A telling observation comes from Dr. David Lose: “Perhaps it is because the one thing the powerful seek more than anything else is to remain in power. Gone from Herod and his court is any notion of the kind of servant leadership prescribed and required by Israel’s prophets. Gone is the memory that God placed them in their positions to serve rather than be served. Herod seeks his own ends and so is immediately threatened by even the mere mention of another – and therefore rival – king.” [3]

What about any self-interest we might have? We know King Herod was a prime hypocrite. But, is there any hypocrisy in our words and actions, when we think of how we treat strangers, visitors from far away? Serious questions, requiring serious thought.

We follow the wise men as they leave Jerusalem and go to Bethlehem. Remember what brought them on this journey in the first place? They had seen a star in the heavens, and by consulting their books of ancient wisdom, they knew that a King had been born. They followed that star, that Light.

We don’t know, and we cannot tell for sure, but perhaps one of the books the wise men consulted was the book of the Hebrew prophet Isaiah. Chapter 60 begins: “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the Lord rises upon you, and His glory appears over you.” Maybe this was one of the ancient writings they poured over.

On Epiphany, or Three Kings Day, we sing about the wise men from the East. “We three kings, of Orient, are.” What is the chorus of that Christmas—actually, Epiphany—carol? “Star of wonder, star of night, star with royal beauty bright.” Although they were Gentiles, they still recognized that the one who was born the king of the Jews was worthy of worship. And, they came to the house where the Holy Family was staying, and offered Him gifts fit for a King.

Here in the United States in many Protestant denominations, Epiphany is not that big of a deal. Yes, the coming of the wise men is incorporated into many Christmas pageants, and is found in nativity scenes and Christmas cards. Except—I want to let everyone here know that this is a totally separate event. The coming of Light into the world—so beautifully mentioned at the beginning of the gospel of John—is the whole meaning behind our celebration of Epiphany.

One of the grand symbols of God is that of Light. Mentioned repeated throughout the Bible, when we picture Light we can think of a star, the sun, a candle, a lamp. We have the Advent wreath lit today, with the Christ candle in the middle letting us know that Jesus is with us right now. We lit those candles on the Advent wreath one by one, and on Christmas Eve lit the Christ candle to remind ourselves that God our Light is always with us. And, at the end of our service today the light from the candles behind the communion table will travel down the central aisle and out the back door to call worshipers to follow the Light of God out into the world. [4]

As the wise men followed the star—the Light—to worship the Child in Bethlehem, so we can follow Him, the True Light. The shining Star of our hearts is the risen Lord Jesus Christ. Do you know He is with us today? He opens His arms wide to all who would come. Come worship the True Light, the Child born in Bethlehem, today. Amen.

[1] http://www.taize.fr/en_article167.html?date=2012-01-01

“Jesus, Herod, the Magi and Us,” Commented Bible Passages from Taize, 2012.

[2] http://www.patheos.com/progressive-christian/gold-frankincense-myrrh-alyce-mckenzie-01-03-2013.html

“Gold, Frankincense and Myrhh,” Alyce McKenzie, Edgy Exegesis, 2013.

[3] http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=1509  “An ‘Adults Only’ Nativity Story,” David Lose, WorkingPreacher, 2013.

[4] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2013/11/year-epiphany-monday-january-6-2014-or.html

Worshiping with Children, Epiphany, Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2014.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2018: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)