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!

For the Least of These

“For the Least of These”

Matt 25-35 for whatever, words

Matthew 25:31-46 (25:40) – November 26, 2017

This Sunday—today—is the last Sunday in the liturgical year. This Sunday is also called Christ the King Sunday. We celebrate and lift up the might of the exalted Lord Jesus Christ today! Dominion, honor, power, authority, glory, majesty! Crown Him with many crowns! Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of creation!

We have many marvelous hymns we can choose from for today. I love many of the words and tunes of the hymns that refer to our Lord Jesus having all power and authority in heaven and on earth, being King and ruler of the universe, and all creation.

I think all of us are familiar with the stories Jesus tells in His ministry, featuring real life situations. The Rabbi Jesus tries to get His listeners to understand some deeper truths through these stories, or parables. Jesus Himself talks about an all-powerful King at the end of the world, in this final parable from Matthew 25. The all-powerful King from this parable is the exalted Lord Jesus, ascended to heaven, as we declare every time we say the Apostle’s Creed.

As we did two weeks ago, let’s pull back from this particular parable, and look at the larger situation where the Rabbi Jesus tells it. This is midway through Holy Week in Jerusalem, where Jesus is being asked when the end times will come. That’s why He gives this long discourse called the Olivet Discourse, several chapters long in Matthew’s Gospel. Similar to now, people all through the centuries have been aware that the Bible has certain mysterious, even unclear prophecies concerning the end times, just before when the Messiah will come.

However, something does not fit. Something is very puzzling about this parable.

Here in Matthew 25, we have the exalted Lord Jesus, the almighty King eternal, sitting in judgment over all the peoples of the earth.

At first reading, even at second, third, tenth or twentieth reading, this final parable from Matthew can be really scary. Just like in the reading from the Hebrew Scriptures, from the prophet Ezekiel, all sheep and goats are separated, just as all the people from every nation in the world are separated. All people are divided into two groups: those who the King is pleased with, and those who the King is not pleased with.

The people listening to Jesus in Jerusalem that day were extremely puzzled. Scratching their heads, they might have said, “Rabbi, you just don’t make any sense.” Especially the people who had followed Jesus for months might have been particularly lost. Things just don’t add up!

On one hand, we have Jesus, the caring, nurturing Shepherd. This is what the prophet Ezekiel starts off with in our reading today. In many parables, in many situations throughout His ministry for three years, Jesus has shown Himself to be loving, caring, gentle, and welcoming to everyone—no matter who, no matter what.

But, wait. Let’s go back to this final parable from Matthew, where the King at the end of all time is talking to the vast assembly of people from every nation, tribe and tongue. Let’s remind ourselves of the words of the Son of Man: “Then the King will say to the people on his right, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father! Come and possess the kingdom which has been prepared for you ever since the creation of the world.  I was hungry and you fed me, thirsty and you gave me a drink; I was a stranger and you received me in your homes, naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you took care of me, in prison and you visited me.”

I am certain that many people listening to Jesus and His parables were absolutely floored by these words. What on earth are You talking about, Jesus?

Dr. David Lose said, “When we think of God, we typically think in terms of power and might and glory and all the rest. And, indeed, the [final] parable begins by describing the coming of the Son of Man in glory to sit on his throne attended by angels, seemingly only reinforcing our preconceptions.” [1] This word picture is absolutely the picture we associate with Christ the King Sunday, with dominion, honor, power, authority, glory, and majesty!

Yet, we also see a loving, caring, nurturing Shepherd, as expressed by our Lord Jesus Himself any number of times during His ministry. And, there are glimpses of that Shepherd here in the parable, too. We have two different, disparate, even disconcerting pictures of Jesus here. What gives? Which is the real Jesus? What is going on here?

The people in the parable are puzzled, too. Let’s listen to their reaction: “When, Lord, did we ever see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink?  When did we ever see you a stranger and welcome you in our homes, or naked and clothe you?  When did we ever see you sick or in prison, and visit you?”

As if the two very different pictures of Jesus are not enough, the King in the parable adds a third. I tell you, whenever you did this for one of the least important of these members of my family, you did it for me!”

Here, Jesus tells us He is right with the chronically hungry and thirsty. He is among the strangers and refugees. He is among the indigent poor and sick, and is right there with the many hundreds of thousands all across the world who are in jail. Jesus, the Son of Man, would rather hang out with the bums on Skid Row rather than with the fancy people in their religious country clubs or with the fine Pharisees in their first-rate houses of worship.

Does anyone else feel challenged when they hear these serious words of Jesus?

As Dr. Lose tells us, “No one expects to see Jesus in the face of the disadvantaged, the poor, the imprisoned, and all those who are in manifest need.” [2]

Jesus gives us a judgment scene in this final parable. This is a cautionary scene described here, at the end of all time. Here, in this parable from Matthew, we have three separate pictures of Jesus. Yes, He is the King! All honor, power, majesty and glory be given to Him! Amen! Yes, Jesus is the Gentle Shepherd, the loving, caring, nurturing one who gathers the lost lambs into the fold. And, third, our Lord Jesus is seen in the faces of those who are difficult to love, and a challenge to care for.

Jesus shows up in those unexpected places, in the concrete and real needs of our neighbors next door, and around the world. But, you and I are not at the end times, yet. We can take action, and see the face of Jesus in others around us. The disadvantaged, the poor, the imprisoned, and in need.

Jesus calls us to serve others. By serving others, we will be serving—loving—caring for Jesus. How can we serve Jesus, today? How can we help others? How can we extend our hands and hearts to be loving, caring and giving, today? The best part? God will be right by our sides as we extend our hands to serve and care for others. And, God promises to change us from the inside out as we extend our hands—our hearts—ourselves—to others.

Here, in this final parable, Jesus the King tells us He is right with the vulnerable, the unlovely, the indigent, those difficult to love and those who are such a challenge to care for.

Next week, we will begin the liturgical year with the season of Advent, those weeks when we await the coming of the Baby in Bethlehem at Christmas. We await the mystery of the Incarnation, of the Eternal Almighty God the Son emptying Himself and becoming a baby. Becoming vulnerable, becoming human. Just like us.

Maranatha. Come, Lord Jesus.

 

[1] http://www.davidlose.net/2014/11/christ-the-king-a/ “The Unexpected God,” David Lose, …In The Meantime, 2014.

[2] Ibid.

(A heartfelt thank you to An Illustrated Compassion: Learning to Love Like God. Many of these sermon ideas and thoughts came directly from this series.  I appreciate this intergenerational curriculum, which is the basis for my summer sermon series on compassion. This curriculum comes from Illustrated Children’s Ministry. Thanks so much for such great ideas!)

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2017: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)

Love, Humble and Obedient

“Love, Humble and Obedient”

 

crucifixion sketch

Luke 19:37-40 – Phil 2:8 – March 16, 2016

Have you ever watched a television show or a movie where there are two different stories going on at the same time? A few scenes of the first story, and it gets to an exciting or a suspenseful part; then the show switches to the other story. The second story goes on for a bit and just gets interesting, and suddenly the show changes back to the first story.

This sermon is going to do just that.

Like many stories, the first story we look at today does not start at the beginning. Instead, it interrupts in the middle of the action. Rabbi, or Teacher Jesus, wanted to enter Jerusalem on a Sunday morning. This was a special week. Observing, believing Jews from not only all over Israel, but from all over the world had come to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover feast.

People were really starting to talk about this Teacher Jesus! Some people said He was the prophet Elijah who had returned. Others said He was John the Baptist raised from the dead. Even some in Israel said this Jesus might be the Messiah, the Anointed One of God.

So, when Jesus planned His entrance into Jerusalem that day, He knew what people were saying. He wanted to show everyone—the friendly people in the crowds as well as those who doubted or actively disliked Him—that He was the Messiah. Jesus entered Jerusalem on the back of a donkey. He did NOT come in like a conquering king, on a white horse. No, He came in as the Anointed One of God. Humble, and riding on a donkey.

Let’s consider what the Teacher Jesus had been doing for a number of months. Jesus’ words and teaching had authority. He preached with power, which was different from the way the scribes and teachers of the day preached. He healed people, restored sight to the blind and made lame people walk—all of which showed God’s mighty power. And if this wasn’t enough, the Teacher Jesus even forgave sins! He certainly appeared to be from God.

We’re going to shift scenes now. Cut!! Now—instead of looking at a situation two thousand years ago, we are going back before the universe was created. Before God spoke and called anything at all into being. Before the beginning of all things, there was GOD. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. There was community and fellowship within the Godhead even before anything else was created in the whole universe.

I’ll focus on God the Son. Fully God. He was always in existence. There never was a time when He was NOT. When God the Son took on humanity, when He became Jesus at Christmas two thousand years ago, the human Jesus had an actual, physical birthday. But God the Son always was, always is and always will be. It’s a mystery! I can’t understand it, much less explain it. This is a part of the God we worship and celebrate.

Let’s compare the two stories now. Take God the Son before the foundation of the world, all-powerful, all-knowing. Take Jesus the Teacher in Jerusalem, teaching, preaching, healing, even forgiving sins! Compare them side by side. These are all ways that we can describe God.

Jesus, as He comes into Jerusalem, is greeted by crowds of people waving palms and shouting ‘Hosanna!’ They quoted Psalm 118, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’ This is a clear sign of what the crowds who greeted Jesus on that day were thinking. This was the way the people of Jerusalem had greeted the conquering king Jehu several centuries before. They greeted Him as Messiah, the Anointed One, who comes in the name of the Lord.

Consider God the Son, before the foundation of the world. The Apostle Paul tells the believers in the city of Philippi that He set aside His God-ness. He laid it aside. Jesus emptied Himself, willingly, of all things related to being God, to become Man. After being in on the creation of the heavens and the earth, after speaking the world into existence, after being all-knowing and all-powerful, God the Son became a baby. Think of a baby you know, a cute, cuddly, helpless little baby. God the Son willingly became like that.

We all know the Christmas story. Jesus was born in Bethlehem in a barn to a young, homeless couple. Jesus was Jewish, from Israel, an oppressed people-group, in an occupied country. Jesus was marginalized and shunted aside from the very start.

Think about Israel in the first century—occupied territory! People oppressed, terrorized by not only the Roman soldiers, but also by Herod’s soldiers. Looking through history, we can read the fear of occupation and domination from first-person, historical accounts. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a letter written during the time of the Underground Railroad, a diary from Nazi-occupied Holland or a personal account from a victim of human rights abuse from Guatemala today. Horror. Violence. Oppression.

God the Son breaks into this mess of a world. God over all the universe, the Word made flesh, became a baby named Jesus. He became powerless, most vulnerable, least of all. In this fallen world, where power and influence are everything, Jesus came to be with us as a helpless baby.

But I’m not done with the story—yet. Or should I say, the stories? Plural.

Jesus the Teacher could have hidden Himself. He could have just laid low for years, taught quietly, stayed on the outskirts, far away from large towns. But, NO. Jesus did just the opposite. Jesus decided to come to Jerusalem, where there were large crowds, many Jewish leaders, and also many Roman soldiers. He walked into this situation with his eyes wide open.

Some people—I’m thinking of the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the scribes and other temple leaders—were awfully uneasy. For them, Jesus was their worst nightmare. Dr. Luke tells us in chapter 9 of his gospel that Jesus set his face to go to Jerusalem. Our Lord Jesus made up His mind to travel that path. Certain death awaited Him. But He determined to go, nevertheless.

Let’s see what the Apostle Paul says in Philippians 2. Jesus is described as humbling Himself. Humble? The people in Jerusalem that Palm Sunday morning certainly didn’t expect a humble, quiet guy. No! They expected someone who would take charge, rally the people, and mount a rebellion! They wanted someone who would turn things upside down!

Think about the world the Jews were living in. They were subjects of the Romans, the most powerful nation in the world. So the Jews did not like this oppression much at all. People would pop up, claiming to be the Messiah, the Anointed One, and attempt to rally an army to himself. These attempts never went anywhere. The Romans quickly put an end to any rebellion.

When the Apostle Paul wrote about the person and work of our Lord Jesus, he uses terms familiar to his audience. Paul communicates it in simple, matter-of-fact words. Listen to just a part: Jesus “made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, and coming in human likeness.” Even at that Passover dinner on Thursday night, Jesus did not lord it over the disciples. He washed their feet. He did not seek to dominate others, like the Romans did. So many people want power over others. Instead, Jesus wanted to serve. Just like the Apostle Paul describes here in Philippians, Jesus took the form of a servant. He humbly, willingly and lovingly decided to serve others.

Wow. I repeat, WOW.

Let’s get back to the story. Back to Jerusalem. While Jesus went through the turbulent events of Passion Week, with all of the confrontations and discussions, and especially Passover dinner on Thursday night, we see only a portion of the events of this week. Almost the highlights of the week, what you might see if you were watching a video or a television show in two parts, and at the beginning of the second part they showed you the story so far, up to this point.

Why did Jesus come to earth, empty and humble Himself? He did it for us. We can’t understand it. It is pure love from Jesus. And, we can praise God that Jesus did this, for us.

Remember the people on that Palm Sunday morning, the ones who said ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’ They were looking for a savior, a conqueror. Jesus was a savior, He was a conqueror, all right. Just not in the way everyone else expected.

Paul tells us that Jesus became obedient, obedient to death, even the death of the cross. Jesus could have turned away. Jesus could have stepped aside. But He didn’t. We even hear it in what Jesus prayed in the Garden. He said to His Father, “Not My will, but Thine be done.” He became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.

Jesus knew that some of that crowd who cried “Hosanna!” on Palm Sunday morning would be screaming “Crucify Him!” on Good Friday morning. On Palm Sunday morning, He entered Jerusalem. Jesus was preparing Himself to be obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross, one of the most horrible kinds of execution ever thought of by anyone, anywhere.

We can ask . . . WHY? Why did the God over all the universe, the Creator of the heavens and the earth come down from heaven and die a criminal’s death on a cross? It was LOVE.

Jesus shows us a love we could not resist, that melts our hearts. This is what causes us to fall at His feet in worship and praise. As the final step, the culmination of His amazing love for us, Jesus has been raised from the dead and exalted to the right hand of God the Father! Jesus receives the name which is above every name. Jesus Christ is Lord. Did you hear? Do you know? At the name of Jesus every knee should bow! Every knee of those in heaven, and those on earth, and those under the earth. Every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Praise God. Amen, and amen!

@chaplaineliza

Suggestion: visit me at my daily blog: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers– where I am doing a Lenten journey.  #PursuePEACE – And my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind -Thanks!