Friday, January 19, 2018

"Rise Up! Listen" - Sermon, January 14, 2018

Community UMC, Quincy
Rise Up! Listen
Pastor Andrew Davis
January 14, 2018
1 Samuel 3: 1-20

        How many of you have heard things, just out of the blue?  How about hearing your name called in a crowd of people, only to turn and not see anyone that you know?  It can be a little startling, to say the least.  Of course, there are times I have just heard things at random, which will result in getting a little frustrated. I like to know who’s calling my name and see who it is, so that perhaps we can engage a little further. 
            As we began our series, “Rise Up!” last week, we talked about how God speaks to us, whether it is through other people, through dreams, through an audible voice out of nowhere, or  other signs.  I shared last week that a few months ago in the midst of several natural disasters and unrest, a friend of mine from seminary posted on Facebook, “Jehovah (another name for God) is speaking; are we listening” so it’s natural that today we talk about listening when God speaks.  Just as I asked last week and will ask again this week; when God is speaking, are we listening?
For instance in our scripture this morning, we encounter  young Samuel, a boy who is training to be a priest who hears a voice at random calling his name.  Except Samuel thinks it is the voice of the elder priest Eli, whom Samuel is learning what it means to serve God under.  Samuel does the right thing in coming to Eli with the response, “here I am,” Although Eli says it’s not him until Eli realizes that it’s God who is calling young Samuel and encourages Samuel to listen and respond with “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening” (1 Sam. 3: 9, NRSV).  Although what is interesting is that Eli can’t exactly see, as his vision has left him, yet he perceives that it is God who is calling Samuel (1 Sam. 3: 8, NRSV).  As Samuel follows Eli’s instructions and responds to God’s calling and receives a vision from God , just imagine having to deliver harsh news, such as Samuel must do with Eli.  Talk about a difficult task for a young boy, yet Samuel does it and Eli’s response is fairly stoic, as Eli says “it is the Lord; let him do what seems good to him” (1 Sam. 3: 18, NRSV). 
What makes this whole story intriguing is that Samuel is hearing God’s voice in a time when God’s voice was pretty much silent, when there weren’t too many visions from God, and the world at the time is kind of in a general sense of upheaval and unrest.  Something is happening when God calls Samuel in the midst of the lack of visions, although some of the scholarship and notes also liken Eli’s blindness to the spiritual blindness at the time.  Like some of the other heroes of our faith, God sets Samuel apart for service, starting with Samuel’s miraculous birth in chapter 1 of 1 Samuel.  Samuel’s mother, Hannah had been barren until God listened to her prayer, although Eli thought Hannah was drunk when he witnessed her praying for a child; however, we have seen other miraculous births happen with previously barren women in a couple other accounts in The Bible, such as Sarah in Genesis, or Elizabeth in the Gospel of Luke.  As Samuel grows up, he ultimately becomes a priest then a prophet.  Like attending seminary to learn the basics of being a pastor, Samuel first he has to learn to listen for and how to respond to God’s voice. 
Just as Samuel has to learn to hear the voice of God, it’s a skill we too will learn along the way on our journey of faith, no matter what form God’s voice comes through.  As Rev. Dr. B. Kevin Smalls explains, “listening, of course, is a critical part of the Christian faith.”[i] Especially deep, reflective listening.  While reflective listening is a skill that is still one of my many growing edges, I learned the importance of listening and even made some mistakes by not always listening carefully and reflectively along the way during my ministry internship a few years ago.  While I was serving as music director and seminary intern at Hope Presbyterian Church in Mitchellville, MD, our church ministered to a nearby retirement community and each Sunday after church, Pastor Dottie (who many of you met in October) and I would go and visit some of our members who lived in the community that couldn’t make it to church.  During the three years I did visitations there on a regular basis, deep, reflective listening was a skill I began learning, sometimes failed at, and still try to apply it in pastoral care situations when I can.  Except, I’ll be completely honest that deep listening is a skill I’m still learning, as I have yet to master it.  It’s a skill some of us have already, or a skill many of us are still learning too.  At the same time, We’re all learning to listen to God’s voice together, just as Samuel learned from Eli!! 
While we touched upon it some during Advent in the relationship between young Mary and her older cousin Elizabeth, the relationship between Eli and Samuel is similar, as Eli mentors Samuel in showing him how to listen for God’s voice.  Professor of Homiletics and Hebrew Bible, Dr. Valerie Bridgman at Methodist Theological School in Ohio explains that
Though no ordinary, off-the-street person, Eli’s role in Samuel’s calling does remind us that we learn how to discern God’s voice and call in proximity to people who have come before us. They help attune our ears and heart to hear from God. Who mentors us to listen for the voice, what Howard Thurman called “the sound of the genuine” that’s in all of us?1 How do we prepare to hear it completely in order to respond to it fully? Who are the Elis in our lives?[ii]

            The people in this church who came before us listened to God’s voice throughout the years, then taught those who came along to listen to God’s voice.  We too are part of the story of this church today, as we continue listening to God’s voice and are now teaching our younger generations what it means to rise up and listen for God’s voice.  This past December when Charlotte shared the Christmas story, there was an amazing sense of wonder in many of the kids as she taught them the story of how Jesus was born and to see them listen to the story inspired me.  And seeing more children come who are eager to listen to God’s story and become a part of that story today has been amazing. 
            When I was appointed as pastor here in Quincy by Bishop Warner Brown almost two years ago, we did not really have any children regularly attending, maybe two or three, yet one of the goals of our church was to engage with younger families, something that is being realized and will continue evolving.  When we live into the great invitation by Jesus to come and see, and when we intently listen to God’s voice and pay attention to the nudgings of the Holy Spirit, it’s amazing what can happen in our church.  Last week, we have realized that we need to EXPAND our Sunday School and we have some serious momentum going for us because we are listening to God’s call in our church and community.  In order to keep that momentum going, we as a church have an opportunity to be like Eli was to Samuel, in mentoring our younger generations, teaching them how we are all a part of God’s story, and how to listen for God’s voice.  Rev. Dr. B. Kevin Smalls explains that
we learn all throughout the Bible that both the young and the old are sacred gifts. Joel prophesied that the old will dream dreams and the young will see visions. It is a sacred gift to know that the greatest miracles may be born out of interaction between the young and the old: Ruth and Naomi, Mary and Elizabeth, and of course Samuel and Eli. The one link that is possible to bridge these generational gaps is that of listening. What narratives can be used to illustrate the power of two generations sitting together at the same table, bound by the voice of God, who finds a way to make community among them?[iii]

            On the other hand, there are a few little challenges as to what Rev. Dr. Smalls just said.  While the interaction between the young and old can be sacred in the internal work of the church, there are times when there can and will be a little conflict and tension between the old and the young, although it can be a healthy conflict and tension.  It still takes listening to each other and as B. Kevin Smalls explains, carefully listening to each other as a way of creating inter-generational community with each other.  As Bishop Warner Brown said in a sermon one time at Annual Conference, nothing makes him sadder than when we fail to listen to our younger generations.  It makes me sad too, as I’ve been through that before, although as I get older, I also realize that listening is a two way streak, although that’s where we teach and mentor.
Sometimes, when we come from another generation, we have certain expectations of each other, as well as different cultural norms, although I also invite us to challenge our norms and expectations and deeply listen to each other each other.  Instead of trying to impose our own values and expectations on one another or argue about what’s right and wrong with each generation or what’s the best way to do things based on what we already know, let’s try to listen to and understand one another by creating and cultivating authentic relationships with each other.  Eli did not simply shrug Samuel off, but instead when Eli realized what was happening, he encouraged Samuel to listen and listen carefully for God’s voice, and that’s something we all should be striving to do; encouraging each other to listen to God’s voice by mentoring each other. 
As we rise up and listen this week, then get ready to move with the Spirit next week, when have you heard the voice of God, whether it’s a whisper in the night, a dream, an act of nature, or through another person?  And how will you help mentor others to listen to God’s voice, or are you looking for someone to mentor you along the way?  Like Eli encouraged Samuel, let’s encourage each other to listen carefully for God’s voice among us this week and beyond!! 

[i] Ministries, Discipleship. 2018. "Second Sunday After The Epiphany 2018 — Preaching Notes - Umcdiscipleship.Org". Umcdiscipleship.Org. Accessed January 10 2018.

[ii] "Commentary On 1 Samuel 3:1-10 [11-20] By Valerie Bridgeman". 2018. Workingpreacher.Org. Accessed January 10 2018.

[iii] Ministries, Discipleship. 2018. "Second Sunday After The Epiphany 2018 — Preaching Notes - Umcdiscipleship.Org". Umcdiscipleship.Org. Accessed January 10 2018.

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