Sermon Archives

Are You Listening? ~ 1 Samuel 3:1-11

Did any of you watch the Golden Globe awards last Sunday night?  I missed most of them but did join the family in front of the tube just as Stephen Spielberg was being celebrated.

Spielberg is, of course, the director of some of the most successful films of the past 30 years: Indiana Jones, Schindler’s List, Jaws, Saving Private Ryan, and on and on. Although his remarks went on too long, he said something that caught my attention. He shared that when he was a small boy, his father took him to see Cecil B. DeMille’s “Greatest Show on Earth.” Watching that film something clicked within him and his life was set. Just a small boy in the temple of film known as the theater – and remember the movie theaters of 30 years ago, many of them were temples – he got the call.

Spielberg also mentioned his “spiritual” mentors. He didn’t use that word “spiritual” but that is what he meant as he named DeMille and Martin Scorcese (who presented the award) as his guides.

I was thinking about the call of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. this week. A son of a preacher he certainly spent enough time in the temple, in the sanctuary. His call was shaped by the rhetorical skill of his fathers preaching and the rhythms of the Black Church and the crucible of segregation. I haven’t been able to find a source that describes his own sense of call – but we know that the act of Rosa Parks ultimately pushed him into the light that shone upon a nation in denial. And he too had mentors. Prominent among them was the theologian and activist Howard Thurman, who wrote this verse that should be recited every year, the first Sunday after Christmas:

When the star in the sky is gone
When the kings and princes are home
When the shepherds are back with their flocks.
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To teach the nations,
To bring Christ to all,
To make music in the heart.

Howard Thurman introduced King to the teachings of Gandhi and I read somewhere this past week. “Without Howard Thurman, I don’t believe you’d get a Martin Luther King, Jr.”

Soon to be President Barack Obama tells of Lolo, his Indonesian step-father, who always told him to, “Pay attention. Keep your hands up.”

Isn’t it amazing how God works? Calling these people to live lives that express their deepest passions and so change the world in some way?

There seems to be a pattern here – in sketchy form; people who discern their call rightly have spent time in the temple cultivating a discipline. People who discern their call rightly have spiritual friends and mentors who help shape and guide and nurture; folks who point the direction and give clues on how to answer. People, who listen and hear, end up adding a little tingle to the world. By that I mean, they agitate us to consider something in a different way.

Do you feel called? Have you had the experience of hearing with the ears of your heart something so compelling that it excites you to the core and names and claims you – the clarion YES that rings?

Have you been spending time in the temple? Lying down near the ark of God?

For the young Samuel, being in the temple and lying by the ark was a description of what he was actually doing. He had been set apart by the Lord as had been told to the old priest Eli.

Eli became Samuel’s spiritual mentor, the wise adviser, who helped Samuel interpret his mysterious, mystical and powerful epiphany. The young boy heard his voice called three times – the first two times, remember, he thought it was Eli calling him. But, once Eli caught on to what was really happening he knew how to direct Samuel’s response to God: Speak for your servant is listening.”

For you and for me, spending time in the temple and lying down near the ark of God may be more metaphorical. But they are powerfully descriptive metaphors, and therefore true, of how you and I, who hope to follow the call of God in our lives, need to shape our personal business.

I mean this not only for adults who may be in mid-life crisis, or between jobs, those who have an opportunity to discern next moves. I also am thinking of high school juniors and seniors and college students and grad students who are wondering “what’s next.” I am also thinking of post-retirement folk – who are considering a move, where to go.

At every turning point of our life, every crisis, every moment of decision you have this opportunity to listen to the voice of God calling you.

Are you spending time in the temple of attention? Are you paying attention to your deepest needs, your deepest passion, your deepest joy and your deepest pains? Are you paying attention?

Are you disciplined in prayer? Are you asking God to help show you the way? Are you seeking out wisdom from those whom you admire? Not necessarily those with whom you agree but admire.

One of my mentors was a good friend to many of you, Tom Uhle, and his question to me almost every time we met was “John, are you praying about it? Are you asking the Lord to do something for you?” I remember Professor Richard Hays saying: “John, don’t deny your academic side.”

How can you hear if you do not listen? How do you discern if you are not disciplined in prayer? How can you know if you are not taught, if there is not someone there to agitate you?

Many of us miss the first, second, third, fourth calls. But right here is wonderful news – God is relentless, always wanting you to find yourself, always. If you don’t get it on the first or second or third times – it is all good – God loves you and will always seek after you.

We read in the first verse of chapter 3, “The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.” What a fascinating sentence. I wonder if the word of the Lord was rare in those days NOT because God wasn’t speaking, but because the people were not listening? In the same way I wonder how many times Moses missed the burning bush in the wilderness. Maybe he hadn’t been looking before.

I wonder if the word of the Lord was rare and visions were not widespread because people were not cultivating an attitude of faithful expectation. Remember the Pentecost story – the disciples waited forty days before the Spirit descended upon them and gave visions to both slave and free, male and female, old and young, Greek and Jew.

I wonder how many times God has to speak and call your name before you hear? It reminds of a story that I think is kind of funny. It was the time of the year for United Way contributions to be collected. So the rep would go around and gather the money. There was one guy who didn’t give. And so after several times the United Way rep went to the boss and said: “Joe Smith isn’t contributing.” The next day the boss went to Mr. Smith and said: “If you don’t give you are fired.” Needless to say, Joe Smith, gave a very nice financial gift. The rep asked him, “So why such a generous contribution now?” To which Joe Smith said: “The boss said if I didn’t give I would get fired. I never had it explained so clearly before.”

Sometimes it may be that we only get the “call” by being metaphorically struck by a 2×4 – maybe you get fired. Maybe you get a diagnosis which changes your course. God can use anything to get your attention. However, often I think we would save ourselves a lot of trouble if we cultivate our temple, and lie down and listen. I think we would move along at times more graceful paths, if we had someone to guide us, to agitate us, to hold us accountable. Who plays that role for you?

I think it is Bono of U2 who sings “sometimes you can’t make it on your own.” A good lesson to me and many who think we always have to make it up from scratch, or who never ask for directions, or who are embarrassed to let on to someone else how much we don’t know.

I believe that God’s voice is calling each one of you individually and us collective to listen and to do. I believe that God has, for each of you, and all of us, some special work that is going to change the world – and by world it may mean the planet or the little piece of the world that you find yourself in: your job, your family, your home. And it may well be that God’s call to you in your present location may be different from God’s call to you in a future time. So be patient, be open, be listening, ask for help. Micro or macro – God calls… are you listening? Are you helping others to listen?

After Samuel at last responds to the voice of God with “Speak, for your servant is listening,” God then says to Samuel: “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make both ears of anyone who hears of it tingle.” What God was about to do in that situation in the short term was not very pleasant. But God was clearing the deck, so to speak, so that, according to the author of Samuel, Saul could be anointed King and the trajectory of God’s grace could bend towards further revelation.

I wonder what the voice of the Lord is calling you and me to do in these days when my ears are tingling with anticipation, excitement, and fear about a new day in America. Whether you are pleased or not with President Obama’s inauguration it is a momentous week when that which Rev. King preached about is coming true.

I wonder how you and I are being called to join the parade that marches along the moral arc of the universe that as Dr. King preached always bends towards justice.

I wonder how we will be called to move in these days towards a collective vision of our work in the world? How we will join the movement towards a more collaborative and sharing vision for our region? How we will come together in this place on our Congregational meeting day to discern what God would have Forest Hill become? I wonder what is in store for Gaza and Israel and how even in our little corner of the world of Monticello and Lee we might witness to truth, and beauty, and peace, and reconciliation and joy – who knows how our witness may send shock waves of mercy and hope….

I wonder what the voice of the Lord is calling me to do, and you to do, and us to do?

Well, you won’t hear unless you listen, and you won’t listen unless you are cultivating a discipline of prayer, spending time in the temple where the nave of your deepest desire crosses the transept of the world’s greatest need.

You might have missed God’s first and second call. But there is always a third and fourth and a fifth and sixth.

Are you listening?