July 1 Sermon by Pastor Melody Webb
SCRIPTURE: 1 Samuel 3:1-20
1 Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.
2 At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; 3 the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was. 4 Then the Lord called, “Samuel! Samuel!” and he said, “Here I am!” 5 and ran to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call; lie down again.” So he went and lay down. 6 The Lord called again, “Samuel!” Samuel got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call, my son; lie down again.” 7 Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. 8 The Lord called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy. 9 Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.
10 Now the Lord came and stood there, calling as before, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” 11 Then the Lord said to Samuel, “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make both ears of anyone who hears of it tingle. 12 On that day I will fulfill against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. 13 For I have told him that I am about to punish his house forever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them. 14 Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be expiated by sacrifice or offering forever.”
15 Samuel lay there until morning; then he opened the doors of the house of the Lord. Samuel was afraid to tell the vision to Eli. 16 But Eli called Samuel and said, “Samuel, my son.” He said, “Here I am.” 17 Eli said, “What was it that he told you? Do not hide it from me. May God do so to you and more also, if you hide anything from me of all that he told you.” 18 So Samuel told him everything and hid nothing from him. Then he said, “It is the Lord; let him do what seems good to him.”
19 As Samuel grew up, the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. 20 And all Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was a trustworthy prophet of the Lord.
This is the Word of God for the People of God. Thanks be to God.
Have you ever heard something that made both ears tingle? My youngest sister just celebrated her one year wedding anniversary. She and her husband, who is a firefighter, live in a 1950’s era house in central Mississippi, and she tell us that for the last year, on the nights when he is working, she’s been lying in bed at night and hearing these noises coming from the attic – sounds that definitely made her ears tingle! She’s been trying to convince her husband that there’s something up there; but he has repeatedly brushed it off as ‘probably just mice’ – until recently. One night, he finally heard the sounds himself – hissing, groaning, and heavy scampering – and he realized that whatever was in their attic was much too large to be a mouse! Thinking that is must be an animal of some kind, he borrowed a box-type trap and set it in the attic. A few nights ago, we were sent pictures around 1:00am of the raccoon they caught, and the following day, a picture of all the baby raccoons they found when they took apart the eaves on the side of the house!
Now, hearing noises coming from the attic and realizing that something else is living in your house is certainly one of those things that would make my ears tingle! But there are other things that might cause the same response in us.
In our scripture today, the young boy Samuel, who was dedicated to the service of God by his parents, has been taken to the central temple in Shiloh where he can be mentored by the Priest Eli. One of Samuel’s responsibilities is to make sure that the Lamp of God remains lit at night, so he must sleep inside the sanctuary, near the Holy of Holies where the Ark of the Covenant is located. And one night, as Samuel lay sleeping in the sanctuary, he hears a voice calling him, “Samuel, Samuel.” Now if you are one of only two people inhabiting a certain space, and you hear someone calling your name, you would most likely assume, as Samuel did, that it was the voice of the other person. But when Samuel repeatedly goes to Eli after hearing this, Eli begins to perceive that this voice must be the voice of God. So he instructs Samuel to go back and lie down, and if he hears the voice again, to say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” This time, when God speaks, and Samuel answers, the Lord tells him, “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make both ears of anyone who hears of it tingle.”
I chose this scripture as the backdrop for telling you my own call story today. But first I want to ask you to think about what encounters you have had with God’s Word, or God’s divine presence that have made both of your ears tingle? I’m going to give you a moment of silence to think about that, and then I’ll lead us in a moment of prayer.
Will you come and follow me if I but call your name? Will you go where you don’t know and never be the same? Will you let my love be shown, will you let my name be known, will you let my life be grown in you and you in me?
Will you leave yourself behind if I but call your name? Will you care for cruel and kind and never be the same? Will you risk the hostile stare should your life attract or scare? Will you let me answer prayer in you and you in me? Amen.
[“The Summons” - TFWS #2130, verses 1 & 2]
Some of my earliest memories of encountering God were thanks to my parents who are here with me today. My father retired this year after 54 years of preaching for the churches of Christ in Mississippi. I still cherish the early childhood memories I have of my dad preaching, my mom teaching Sunday School, my grandparents, aunts, uncle, cousins and sisters filling the church pews together, and the beautiful harmonies of unaccompanied congregational hymn-singing. Music – especially hymns – were one of the first ear-tingling ways that God spoke to me, and it is still one of the primary ways that I worship God and express my faith to others.
When I was young, church life spilled over into our family life as we would gather for Sunday dinners at my great-grandmother’s house, and then sit around singing hymns on her screened-in front porch. It was the basis for fun and friendship, through church dinners on the ground, ice cream socials, and gatherings in each other’s homes. As a child, I even talked my sister, cousins and friends into ‘playing church’ with me – but only if I got to be the song-leader AND the preacher! But unfortunately, those were positions in the particular church of my childhood that I could only pretend about; because in this church, only men were allowed to lead.
As I outgrew playing pretend, I began to notice things that seemed unfair, or unjust, in the world around me – especially in the 1970’s and 80’s in Mississippi. I noticed gender inequality and the way some people talked about women as sexual objects instead of as a person in her own right – especially if she held some job or position of authority. I heard racist jokes, and noticed racial and ethnic bias, oppression, and economic disparity. I noticed the ways some people were put down or left out, the way people were talked about and talked to, and the ways some people were treated, and I began to wonder why…
At this time in my life, I couldn’t make sense of a God who would allow these kinds of injustices; and because my everyday world was so closely tied to church and to God, I began to blame the church for not doing enough to ‘fix’ things that were wrong in the world, especially as I perceived some church members themselves to be on the offending sides of these actions, and this eventually hurt my relationship with God and with my family.
As I grew into my teens, I of course thought I had the world figured out, and I was sure that I would be better off without the constraints of a hypocritical church telling me what I could or couldn’t do. So I left home for college, and I turned my back on my faith.
Now without faith to anchor me, and without a faith community to hold me accountable, or to watch over me, I began to make choices and engage in activities and relationships that brought me and others more harm than good. The Bible is full of examples of people who have found themselves in the midst of brokenness and pain.
In 1 Samuel, we learn that the people of Israel, after being led to the Promised Land, have quickly forgotten their promises to God. They have gotten busy with their own lives, they hardly come to temple any more; the scripture says that in those days “the word of the Lord was rare.” Even the priest Eli’s sons have become susceptible to corruption and abuse of power; chapter 2 details how they preyed on the vulnerabilities of women, and took what they wanted from the offerings people brought to the temple, even threatening force, if necessary. Eli seems at a loss for how to deal with his sons, and allows their abuse of power to go unchecked. And so, without the foundation of God’s Word in their lives, and without the support of a faithful community, the people of Israel find themselves in the midst of struggles.
In my own life, even though I had become disillusioned with the church, there were times growing up when I desperately wanted to know God, and when I prayed for God’s direction in my life. And God, in God’s faithfulness, did not abandon me. In college, I came to a crossroads where I had to decide whether to continue living in fear and isolation, not trusting God or others to love or accept me, or to take a leap of faith and hope that God existed, and that I could somehow start over. I can look back at this time in my life and see very clearly God’s prevenient grace at work in my life. When I reached this crossroads and began to pray for help, there was a particular professor of mine who asked for a meeting with me. I had missed a lot of class, and I was sure he was going to tell me that I was failing. But when I walked into his office and sat down, he leaned across his desk and said, “I want you to know that I and my whole church have been praying for you. They don’t know your name, but they know that I have been very worried about you. And so I just wanted you to know that God sees and loves you, and that you are not alone.” Are your ears tingling? Mine were!
After that, I had another professor who offered me a small scholarship to come sing in the church choir she directed. She wanted me to know that she had already talked to her choir and to one of her pastors about me and some of my struggles, and that they would not judge me – that they would be happy to be my church. Again, my ears were tingling!
In this new community of faith, I was able to learn of God’s unconditional love as it was being shown to me through others who seemed to have some of the same concerns about the world that I did. I was supported with kindness and patience as I grappled with my understanding of who God was and healed from past hurts. As I experienced a renewal in my relationship with God, I also experienced restored relationships with my family. When I started my own family with a new husband and daughter, we were surrounded by this church with nurture and care. This wonderful expression of God’s love led me to a new commitment to learning about Jesus and sharing that love in my life – in the church, we call this discipleship.
In my life, God had claimed me in my baptism, and God’s Spirit, though I didn’t always perceive it, had always been present with me. This was my first call – and in fact is all of our calls to know, love and serve God. For a time, I stopped listening to God’s Word in my life, and I wandered away from God’s path. In our scripture today, this is where we find the people of Israel. But notice God’s unwillingness to leave them. Notice how persistently God calls Samuel – not once or twice but as many times as it takes for Samuel to recognize and respond. Notice, too, that it took the help of Eli – the act of collaboration with the worshiping community – to recognize God’s voice. When Samuel was open to hearing God’s call, Go set to work on a program for Israel’s renewal.
At this time in Israel’s history, they were still living in encampments without a permanent home and without a formalized government – and they were being ruled by greed and corruption. The people of Israel needed to make a transition from a tumultuous way of living, constantly battling neighboring forces in order to survive, to a new way of being – a new community led by a benevolent monarchy. God said, “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make both ears of anyone who hears of it tingle.” We know, of course, that because of the flaws of humanity, the world would eventually need another plan for renewal until God sent the only One who could save a broken world – that One is Jesus.
Because of Jesus, we are all given the opportunity to become ‘new’ – to have a new way of living in relationship with God and with others. Thanks to God’s Amazing grace, I have learned that life in Jesus is the answer to the pain, brokenness and struggles I have experienced. In the apostle Paul’s first letter to the Christians in Corinth, he says:
17 So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. 20 So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (1 Corinthians 5:15-21)
I love those words, ‘the ministry of reconciliation.’ For many years, I have loved having the opportunity to witness to God’s transforming love through the ministry of music. But several years ago, I began to question whether singing to and with those who were already coming to church was the best way to let the world know about God. I had been taking Disciple Bible study, and was beginning to sense that there was a ministry beyond that of music that God was calling me to. It was about this time that I was visiting my parents in Mississippi, and decided to attend church with them. This was a different congregation that the ones I had grown up in. So I didn’t know many people there, and I was probably somewhat disconnected from worship that morning… until one of the men stepped up to read that morning’s scripture, and I heard something that made both my ears tingle:
1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
“See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; 4 he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” 5 And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” (Revelation 21:1-5)
In that moment, I had a new understanding of this scripture – an understanding that this wasn’t just a far-off promise for life after this one, but God’s plan – God’s desire – for life here on the earth God created. This was the ‘ministry of reconciliation’ to which we are all called – life lived in the wholeness that God intended when God first spoke the world into existence; life lived ‘on earth, as it is in heaven.’ And then, just as I was experiencing this realization, I heard a voice as clearly as if someone had been standing right beside me say, “One day you will proclaim the Word.” Are your ears tingling?
That was in 2013. It took me five years to fully follow what I perceived God calling me to do. And I want to acknowledge that sometimes, like in our scripture today, when we hear the voice of God, our ears may tingle with fear for what it may cost us. Sometimes we may think that what God is asking of us is too hard, or may require sacrifices we’re unwilling to make; it may take us out of our comfort zones by requiring us to do or say something that is counter-cultural, or unpopular with our friends and family. In my own life, I can only say that every time I have been faithful to follow God’s call in my life, God has been faithful to go before me and with me, and has guided me every step of the way.
Now, my calling may have been to a ministry that would eventually become my vocation. But each and every one of us have been called and claimed by God. God is calling all of us to be disciples and ministers of reconciliation. Like our scripture today, I believe that God’s call is always best perceived in the context of community, and I am so excited to be joining the disciples here at Maple Grove, and to listen together for the ways that God will speak to us about how we can join God in the mission of bringing others into this community of love. Just like our scripture today, I believe that God has set to work on a plan for renewal for the community of West Des Moines and Waukee, and I believe that God is calling us to be co-creators of a new beloved community!
Over the next three weeks, we will consider three essential questions, “Why do people need Jesus? Why do people need the church? and Why do people need this church?” that will help us lay the foundation for reaching out to those in our community who right now may be living unconnected to the love of God, and the love of a faith community. If we listen to the news or to conversations in the grocery store or on social media, we know that people in our world are hurting. People are looking to the church, just like I did in my teens, and asking whether or not they can trust us to be bearers of good news. Will we show them a God who is able to love and mend, a God who cares about abuse of power and injustice? A God who sees them and loves them and calls them by name to be part of a community who loves them just the same? This is our call. Are your ears tingling?
Let us pray:
Will you let the blinded see if I but call your name? Will you set the prisoners free and never be the same? Will you kiss the leper clean, and do such as this unseen, and ad mit to what I mean in you and you in me?
Lord, your summons echoes true when you but call my name. Let me turn and follow you and never be the same. In your company I’ll go where your love and footsteps show Thus I’ll move and live and grow in you and you in me.
["The Summons" - TFWS #2130, verses 3 & 5]