Sunday, January 15, 2012

Second Sunday after Epiphany
1 Samuel 3:1-10 [11-20]
Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18
1 Corinthians 6:12-20
John 1:43-51

Then Samuel said, Speak; for thy servant heareth.

Bluetooth drives me crazy. Ok, it isnít actually Bluetooth that drives me crazy, but the people who use any sort of hands off wireless phone when they are walking around stores. I find myself in the company of such people as Iím walking down the aisles of the grocery store as they are chattering away with someone on their phone. Of course, we all become distracting when we talk on the phone in the store, but at least those who put a phone up to their ear are obviously not talking to me. I have been in an aisle, searching the shelves for a specific item and heard the person next to me say something like, ďIím looking forÖĒ I didnít see a cell phone and I answer, ďIt isÖĒ The person looked at me like I was rude and I suddenly realized that they were talking into a Bluetooth.

When the conversation has nothing to do with the situation, it doesnít take long to realize that they are talking on a cell phone, but too often in the grocery store the conversation is the type that you might think is with you. Sometimes the person, who is actually in their own little world, looks directly at my face, speaks words and is then shocked when I respond. How am I supposed to know that a person who is looking me in the eye isnít talking to me, especially when the words seem to fit the social situation?

Private conversations are held in public on cell phones as people walk down the street. I was in a store a few days ago and someone a few aisles from me got a call on her cell phone. She answered and spoke so loud that I could hear her entire conversation. She eventually ended up in the same aisle, and was still talking, almost yelling, about something that was of no concern to anyone else in the store. I certainly didnít mean to eavesdrop, and Iím sure no one else did, but how can you ignore someone who doesnít seem to care about privacy?

The way we communicate has changed so much in the last hundred years, and the bulk of that change has occurred in the last few decades. Iím as guilty as the next person. Iíd rather deal with things in email or on Facebook than call someone on the phone. The only time I really send anyone a personal note is at Christmastime, and even them most of my list gets a printed newsletter. When I am in conversation with someone who is actually in my presence, I get distracted by other things. There seems to be a television in the corner of every room, even in restaurants, shopping centers and office buildings.

With all this noise in the world, it is hard to hear what is really being said. I donít know how many times someone has thought I said something, but it was really someone on television or on a cell phone. It is hard to remember information because it is given in tandem with so much information. Instead of hearing our neighbors, we read what they have to say, and we donít always read it carefully, or we misunderstand because we do not recognize their tone of voice. We live in a very confusing world sometimes.

Samuelís world was probably very quiet. Oh, there was the noise of animals, of nature, of neighbors, but nothing like we have today. It would have been especially quiet in the Temple. Samuelís job was to serve Eli, so his senses would have been heightened to hear and respond to Eliís voice. He didnít even know he could hear the voice of God. Do we know we can hear it? Do we know that He might talk to us? If He does, will we be able to recognize it over the noise of the world?

When God called Samuel, he went to Eli. Eli lived in a time when God was very quiet. The scriptures tell us that the word of the LORD was rare in those days. People were not having visions. Despite being high priest, Eli didnít have the connection to God that we might expect. The priests were not necessarily called, but were appointed through inheritance, as we see with Eliís sons. But Samuel was a gift from Hannah, given in response to Godís gift of answered prayer. Samuel was different. And Samuel was chosen for something great.

One night, Samuel heard the voice of God calling, but he didnít know it was God. He lived in a time when Godís voice was rare; it is not surprising that he thought the voice speaking to him in then night was Eli. It even took Eli three times to realize what was happening. A boy simply would not know. So, imagine what it was like to be Samuel. He heard the voice a fourth time and responded to God. The message he received was not good news. Eli was like a father to Samuel. How would he tell Eli that God said that Eliís house would be punished forever? It was the first of many bad messages Samuel had to take to the people who sought the word of the Lord.

I donít know if there are any parallels between Samuelís day and ours today, but I wonder if anyone expects to hear the voice of God calling in the night. If someone says, ďGod told meÖĒ they are seen as crazy. The idea that God still calls people with His voice to do His work and will is ridiculed by even Christians. Those who have heard the voice of God are afraid to say so because the ones who have heard God and told others are rejected and mocked. Unfortunately, many will not even realize it was Godís voice they heard because they hear so many competing voices. Besides, who wants to be called to be a prophet?

Last week the scriptures spoke about how powerful and majestic is the voice of God. When God speaks, things happen. At His baptism, Jesus heard that wonderful voice as the Holy Spirit came upon. It was a very personal, intimate moment as God the Father blessed His Son. ďThou art my beloved Son, in thee I am well pleased.Ē There would be more such moments to come, not only for Jesus but also for those who heard Godís voice. The scriptures for this week take us into that relationship, where God speaks personally to those He has chosen to serve.

Philip heard Godís voice. Philip had an advantage over Samuel because he heard a very real voice, that of Jesus. Jesus called Philip into a relationship. The encounter was no less miraculous because Philip dropped everything to follow Jesus. He went to his friend Nathanael and told him that heíd met the Messiah. That message was not nearly as difficult to share as the one Samuel had to give Eli, but even still Nathanael questioned the details. He couldnít believe that God would do things the way Philip said. ďWhat good can come out of Nazareth?Ē Though God was speaking through Philip, Nathanael didnít believe the voice because it was outside his expectation. Thatís the parallel between us and this story. We canít believe when someone says, ďGod told meÖĒ especially when we hear several people say that God told them conflicting ideas. It is hard to believe when several politicians say that God called them to run for office. It is even hard to believe when someone says that God called them to ministry when their ideas are different than ours.

Philip had no doubt that what he was saying was true. When Nathanael questioned the invitation to meet Jesus, he answered, ďCome and see.Ē He didnít try to prove his words or his worth. He didnít try to prove that he heard Godís voice. He simply invited Nathanael to see for himself the man who could be the One they were waiting to see. We need not fight the doubt or worry about the ridicule when we say weíve heard the voice of God, whether it is a voice like Samuel heard or a real voice through whom God is speaking. We can just say, ďCome and see.Ē With these words we invite people into our fellowship with Christ, into His Word, into His heart. We canít change people but we can invite them into His presence. God is able to prove Himself in His own way.

When Nathanael met Jesus, Jesus said, ďBehold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!Ē Jesus knew Nathanael, intimately and personally, as He knows all His children. The Psalm speaks of Godís handiwork, how He knitted us together in the womb. David sings of Godís knowledge, how He knows our inner being and the lives He has ordained for us to live. He knows our calling, even before we are born. He knows our thoughts and our ways. In the lessons for today, we learn that God doesnít let our doubt get in the way of the intention of His calling. He keeps calling so that we will hear. We might not always understand why or how God comes to us, but He does until we get it.

When Nathanael wondered how Jesus knew him, the proof was not very exciting. ďI saw you under the tree.Ē Why would that be the word that convinced Nathanael to believe in Jesus? It doesnít make much sense. And yet, when does it make sense to say we believe in something so extraordinary? The proofs that people give that God called them often sound coincidental or seem like the perception of crazy mind. ďThat funny feeling in your belly was nothing more than gas.Ē Jesus assured Nathanael that this was the beginning of something extraordinary. His faith may be based on so little, but it would grow as God continued to speak. Nathanael would see the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, but even when it seemed like there was no physical body to the voice, the voice would still speak.

The people of Corinth understood the spiritual relationship God had with His people. They knew about grace and forgiveness and knew they would live eternally with God. Yet, they rejected that Godís relationship with them was flesh as well as spirit. They thought it was ok to abuse and misuse their flesh because it no longer mattered. For them, Godís voice was not heard the way Samuel heard it, and even the voices of fellow Christians did not matter. Faith was spiritual only, nothing of the world mattered.

They did not see sexual immorality as a problem because they were spiritual beings. God did not communicate with or through their bodies. But Paul reminded them that their bodies were the dwelling place of God, the temple of the Holy Spirit. I wonder if we have the same problem today. Do we think that God does not still talk to people because faith is worth nothing but some future spiritual life weíll have after death? We canít remove our bodies, but we can reject any idea that God is interested in the same sort of personal and intimate relationship Jesus had with those disciples.

God lives in us, works with us, and shares His love through us. Though the blood of Christ forgives our past, present and future sins, we dishonor God by abusing that which He so lovingly made and called into His service. God knows our spirits and our flesh and He has called us into a relationship that meets all our needs both physical and spiritual. Therefore we are called to honor God with our whole bodies. We are invited to hear Godís voice as He speaks to us in a very real way.

This might mean that we have to remove ourselves from the noise of the world sometimes. We have to find a place where it is quiet. We have to turn off our cell phones. We have to get away from the television. We have to listen to our brothers and sisters in Christ who invite us into a deeper relationship with God. They might not have the same ideas we have, but we can learn from them. We can see God through their eyes and wonder at His amazing grace. The life God is calling us to live might not be what we want; it might even be frightening. None of us want to live the life of a prophet. None of us want to give up our wishes and dreams.

Samuel and Nathanael reacted with a humble obedience to the life they were called to live. They knew that their life was no longer their own, but rather that they belonged to God. They lived in the hope of God's promises, but they did not do so recklessly. They lived as if every moment was meant to glorify God and His word was reflected in their life. In Christ we have a freedom that we do not have under the Law, but that does not mean living that way is beneficial. Eli and his sons did what they wanted despite dwelling in the house of God, but they lost their place in His kingdom because they dishonored God. Samuel was given to God as a thankoffering from Hannah and he lived accordingly. Nathanael did not need to lead a life of contemplative prayer, but it was the life God called him to live and in doing so He brought glory to God.

God still speaks and He calls us into a relationship. It is difficult in this world because even Christians have a hard time understanding that God can speak and invite us into His will. We want to be accepted, to be respected, to be happy. We want to fit in. On this second Sunday of Epiphany, we are reminded that God has invited us into a new life, a life following Him. It doesnít matter if others think we are crazy because we believe God has spoken to us. What matters is that we live the life that glorifies Him. God knows us better than we know ourselves. He knows what we are meant to do. He knows what purpose our life holds. And He has promised that we will see extraordinary things happen. When we hear His voice, and we will, we need only say, ďSpeak; for thy servant heareth.Ē

A WORD FOR TODAY
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