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Worship and Sermons
June 3, 2018

“Listening Servants” by the Rev. Don Wahlig, June 3, 2018 [Pentecost 2 B] –  1 Samuel 3:1 - 4:1 • Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18 •  2 Corinthians 4:5-12  •  Mark 2:23-3:6


FOCUS:  Listen to God speaking to us and serve him, even when he calls us to risk speaking truth to power.

This morning we being a sermon series focusing on I and II Samuel.  This is the story of Israel’s transformation from a group of feuding tribal city-states into a united monarchy. 

Where we pick up the story the Israelites are far from an organized nation.  In fact, things are out of control.

As the book of Judges says, “In those days, there was no king in Israel and everyone did what was right in their own eyes.”  Actually, they do have a king; Yahweh is their king.  The problem is they’ve stopped listening to him.

The result is religious malaise, a spiritual fog.  They’ve kept up the worship practices just as the law requires.  But the people seldom experience God’s presence, in or out of worship. As our passage says, “The word of the LORD was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.” 

Worship happens at the Tabernacle, the portable tent that is now stationary at Shiloh, a 2-day walk north of Jerusalem.  Inside the Tabernacle is the Ark of the Covenant. That’s where God sits. 

The chief priest in charge of the Tabernacle is Eli.  Eli is getting a little in the tooth.  His eyesight is failing, so he’s glad to have the help of a young boy named Samuel.

        Samuel is literally the result of prayer.  Some years before, his mother, Hannah, had come to the Tabernacle begging God for a child.  If God would grant her a son, she promised to dedicate him to God.  God answered her prayer with the birth of Samuel.

Sure enough, when Samuel was old enough, his mother did exactly as she promised.  She gave Samuel to Eli’s oversight in service to the LORD.  As our passage begins, Samuel is living with Eli at the holy place in Shiloh.

Samuel is quite a contrast with Eli’s own children.  He has two sons.  They’re both priests, but their behavior is anything but holy.  They’re fond of easy women.  They blaspheme God by eating the choicest parts of the sacrificial animals, the parts that are meant for God.  Because Eli has failed to stop them, God intends to cut off Eli and his household.  

And who does he call to deliver the message?  None other than young Samuel.

Eli, to his credit, helps Samuel identify God’s voice and teaches him how to respond.  “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”

But God’s message is something Samuel wishes he never heard, and something  he’s definitely not comfortable relaying.  God intends to destroy Eli’s house forever.  

Samuel is in a tough spot, and he knows it.  Picture him lying awake all night, mulling over in his mind how he can possibly give such a damning judgment to the man who’s been to him like a father, as well as a teacher and a mentor?

He’s thinking, ‘Is there a way out of this?  How will Eli react?  What will he say?  Will he blame the messenger?’

Samuel is flat-out afraid.  But he’s dedicated to serving God, so he does as God tells him to do.  Even though Eli's eyesight is dim, his spiritual insight is crystal clear.  He knows there’s no escaping God’s will. He humbly accepts God’s judgment. 

Samuel, for his part, becomes known and trusted throughout Israel.  He is God’s faithful prophet.  Because he learned to listen for God’s voice and dedicated himself to heeding God’s command, God’s word was heard at Shiloh once more. 

        But one of the hardest parts of paying attention to God’s voice is that, with disturbing regularity, he calls us to do things that, frankly, we’d rather not.  Just as he asked Samuel to deliver some unwelcome news to Eli, so does God ask us to speak truth to the human systems in which we participate and which have become corrupted, including the church.

As Protestants, that is our story.  During the Protestant Reformation, God spoke to Martin Luther compelling him to risk his life to tell God’s truth to the church leadership.  In those days, there was of course, only one church:  the Holy Roman Catholic Church.

But the church had become about as corrupt as could be.  The popes during Martin Luther’s lifetime are ranked even by Catholic authorities as among the worst of all time.  As bad as Eli’s sons were, these popes were even worse.  

The year Martin Luther began his university studies, for example, Pope Alexander VI was busy fathering illegitimate children, extorting land and money from parishioners and having his opponents murdered.  

Martin Luther got a first-hand glimpse of just how corrupt the church had become when, as a monk, he was sent on a trip to Rome.  He was shocked by the unfaithfulness of the priests he encountered, and the shameless living of the pope’s own staff.

But what really tipped Martin Luther over the edge was the Pope’s authorization of the sale of indulgences. 

The pope was looking for a new way to fund the reconstruction of St. Peter’s Basilica.  As you can imagine, it was a massive project.  He needed money – and lots of it.  That’s when he hit on the idea of selling indulgences.

Indulgences were simply pieces of paper that anyone could purchase in order to remove the obligation of doing penance for their sins.  Supposedly this also worked for your deceased loved ones who were working out their sins in purgatory before they could enter heaven.

The sales pitch even included a catchy advertising jingle, "As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from Purgatory springs."  The pope’s salesforce of priests traveled throughout Europe preaching this message, telling the people that their loved ones were crying out to be released from suffering.

You may wonder why people were gullible enough to believe this. Remember most of them were illiterate.  They only knew what the priest told them.  That’s how they heard God speaking to them:  through the Priest.

But Martin Luther was both a Priest and a Biblical scholar.  Every year, he read the Bible through - twice.  He knew that there was no warrant anywhere in scripture for this corrupt, cynical and manipulative practice.

Then he got to wondering ‘What else is the church doing that isn’t warranted by scripture?’  The result was his 95 Theses.

As Martin Luther’s theological descendants, that’s our concern, too.  Everything we do and say and believe is tested by scripture.  That’s because, in addition to prayer, the Bible is the primary way we hear God speaking to us.

As Martin Luther said, “Let the man who would hear God speak, read Holy Scripture.”

But we should be careful. More often than not, scripture tells us to do some really uncomfortable, risky things:  like love your neighbor, love your enemies, make disciples of every nation, and treat the least like Jesus himself. 

Or how about these:  Invite the homeless poor into your house, love the alien living among you and treat them as a citizen, and take up your cross and follow me. 

Friends, these are not easy things to do, but nor are they optional.  There’s no footnote that says “this is for liberals only” or “this only applies to conservatives”.  They don’t depend on our politics – they force us to go beyond our politics. 

If only for that reason alone, they make us uncomfortable.  They stretch us.  They test us – will we be faithful?  Will we heed God’s word?

20 years ago, just as I was beginning to hear the first whispering of God’s call to ministry, I read a book that challenged me in exactly this way.  It was called “Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger” by Ron Sider.

Ron Sider is the founder and President of a group called Evangelicals for Social Action.  In the 1970s, he helped set the direction for evangelicals concerned about the social implications of the gospel. 

Reading that book changed my faith and my life.  First, it shocked me that 2 billion people on this planet live on less than $2/day.  Then, it showed me in gory detail just how they live.  By grasping their poverty, I began to understand my privilege.

That made me take more seriously what God commands us to do about this in scripture.  As I heard God talking to me through his word, it compelled me to lead a series of mission trips to Bolivia, and those trips put me on the path to seminary and ministry.

We don’t have to go to another hemisphere to find people in need, of course.  We have folks in need right here in Mechanicsburg, and even more in Harrisburg.  And God is calling us to reach out to them.  This coming week, our youth are going to do exactly that. 

They’ll work with Rebuilding Together to put a new roof on a mobile home for a family in Mechanicsburg.  They’ll go to Allison Hill to Christ Lutheran Church to help in the medical and dental clinic there.  They’ll go to Bethesda Mission to serve lunch at the Women’s Shelter, and they’ll help one of our own members who’s in need. 

Our youth are following Samuel’s example.  They’re listening to what God is commanding them to do and, even though it’s stretching them outside their comfort zones, they’re heeding his call.  Our ROAR Team and other groups are doing the same.  

How about you and me?  How is God speaking to us through scripture?  What’s God calling to do? 

Whatever it is, let’s be sure to answer the way Samuel did:  “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”

May it be so.

Last Published: June 4, 2018 2:39 PM
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