A Sermon from the North Yarmouth Congregational Church
A sermon offered by the Rev. Nancy J. White in the public worship of the First Congregational Church of North Yarmouth, UCC of North Yarmouth, Maine on Sunday, February 21, 2016, the Second Sunday in Lent. Principal readings 1 Samuel 3:1-10 and John 1:43-51
Elkanah had two wives, Penninah and Hannah. Penninah had children but Hannah had none. Elkanah took good care of Penninah and all her sons and daughters, but he especially cared for Hannah as he loved her even though the Lord had closed her womb. Further we are told that Penninah provoked Hannah severely – perhaps out of jealously for Elkanah’s love – and it irritated Hannah greatly, so much so that she wept and stopped eating. Perplexed at this, her husband pleaded with her to stop and be happy for he loved her even without sons. Still unhappy, Hannah, pleaded with God for a male child. Eli the priest heard her and after speaking with her assured her that God had heard her plea. After that Elkanah and Hannah had a child, the boy Samuel. Hannah dedicated her son Samuel to God and brought him to be reared in the house of the Lord with Eli as soon as he was weaned. As Eli raised Samuel, God granted Elkanah and Hannah, three more sons and two daughters.
Today’s reading from the Hebrew Bible is Samuel’s call from the Lord. We are told that ‘the word of the Lord was rare in those days’ and ‘visions were not widespread’ to help us understand that this was unusual and special. Eli was an old man by this time, could not see well but ‘the lamp of God had not yet gone out’ – God was still with him. The boy Samuel is sleeping in the temple when he hears someone call his name. Assuming it to be Eli, he rushes to him asking what he needs. Eli tells him he didn’t call him and instructs him to go back to sleep. This happened two more times. On the third time, Eli understands that this is the Lord speaking to Samuel and instructs him to respond ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening’ when God calls him again.
Answering God’s call meant Samuel had the uncomfortable task of telling Eli that God was not happy with his family.
In our reading from John today, we heard how some were surprised to think that Jesus could be the one, merely because of where he was from. Why should they listen to him? Why on earth would they follow him? Nazareth was a teensy, out of the way town with nothing to offer anyone, and certainly the savior of the people would not come from there! God should come from a position of power and strength, not Nazareth!
God using a boy and a man from Nazareth to tell others what they need to hear.
If I were to ask you, do you think you will hear God speak to you this week, most of you would answer, no. We do not expect God to speak to us.
Would you know God’s voice if you heard it? Is it loud? Soft? Male? Female? Or is it in the breeze? Is it audible at all? Is it in nature or music or art? Is it in the innocent question of a child discovering life? Is it in the wise advice from someone who has lived many years? Is it in the whispered response of someone unable to speak up? Is it in the tears of someone in distress? Is it is silent in your mind? When was the last time you heard God’s voice?
If God didn’t speak much in the days of Samuel, then for sure, it can seem like God speaks even less now. And even if God does speak, we do not expect it to be to us. Why not? We aren’t special enough? Rich enough? educated enough? Talented enough? Attractive enough?
Iread a book that tells of a church sending its members out to just ‘be’ on the streets, praying as they went. It recounts the story of one woman who was to only have $1.50 to spend for 8 hours on the street. She wandered for about 4 hours and then bought some milk and a candy bar which she ate. Later, tired from walking she sat down on some church steps next to a homeless person. He smelled and was dirty but she was too tired to care. Having no money to give the person, she nonetheless had quite a conversation with this person. When he asked, she explained that she was from a church and that she was praying as she walked. The man informed her that most homeless people believed in God for they had no one else to cry to in the night. After a while she realized she was thirsty but she had already spent her $1.50. The homeless person eventually got up and left her sitting there. After a bit she realized that her day was only half over and wondered what she would do next when she saw this man returning with a cup of coffee which he shared with her over more conversation. She heard God’s voice in this most unlikely of situations as the homeless man offered her a drink and conversation. She learned a lot that day. God does not live only in the comfortable middle class neighborhood from which she came.
Throughout scripture, God spoke to and was revealed to the least likely people. Jesus spoke to a mentally ill person in the demon possessed man from Gerasenes instructing him to go and tell everyone about what he had experienced. God in Jesus appeared to the women in the garden at the resurrection and instructed them to go and tell the disciples even though women were considered unreliable witnesses. God speaks to lots of clearly unlikely people and calls them into ministry.
Society is ever changing who is acceptable and who is not. I promise you that God does not. God loves everyone, no matter what one has or has not done in his or her life. And God will call you even though you might be the most unlikely of characters. God will call you directly or God may call you to help someone else discern God’s voice in their life. Are you listening? Are your eyes, your ears and your heart open to hear God ‘s voice? I pray so, for God is going to call whom you least expect when you least expect it to do God’s work among you. Are you ready and willing?
Listen for God’s voice through unlikely people and unlikely circumstances and unlikely times – you will not be sorry. Amen.