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“Speak, Your Servant is Listening”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18
1 Samuel 3:1-10, 11-20

 

Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18

O LORD, you have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from far away.
You search out my path and my lying down,
and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
O LORD, you know it completely.
You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is so high that I cannot attain it.

For it was you who formed my inward parts;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
that I know very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.
In your book were written
all the days that were formed for me,
when none of them as yet existed.
How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
I try to count them — they are more than the sand;
I come to the end — I am still with you.

 

1 Samuel 3:1-10 (11-20)

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.

At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; 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. Then the Lord called, “Samuel! Samuel!” and he said, “Here I am!” 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. 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.” Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. 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. 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.

Now the Lord came and stood there, calling as before, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” 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. On that day I will fulfill against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. 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. Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be expiated by sacrifice or offering forever.”

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. But Eli called Samuel and said, “Samuel, my son.” He said, “Here I am.” 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.” 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.”

As Samuel grew up, the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was a trustworthy prophet of the Lord.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

 

This story of Samuel hearing God calling to him repeatedly and Samuel’s not knowing who is calling him has fascinated my imagination.  It is one of the few stories centered around a child or youth.  And so it made listening to God something a child could do.  I suppose it always gave me hope that God could speak to me also.  I just needed to be listening and receptive.

I hope that any youth listening will take note of this:  God is reaching out to YOU, speaking to You!  Believe it!

 

But today I read the scripture with new eyes, noticing things I’d never before noticed.

Did you realize that while Eli slept in his own room in the temple, Samuel slept in the innermost sanctuary where the arc of the covenant was housed?  Perhaps Eli did this as well from time to time.  They may have rotated, or perhaps this was a task given over to Samuel, once Samuel grew old enough to be responsible for protecting the arc & light of God during the night.

Scholars note that just enough oil would be put into the lamp of that room – as to last the night.  So the indication that the light hadn’t yet gone out, implies the time to have been early morning, just before the light would have gone out naturally.  They point out that since Eli was of poor sight, Samuel may have been used to listening for Eli – to assist him, as he had need, tending to him during the night when needed.  But on this night, though Samuel swears Eli is calling him, he finally learns that it is the Lord who has come there to be with him, calling his name.  And Eli, suspecting it to be God, instructed Samuel to respond saying, “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening,” and so Samuel does.

 

At this, Samuel is given an earful about how Eli’s house will be punished, their sins not forgiven.

Samuel doesn’t want to tell Eli a thing.  But Eli implores him saying, May God do to you the same or more if you do not tell me.  And so Samuel is coaxed into speaking the Word of the Lord in full – that condemning word concerning the fate of Eli’s family.  And to this grave Word, Eli replies, “It is the Lord; let Him do as He sees best.”

 

And so this is the way Samuel first hears God speak to him.

 

Several weeks ago, we discussed whether or not we wished to hear God speaking to each of us.  Simeon & Anna were two who had heard the Word of God, God’s promises spoken to them!  And they wait and watch and endure LONG – for God’s Word to be fulfilled in their lifetimes.

Here we have Samuel, but a child.  He wears a linen loin-cloth and a little robe that his mother makes and brings to him each year.  Scripture tells us that Samuel has been ministering to the Lord under Eli.  Samuel is growing in stature and in favor with God and people.  But still he does not know God, and God’s Word had yet to be revealed to him.  So this experience takes him quite off guard, especially as the Word of God was rare in those days and visions were not widespread.

 

I can relate to this.  Culturally we place very little faith in visions and words allegedly from God.  We tend to think someone crazy or over-inflated if they claim to have gotten a word from God or seen a vision from God.  Do we not?

This is most unfortunate for we see God doing both things here.  And our God is moving and speaking still…

But because it’s not something we’re well versed in discerning or recognizing or imagining, we aren’t attuned to listening for God to reveal Godself in such ways.  And such was the case with Samuel, who – not even yet an adult – is hearing someone call his name and struggling to piece together what is actually going on!

We are akin to Samuel in this way, in many of our inexperience with listening for God, in today’s world and our daily lives.

 

Finally, I am struck by the finishing words of this story:

19As Samuel grew up, the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. 20And all Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was a trustworthy prophet of the Lord.

I find this phrase, Samuel “let none of [God’s] words fall to the ground,” to be most inspiring.

 

What we do with God’s Word is of utmost importance.
What do you think it means to not let God’s Word fall to the ground?
Might it be similar to the defilement of letting a national flag touch the ground?
Or perhaps is it obedience?
Does this mean that Samuel both spoke and did whatever God spoke and asked of him?

Scholars convey here that in Israelite culture, one’s word was almost a concrete expression of character.  Words could be active or idle.  But God’s Word is active; God speaks and it is done.  So the meaning believed to be communicated by this phrase, “Let none of God’s words fall to the ground” is that whatever Samuel said, came true.

Samuel’s words were his action.  And his words came from God – faithful each one.  Such that from the northernmost sanctuary to the southernmost sanctuary of the nation, Samuel became renowned as a trustworthy prophet of God.  And this must have been significant, given the realities that God’s Word was rare in those days.

 

Samuel was blessed to be born of a woman Hannah who KNEW this fervently-prayed-for gift of her first son Samuel was a gift undeserved by God, granted by God after.  In profound act of devotion and faithfulness, she pledges her firstborn male child to be God’s servant, a Nazarite, forever.  And when God grants her prayer, opening her womb, she remains faithful to God, following through with her promise.  Her WORD is her ACTION.

This is Samuel’s mother, and though he does not live with his mother long, he too grows in faithfulness – such that his WORD is his ACTION.  And God’s Word is Samuel’s word.  It would appear that Samuel learns some of this devotion from his mother.

Samuel also serves the Lord, ministering to God, day after day – before he understands it or knows God.  He is faithful in character, such that even in this state of separation from God, he is growing in the favor of God and of people.  He is a child of integrity and faithfulness.

When we meet Samuel, he is attending to the arc of the covenant of God, assisting Eli in his priestly and probably his personal duties.  Samuel grows in stature BY DOING good, by working faithfully, even without understanding.

And Samuel is ever-so-blessed to have a mentor in Eli.  For though Eli’s own boys are hardened in doing evil in God’s sight, Eli himself has been serving the Lord his life-long.  So when Samuel begins to hear God speak, Eli has the foresight to guide Samuel in surrendering himself to God, making himself open and attentive to God.

 

I believe that in this story of Samuel’s coming-of-age, if you will, we are given a picture of listening for God, of watching for God, of faithfulness even amid confusion, and of surrender to God’s will.

Listening for God’s voice to you and to me is perhaps not as far-fetched or as difficult as we have often been led to believe.  God has been revealing Godself to us through-out human history!  And sometimes it is indeed through visions, hearings, and visitations by angels.  Our Christmas story re-attests to this fact – as does the story of Christ’s baptism, in which a voice from heaven says, “this is my Son, in whom I am well pleased.”

 

God speaks.
God STILL speaks
to you
to me. 

God is speaking.
God is showing up.
God is telling us what we need to know,
when we need to know it.

 

So are we,
growing in faithfulness and devotion, day by day, even when our understanding is incomplete?
Are we
positioning ourselves in service to God and to others?
Are we
remaining in the presence of good teachers
who can help us grow in our open obedience
of listening,
responding, and
surrendering to God’s Word? 

 

Would that we be so faithful as Samuel,
such that many more might come to hear God’s voice,
and live devotedly:
proclaiming God’s Word
…in voice
and action. 

 

 

 

 

“Facing Truth – the First Step”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Isaiah 40:1-5, 10-11
2 Peter 3:8-9
Mark 1:1-8

 

Isaiah 40:1-5, 10-11

Comfort, O comfort my people,
says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and cry to her
that she has served her term,
that her penalty is paid,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
double for all her sins.

A voice cries out:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.
Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all people shall see it together,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

 …See, the Lord God comes with might,
and his arm rules for him;
his reward is with him,
and his recompense before him.
 He will feed his flock like a shepherd;
he will gather the lambs in his arms,
and carry them in his bosom,
and gently lead the mother sheep.

 

2 Peter 3:8-9

But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.

 

Mark 1:1-8

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,

“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’”

John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

 

These infamous words of scripture, “Comfort, comfort, Oh my people”…they cause my heart to sing, strait away.  I am transported into Handel’s Messiah, just like that.

And famous they should be, because they are gospel!  They are good news!

But what we oft’ fail to notice is the Lord’s discipline, which precedes this voice of glad tidings.  The message of comfort is precisely so entirely comforting BECAUSE it comes on the heals of suffering.  It comes on the heals of sleeping in the beds we’ve made for ourselves.  It comes after we are eating our words, after we have our foots in our mouths, after we are ashamed and exposed.

God’s light reveals truth.  And truth shows both our beauty and our haggardly appearance.  We have both.  And by the rules of this world alone, we are stuck, beholden to our own sins, trapped in the cycles of sin and death, willing to do good but seemingly powerless to do it!

And THIS is the place into which the good news comes. 

 

Amid injustice, amid pain and suffering, amid disconnect, amid dissension,…
Amid othering, amid coldness and cruelty, amid oppression and rampant fear…
Jesus comes,
a little baby.
And the earth breaths a sigh, the heaven’s burst forth, and both near and far God’s inbreaking is on display.

 

In 2 Peter, we are reminded that time is but a moment to God.  What we may perceive as God’s slowness to act, is in fact God’s desire that ALL might be saved.  God is patient – more than any of us can comprehend – for God wills that all might come to repentance and enter into that fullness of life!

And so God WAITs until the fullness of time – until the right time.
AND – to aid those still needing a change of heart, still needing a nudge, still needing to grow in humility, God sends John the Baptist.

 

John the Baptist lives in ways most unconventional.  Some only come to see him in order to gawk.  But he is doing the unsettling work.  He is helping folks connect with their yearning, their need, THE REALITIES OF WHO THEY TRULY ARE, fluorescent lights ON.

No wonder some didn’t like him.
No wonder his life would be cut short by a powerful couple who did not like the truth he’d publicly spoken about them…

He spoke truth to power – bringing the things we hide in the dark, out into the light.

 

For it is in the light, that we may find healing…
IF we do not retreat into darkness: defending ourselves, denying the truth, spinning the facts, controlling the news, cutting off the heads of those who speak what we’re intent on hiding.

Because if we think we have no sin,
the truth is not in us.

And where there is no truth there is no life.

 

Christ has come that we might have life,
and have it to THE FULL. 

The full

 

God is not content with facades.
God is not pleased by our outward shows of holiness.
God is not impressed by our score-keeping:  one-upping one another, judging ourselves by one another (and one another by ourselves). We might as well be arguing over various shades of gray; it’s ALL gray.
We have ALL sinned.
We are ALIKE sinners before a Holy God.

And until we come to that realization, we cannot begin to perceive our need for Christ.
And so God sent John the Baptist. 

 

Now, there are those in your life, and in mine,
who tweak your nerves.
There are those in your life, and in mine,
around whom you behave your worst.
There are those who point out your faults,
whether openly or covertly,
And despite our deep desires to be done with these individuals,

God has promised us blessing THROUGH all things.  God can use these moments, these folks, these circumstances as our teachers, our friends.  Around them, we learn more about ourselves.  Our growing edges are made plain, our sensitivities exposed, our triggers on display.

 

And in this way, we oft’ serve as John the Baptists for one another. 

 

Every moment, every person, every circumstance presents us with a chance:  to lean into reality or to retreat, to accept the world on its own terms or to deny it, to accept one another as they are or to try to control them.  When we allow our God-given feelings – especially those angry, uglier ones – to teach us, we too step into the light.  We too allow ourselves to be exposed, as in fluorescent light.

And we have the opportunity to engage the truths about ourselves, others, and the world; or to hide from them. 

 

But if we trust that God is using all things for good in our lives,
then we begin to look for the lessons, the truths.

If we believe that God has given us our feelings and that they are inherently good,
we can make peace in ourselves and allow them to teach us.

And if we believe that Christ is coming still today,
that God is present and alive today,
then we are ever on watch, ever seeking, ever waiting.

 

 

Who may God have sent into your life to be a John the Baptist?

You may be drawn to them, as were the multitudes who traveled out to the wilderness from the city to be baptized by him.
You may be repulsed by them, and come all that way from the city just to gawk and make fun.
You may feel threatened by them because they expose truth.

 

But God has sent them.
God has allowed them.

And in these circumstances you might rather avoid, God is providing you the chance to prepare the way of the Lord, by listening for God’s voice of truth and turning from sin. 

 

Will we prepare the way of the Lord
…in our hearts?

Will we prepare the way of the Lord
…in our minds?

Will we prepare the way of the Lord
…in our openness, in our listening for God – even in the faces of those who irritate us?

Will we prepare the way of the Lord? 

 

There was a good reason God sent John the Baptist ahead:  we don’t like to admit when we’re wrong, we don’t like to sit with our failures, we don’t like to get real with ourselves or others about our shortcomings, we DO NOT LIKE to change under fluorescent lights.

But when we listen to the voices of John the Baptists,
when we look ourselves over in honesty and truth, in the mirrors of our changing rooms,
we are made ready: 
ready for God-with-us! 

 

So repent! Let us turn from our life-diminishing, truth-denying, sin-sabotaged ways, and prepare the way of Christ, the Lord. 

 

 

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PRAYER                (Psalm 85:8-9a)

Let me hear what You, Lord God, will speak,
for You will speak peace to your people,
to your faithful, to those who turn to You in their hearts.
Surely your salvation is at hand for those who fear you!

“Illumine Us”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Isaiah 64:1-9 &  Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19
Psalm 36

 

Isaiah 64:1-9

O that you would tear open the heavens and come down,
so that the mountains would quake at your presence—
as when fire kindles brushwood
and the fire causes water to boil—
to make your name known to your adversaries,
so that the nations might tremble at your presence!
When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect,
you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.
From ages past no one has heard,
no ear has perceived,
no eye has seen any God besides you,
who works for those who wait for him.
You meet those who gladly do right,
those who remember you in your ways.
But you were angry, and we sinned;
because you hid yourself we transgressed.
We have all become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth.
We all fade like a leaf,
and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
There is no one who calls on your name,
or attempts to take hold of you;
for you have hidden your face from us,
and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity.
Yet, O Lord, you are our Father;
we are the clay, and you are our potter;
we are all the work of your hand.
Do not be exceedingly angry, O Lord,
and do not remember iniquity forever.
Now consider, we are all your people.

 

Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19

Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel,
you who lead Joseph like a flock!
You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth
before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh.
Stir up your might,
and come to save us!

Restore us, O God;
let your face shine, that we may be saved.

O Lord God of hosts,
how long will you be angry with your people’s prayers?
You have fed them with the bread of tears,
and given them tears to drink in full measure.
You make us the scorn of our neighbors;
our enemies laugh among themselves.

Restore us, O God of hosts;
let your face shine, that we may be saved.

But let your hand be upon the one at your right hand,
the one whom you made strong for yourself.
Then we will never turn back from you;
give us life, and we will call on your name.

Restore us, O Lord God of hosts;
let your face shine, that we may be saved.

 

Psalm 36

Transgression speaks to the wicked
deep in their hearts;
there is no fear of God
before their eyes.
For they flatter themselves in their own eyes
that their iniquity cannot be found out and hated.
The words of their mouths are mischief and deceit;
they have ceased to act wisely and do good.
They plot mischief while on their beds;
they are set on a way that is not good;
they do not reject evil.

Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens,
your faithfulness to the clouds.
Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains,
your judgments are like the great deep;
you save humans and animals alike, O Lord.

How precious is your steadfast love, O God!
All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
They feast on the abundance of your house,
and you give them drink from the river of your delights.
For with you is the fountain of life;
in your light we see light.

O continue your steadfast love to those who know you,
and your salvation to the upright of heart!
Do not let the foot of the arrogant tread on me,
or the hand of the wicked drive me away.
There the evildoers lie prostrate;
they are thrust down, unable to rise.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

 

We sure do navigate our worlds with a lot of judgement.  We are continually measuring ourselves
…against others
…against our past
…against our dreams
…against passing cultural norms.

And as we measure ourselves, we measure one another.  After all, self-judgement is where other-judgement is rooted.  And so the real work is within.  The real work is in us:  how we see, perceive, and measure ourselves.

 

With whose eyes do we judge?
Who among us can rightly perceive?

Does our judgement change
…with the weather
…with politics
…under community pressures
…when we are sad
…when we are lonely
…when we are overjoyed?

And this judgement can go different ways.  We can judge ourselves too harshly.  And we can judge ourselves too leniently.  Either way, misjudgement is misjudgement.  Either way – be it that we think too lowly of ourselves or think too highly of ourselves – we are basing our perceptions on falsehood and not truth.

 

Psalm 35 speaks our capacity to flatter ourselves and to fear God…in our own eyes.  We become arrogant.  And the truth is not in us.

The truth, as witnessed by Isaiah is that we are the clay and God is the potter.  We are all the work of God’s own hands!  None of us is self-made.
None of us is self-made.
The truth. 

So on what higher ground might we stand?
If all we have has been a gift, has been standing in the grace of God,
then all we are and all we have is but a gift.
Is it not?!?

 

And we are not mere worms, as some forefathers in faith have understandably felt.  No, scripture tells us that we are “precious and honored in God’s sight.”  Thinking of ourselves too lowly is also falsehood.  It’s simply not true!

And these are the revelations we come to see in God.
For in God, we see light!
In God, we behold all that is, in the light.
In God’s light, we know light!

And without light, we cannot see at all. 

 

And so it is only with God’s eyes that we can rightly judge. 

It is only with God’s heart that we can rightly perceive. 

It is only in God’s light that we can see anything rightly at all. 

 

God’s vision does not change
…with the politics of the day
…under pressure from friends or family
…based on societal expectations
…based on cultural norms
…based on feelings and passing fads,

No.

 

Where God’s face shines, we have truth.  And where truth abounds, we return to God in humble witness to the truth that “but by the grace of God, go we.”  Precious and flawed are we.  Living and dying are we.  Orphaned and connected are we.  Lost yet found are we.

In God’s light we can cease to cling to one image, by which to feel our worth.

In Christ’s eyes, we see the love of God, bending over our cribs, as it were, in love and delight!

In Christ’s light, we can see the duplicity of us, for what it is.  We can see both what is and what is becoming.

And in Christ’s light, we drop our measuring sticks – the ones we use to measure both ourselves and others.  For Christ has shown us the follies of our ways.  Christ has shown us the follies of the world.  Christ rendered all our standards mute, all our judgements irrelevant.

 

So why are we running back after those sticks?!
Why are we still returning to law and culture?
Why are we still worried about the perception of the world?
Why do we still strive after the values of this world? …instead of following our God to the alleys, to the hurting and sick, to the ostracized and alone…to the cross?

 

 

We absolutely need the light of God. 

We cry out with the Psalmist, “Let your face shine, that we may be saved!”
And we ever seek to grow in the likeness of Christ, that by God’s grace, we may rightly judge, rightly perceive, rightly see.

“Tear open the heavens and come down!” Isaiah prays.
…and that is exactly what God did
in sending Jesus, the Son,
the way,
the truth,
and the light!

 

Let us pray,
Luminous God, we are blinded in your glory.  But teach our hearts to see.  Teach our minds to perceive.  In your light, everything is made new!
Come Lord Jesus,
make us new!