Monday, January 19, 2009

When I’m Calling You - A Sermon

There’s humor in two of our passages -- the OT and the Gospel -- and we ought to look at it.  In the OT lesson from 1 Samuel, we have a story that ought to resonate with any parent who ever tried to get a night’s sleep.

There poor Eli is, an old man already, now in charge of a child.  The story behind that is that Samuel’s parents had prayed to God for a baby, and as payment for the bay, they promised to devote the child to God’s service.  That meant that as soon as he was able, Samuel was placed in Eli’s service.  Eli had already raised two good-for-nothing sons, so he might not have actually considered this new servant such a good idea.

Especially on the night when Samuel started hearing God’s voice.  There the old man is trying to sleep when this kid keeps barging into his room:  “Here I am!” he announces, and all Eli can say is, “Go back to bed!”  By the third time, I imagine him hiding his head under the pillow.

In the Gospel we have perhaps one of the funniest lines ever uttered by Jesus.  Phillip has gone to Nathanael and told him about Jesus.  Nathanael is unmoved, and very UNimpressed by Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth which he considers a hick town.  Sort of like one of us saying we met the Savior from Cairo, Illinois (if you’ve ever been there, you’d understand).  

But what gets Nathanael is that Jesus addresses him right away as one without deceit.  That alone is a backhanded compliment, almost like saying, “What a delight to meet someone who is so cruelly honest.”  Well, this undoes Nathanael who wants to know how Jesus knows him so well.  (This ought to give you an idea of how Nathanael sees himself).  We know Jesus’ response - I saw you under the tree.

But what is strange is Nathanael’s reply: “You are the Son of God!”  It is absurd to make such a leap, and Jesus jumps all over it.  “You believe because I said I saw you under a tree?”  You’re meant to laugh.  

But you’re also meant to hear.  Which means you’re meant to listen.

Humor aside, it’s not easy to hear the voice of God -- even harder to recognize it.  Often we think we might be hearing the promptings of God but are afraid we’ll sound crazy, or afraid we’ll sound puffed up (self aggrandizing).  Or, we’re afraid it IS God, with all that this implies.

So, how do you know if it’s God talking to you or just your own head?  The Church, you should know, does believe God speaks to us.  We simply approach it with caution.  That’s why Anglicans have always employed a three-pronged approach to knowing the will of God.  That’s right: Scripture, Tradition, and Reason.

Think about it, even Samuel had to get Eli’s acknowledgment that it was God speaking to him.  The apostle Paul sought the church’s approval to share what he felt certain God was saying to him.  We teach that God can be heard in scripture (but NOT that every word in the bible is direct from God).  We teach that God can be revealed in the church’s worship and teachings.  And we teach that God speaks to each of us individually in our hearts and minds.  

The trick is to match them up and see if scripture, tradition and reason are in alignment.  If so, then you can be pretty sure you’re hearing God right.  If not -- and believe me, it’s common for at least one of these to not agree with the others -- then there is some work to do, and maybe we’ll need to look at the scripture differently, or review our tradition -- or decide what we thought we heard wasn’t what we thought after all.

Of course, knowing what God is saying to you is only part of it.  The other part is acting.  Samuel did not want to tell Eli what God had told him -- he was afraid he’d get in trouble.  Sometimes we are afraid of what we think God’s calling us to do because it seems hard, uncomfortable - even impossible.  I can understand that.  

And still, if God is calling you, he will not let up.  God is patient - and persistent.  If you hear the voice of God -- listen, test, and then pray for courage to act.  One thing you can count on is that God will be with you.  Amen.