We listen for what God wants, what Jesus, God’s Son, says is compassion and love; in our listening we have God’s gift of Elis who help us hear.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Second Sunday after Pentecost, Lectionary 9 B
Texts: Mark 2:23 – 3:6; 1 Samuel 3:1-20; Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18
Dear friends in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
What do you hear when you listen for God?
What insight or guidance comes? Do you hear God’s compassion for the creation, God’s undying love for all? Do you hear God’s judgment and wrath on others, on you?
There is no question in human history that has caused more destruction and suffering than “What does God want?” Bitter wars have endlessly been fought between different faiths and within the same faith. Hatred and violence and abuse and oppression and evil beyond comprehension have been done by humans to humans, to other creatures, and to the creation, because someone claimed, “this is what God wants.”
The story of Samuel begins, “The word of the LORD was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.” It was long since the last judge, and no one was hearing God speak and telling the people. But now God calls this little boy – how old we don’t know – to be a prophet. God speaks to Samuel, who will declare to the people what God is thinking, what God wants. But right now this boy, our writer says, “did not yet know the LORD.” Samuel had never heard God speak. The word of God was rare.
What about you? Have you heard? What do you hear when you listen for God? And how do you know you’re listening to God, and not someone or something else?
This is the dispute between Jesus and the Pharisees today.
The Pharisees aren’t bad guys here. Like Samuel, like Jesus, they listen to God, and teach what God is saying. So they know God’s Sabbath commandment is central, one of the Ten. They’ve faithfully created rules to help the people keep this law, do what God wants.
When Jesus lets his hungry disciples work on the Sabbath – picking grain was work – they rightfully say this violates their understanding of Sabbath law. When Jesus heals a withered hand, again, they declare him in violation.
But this rabbi Jesus, the Son of God, hears God differently. They don’t recognize him as God’s Son, of course, only as a teacher. But this rabbi declares that the Sabbath commandment was designed to be a blessing to humanity. A gift from God. Something Orthodox Jews today would completely agree with. So, Jesus reasons, if Sabbath is gift, letting someone go hungry, or delaying someone’s healing, violates that gift. As he asks, do you think it’s lawful to do good on the Sabbath, to save life?
This is just a normal dispute between Jewish rabbis over following God faithfully, though it ends with ominous foreshadowing. So as we witness this, wondering what God wants, who’s got it right?
Well, we who are baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection and filled with the Spirit of God find that’s an easy answer.
We believe Jesus is the face of the Triune God, who reveals the Father’s heart and gives us the Holy Spirit for new birth. If Jesus, God’s Son, says that compassion and love is how to interpret God’s commandment on Sabbath-keeping, that’s our final answer. Jesus is the living Word of God, God’s desire, God’s intent, in our flesh. We read the written Word of God through Jesus: his take on Scripture and God’s will is our norm.
Yet this doesn’t answer “what do you hear when you listen for God?” Because believers in Jesus have led the killing and destruction over God’s will for the world. We’ve killed millions: each other, and people who weren’t Christian. We’ve permitted the destruction of the environment, and either quietly or openly supported oppression and prejudice and hatred, all in the name of the Christ who wouldn’t let a man wait a single day more to have his hand healed.
In our nation alone, an outside observer of Christians would conclude that there are serious, nearly unsolvable disagreements between Christians over what God wants. When we hear what some Christians say about the poor, immigrants, war, race, gender, really just about everything, we wonder if they’re even Christian at all. And they say the same of us.
Maybe Eli can be of some help.
Samuel may not have heard God before. God’s Word might have been rare then. But Eli had heard God. Eli had been faithful. He was flawed, yes. His sons were evil and destructive, and God said this was partly Eli’s fault.
But this story is about Samuel. And Eli is God’s gift. When Samuel hears a voice, Eli realizes who is calling. Eli helps Samuel recognize what he has no experience with: knowing when God is speaking to him.
Carrying this wisdom, Samuel now hears God speak, and begins his path to be one of God’s greatest prophets. One who, our writer says, never let a single word of God “fall to the ground.” Eli made it possible for Samuel to find this faithful path of listening to God, holding on to God’s words, and carrying them to the people.
Eli still works today. That’s God’s gift.
When you struggle to hear God, to know what God wants and desires, look around. Find an Eli to help you sort out what’s going on.
Think: who has served as Eli to you in your life? Who has said, “I think that’s God leading you,” or sent you to a place in Scripture, or to worship, or to a community of faith, where you could hear God more clearly?
In this place we gather to worship when we could easily each pray at home, because here we meet God in Word and Sacrament. God speaks to us through Scripture, and through the actual presence of Christ in this place. We find the heart of God’s love in the Meal of grace we share that gives us forgiveness and life.
But we also have each other as a means of God’s grace, as Elis. You have others here who are also listening for God, trying to understand God’s desire. These Elis help you listen. And in the mystery of God’s Spirit, you are also Eli, to others here, and even in the world.
As we help each other listen, we hear God’s desire clearly from Jesus today. Love and compassion for all. A desire to heal and not destroy. A love that God will unmistakeably prove in dying on a cross and rising to new life. It may even be with the Spirit’s grace we can serve as Eli to other Christians who don’t hear this love, don’t offer it to others.
Thanks be to God, our times aren’t like when Samuel was called.
God’s Word, alive in the risen Christ and in our hearts through the Spirit, is with us constantly. It’s not rare. And we have the written Word to shape our listening and discerning. We have each other as Eli, opening our ears.
So always keep listening. How God’s compassion and love are to unfold in this broken world will need your best mind, your keenest ears.
And as Eli says, your first step is always to say, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”
In the name of Jesus. Amen