Epiphany II Sermon Year B, "Can You Hear me Now?"

Sunday, January 15, 2006

The Rev. Peter Faass, Rector

St. John the Baptist, Sanbornville

I Sam. 3;1-20; Ps. 63:1-8; I Corinth. 6:11b-20; John 1:43-51

If you received a call from God, would you recognize it? What do you imagine you would hear or see if God called you? Thunder and lightening? An earthquake? The sky filled with the angelic host singing? Or maybe a more heavenly version of that annoying voice from AOL that says, "You've got mail!" Imagine that, emails from God!

The prophet Samuel was called by God when he was just a young boy, during the time of his apprenticeship to Eli, the priest at the temple at Shiloh. One evening after they both retire to bed for the night, the young Samuel hears a voice urgently calling, "Samuel! Samuel!" Thinking it is his elderly mentor in need, Samuel jumps up out of bed and runs to Eli. "Here I am for you called me," he exclaims. But Eli has not called the boy and sends him back to bed. This sequence of calling to Samuel, his running to Eli's side, and Eli sending him back to bed occurs three times before it dawns on Eli that Samuel is not having nightmares, or seeing the boogeyman under his bed, but is being called by God. And so Eli sends Samuel back to bed with instructions as to how to receive God's call.

God's call is not always easily recognizable. Why is that? Doesn't God want to communicate with us clearly? Wouldn't life be a whole lot easier if God would just let us know exactly what he wants us to do? Why does God seem so ambiguous, even cryptic, in communicating with us?

In the days of God's call to Samuel, we are told that, "the word of the Lord was rare . . . visions [from God] were not widespread." God's silence and the absence of any prophetic visions from Him, led the people to conclude that God had ceased to communicate with them. But can this be true? Is God ever silent?

This period of God's seeming silence and absence was a time of political and religious anarchy in Israel's history. A time, the scripture tells us, in which, "every person [ in the society] did what was right in their own eyes." (Judges 17:6). A time during which the two sons of the priest Eli, named Hophni and Phinehas - priests themselves - were, "wicked men; they had no regard for the Lord." (I Sam. 2:12) In fact Hophni and Phinehas' disregard for the Lord was so great that they spent their days as priests stealing the choice meat sacrifices from people at the temple, and coercing women serving God at the temple to have sex with them. The scripture refers to Eli's sons as "scoundrels," which would appear to be somewhat of an understatement!

This immoral state of affairs lead people to believe that God was so angry, that God just withdrew himself from the life of the people, refusing to communicate with them. In couples counseling this is called "the silent treatment," whereby one person in a relationship punishes the other for some grievance, by refusing to speak to them. It is also classic passive-aggressive behavior, which we all know is not a healthy thing. And because I do not believe God is a passive-aggressive being, or would engage in unhealthy behavior of any sort, I think that this is an inaccurate interpretation.

Our UCC friends have a slogan that states, "God is still speaking." Well, not only is God still speaking, but God has never been, or ever will be, silent!

You're all familiar with the Verizon Wireless television commercials, where the Verizon man walks around speaking into his cell phone, asking, "Can you hear me now? Can you hear me now? Can you hear me now? " Well, that's what God does. God is always calling us and asking, "Can you hear me now?

The problem is never with God being silent. The problem is with our being able to receive God's call.

Take a moral inventory of your bodies, minds and souls. If your life is one that is separated from God by immoral behavior - either your own or the milieu in which you choose to live; if like the Israelites of Samuel's time, you do only what is right in your own eyes, or you abdicate your call to good behavior because of social or peer pressure; if like Eli's sons' you lead a scandalous life, where the only accurate term for you is scoundrel, then you are in the land of no cell phone towers . . . a place where it is not possible to receive God's call. God can ask "Can you hear me now?" all God wants, but you will never receive the call. There will never be five bars on your cell phone. There won't even be one. If we perceive God as being silent, the problem is not with God, it's with us.

In April of 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. was arrested and placed in jail in Birmingham, Alabama for his non-violent resistance to segregation. After King's incarceration eight leading Christian and Jewish religious leaders in that city, released a statement criticizing King's work and ideas, saying that his activities to end segregation in the South were, "unwise and untimely." In response to that statement, King wrote these eight men, what has come to be known as his Letter from Birmingham Jail. He writes the following: "I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. . . injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.. . Just as the prophets . . . carried "thus saith the Lord" far beyond their villages . . . and just like the apostle Paul carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to the far corners of the Greco-Roman world, so am I compelled to carry the gospel of freedom. . . we must [all] see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood." 1

Martin Luther King found himself - a black man - in a white culture that was unable to hear God's call because of it's immoral behavior of racism - an immorality that had even corrupted the religious leadership. But King strove to rise above that deadening culture, where people did only what was right in their own eyes, and where there were more than a few scoundrels.

Martin Luther King chose not to be beaten down and acquiesce, becoming subservient to the immoral culture, thereby becoming separated from God. Instead King chose to follow God's ways of justice and freedom and love. He chose to move out of the dead zone of racial hatred where God's call could not be heard, to the life giving zone of justice and love. And because of this when God said, "Martin, can you hear me now?" King, like little Samuel in the temple, was able to respond, "Speak Lord for your servant hears." And in his hearing and responding to God's call, King began the transformation of the immoral culture.

Talk about having five bars on your cell phone!

God calls each and everyone of us. God is asking you, "Can you hear me now?"

What are the dead zones in your life that prevent you from hearing that call? When God calls you, how many bars will your cell phone show?

Identify and name your own dead zones and begin the process of moving out of them. God yearns deeply for us to answer His call: to have us be in that place of health and wholeness in our life where the reception is crystal clear. Move into the life giving zones, where you can hear God's call to you. God is asking you, "Can you her me now?" Hear your own voice as with joy you say, "Speak Lord for your servant hears!"

     1 Martin Luther King, Jr., Letter from Birmingham Jail, From Christ To The World: Introductory Readings in Christian Ethics, Edited by Wayne G. Boulton, Thomas D. Kennedy, and Allen Verhey, ( Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1994) P. 427

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