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Hearing God’s voice, following Jesus

Hearing God’s voice, following Jesus—it’s all fun, and sunshine, and rainbows, isn’t it?  Nathanael hears about Jesus from his friend Philip, and when Jesus himself calls out to Nathanael directly, Nathanael just knows here is someone worth following.


The story of God calling the child Samuel is even more adorable.  A young child hears his name, assumes he’s being called by the grown-up Eli, which happens a comical three times!  Fortunately, Eli isn’t so far gone from the word of the Lord and recognizes that Samuel may be hearing God’s voice.  And our lectionary story—the lectionary is the assigned reading for the day—could have ended with that obedient response: “Speak, for your servant is listening.” 


Wouldn’t you rather dwell there in the happy feelings, the contentedness of knowing that you are with God and God is with you?  Let’s just pause there forever—feeling good, feeling confident.  Jesus is saying, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree?  You will see greater things than these!”  There’s so much to look forward to! 


No one wants the cross to be part of this story.  No one wants to read on beyond Samuel’s declaration of obedience to find out the content of what God has to say to Samuel.  Samuel sure isn’t happy to hear it—he’s awake for the rest of the night.  “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.”[1] 


Who wants to be the one to deliver bad news?  It may be good news for someone but if it’s not good news for the person you’re speaking to, then that doesn’t feel good.  Can’t we just skip over that part? 


The thing is: God does not abandon the ones who have to deliver bad or hard or challenging news.  God is even more with that person.  God comes even closer. 


Samuel does deliver the bad news to Eli—God is going to punish your family forever, yikes, and it’s gonna be so bad that you can’t even make enough sacrifices to get out of it—and it ends up “As Samuel grew up, the Lord was with him, and let none of his words fall to the ground.  And all Israel…knew that Samuel was a trustworthy prophet of the Lord.”[2] 


Can a person be called trustworthy if they’re not telling the truth, even if—especially if—the truth is what you don’t wanna hear?  Much to Eli’s credit, he listened to the child and recognized the message originating from God. 


God is not afraid, and God gives courage to those willing and obedient to tell the truth.  There’s your evangelism strategy: tell the truth, and live the truth.  That’s how you prove that it’s the truth, by living it. 


I saw a quote from Reverend Doctor Munther Isaac, and I don’t know exactly when he posted this on social media, but it stuck with me.  Pastor Isaac is a Palestinian Christian, pastor at Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem—yes, that Bethlehem, the one in Palestine, the Holy Land—and he’s talking about the capacity of being prophetic, how to prove that the message of God’s Word in the Bible is right.  He writes,

“You don’t do this by pointing to self-fulfilling prophecy or by pointing to world events as prophecy fulfillment.  [This is not how you prove that the Bible is right.]  We prove that the Bible is right by radical obedience to the teachings of Jesus—by proving that Jesus’ teachings actually work and that they can make the world a better place.  Let us love our enemies.  Forgive those who sin against us.  Let us feed the poor. Care for the oppressed. Walk the extra mile.  Be inclusive, not exclusive.  Turn the other cheek.  And maybe, and only maybe then, the world will start to take us seriously and believing in our Bible.”[3]


And yes, all those things are consistent with what we know Jesus to have taught and lived—the truth of God’s presence with creation.  It’s plenty nice to say we should love our enemies and forgive those who sin, as long as the sin is vague and generalized.  It’s substantially harder to determine just what that sin is.  And it’s uncomfortable or even scary to name a sin.


Pastor Isaac gets specific in naming the sin of genocide in his land against the Palestinian people, and he has this message: “If you fail to call this a genocide, it is on you.  It is a sin and a darkness you willingly embrace.”[4]  He was quoted this week in the International Court of Justice, from his preaching to his congregation, saying that Gaza as they knew it no longer exists.  Here’s an excerpt from one of his sermons:

“Some have not called for a ceasefire… I feel sorry for you. We will be ok. Despite the immense blow we have endured, we will recover. We will rise and stand up again from the midst of destruction, as we have always done as Palestinians, although this is by far the biggest blow we have received in a long time.


But again, for those who are complicit, I feel sorry for you. Will you ever recover from this? Your charity, your words of shock AFTER the genocide, won’t make a difference. Words of regret will not suffice for you. We will not accept your apology after the genocide. What has been done, has been done. I want you to look at the mirror… and ask: where was I when Gaza was going through a genocide."


God is not absent, distant from the world and whatever we humans are doing to each other.  God is very much present and very much on the side of the oppressed.  It isn’t easy to talk about when it gets specific, but it is essential to speak up for truth, to know what we believe about God and to say it. 


We’re not alone in this work.  God is present with us, encouraging people of faith to speak truth, and bringing us together in support of one another. 


In 1934 in Germany, the Nazi government was bringing their own theology into the churches.  Some people accepted that.  But some faithful believers saw how the government’s policies were affecting people and forcing them to flee, becoming refugees.  Some theologians—and Lutherans among them—got together and specifically said why they wouldn’t accept this, creating a document called the Theological Declaration of Barmen, named for the German town where they met.  They were Christians, though not Christian nationalists. 


And the world was watching what was happening, particularly against the Jewish people.  That same year, 1934, the Congress of the Baptist World Alliance met in Berlin.  The Reverend Michael King attended there, visited sites important to the Protestant Reformation, the sites significant to Martin Luther.  He was so moved by this that he went back home to Georgia and changed his name. Because his five-year-old son shared that same name, his son became Martin Luther King, Junior.[5] 


We still celebrate Martin Luther King, Junior, who faithfully proclaimed the truth of God’s children, created in God’s image, undeserving of unequal treatment.  But his was no weak good news of kindness and gentleness, but also justice.  Tomorrow this country commemorates his contribution to civil rights for Black people in the United States.  Martin Luther King, Junior didn’t come from nowhere—he heard God’s call and spoke truth, just as his namesake Martin Luther, just as the child Samuel. 


Could it happen again?  Could you be the one called to speak, to speak up? 


God is faithful.  God is present.  Jesus said, “You will see even greater things than these.” 


Pastor Cheryl

[1] 1 Samuel 3:15

[2] 1 Samuel 3:19-20

[3] @munther_isaac seen in a quote on Facebook

[4] On as @MuntherIsaac

[5] Nancy Clanton, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (January 17, 2020). "Why Martin Luther King Jr.'s father changed their names"The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Retrieved January 14, 2024.


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