On the One Voice with Many Sounds
January 17, 2021
1 Samuel 3: 1-10
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.”
John 1: 43-51
The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”
Today’s sermon is titled On the One Voice with Many Sounds. This morning began like most other mornings. It makes me a little sad to write that. It makes my existence sound routine and dull and predictable; that is not how I would describe my life and yet I have to admit that there are very few variations in my mornings most days. An alarm wakes me up in the loft of our sleep shack. I may hit the snooze button once or twice but never three times. I sit up and look out the window in the dim light of dawn, reassured that the water is still flowing in the brook, the earth still turning. I dress and very slowly, methodically, climb down the ladder and go out into whatever weather awaits. Once inside the house I am on auto-pilot, heating water, building a fire, hauling out my pile of devotional books from the cabinet, making tea.
This morning I was paying attention, though, because I was already writing the sermon in my head, testing out the idea to begin the sermon with the consistent routine of my mornings before I move into what I have really been thinking about all week. I have been thinking about how the divine breaks into ordinary life.
We are offered two stories today that both take us into quite ordinary circumstances. We meet Samuel, a young boy serving in the temple, and Nathaniel, a student of the Torah. Samuel is sleeping and is repeatedly stirred awake by a voice calling him. Nathaniel is going about his day when his friend Phillip convinces him to come and meet Jesus of Nazareth. Both Samuel and Nathaniel initially dismiss the possibility that the divine is breaking into their lives. I, for one, can not blame them. It always feels so much safer to stick with what we think we know, stay with the plan, and tow the line.
I am very much like Samuel at times, practically asleep. I am lulled into the illusion that I know how my day will probably go just by looking at my “to do” list; I am lulled into the illusion that I can predict how people will act and react. I look out and into the world and wonder what on earth one person can do.
In his book Strive Toward Freedom, Martin Luther King, Jr. describes a dark time when he was wondering just what he could do to turn the tide of injustice. He writes, “I was ready to give up… In this state of exhaustion, when my courage had all but gone, I decided to take my problem to God. With my head in my hands, I bowed over the kitchen table and prayed aloud…. At that moment I experienced the presence of the Divine as I had never experienced before. It seemed as though I could hear the quiet assurance of an inner voice saying ‘Stand up for Righteousness, stand up for truth; and God will be at your side forever.’ Almost at once my fears began to go. My uncertainty disappeared and I was ready to face anything.”* Three days later, his home was attacked and Martin Luther King, Jr. was able to face that, and so much more. It is in standing up for righteousness and it is in standing up for truth that we are able to tap into a power that is so much greater than ourselves.
I wish it were as clear as it sounds. It is not. As new images from the attack on the Capitol are shared, there is a person clutching the Holy Bible to their chest, there is a cross held high and a gigantic banner reading “Jesus Saves.” Any one of those people would probably say they are standing up for righteousness and standing up for truth. So how do we know if we are acting in response to a higher calling?
I considered the same question earlier in the week with two different colleagues. How do we know if it is truly the voice of God because the voice of God can have many sounds? How can we be sure it is not simply our own self-serving interests? One Friend said the voice of God would be turning our attention to what helps “the least of these.” The voice of God would be leading us to challenge the edge of our comfort zone by going beyond it. The voice of God would most likely be urging us to do something or say something that we find to be difficult. Another Friend spoke eloquently about how we are called into right relationship with all beings, so if what we are called to do has the effect of lifting one another up, of establishing greater equitability, we can more confidently claim that our efforts bear (as she said) “the signature of God.”**
In thinking back over my own life, the times that seem to bear the “signature of God” are the times when my heart said “yes” and my mind said “no.” They were times when the decision was not necessarily life-altering, but my mind was putting restrictions based on what I thought made sense, based on what I thought could be achieved. Like Nathaniel thinking that nothing good could come out of Nazareth, and like Samuel thinking the voice calling him was nothing significant, my mind, too, seems to want to be in control.
In closing, perhaps the best advice I have for us all is to pay attention; I suspect the voice of God has many sounds….sounds that sometimes take us inward for self-care and healing and sounds that sometimes turn our focus outward in acts of kindness, forgiveness and mending our broken world. Together, I pray, we will hold on to our hope for a better world. I close with following words from Martin Luther King, Jr. : I believe that what self-centered men have torn down, men other-centered can build up. I still believe that one day mankind will bow before the altars of God and be crowned triumphant over war and bloodshed, and nonviolent redemptive goodwill will proclaim the rule of the land.” So be it! Amen!
**Conversations with Rev. Bill Watson and Rev. Leaf Seligman.
In the stillness of winter, Lord, turn our hearts and minds to your presence. Help us to travel through our days with great care, paying close attention to how we are and where we are. Make us ever mindful of ways we can share your love, with a kind word, a smile, a note or a phone call. For all those who are ailing, Lord, we pray for their comfort. For all who are without, may they find the resources they need. For those facing death, we pray for peace. All these things I ask in the name of Jesus Christ, who gave us this prayer… Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not to temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever and ever. Amen.
I leave you with words from Martin Luther King, Jr.’s acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace prize in 1964 in Oslo:
“Faith can give us courage to face the uncertainties of the future. It will give our tired feet new strength as we continue our forward stride toward the city of freedom. When our days become dreary with low-hovering clouds and our nights become darker than a thousand midnights, we will know that we are living in the creative turmoil of a genuine civilization struggling to be born.”