What Do You Want Me To Do, Lord?
1 Samuel 3:1-20; Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18; 2 Corinthians 4:5-12; Mark 2:23-3:6
Bigfork Community United Methodist Church
June 3, 2018 – Second Sunday After Pentecost
For the past year and more, as we have been getting farther and farther into the Word and into the world, we have been praying our listening prayer: “Lord, what is it that you want to do in the world…through me…today?”
Today, behold: we find our prayer in the ancient scriptures of our faith. It is a prayer given by an old man to a young boy.
It begins as all good prayers begin… in the mysteries we find…or the mysteries that find us…in the midst of life. It has been a busy day and there is much to do. Then we find a moment to lie still, hoping that we will soon enter into the dream world.
But this night, the boy Samuel, given to the Temple at Shiloh to serve Eli, the old priest there, by his humble and faithful mother, Hannah, hears a voice call his name: “Samuel. Samuel.”
Thinking it is his master, he runs to Eli and says, “Here I am. How can I serve you?” Eli tells him he didn’t call him. Go back to bed. He does …and he hears the voice again.
Samuel hears his name in the dark two more times…and Eli tells him twice more that it was not he who called him…before the old man realizes that someone is, indeed, calling this young boy…and he realizes it is the Lord.
Maybe Eli heard that voice once himself. Maybe he was a young boy when a voice called his name. Maybe he came running, too.
But a lot has happened to Eli since he was a young boy. He became the priest at Shiloh, an important place for Jews to come and worship and pray. He became a father and tried to raise his sons in the ways of their people.
His sons saw their status as a license to take what they wanted, rather than a calling to do what was right …and to show others what was right…in the sight of the Lord.They never prayed our prayer.
They never listened for the wisdom that comes from beyond their own worldly desires…their belly was their god…They were dishonest and refused to obey the Lord. When people came to the Temple to offer sacrifices, they would take their offering from them before they could even offer it… putting themselves before God and the people.
It was a scandal to all who experienced it. It was blasphemy to all who heard about it. The Temple was a place of privilege for the priests…who served themselves and not the Lord…who undermined their own faith as surely as they undermined the faith of all who came to worship there.
So we read that the word of the Lord was rarely heard in that land, and the Lord did not appear often in the dreams of the people. When those clothed with authority did what they were supposed to do, the faith of the people…in God and in themselves …was built up.
But when they did what they wanted to do rather than what the Lord expected of them…faith was eroded…and the fabric of community was corroded…and belief God’s goodness became outmoded.
So the Lord had to find a way to break into the lives of the people. The young boy who had been given to the old priest to serve him…the boy whose birth was an answer to his mother’s prayer…became the answer to the world’s prayer.
We live in a time when we can believe whatever we want to believe. We just have to find the right news network to watch…read the right magazines…subscribe to the right tweets.
Then we will know that we are chosen ones…and what we have been chosen to do. But even as I say that, you know in your heart that things don’t work out that way.
It hasn’t worked out that way for Eli,either. Now he sees a boy standing beside his bed who has heard a voice calling to him in the night …a boy too innocent to have his own dreams…a boy who was born in a prayer…a boy still able to hear what the Lord has to say to Israel.
We also read of Jesus and his disciples walking through a wheat field, picking grains to eat…and doing it on the Sabbath. To those who could only see the form of what they did…picking grains on the Sabbath…they were violating the Law and some Pharisees called Jesus out for permitting it.
But there is a great sense of haste about Jesus’ mission and the disciples have been following him for some time now, seeking only to bring the Kingdom of God to earth. They are hungry. They have important work to do and little time to do it.
Even David, the greatest king in all of Israel’s days, did the same thing when he was fleeing from Saul. He took loaves of bread from the altar to sustain him in his flight, and it was God’s will that he should escape the king’s wrath and live.
Jesus’ followers need to be sustained in their travels, too, and they are hungry on the Sabbath…so they pluck the grains of wheat to carry out God’s will.
This sense of urgency in all things is especially pronounced in the Gospel of Mark. The word ‘Immediately’ appears 59 times in its 16 chapters. At the end of his life, Winston Churchill was described as ‘an old man in a hurry.’
He was a writer and a soldier, a sailor and a politician, a man about town and a statesman. Then he found himself after World War II in possession of much information and a long perspective…a Member of Parliament that had served since the reign of Queen Victoria.
He was Home Secretary and Chancellor of the Exchequer. He was First Lord of the Admiralty during World War I and became Prime Minister just in time to defend England when all seemed lost in World War II.
Asked if he thought history would be kind to him he said he thought it would because he intended to write it. He had seen so much, done so much and learned so much that he was desperate to write it all down as clearly and compellingly as he could.
He felt an urgent need…to send his knowledge forward through time, as words…to complete his understanding of the record of humanity in dark and difficult times for those who might one day be able to learn from history.
Jesus and his followers were running against the clock, too. They needed to go everywhere, do all the good that God wanted done, speak God’s own truth and serve the one God had promised to send to redeem Israel…and all whose hearts believed in the Good.
Doing what needs to be done when the chips are down presents a different reality than we see in Samuel’s day, or in Jesus’ day for that matter. Samuel was chosen and the disciples were chosen for the greatest work in human history: to prepare.
Jesus did not ask, “Why me?” and sulk off into the safety of anonymity. He spoke when something needed to be said. He healed everyone who came to him with a heart open to God. He served at a moment’s notice.
Samuel would, too, because he listened. Such a can come at great moments or a small ones. A star can herald the moment, or it can come as a voice in the night.
Our friend, Dennis Reese, shared a story with me this week that is a model for me…and maybe a few of us as we pray our prayer. Dennis had a significant health issue last fall that required him to spend weeks in the hospital and at Brendan House.
Dennis loves his work and his work loves him and it was painful enough simply to miss work. But then, while he was confined by his illness, his dog became ill and had to be put down.
He was grateful to the people who did what needed to be done, but he felt bad about not being there to do it himself.
He felt that same tender spot in his heart recently when he heard that some members at Lakeside had had to put their dog down that day. He got into his old pickup and drove out to their home to see how they were doing.
They saw him pull up and the wife came out to greet him with, “How did you know? It is so wonderful for you to come to visit us just now. You know how we feel.”
As he was mumbling assurances that all would be well, she ushered him into the house where the husband was sitting on the floor next to their old dog…who was still alive.
They didn’t want to take their beloved dog to the vet and leave him there. The vet was coming over after work to end her pain in a place their dog had loved…and was loved.
Dennis was just in time to help them through their moment of truth at the same time they were helping him heal and do the same thing…once more…for his own dog.
He realized the gift he had received …to be there for his friends and their dog, and to say…once more …for his dog.
Samuel was called by someone other than the one he thought was talking to him. Jesus was called to a ministry that his followers did not understand…not even after Peter proclaimed, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
We are called to ministries we can envision but we will have to grow into them. So long as we keep our hearts and minds open to the moment…to the opportunity we have to see the works of God alive in the world at the time and place we happen to find ourselves….it can be as Paul writes to us today.
The Scriptures say, “God commanded light to shine in the dark.” Now God is shining in our hearts to let you know that his glory is seen in Jesus Christ.
Whether we find ourselves bored or overwhelmed…whether we hear a voice call our name at a moment that seems ordinary or cosmic …we need to remember what the child Samuel prayed when he went back to his bed for the last time that night.
We need to remember what Jesus prayed in the garden. And we need to remember that Eli, an old man with many regrets had the grace to tell a young boy one night to go back to bed, “and if someone speaks to you again, he was to say, “Here I am. What do you want me to do?”
Then we need to listen with all our heart and do all that can to do…and be…God’s will, not ours…believe in God’s truth, not ours…and live the lives God sets before us…not the ones we would have written for ourselves.
We have been given this day to live our lives…not to let our lives live us. We are listening, Lord. What is it you want us to do this day?Amen.