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January 17, 2021 (2nd Sunday after Epiphany) -- Laura Walters

January 17, 2021 (2nd Sunday after Epiphany) -- Laura Walters

Listening to the Wrong Voice

In our first lesson for today, the 2nd Sunday after Epiphany, we get to listen to a delightful story about a call. I say it’s delightful, but really it’s a bit of a cliff-hanger. Here’s how it goes.

Samuel, a young boy, is serving Eli, an elderly priest of the Lord. It seems to be night time and Eli is lying down in his room and Samuel is lying down in the room where the ark of the Lord is housed. Samuel hears a voice calling, “Samuel! Samuel!” So Samuel gets up and runs in to Eli and says, “Here I am. You called me.” Eli says, “No, I didn’t call you. Go back to bed.”

Samuel does as he’s told and a little while later he hears again, “Samuel! Samuel!” So he runs in to Eli and says, “Here I am, for you called me.” Again, Eli says, “No, I did not call you. Go back to bed.”

You can almost feel Eli’s irritation as this little charade is playing out. You can imagine little Samuel’s confusion. “But I heard…But you said…” You can almost see him shrug and shake his head as he heads back to his bed.

Then for the third time, Samuel, back in his bed, hears, “Samuel! Samuel!” And a third time he runs in to Eli saying, “Here I am. You called me.”

After some confusion and puzzlement on the part of both the boy and the man, finally Eli begins to understand what is going on. We can excuse him for being a bit slow on the uptake, since the Lord had not been speaking for a very long time. But Eli, his servant, was still listening and he finally realized who was calling Samuel. Eli tells Samuel, “Go back to your place. If he calls again, say, ‘Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.’” So Samuel returns to his bed and again, he hears the voice calling, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel answers, “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.”

This story is about a call. It is amusing and kind of charming because it is about a boy. A good boy. A boy who wants to do the right thing. But here is the thing: this story could very well have been a tragedy.

God had not been speaking or sending visions for a long time. God’s servants had gotten out of the habit of listening for God’s voice. But this time, God was about to do something big in Israel and Samuel was to be his instrument.

But what if Samuel had not had a wise mentor who could tell who it was who was really speaking? Samuel would never have learned how to listen for God’s voice. He would never have learned how to respond.

Samuel does stay put and the next time he hears the call, he responds and God answers him. But he could very well have missed the call altogether. Why?  Because he did not know how to tell who was speaking.

This same story has played out over and over for centuries and for millennia and it is playing out now. God is calling. But we do not know how to listen for God’s voice.

God is calling, but we are not getting what God is asking us to do. Why? Because we keep going to the wrong place, listening to the wrong voice, answering the wrong call. We are so caught up in our own present-day reality and preconceptions that we do not even trace the call back to the Lord. We just go to the guru we happen to be following at the moment. Sadly, tragically, most of those gurus of the moment are not wise enough to point people to the right voice.

Right now our nation is in danger of violent overthrow by hundreds of thousands of people who have heard a call and have run to the wrong source for their marching orders. Many of these people think that they are Christians. They are not Christians no matter how many times they use Jesus’ name and I think in our heart of hearts we know that. If we know anything at all about Jesus, it is that he very adamantly refused to be involved in a violent overthrow.

So, storming the Capitol building with handcuff style zip ties and scaffolds set up outside specifically to murder the Speaker of the House and the Vice President are not the acts of a Christian. Members of Congress who provided the insurrectionists with maps of the building so that they could find their targets and urging them on to murder from the Capitol steps are not acting as Christians. No matter how many times they invoke the name of Jesus.

We were told that there would be many false prophets. Matthew in particular has several passages about them. The one most oft-quoted is perhaps the following:

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit.” – Matthew 7:15-17

The horrendous things that are happening in our country right now are clearly trees bearing bad fruit. It is easy to see this now. But we got to this point over a long period of time.  A period of time during which the bad fruit was not so easy to identify and was harder to resist. A period of time when we started to accept lies as truth, first small ones, then larger and larger ones.

But we have criteria for telling truth from lies. How is it that we have fallen so afoul of the truth and have believed the lies that have gotten us to this point? How can we tell whether we are running to false prophets to ask what they want us to do, rather than staying still and listening for the voice of God?

We have clear criteria right in scripture. Clear as day and specifically labelled as the most important thing we need to know. So let’s take a look.

We are told without any ambiguity what the greatest commandment is. It is spoken by or to Jesus in every one of the four Gospels. I will include each Bible reference at the end of this message. They are all very similar but I will quote just one of them now:

Mark 12:28-31

28 One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” 29 Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 30 you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” 32 Then the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that ‘he is one, and besides him there is no other’; 33 and ‘to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,’ and ‘to love one’s neighbor as oneself,’ – this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”

These two “commandments” are an integral part of the Torah, the law of Moses, and every Jew knows them. We, as the descendants of Judaism, should also know them.

The first commandment quoted here in Mark comes directly from the book of Deuteronomy, Chapter 6:

4 Hear, O Israel: the Lord is our God, the Lord alone. 5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.

The second, also part of the Law is from Leviticus 19: 

18 You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.

If you read this 19th chapter of Leviticus you will find very specific ways that we are to love and not harm our neighbor. What I just quoted says we are not to bear a grudge.  But the remaining verses go into greater detail. They say that we are to leave a portion of what we have for the poor and the foreigner. We are not to steal, deal falsely, nor lie to one another. We are not to defraud our neighbor. We are to pay wages to laborers on time. You are not to revile the deaf, nor trip up the blind. You are not to render an unjust judgment. You are to treat all the same, neither being partial to the poor, nor deferring to the wealthy. You are not to slander. You are not to profit by the blood of your neighbor. There is more. Much more. There is so much more that there is little that is left in doubt regarding how we are to treat others.

There is more than enough here for us to be able to judge rightly whether or not we are being urged by a false prophet to turn away from the Lord. We should be able to tell rightly whether a politician or a think tank or a television commentator is urging anti-Christian thoughts, beliefs, or policies on us. We have been given more than enough ways to determine truth among the lies.

Two years ago, a book titled Rising from Hatred: The Awakening of a Former White Nationalist was published about the life and transformation of a young man named Derek Black. The son of David Duke, an American neo-Nazi, antisemitic conspiracy theorist, far-right politician, and former grand wizard of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, Derek was raised in his father’s world view. Then he went to college where people he was hanging out with began to make it clear that his so-called “world view” was based on lies and hatred and they would not tolerate it. Slowly, he began to examine his beliefs and slowly he began question them against the real people that he knew, and the facts that he was learning were true. Slowly he began to change a lifetime of hatred. When asked if he ever doubted that change and was confused by these completely conflicting world views, he said that whenever he began to ask those kinds of questions and to doubt what was true he would ask himself this question. Is what I am believing and acting on good for people or is it was hurtful.

What an amazing lesson in discernment this former purveyor of hate is sharing with those of us who purport to still be confused about what is true.

If you need one more criterion for determining lies from truth, try the prophet Micah. In chapter 6, he tells us as clearly as it can be put:

He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

There was nothing just, kind or humble about what happened at the Capitol building on January 6. There is nothing just, kind or humble planned for the next week in Washington, D.C. and at every state capital in the country.

In an almost tragic twist of irony, tomorrow (January 18) is the holiday when we remember The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. We will take time out to remember how long black people have struggled here to gain freedom, rights, the opportunity to live unharrassed. Back in the ‘60s they were struggling to get a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. Today they were struggling to be able to drive down the street without being pulled over and shot for no reason other than that they are black. They are struggling not to be murdered in their homes. The work of Dr. King is far from over and we, as Christians, are obligated to continue that work.

Why? Because

He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

We are not told to “not see color.” We are told to DO JUSTICE. Jesus’ entire life and mission was to show us that our task here on earth is to bring to pass the kingdom of God. A kingdom of peace and justice. We aren’t asked to be nice. We are asked to work actively for justice.

To that end, the Racial Justice Network of the North Carolina Synod has invited us as a congregation to join them in honoring the legacy of Dr. King. They have offered an opportunity for us to watch a program sponsored by the Metro D.C. Synod of the ELCA in partnership with the African Descent Lutheran Association to consider the words that Dr. King wrote in his Letter from Birmingham Jail. It is today (Sunday, January 17) at 4:00 p.m. The details on how to tune in to this event were emailed to you on January 11 and they are also on the main page of our website, messiahofthemountains.org.

What saddens me is that this invitation will be considered controversial. Hatred and discrimination of black people has become so normalized in this country that to work for justice makes one a target of hate. Our church, however, has never stood for this. It’s not that we aren’t racist. We are. We are the whitest denomination in the world. But despite, or maybe because of this, God is calling us. God is calling us over and over and over. Are we going to run to our nearest political party or TV network or our neighbor down the street who is totally convinced that he is the one who is being discriminated against? Will we settle for comfortable lies? To whom will we run to find out what to do? Are we going to follow the wrong voice?

He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

Today we are Samuel. Eli is telling us to go back to our place – right by the altar. Lie still. Wait for the voice. Then say, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

Then you will hear the Lord speak to you, and just like Samuel, that voice will ask you to do something very hard. It will ask you to stand in the gap to protect your black brothers and sisters. It will ask you to risk the anger of your friends and families while you work actively for justice. It will ask you to speak up against racism whenever you hear it spoken, to speak up, to no longer remain silent. It will ask you to risk scorn and spittle when you wear a mask in public or tell family they cannot come see you because you care too much for their health.

You will be asked to actively speak against the hatred and anger that have become normalized as you try to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with your God. You will be asked to do hard things. And you will do them with joy and humility because you know you are listening to the right voice. The only voice that matters.

 

Texts used in this sermon:

1 Samuel 3:1-10 [11-20]

 

1 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. 2At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; 3 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. 4 Then the Lord called, “Samuel! Samuel!” and he said, “Here I am!” 5 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. 6 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.” 7 Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. 8 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. 9 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. 10 Now the Lord came and stood there, calling as before, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

 

Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18 (1)

1 O Lord, you have searched me and known me.

2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away.

3 You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways.

4 Even before a word is on my tongue, O Lord, you know it completely.

5 You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.

6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it.

13 For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.

15 My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.

16 Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed.

17 How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!

18 I try to count them – they are more than the sand.

 

1 Corinthians 6:12-20

12 “All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are beneficial. “All things are lawful for me” but I will not be dominated by anything. 13 “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food,” and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is meant not for formication but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. 14 And God raised the Lord and will also raise us by his power. 15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Should I therefore take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! 16Do you not know that whoever is united to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For it is said, “The two shall be one flesh.” 17 But anyone united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. 18 Shun fornication! Every sin that a person commits is outside the body; but the fornicator sins against the body itself. 19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? 10 For you were bought with a price; therefore, glorify God in your body.

 

Prayer of the Day

Thanks be to you, Lord Jesus Christ, most merciful redeemer, for the countless blessings and benefits you give. May we know you more clearly, love you more dearly, and follow you more nearly, day by day praising you, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

 

 

John 1:43-51

43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45 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.” 46 Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47 When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly and Israelite in whom there is not deceit!” 48 Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” 49 Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50 Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree?” You will see greater things than these.” 51 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.”

 

Matthew 7:15-17

15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? 17 In the same way every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will know them by their fruits.

Matthew 22:34-40

34When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, 35 and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37 He said to him, “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

Mark 12:28-31

28 One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” 29 Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 30 you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” 32 Then the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that ‘he is one, and besides him there is no other’; 33 and ‘to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,’ and ‘to love one’s neighbor as oneself,’ – this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”

Luke 10:25-28

25 Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” 27 He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this and you will live.”

John 13: 34-35

34 “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Deuteronomy 6:4-5

4 Hear, O Israel: the Lord is our god, the Lord alone. 5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. 6 Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart.”

Leviticus 19: 9-18

18 You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.

Micah 6:8

8 He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

 

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