October 22, 2017 – “Sight”

Today’s text is from 1 Samuel 16:1-13.


What does God see in David? What does God see in Samuel? What does God see in Moses? What does God see in the Israelites? What does God see in you?

Week after week this fall we have witnessed God choosing and calling people who don’t seem ready or willing or capable of doing the task that God has assigned them. Moses is supposed to speak to the people yet he claims he isn’t eloquent. The Israelites have been freed from slavery but still complain about not having enough to eat. Samuel is surrounded by the very presence and voice of God yet has no idea what is going on. And David isn’t even in the running to be king when God plucks him out of the fields to become one.

What does God see in these people? It’s a good question because at times they seem whiny, undeserving, unqualified, too young, too scared, too much of everything that would make them good servants of God.

But that’s our view. Our view is distorted by our own bias, by what society tells us, how our culture has informed us, how our family raised us. Our view, our sight, is full of blind spots that our mind simply glosses over.

Glosses over so well, in fact, that we’re not even aware of it: Because each of your eyes has a literal blind spot in them. Think of your retina – the very back of your eye –  as a wall of receptors that takes in the light that you see. Now, in order for this information to be moved to your brain there has to be a pathway leading from the eye to the brain. Well, the place where the pathway connects to the retina ends up creating a small area where light is not collected – so your brain is never told what is in a small sliver of space right in front of your face.

And so your brain makes it up. Your brain literally guesses. If you’re looking at something that’s red, your brain assumes what’s in that small blind spot must also be red and so you see red. If it’s yellow, you see yellow; blue, then blue, and so on. Your brain simply fills in this missing data – fills in it so well that we never notice this blind spot and so we assume we can see just fine.

But then God comes along and shows Samuel and Jesse that God sees something different in David than they do. God comes along to Samuel as a youth and Samuel realizes he needs to hear in a new way. God comes to Moses and Moses realizes he needs to speak and lead in a new way. God comes to the Israelites and they realize they need to trust God’s presence in a new way.

And then God’s presence surrounds us. Empowers us. Calls us. God comes to us and asks us what blinds spots we may have in our lives where children of God are being left behind and forgotten? God comes to us and makes us wonder if we’re not hearing the cries of those who have been abused and oppressed. God comes to us and makes us wonder if we’re shying away from speaking out more because we too, like Moses, are afraid.

Like Moses, afraid; like the Israelites, scared; like Samuel, unaware; like Jesse, biased. None of these qualities sound good. To be accused of any of these might make us shut down, refuse to listen any further, or become angry. And yet each of these people and the whole congregation of Israelites were these things.

And it’s okay. It’s okay because they’re natural responses to the unexpected nature of God. It’s okay because they’re what happens when the path of life abruptly changes. It’s okay because they’re simply innate reactions to having our entire life upended.

And so then for the Israelites, for Moses, for Samuel, for Eli, for Jesse, for David – the question becomes: What now? What now? Now that we have seen and heard and been impacted by the very presence and voice of God, what now? Do our lives change? Does our trust change? Does our sight change? Does our hearing change?

What now? Because when Moses and the Israelites and Samuel, Eli, Jesse, and David all wonder and question what God is up to, God doesn’t abandon them. In the midst of their disbelief, in the midst of their anxiety, fear, ignorance, and biases God works with them.

God is only more determined to make sure that the people are given what they need in order to show that God is always present, always gracious, always loving, always doing what God does best: Providing grace upon grace, blessing upon blessing, love upon love.

And so in the midst of these gifts from God which cannot be taken away or lost or stolen, we, like Samuel, are challenged to look at the world with new eyes. We, like Samuel, are empowered by God to see the world the way God sees it.

It won’t be easy. To do so will be a marathon and not a sprint. To do so will create anxiety, fear, anger, and every emotion we’ve seen from the prophets of God we’ve been reading about.

And yet we can know that God will be with us. God will continue to push us and nudge us in new directions and God will continue to whisper in our ears to see the world – to see all people – as God sees them: As beloved children of God. For in and through Jesus Christ this is how God sees you: Loved, forgiven, and saved.

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October 15, 2017 – “Whisper”

Today’s text is from 1 Samuel 3:1-10.


Over the past few weeks in our readings we’ve heard a lot of noise. It hasn’t exactly been a joyful noise to the Lord either. It’s just been this drone, this buzzing sound, this noise of complaints and concerns and laments.

The people are frustrated. First they’re in slavery – and that’s worth some noise. And then they’re stuck in the desert with no water or food – again, that’s worth some noise. And then there’s Moses. One of the great leaders and prophets of Israel. Two weeks ago we heard him make quite a bit of noise as well.

We heard Moses talk and complain directly to God that he wasn’t fit for the job, that someone else needed to take his place, and yadda yadda yadda. We get it Moses; you don’t want the job. So he makes some noise.

And through all of this – week after week in our readings – the people speak; and God listens. The people complain; and God listens. The people demand change; and God listens. Time after time God hears the people, God listens to their cries, and God takes action.

Through all the noise God hears and God listens. Now this still remains the crucial part – through all the readings these past few weeks and for our reading today as well. Except suddenly it’s been reversed. All the noise, noise, noise of the past few weeks – all the justified laments and complaints and concerns going up to God – have been replaced by a quiet whisper on the wind.

Instead of our new protagonist tonight making lots of noise we instead see that he must listen. Samuel must listen in a way that he’s never dreamt of before. Samuel must hear a sound in the midst of the deafening silence around him that he has no reason to recognize.

Samuel has no reason to believe that God would be speaking to him. Just like Moses he has no idea what God is up to, what God has in mind, what God is calling him to be and do. And so he simply passes off this whisper on the wind as Eli summoning him in the middle of the night.

Three times this happens. Three times Samuel is stirred by this whisper of sound – this gentle voice on the wind. And three times Samuel has no idea what he’s hearing. Three times he hears the very voice of God and has no idea who or what it is.

It’s baffling when you think about it. Usually when we envision God speaking – whether in our own minds, or when portrayed on TV or the movies, or in the Bible itself – usually it’s a voice like thunder, it’s a voice that shakes us to our cores, it’s a voice that rings out to the highest mountains and lowest valleys – usually there’s no mistaking God’s voice.

But perhaps these are the easy moments of hearing God’s voice. Perhaps the more difficult times to see God, hear God, witness God’s very presence – are the moments when we are surrounded by nothing at all, the moments where a pin drops and it’s as if thunder cracked, the moments where we can feel and hear our heart beating in our chest.

Perhaps it’s in these moments where we sometimes need help. Just like Samuel we need someone else to help us discern God’s voice. Just like Samuel we sometimes need a helper and guide in order to sometimes see what’s right in front of our face – or in Samuel’s case, right next to his ear.

In Samuel’s youth he has no idea that God’s very presence could be with him in that very moment. In Samuel’s youth he doesn’t understand that God would choose to speak to him. And so Eli – Eli in his wisdom – recognizes what might be happen. Eli points out to Samuel that this voice, this whisper on the wind, may in fact be the presence, the voice of God.

And quite often in our faith lives we need this support, we need others to help us discern God’s presence in our lives. Whether young and old, white and black, American and foreigner, urban and rural, liberal and conservative, rich and poor – quite often we need the voice of another in order to discern the voice of God.

Quite often four ears are better than two. Because the speaking thing is usually easy. Moses had no problem talking to God and letting God know what his concerns were. The Israelites in their slavery had no problem voicing their laments to God. And through it all God listened.

But now it’s Samuel’s turn – and it’s our turn, too. Our turn to listen. Our turn to be still. Our turn to let the wind, the rain, the sun, the leaves, the traffic, the birds, the music, the people – everything that surrounds us – move us closer to the very presence of God.

For you never know where God will speak to you next. But through the world around us – especially through the people and communities that surround us – we will have the opportunity to hear God speak.

Sometimes in the roar of a waterfall, but other times in the whisper of a butterfly’s wings. But through it all we too, like Samuel, are called to be still. To be still and know that God is all around us. Speaking to you, standing with you, and forever claiming you as a child of God.

 

October 8, 2017 – “Generosity”

Today’s text is from Exodus 16:1-5, 13-18.


We walk with the Israelites from slavery to freedom. God heard their cries when oppressed and in the chains of slavery and set them free. But their freedom has amounted to wandering around a desert. Their freedom hasn’t been exactly how they envisioned it.

And so they complain. Once again the Israelites lift their concerns to God. And, once again, God hears their cries. Just like Moses last week God doesn’t punish or demean, God doesn’t reject or tell the Israelites they can’t have everything handed to them.

God doesn’t tell them that God’s already done all the hard work – getting them out of slavery – so now they’re on their own for water and food. No, God still provides.

And God provides in a way that is unbelievable. God gives the people meat to eat in the morning and bread to eat in the evening – and everyone will receive exactly what they need; no more, no less.

God’s generosity to the Israelites – and to us – is immeasurable. Generosity itself can’t be measured, it can’t be weighed, it can’t be given something in return – generosity in and of itself is simply a gift.

But sometimes our human tendencies get in the way. Society and culture have taught us to be precise, to measure, to make sure everything is fair. The problem becomes what is our definition of fair? What is our definition of generosity? At some point we all draw the line. But not God.

At some point we all hunger for something. Freedom, food, power, wealth, safety, family, friends, a job. And at some point perhaps we’ve received one of these things. At some point we received one or many of these things and perhaps felt this need to store it under lock and key. As if food were scarce, that power would be lost if we shared it, that wealth was ours to keep because we had somehow earned it.

And so we measure. We compare. We judge. We track what our definition of generous is in order to make sure our world is in balance. But then God comes along. God comes along and throws the whole thing into chaos.

God comes along and gives unmerited grace. Undeserved mercy. Infinite and abundant love. And it doesn’t make sense. Quail and manna? It doesn’t make sense. The word ‘manna’ translated out into English means, “What is it?” The people name this gift, this blessing, this life sustaining food from God, “What is it?”

Sometimes blessings can look like this. They can be staring us right in the face and we wonder what they are. Perhaps we don’t even see them. Sometimes it’s easy to walk past the blessings and gifts from God because they seem so ordinary.

They make us ask, “What is it?” And God answers, “It’s enough.” It’s enough. And it’s a miracle. Meat and bread in the desert. This dew-like substance on the ground. What is it? It’s enough. And it’s a miracle.

These miracles are all around us. Just look at the rain falling this afternoon. I personally know, like the Israelites, that it’s easy to complain. First, I wondered why it was gloomy and cloudy. Then I wondered why it had to be raining on the weekend.

But then I looked at the grass. I thought about all the blades of grass throughout this part of the state that are longing for some precipitation to fall on them.

See, the grass is brown. And yet, it doesn’t worry or fret. It doesn’t die, but it isn’t completely green either. For the moment it just is. It’s in the heart of God’s creation. It’s in the heart of an abundance of resources and gifts – the rain will arrive; it did arrive, it has arrived, it is arriving. The nutrients will be found, they were found, they are here. Without worrying or thinking or trying or doing the grass is simply given these things.

The rain falls and the grass greens not because it deserves it, not because it asked for it. The rain falls and the grass greens no matter how brown, no matter how green – whether it was complaining or not.

Water. A simple gift. And yet it’s enough. It’s a miracle.

Manna. A simple gift. And yet it’s enough. It’s a miracle. These miracles are all around us. In the sun rising, the ground beneath our feet, the wind against our bodies – God is always around us. Providing, sustaining, and creating newness of life.

Not because we deserve it; often through and in the midst of our undeserving. But this is the generosity of God. It doesn’t measure, it doesn’t weigh, it doesn’t expect anything in return. For God’s love, God’s grace, and God’s abundance of new life is with you this day and always. And it’s enough. And it’s a miracle.