Sermon: March 19, 2023 – Lent 4 – 1 Samuel 3: 1-10

Although my favourite types of sermons are those that begin with a scripture and some curiosity and a desire to have it go wherever God wants it to, sometimes a sermon does fit into a particular set of circumstance.  That’s the case today, when the sermon needs to be faithful to scripture, encourage a Missional response to God, and be brief, as the soup-for-lunch and our Annual General Meeting is waiting!

Download PDF: Sermon_19March2023_Lent4_Missional

Our reading today is a playful yet poignant scene of call and response.  Earlier in this same book (1 Samuel 1-2) young Samuel was the long-prayed-for child of Hannah, and she dedicated the boy’s life to God by having him come to live at the Temple, under the care of the High Priest, Eli.

Eli was highly regarded by the people, showing fidelity to God and integrity the people could trust.  His sons, however, are referred to by scripture as “scoundrels” (1 Samuel 2:12) and this is a particularly bad thing for Israel, for in those days the role of High Priest was hereditary, and Eli’s days were numbered.  Having a young protégé like Samuel trained at temple gives a glimmer of hope of a more faithful way forward.

One night, a voice speaks Samuel’s name.  Samuel gets up, goes to Eli and asks him what he needs.  After a couple of rounds of this triangulated Call and Response, with Samuel and Eli and this voice, it dawns on Eli that this may well be the voice of God.  He directs young Samuel to reply next time with the words, “speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”

Many times in my years of Ministry, I’ve been asked “how do you recognize the voice of God?” or “I think I’ve heard a calling – but how do I know that it’s God?”  It’s tricky territory to navigate, because – and I’m not trying to be funny here – most times that someone says they are hearing voices, further investigation is needed with a trained psychiatric professional.  Having lost a year of my life to clinical depression, and having had a close-up view of parishioners and relatives suffering psychotic breaks, I take mental health issues very seriously. But once we get past that set of safety concerns, acknowledging that God seeks no harm, hearing the voice of God calling you by name is a real and potentially life-changing thing.

Today’s scripture reading gives a small clue about how to discern God’s voice in saying “Samuel was not yet experienced in hearing God’s voice.”  When you have a mechanism for opening yourself to God – silent meditation, daily prayer, mindful nature walks, however you’ve shaped your life to include sacred space – and you couple that with experience, it becomes easier to recognize God’s presence in the moment. It’s a lot harder to know what God might be conveying to you, if your God-connection is more hit and miss.  Samuel was still young and pretty new to all this, so he needed to rely on the eventual mentoring from wise old Eli on how to discern God’s voice among other voices.

What’s not brought forward so much in this reading, is how important it is to fit a holy nudging into the bigger context of everything we know about God.   We have this great sourcebook, 39 books of Hebrew Scripture and another 27 books in the New Testament, to see the themes that God keeps coming back to over the ages.  The prophet Micah (6:8) summarized it as, “seek justice, love kindness, walk humbly with your God” and Jesus boiled it all down to “love God and love your neighbour.”  So, if you sense that God is calling you to do something, you need to put it through this filter of everything else that you know about a God of justice, kindness, humility and inclusion.  God does not call anyone, ever, to increase the burden of those who are already unfairly burdened, or for you to do harm to yourself by taking on one additional thing when you are already at the breaking point.  Having a basic understanding of God’s heart for wide-spectrum belovedness helps a lot in determining where God is guiding you in the moment.

Sometimes, even after you’ve done this discernment you still have big questions.  To put it in a Missional framework, even when you’ve determined that this thing God asks you to do will be of benefit to someone who could use a kind word or a hot meal or a safer living situation, you wonder if this is really yours to do.  When that is the question, giving it a test-drive is a great next step.  When God might have something new for you, there’s no better way to find out than to give it a try.  That describes my call to Ministry – which started a bit like Samuel’s, God’s voice calling in the middle of the night, then got tested out on a summer field in SW Saskatchewan – and I can think of seven or eight other big places where God pointed me in a new direction, and guided me to say a tentative yes and try it out.

Inherent in the story of Samuel and Eli, is that God frequently asks us to do hard things.   As a teenager, I heard this from one of my Ministers, and it was really important to hear at a point in life when I was seeking the easiest path, not the most faithful one.  But I do have to temper that a bit, for in my advancing years it has come evident that sometimes God calls us not to change, but to more fully utilize the things you do well, the wisdom, experience and savvy you bring.  Just being hard or easy isn’t much of a determinant in trying to discern God’s callings.

Is all of this taken together the Minister’s sneaky way of saying to folks in the pew on this AGM Sunday, “we have vacancies on our ministry teams and YOU might be the right fit”?  Well, yes it is. We have specific needs to help us do our work effectively and efficiently, and a wide range of spots for folks to roll up their sleeves and do some Mission work.  It might be a chance to share established skills with us, or a time to try something unfamiliar; we give thanks for all gifts offered. God has always needed the qualities we might call leadership and followership, people willing to set big directions and people who can help with the sorting and the stirring and the stapling.

And so, in big things and small things, in unfamiliar things and very familiar things, in ongoing work and in work yet to begin, we seek God’s calling for this brand new Community of Faith.  We bring everything in our personal stories, we bring forward the 270 year combined heritage of the Rundle and Ralph Connor congregations, we bring our faith that there are still ways that we can be a positive presence in the overall life of the Bow Valley, and we bring a willingness to be available to God even in the curious times in which we live.  May our worship and work and even our AGM be times in which our baseline response is, “speak, Lord: your servant is listening.”  Thanks be to God, Amen.


Suggested reading:

Levoy, Gregg. Callings: Finding and Following an Authentic Life. NYC: Harmony 1988.

Zhang, Raphael.,know%20that%20it’s%20His%20voice.

© 2023 Rev Greg Wooley, Ralph Connor Memorial United Church.  Preached in Banff.

Each Sunday in Lent, we have engaged a different “place setting” at the Theological Banquet, a model developed by Rev. Dr Janet Gear. This week we look at a Missional Response to God’s call.

Today we are on week four of our five-week series on the “Theological Banquet”, five types of Lived Faith outlined by Rev Dr Janet Gear.  Today, we focus on the MISSIONAL form of lived faith.

If a picture tells a thousand words, several thousand words about MISSIONAL faith could be shared simply by showing photos of things already happening in this community of faith.  There’s the thrift shop… the manse in Banff being readied to house a refugee family … the work of CYAN and the BVRP…our annual support of Christmas hampers and the feast at Mini Thni… the room in Canmore which has hosted AA for at least 20 years… Travis Hall which has housed the Rundle playschool for some 40 years… and so many other places where Christ’s call is answered by doing something concrete. As described by Janet Gear (p.113), “Missional lived faith is a doing faith… making someone well, safer, less fearful, or less lonely.”

Hospital and Care Home Chaplaincies, and downtown front-line work, like the work of the Calgary Urban Project Society, or CUPS, founded by Central United in 1989, are two styles of explicitly “missional” ministries.

We may relate this term Missional to the old term “missionary” and that is a partial fit, which I will reference in todays prayers, but at the Theological Banquet, it’s like this (J.Gear, p.120): “For the missional, God is at work in the world through Christ’s disciples whose compassion and love of neighbour heals and restores lives and quietly witnesses to the power of God’s love.”  A Missional lived faith is shaped by an understanding that “we are the hands and feet of Christ”. Indeed we are!  Amen.

Reference: Gear, Janet. Undivided Love. Altona, MB: Friesen, 2022.