Sunday, February 2, 2020

To keep listening and obeying



Samuel

His whole entire life has been for one purpose – shepherding the people of Israel. Samuel is the prophet who speaks for God. Year after year he moves from tribe to tribe, arbitrating conflict, giving instruction from God, returning home occasionally to Ramah to judge the people, and this is how his life has gone, since he was quite young. 

God told Samuel to find Saul and make him King, so Samuel did. He counseled him and led him. And Saul – who was, by the way, the tallest and handsomest guy in all Israel, real king material – unites the tribes to fight against their enemies and they start winning some battles.  

Then Samuel, by now very old, figures his work here is done and throws himself a retirement party.  He gives a big speech, “I’ve led you since my youth and you begged for a king and now you have one. Hurrah. Is there anything I’ve done that I need to make right?” No, Samuel, you’ve been great. “OK, now remember who God is – and your crops are dry, you need rain? I’ll ask God to send rain.”  So he does, and God does, and the people are like, We get itSamuel and God are tightGod is the one looking out for us, and we owe allegiance to God.  And they all said, Pray for us Samuel! and he was all, “Don’t worry, do right and honor the Lord, and you’ll be good. Peace out!”

But then Saul starts messing up. He gets impatient when Samuel is late to a sacrifice and does it himself.  God doesn’t take kindly to that. And Saul starts getting more and more sure of himself, and less and less willing to listen to what God is saying. His army is fighting battles on all fronts, and the successes are going to Saul’s head. 
Finally after overt disobedience to God’s commands, God has had it with Saul. God tells Samuel that God regrets making Saul king.  God regrets it.  (sidenote- God has regrets!).  
Saul is not the king God hoped he would be.  

When Samuel hears this he has a full on fit. He cries and rages at God all night.  
But God’s mind is made up. He’s done with Saul. 
And so, Samuel is pulled out of retirement and sent to anoint a new king of Israel. 

Today is our annual meeting – in this, our 98th year, we’ll gather look back at the year that has been and ahead at what is coming.  We’re deliberately in a year of questions that began in September, asking things like, What does God want with us in the coming decade? Will it include this building, and if so, in what way?  Will it include partnerships with other churches, and if so, in what way?  

Neuroscientists tell us we are wired to give 10x more attention to negative information than positive. It was a matter of human survival, to watch out for danger. But it also means we instinctively gather warnings and worries and predict doom.  In life we mostly think about what could go wrong and try to prevent it.  

 Samuel did that himself.  And he was not wrong to – he could have been killed for what God told him to do.  While they were at war with other nations, he essentially is sent to betray the king he had crowned, mentored and advised, to anoint a new king, years in advance, with no next step in sight.  
But Samuel does it.  God leads and Samuel trusts.  He does the thing in front of him – even if he can’t see how it will pan out down the road. He listens and obeys God.

In my experience, this is most often how God works. God sees down the road, we see just the next step.  And in the midst of it, we imagine all the bad that could happen, but God asks us to take the step in front of us and trust.  
So we keep trying to listen to God, and stay open to whatever God directs us to do, and trust that it will lead us where God wants us to go. 
Our task is to listen and obey.

Ok, great! Let’s do it! 
Wait, what God is directing us to do? 
How do we know the next step God is asking us to take?
I’m going to wager that for most of us it’s not clear cut like it was for Samuel – Go to this place and tell them these words…  It’s not this guy, not this one either.  He’s the one!  

 So how do we hear God?  
How do we listen and obey? 

We start by practicing noticing.  It looks like this:
When we ask at our meeting, What have I loved this year?  That’s not just nostalgia, or even celebration.  We are doing the deeper work of noticing – listening for what God is doing.  We are watching for patterns, learning to recognize what is from God, finding out how to sense the next steps when they are asked of us. We are lifting up the moments of joy, connection, aliveness -  those are indicators of God’s activity. They point us to our purpose. 

When we ask, What was difficult this year? It’s not just to complain or air our grievances– it’s to pay attention. Where were the places of discomfort that challenged us and helped us grow? Or, what were our missteps? How did we ignore or overlook what God was calling us to?  

This noticing - we do this together.  It takes all of us to hear God’s voice.  We need all our different perspectives and experiences.  We need to listen to each other, and not be afraid to speak up. That’s what we believe as Presbyterians, that we hear God better together; this life of faith is not a solo act. 

In our new members class this week, we talked about how, as a congregation, we have to constantly be adapting – there’s no setting it in motion and coasting.  But there wasn’t for Israel either, or for Samuel, or for David, as we’ll see next time.  Because the point of being church together – the point of life! - isn’t to reach somewhere, achieve something and be done.  The point is to stay connected to God along the way.  To live faithfully and fully.  To love one another. 

This is ongoing, this is right now, and then right now, and then right now.  
To do this it’s vital to stop on purpose to look back together and ask, Where have we come from? What have we learned? How have we grown more connected to God? More connected to each other?  More invested in loving this world?  

This little church will keep changing: new diagnoses, new homes, new babies, new losses, new jobs, new challenges, new hurdles - the needs among us keep changing, the needs of the world keep changing, the needs of our neighbors keeps changing.  We are not trying to figure it out so we can arrive and be done.  We are trying to stay connected to God, each other and our purpose, so we keep on changing as life keeps on changing.

Samuel is an old man. Anointing David is his last prophetic act.  (He does come back briefly as a ghost, but for his life’s work- this is it).  He thought he’d achieved it with Saul, gotten them somewhere, achieved something, and that wasn’t the case. Now he anoints this kid and has to trust that when he’s gone God will continue to lead them. And trust that his life was good, and his was purpose fulfilled not by arriving, but by staying connected to God and loving the people all along the way.  

Because this isn’t Samuel’s, or Saul’s story, or David’s story, or Israel’s either. It’s God’s story – the story of God’s provision and care and faithfulness, and how in the midst of it, people keep finding their way back to their true place with God and each other.  God keeps coming, keeps blessing, keeps calling – join me, be with me in this, let me use you to bless the world.
So we keep listening and obeying.

Amen.

This is part of a series, journeying with some of our Biblical ancestors: HannahMaryAnna & SimeonJohnSamuelDavid*, The Samaritan Woman


(*This is an older message about David, in this series, we had a wonderful performance of 'David" by Theater for the Thirsty)

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