Do You Hear What I Hear?

boy with earphones and ball
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1 Samuel 3:1-20

Young Sam tended to God under Eli’s instruction. God rarely spoke back then. And people lacked vision. Eli, too, was nearly blind. One day, as Eli was sleeping in his room and Sam was lying down in God’s temple next to God’s covenant box, God called to Sam, “Sam!”

“Right here,” Sam said. And he ran to Eli’s room, saying, “I’m right here. You called me.”

“I didn’t call you,” said Eli. “Go lie down.” So Sam did.

God called Sam again, “Sam!” And again Sam got up and went to Eli, saying, “I’m right here. You called me.”

“I didn’t call you,” said Eli. “Go lie down.”

This had never happened to Sam before, this hearing God speak. So when God called a third time, “Sam!” he got up and went to Eli and said, “I’m right here. You called me.”

Then Eli realized that it was God calling the kid. So Eli said, “Go lie down again, Sam. And if the voice calls you again, say, ‘Speak, God. I’m listening.'” So Sam went back again to lie down.

Then God called yet again, “Sam!” And Sam said, “Speak, God. I’m listening.”

So God told Sam, “Look at this! I’m going to do something in Israel that will get a huge buzz going. I’m about to do everything I said about Eli and his house. Every last word will come true. I’ve told him that I would strip his family from power. He knew his sons were screwing up, cursing God, and he didn’t stop them. Nothing, not even the most extravagant sacrifice, will suffice to undo what they have done. Ever.”

Sam didn’t move from there until morning. He opened the temple doors. And he was afraid to tell Eli what he’d seen. But Eli called him and said, “Sam, my son.”

Sam said, “Yes?”

Eli said, “What did God say? Don’t keep it from me. If you keep any of it from me, God will do it to you as well.”

So Sam told him everything. Every detail. And when he was finished, Eli said, “It really was God. What God said, God will do.”

So Sam grew up, and as God spoke to him, so he spoke. So everyone from north to south knew that Sam was God’s reliable truth-teller.

As it turns out, it’s not that the divine voice is silent, or that the divine vision is absent. As it turns out, the disconnect is a combination of blindness and cowardice.

Eli’s blindness keeps him from seeing the visions he needs to lead, and his cowardice leaves him unable to do what he knows is right. As a result, an entire generation has come to ruin.

Samuel’s calling presents a moment of truth. First, will he hear? And then, having heard, will he be overcome by fear and fail to speak? It’s a moment that every individual will face at one time or another, and maybe more than once. (Probably more than once.) The elder generation can only provide a bit of guidance.

It’s not that we can’t hear the divine calling. Chances are we’ve heard it. It’s what keeps us up at night, or interrupts our train of thought during the day. The question is whether we’ll answer. And the answer is to be willing go beyond merely hearing to enter into a deep listening and understanding. Even when what we’re given to understand is something we’d really rather not know about. Because knowledge implies responsibility.

And responsibility is the second issue. Eli knew and yet failed to act. We may be sympathetic to Eli’s plight. Having to confront members of one’s own family with their wrongdoing is one of the most difficult things anyone has to do. But sympathy doesn’t absolve Eli of responsibility. Samuel faces the same difficulty: telling his mentor and guardian the truth must feel like biting the hand that feeds him. But his choice is to act on his knowledge, to tell the truth.

The next time something’s keeping you up at night, take Eli’s advice, and listen. But don’t stop there. The next morning, even if you’re afraid, follow through. Even today, there’s not really any shortage of divine voice and vision.

The Right Thing: It’s Your Choice

bird escapes cagePhilemon

A letter from Paul, a prisoner on account of Jesus (and Tim) to Philemon our friend and co-worker, (and to sister Apphia, and Archippus our fellow soldier, and the church in your house).

I wish you all God’s grace and peace – Jesus’ grace and peace. When I remember you in prayer, I thank God every time because I hear how much love you have for the people and how faithful to Jesus you are. I’m also praying that you’ll realize how much good you can do for Jesus and that your faith will take concrete action. I really have been gratified and encouraged by your love, because the hearts of the people have been moved by your efforts.

So then, while I could order you to do what’s right, by Jesus, I’d much rather ask you to do it for the sake of love. I’m an old man, you know, and in jail for Jesus. So I’m asking you on behalf of Onesimus, who I’ve adopted while here in prison. Before this he was useless, but now he’s useful to both of us. I’m sending him, and with him my heart, back to you. I wanted him to stay here, because he’s so much help to me during my imprisonment for the movement. But I’d rather not do anything without asking you first – so you would have the chance to step up rather than be coerced. Just maybe this is why he was temporarily separated from you – so you could have him back permanently, and not as a slave but as a brother – by kinship and by mutual association with Jesus – especially to me, and even more to you.

If you consider me your partner then, welcome him as you would me. If he’s offended you or owes you anything, put it on my tab. I, Paul, by my signature, hereby pledge repayment. (Never mind that you owe me your life.)

Brother, for Jesus’ sake let me have this one thing and renew my confidence in Jesus. I’m so confident that you’ll oblige, and will do even more than I’m asking in this letter.

Oh, and one more thing. Get the guest room ready for me. I expect I’ll be free to see you soon, thanks to your prayers.

Epaphras, my cellmate for Jesus, says hello, and so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demus, and Luke my co-workers.

May Jesus’ grace be in your soul.

Each of us is Philemon.

I’ll bet that at least once a day each of us has the chance to do the right thing. And the right thing is in relation not to one person, but two people:

  1. the person to whom who you owe a great deal, and
  2. the person who, maybe, has wronged you.

Maybe, because of course Onesimus, a runaway slave, didn’t really owe Philemon anything. If anything Philemon owed Onesimus. Starting with an apology and reparations.

But, more to the point, you sometimes get the opportunity to do the right thing not because you have to, but because you choose to.

Paul’s advice: when you get that kind of opportunity, take it.

Do the Right Thing

Do Not Push Button1 Corinthians 10:6-13

What happened with them goes to show us how not to make the same mistakes:

Don’t sell yourselves to false gods like they did. Remember the story about how they had a gluttonous orgy. 23,000 people died because of that. Don’t demand that Jesus cater to your whims like they did. It ended up with a lot of people dying of snakebites. Don’t be constant complainers like they were. It was a path of senseless destruction.

Like I said, these stories were written down so that we can avoid the mistakes of the past when it seems to us as if the world’s coming to an end. So when you think everything is going well, watch out not to get tripped up. Your troubles aren’t much different from anyone else’s. God won’t give you more than you can handle. Remember, the nature of temptation is that there is always a right way and a wrong way.

I’ve heard this phrase, “God won’t give you more than you can handle,” misused by well-intentioned people to say that real hardship and tragedy isn’t really so bad. “Suck it up,” they say. “If you weren’t able to handle it, God wouldn’t have let it happen.” Hogwash!

A hurricane blows in. An earthquake happens. A wildfire burns. Life happens. We don’t get any choice about a lot of things. Sometimes they are terrible things. Without ever having smoked a cigarette you get cancer. These are not God things, they’re life things. And they happen whether you’re Christian or not. They happen whether we’re “good” or “bad.” Sometimes we survive them, and sometimes we don’t. It’s not about deserving or handling.

But Paul is writing about temptation, not about bad things happening out of the blue. And that’s something we all have to deal with every day. Every temptation involves a choice. If there wasn’t really a decision involved, it wouldn’t be a temptation. Plain and simple. And there are lots of stories (Paul’s come from the Exodus) that serve as lessons about choosing wisely (and the hazards of choosing foolishly).

Paul’s suggestion from the Exodus story is that when you feel like the world is falling apart, three things are essential:

  1. being true to yourself and what you, at your core, believe (instead of numbing yourself with food and sex),
  2. taking responsibility (instead of waiting for someone else to do what you’re responsible for and then blaming them when it doesn’t happen), and
  3. doing something (instead of bringing others down with complaining and nit-picking).

But the world doesn’t have to be falling apart for these things to be important. Temptations come every day. Do your best work, or piddle about on Facebook. Spend quality time with your spouse, or play yet another hand of solitaire. Pass the buck to the person at the next desk, or do your job. You get the picture. It’s always choosing. And with each choice, you wouldn’t be at that particular juncture – it wouldn’t be a juncture – unless you were really capable of making the right decision about it. This is what Paul means by, “It’s not more than you can handle.”

Either way, it’s up to you.

Do the right thing.