Sunday, October 29, 2017

The Presence of God - 1 Kings 8:1-13

So after Samuel anointed him king, the boy David grew up, as boys are want to do. And after some things happened and then some more violent things, he did indeed eventually become king. He had some wives, and one who was someone else's, and some children. He fought in many wars, and through those wars. And some small amount of diplomacy established Israel as a nation among her neighbors.
When his wars had settled down and he began the work of setting up Jerusalem as the seat of his government. He built a palace there and wanted to build a house for God there as well. But God told him that this task was not for him. David was just a little bit disappointed, but he was wise enough to not attempt to build something God specifically told him not to and that was the end of that.
So after some time, David died, as boys are want to do, when they are old men. His son Solomon became king after him, after a few not so minor disputes, involving swords, and a small amount of bloodshed. Something that is want to happen, when a country has not yet established a clear process concerning the passing of power from person to another. After this many more things happened, many of them deemed to be very wise, because Solomon was known for his wisdom. Some of them were not so wise, but of even the wisest among us do some very unwise things. Anyway, Solomon decides it is time to do the one thing his father had wanted to do, but was forbidden to do, build the temple. God had always said that God did not need a dwelling place made of wood and stone, but since it was something that seemed to be important to David and to Solomon, God would choose to abide in a temple if he were to build one. So after seven years and no small amount of forced labor (again sometimes wise men do some very unwise things), the temple is finished. And it has come time to dedicate it.
On that day, they brought everything up out of the tabernacle. That is the mobile tent, in which they had worshiped since their long journey through the wilderness, when God brought them up out of slavery in Egypt into the land in which they now resided. After they had brought up all the implements of worship, they brought up the Ark of the Covenant, which was basically a very elaborate box, on which sat two carved cherubim. Inside are two tablets onto which were written the covenant God had made with the people and the people with God. It was often the preferred meeting place for God and Moses throughout the wilderness wanderings. The bringing up of the Ark, symbolized God coming into the temple. From now on God would meet the people here in the temple Solomon had built.
The Ark is taken into the temple and put in the inner most room, the most holy room, the room set aside for God. It was placed there, set between two great cherubim, underneath their outstretched wings. It was there in that space, above the cherubim atop the Ark and underneath the wings of those that towered above, in that dark, innermost, windowless room, God would “reside.” Once they had it all set up, it was perfect. The room neatly contained the Ark and even the long poles which had been used to carry it all those years. It all fit beautifully in the room. You could just see the poles, but all that was considered most holy was contained in that one little room.
During the days of their travels, God had led them with a pillar of cloud. It was said that the very presence of God was in the cloud, that it was the physical manifestation of God, leading them, guiding them to the land God was giving to them. That cloud of the presence of God had always been with them, until they had settled and taken up residence in the land which God had promised to them and to their ancestors.
When the priests had finished putting everything in its place and the priests had just come out of the room. Then with all the priests and the elders gathered there something happened, something unexpected, something, just a bit frightening. The presence of God filled that place. Here, on the day of the dedication of the temple, as soon as they had finished putting the Ark of the Covenant, the meeting place of God, into the inner most, holiest part of the temple, that same cloud filled the temple. God filled the temple. And everyone left. The scripture says, “a cloud filled the house of the Lord, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud.”
God came into the temple. God had come into that most holy of places, just as they had desired. But God did not stay there. They had built the room perfectly, it was just big enough to hold the cherubim and the ark and even the poles of the ark, but the room was simply not big enough to hold God. God came into that room and came pouring out filling the entire place. They had built a room to contain God but it was just not big enough.
They had wanted God to come. They had invited God to come. I mean they had built the whole place for God, but they are surprised, frightened even, when God actually shows up. And they are surprised when God does not stay where they put God. They are surprised when God does not fit in the room they had provided. They are frightened when God is bigger than they expected. They are frightened when they realized that God cannot be contained by anything which they have built.
They wanted God to show up but are chased out of the temple when the presence of God actually arrives. I want you to hear me, Church. God is bigger than anything we build. God is bigger than our sanctuaries. God is bigger than our buildings. God is bigger than anything we can imagine. Our God is bigger. Whatever it is, God is bigger.
We are probably not surprised that the God of the universe; the God who hovered over the deep, at pre-creation; the God who spoke the world into existence, who created light itself and the dark as well; who flung the stars into the sky and who reached into the dust of creation and formed humanity, breathing into us, giving us life; that God cannot be contained by anything we have built. No tent, no house, no temple ever devised by the human brain and then built with human hands could ever hold God. I can think of little else that makes as much sense as that.
The largest failing of religion, is that through religion we attempt to understand God. We think that by building walls of theology, doors of dogma, rooms out of articles of faith, roofs with manuals. We think that if we search enough, discuss enough, explain enough, think hard enough, we can place God right where God belongs in our holy of holies; that we, by understanding God, that God can be contained in our understanding. We think that God can be seen and held, that by wrapping God up with thoughts, ideas and words, with theses, and creeds and articulations of our faith, that we can build a place where God can safely reside. But God cannot. One of these days we, as the people of God will see, that all these doctrines, creeds, and articles are good pursuits, but that expecting God to reside within the walls of our understanding is a vain pursuit. As soon as we set up the walls, the perimeters, no matter how holy our pursuit, when God comes in, God is bigger, so much bigger.
The temple was a great idea, setting up a place most holy was a great idea, it is a fair and honest endeavor to provide a place where the people of God can come to meet God, to give the people a place where they can come to seek to understand God. But we should never be surprised when God is bigger than that. At some point in our seeking, in our understanding, we must realize that we can never wholly understand God. We although seeking God is a holy and blessed endeavor, God cannot be found, in any hiding place. We can never call out, “Olly, Olly, ox and free” and expect God to come out in all God's glory so that we can see God in God's entirely and know God completely. Our God can be sought, but can never truly be found.
We seek God so that we might know God, so that we might catch a glimpse of this one who we worship; this great and mighty God of the universe, who chooses to draw near to us, who chooses in some small, yet great way to reside among us. We hope to know so that we might understand the one who desires to be in relationship with us. But in knowing we must come to see that in seeking we do not find, in knowing we never truly understand. But yet the endeavor is never worthless, it might be our complete undoing, but what an undoing! To be undone by the one and only most holy God of the universe. The God is bigger than us, bigger than anything we can build or imagine. The God who is simply bigger.
I want to be clear, neither the priests, nor the elders, not even Solomon called God to come, and then God came. I say this because my language and even the language of the text might lead us to believe this. Language is a funny thing; it is imprecise and often lacking. It does not often convey the very things we are attempting to convey, even when we speak of mundane, common things. But when we come to understand that God is bigger than anything we can create this also includes language. When we speak of these things our words are a small and confining as that room in which they attempted to house God. When we speak the things of God, the presence of God comes pouring out of the small words, and statements we use, breaking their meaning and confusing their meaning, leaving them but poor broken vessels unable to contain that which we are attempting to relay. Solomon did not build a house for God temple in which God could reside and then invite God to come. The elders did not bring God into the temple when they brought all the holy things up out the tabernacle. The priests did not bring God with them when they carried the ark into the holy place. God did not come trailing after them like an obedient child moving house because his parents have relocated. God did not go because God was instructed to go. God did not come because God was invited.
Every Sunday we gather every Sunday, here in this sanctuary, this place which has been built for us to come and see God; to stand, if but for a moment in the presence of God. At the beginning of the service I speak an invocation, a call to worship. But I am always very careful in my language, lest any of us think that God is summoned to be among us. I am very careful to not presume that it is I, or you, or us together who invites God in to this Sanctuary. No matter how our language through liturgy or through song might lead us to believe. It is not wrong to speak thusly, but we must speak or sing realizing that at some moments our language because it cannot contain God, fails to correctly convey the mysteries of God.
We ultimately believe that this is God’s sanctuary, God’s house. It is not God who meets us here; it is us who meet God here. We do not invoke God to join us; we do not call out to God and beg God to join us. We come, we gather, we worship, we pray, we praise, because God has invited US, God has gathered us, God has called us. We are the Church because God has made us the Church. We come, we go, we gather, we scattered because that is how God the Church to move. We come into the presence of God because God calls, and have heard that call today. God does not come because we have called; we come because God has called. God is not here because we have gathered, we have gathered because God has called.  
When God came to the temple God not only filled the temple to over flowing but the presence of God forced the priests and the elders outside into the streets where the people were. There is no indication that they were able to go back in so Solomon’s prayer which follows, the service of dedication, the worship that occurs throughout the rest of this chapter, happens out there on the streets among the people.
God’s presence forces them outside the walls of the temple. God’s presence forces them out into the streets. They could not minister there in the temple and were instead forced by the very presence of God to minister outside, in the streets among the people.
I want you to walk with me for a minute here this morning. Today is reformation Sunday. And although I am hesitant to celebrate the church divided, even if it is a side effect of much needed reform, I am going to mention it this morning, because one of the things Luther heralded in his 95 theses is the priesthood of all believers. The priesthood of all believers says that all the church, every one of us who claims Christ as Lord, can stand before God as priest. That means that because of Christ the division between God and God’s people has been broken down. Each of us can stand before God ourselves. We do not need anyone to stand for us. We can pray, we can worship, we can be in the presence of God in the ways that only priests of the Old Testament could before God.
You might notice in this passage that although all the people are gathered, that only the elders can take anything into the temple, and only the priest are allowed to carry the Ark in to the holy place and it is only the priest who had remained to be chased out. The priests stood between God and the people. The people are unable to stand in the presence of God. But in Christ we do not need anyone to stand between us and God. The presence of God resides with all God’s people, because we are called to be the Church and the Church is called to be a holy priesthood taking God to all the peoples of the earth. We are all priests, in that we can all stand in the presence of God. When we come into the sanctuary of God, when we gather to pray, to worship and minister, each of us are doing so, in the same way the priest of old did. We can stand here this morning because in Christ all of us, each of us, are priests of God, gathering, worshiping and praying together in the very presence of God. This is one truth that was made clear in through Luther in the reformation, and for that we are thankful.
As God’s priests we are called us to gather, we come into God’s presence to worship God, to come to understand God, to be the people God is calling us to be, to minister, but ultimately no matter how many times we are called in, no matter how often God gathers us, the presence of God sends us out once again, into the streets, among the people to minister. We are called to be a holy priesthood to the nations, to all the people of the earth bringing God to them. Carrying the symbols, the signs, the words (no matter how faltering) that will share the presence of God with them. But we cannot do so here, with in these four walls. Inside these walls we are contained, we are hidden, like the ark with its poles, within the holy place. We cannot stay here. We may come because we have been called, we may gather because God has gathered us in, but in coming we encounter, the great, the mighty, the frightening presence of God and it is the very presence who calls, who gather, who sends us out, who scatters us  in among the people of the world to minister. To BE priest, to show them the one whom we have encountered, to carry the invitation, God’s invitation to them, so that they might hear the call, so that they might know that they too may come. So that when we gather they too may come with us. The presence of God gathers, but it is also that same presence that scatters, it is God who calls us, but it is also God who sends.  

We do not come here each week simply for the purpose of coming. We are not called here simply to worship and pray. We are not gathered so that we can study and come to understand God. The Church is not created for itself. We are not here merely for our own edification. We are plants, God nurtures us, gives us all that we need, food, water, sunlight, so that we might grow. But we are not here simply that we might grow, we do not grow so that we might merely be bigger, taller, greater. We grow that we might mature, that we might produce fruit that others might also grow. That God’s Church might multiply and grow. Come here in the presence of God so that God’s presence might drive us out into the world into our common everyday task, into our jobs, into our schools, into our neighborhoods so that there we might minister among the people that next time we come we might bring one with us, that she too might come to know the God we know, that he too might become a priest alongside of us, that they might come to know the God we know, love the Christ we love. The presence of God came into the temple that day and the priests were driven out in to the streets by God’s presence to minister there. We have come here today, and encountered this God who is bigger than we, we have encountered this God who is greater than our imaginings and let us like the priests who have come before us also be driven out into our world to minister in God’s name! 

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Called - 1 Samuel 16:1-13

Our story begins this morning, with a stranger coming to town; after all, as Mark Twain tells us, there are only two stories: a man goes on a journey and a stranger comes to town.  This story begins with a disheveled old man walking up a dusty road toward a town.  There is a man in his field on the outskirts of town; he can see the dust rising before the stranger comes up over the rise.  He stops leans on his plow, and watches for a minute to see who it is.  He strains his eyes, and as the man makes his way up the road, he comes into view piece by piece.  It takes a second for him to recognize the stranger, the realization shows on his face.  He calls one of his boys over to him. You can see him say something to the lad and the young man takes off up the road.  Before the stranger can reach the man and his field, a group of men have gathered, they are conferring.  You can hear them identify this stranger as “the prophet,” “the judge.”  There is a mumble about how his sons are no good, but he is God’s man, but what is he doing here?  The king has fallen out of favor with him.  He is displeased, says God is displeased. He hasn’t spoken to the king in quite a long time.  What is he doing here?  What does Samuel have to do with us? They talk and come to a decision.  As Samuel approaches them one of them calls out, “Do you come in peace?”   Seriously a screen play writer could not have written this better.  “Yes I come in peace, I have come to make sacrifices to God, sanctify yourselves and come with me.” And as things progress you see him making a point to assure that all the boys from one particular family are sanctified.
After the sacrificing is done, he calls Jesse, the father of this family, over and one by one inspects his boys.  The eldest one is tall and strong and handsome, an obvious leader surely. Samuel examines him closely, looks up into the man’s strong face. The voice of God speaks quietly to Samuel telling him to not look at outward appearance because God looks at the heart. Samuel looks away from the man disappointed, shaking his head, “no, no he is not the one.”  He looks at the next son, shakes his head again, “no, not the one.”  He goes through the next, and the next, and the next, until seven of Jesse’s sons have passed before Samuel, each one is not the one.  None of these are the one, do you have any other sons, (are you holding out on me?).  Jesse is slightly taken aback and a little shame faced. Yeah, he has another son, the youngest, “he is out tending the sheep and playing his harp. He really is of no account, but if you want me to call him in from the fields I can.”  He sends one of the others and shortly our hero, a handsome young man, with a beautiful smile and captivating eyes comes up over the hill running, wondering what his father wants with him.  The boy is still out of breath as Samuel looks him up and down,  looks him in the eye and says, “You, you are the one.”  Samuel anoints this one to be king.
We all remember grade school gym class, I know I do, I remember when the teams were being chosen, whether it be kickball, dodge ball, or esp. basketball, as you can imagine, I was not the first to be chosen, or the second one. I was almost always the next to last, you know right before the girl who broke her foot last week.  This is what is going on here except all the kids who are used to being to being picked first, aren’t being picked at all, and you can’t help but wonder why.  What’s wrong with them?  Are they, like Saul, out of favor with God?  What hidden flaw do they have?  What malady of the Spirit does God see that Samuel and the onlookers are missing?
It is easy to get caught up on why God does not choose Jesse’s other seven sons, and why God chooses David instead.  Since God looks at the heart and not outward appearance, the assumption is that there must be something defective with these young men that only God can see. And David must have some phenomenal inner trait that only God can see.  But the text does not say that.  Nothing bad is said about any of these young men, just that they are not chosen.  David is said to be handsome and have beautiful eyes, we do not know what God sees when God sees into David’s heart, but God chooses David, and the story of that David’s slow progression toward Kinghood begins.
And Jesse’s other sons are left standing in the field un-chosen and not good enough, or at least from this point on we forget about them.  But it is not so much that they were unchosen, just that they were not chosen to be king.  I am sure if they followed God and were faithful to God they were chosen for something else in their lifetimes, to live quiet lives as strong men of God, leaders in their town, in their clan, in their tribe, to be good farmers or shepherds, husbands, fathers.  They have stories, they have callings, they were chosen but not chosen to be king.
That is the thing to remember when we look at this anointing story, this story of the choosing of David.  David was not simply chosen, as if being chosen is an end in itself. No one is ever chosen just to be chosen. David is chosen to be king. 
David is chosen to be king, because somewhere in that harp playing sheep tending heart God sees that this one, this one can make a good king.  David is not simply chosen he is chosen to do something specific.  You can imagine as David kneels before Samuel, out of breath from running in from the field, the scent of sheep still on him, and the notes from the last song he was playing on his harp still in his mind, that he is thinking to himself, ”is this guy for real?  God has chosen me?  To be king?” 
It is not so much that when God looks into David’s heart, God sees a phenomenally spiritual man who is so amazing that God just has to choose this one to be king, but more along the lines that when God looks into this young man’s heart, God see in him the potential to be a great man of God, an excellent leader, the king of God’s people.  David is not chosen to be king because he is already amazing, but because God knows that this harp playing shepherd has the potential, if he trusts and relies on God he can be the king these people actually need. 
When God looked into the hearts of his brothers, God saw something else for them, something else a little less flashy, a little less remembered for all time, but important, pertinent and valuable each in their own way, just not chosen to be king.
The fact of the matter is not everyone is chosen to be king.  There is only one king, that is one of the things about being king, when all are going well, there can be only one. When there is more than one there is a problem and things don’t go down so peaceably.  God chose David to be king. But God also choose Jesse to be the father of a king and God choose David’s brothers to do other vital things in their community and in the lives of their loved ones.
God chooses and God chooses based on criteria we may never understand.  We may not understand why God choose those around us to do the things that God is choosing for them to do.   I may never really know why God choose an ultimately, shy, awkward, who had few friends, to be a pastor, but God saw something at 13 that those around me did not yet see and something that I most definitely did not see in myself.  But God chose me, not simply for the sake of choosing, God chose me to do that which God enabled me to do.  Not that which I could do on my own, not that any of this was within my own power to accomplish, but God called me to do that which could only be accomplished if I walked with God and trusted God.

God calls us all.  This is not like gym classes where some of us are standing last in line but God chooses us all first to do what it is that God calls us to do.  When God comes before us God does not pass us by, but chooses us to do that which God knows, once enabled and empowered by God, we can accomplish and will accomplish.  It is an old worn out saying but it is true.  God does not call the enabled, God enables the called.  But God does call.  God calls us all.  In Ephesians Paul says some are called to be teachers, and some to be evangelists and some to be preachers.  The fact of the matter is that we are all called by Go to do something, we are all empowered by God to do something.  We are all chosen, but we are not simply chosen to be chosen, to be special, we are all chosen; chosen because God knows our hearts; chosen to do that which God will enable us to do; chosen to do the work and the will of God in this world, to glorify God and to further God’s kingdom.  But we are all chosen we just need to trust and rely on God in all things to enable us to be the person and do the things God has chosen for us to do.  

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Two Men of God; Old and Young: 1 Samuel 3:1-21

So the people of Israel traveled across the desert and eventually, after many years and many things occurred, they finally found their way into the land to which God had promised to Abraham all those years before. They settle in that land and it became their home.
And in that land was a woman named Hannah, a second wife, who was cherished by her husband even though she continued to bare no children. Although her husband did not hold her barrenness against her, but instead showed her favor in all things, this greatly distressed her. So she went to the temple and prayed for a child. In fact she prayed for so long and so fervently that the priest thought she was drunk and tried to oust her from the temple until she explained her situation to him. So, instead of tossing her out for being drunk, he blessed her for her faithfulness and her zeal for the Lord and sent her on her way. And in due time (that's how the scriptures say it, “In due time.”), she bore a son and named him Samuel and when he was old enough she took Samuel to the temple and gave him over to the Lord to serve God for the entirety of his life. So from the time he was a young boy, Samuel lived in the temple and served the Lord there under the priest Eli.
As Eli is left to raise Hannah's son, Samuel, as a servant of the Lord in the temple, he has his own troubles at home. He has two sons, who are grown. And, although he raised them to follow in the family “business” they were not cut out to be priests. They cheated the people out of their portions of the meat they brought to offer, not only did they take from the portions that were reserved for the people,  that they would take from the ones that were supposed to be given completely over to God and be consumed by fire. And as if that was not enough they were took advantage of the women who came to the temple, in ways that were not appropriate to go into due to the PG rating of this of this worship service. I am sure, it would not surprise you, to hear, God was not at all please these sons of Eli and declared, if they continue in their perverse ways, they were not long for the priesthood, or this world. And that pretty much brings up to date to where were in this passage.
Samuel is a bit older now, but still quite young. He is serving Eli and serving the Lord in the temple, but he “does not yet know the Lord.” Which is not to say that Eli has completely failed in raising Samuel in the ways of God, but is a way for the scripture to let us, the readers, who perhaps have heard of this prophet named Samuel and the things he did later on in his life; letting us know that this was before Samuel was Samuel, this is the very beginning. This is where it all started, before he the mighty prophet to the people, before he was a king maker or a king breaker. He was just a boy, who did not yet know the Lord, in the manner in which we are accustomed to. This was before all that, when he did not yet have a reputation, when he did not yet recognize the voice of the Lord, when it called his name.
And that is exactly what happened on this night, when Samuel was young and still slept in anonymity. In a time when the word of the Lord was rare and visions were scarce, in the middle of night, the word of the Lord came to a child. He did not recognize the voice of the Lord at first, but with some help from Eli who realized what was going on, was able, after hearing God call several times, to understand that it was the Lord who was speaking to him and respond accordingly.
God's call to Samuel and the message God gives to him is not a great one. God explains that Eli's sons are not long for the priesthood or this world. Being a priest and a prophet in Israel is not a “family” business, especially when the ones coming up in the family a disgrace to the temple, are disgracing God and generally making a nuance of themselves. God will not allow the sons of Eli to continue to be priests after Eli. Implied is that Samuel will serve as priest and prophet for God in their stead.
No matter how much Eli might have wished for his sons to be the men of God, we can only assume, he raised them to be, they were not. Being the child of a person of faith does not make you a person of faith. In fact being trained or raised by a person of faith does not make you a person of faith. Dare I go so far to say that being trained to be a pastor does not make you a person of faith? Being a person of faith makes you a person of faith.
Here we have examples three people who are raised and trained by a wonderful man of God. But only one of them actually is willing to hear and listen to the word of God. We do not know what the faith experience of Eli’s two sons was, but we can be pretty safe in saying they did not actually possess Eli’s faith in God. They knew how to be priests. They knew how to offer sacrifices, they knew how to guide and direct others in how to worship the Lord. But there is little indication that they actually lived out what it meant to be people who loved and worshiped God.
None of us can assume that we are Christians because we have been raised in the faith. The faith of our parents is not passed on to us like a hooked nose or a crooked smile. Although it is always important to guide and direct the children in our congregation in the ways of the Lord, I am pretty sure we all know that they will not believe simply because we bring them to Church each week and work to raise them in the faith. It is the same with our own faith. We cannot rely on the faith of anyone else to carry our own. We cannot assume that just because our mother or father had deep faith that simply because we come to church and were raised by them that we too will be people of God. Nor can we rely on the faith of our teachers and our pastors. Just because we have been trained in the ways of the Lord, does not make us people of God.
Our live and our actions will bear out the truth of our faith. We may have be led by amazing people of God, like Eli, but being led and taught by an amazing person of God will not necessarily make us the people of God we should be. We can learn and grow by being taught and guided by other great Christians, but unless we seek to be the people of God they are teaching us to be. Unless we study scripture, and seek to be the people God is calling us to be, in the end the actions of our lives will reflect something other than the character of God.
On one hand we have the sons of Eli, they tricked and cheated people, and they were dishonest and took advantage of their position. They were in short, men of very little if any faith. Their lives reflected the truth that the faith in which they were raised had very little bearing on the way they were actually living their lives. Then we have Samuel, who has received the same training they have, who has been raised by the same person who raised them. What we see in his life is a person who in all things desires to be a person whose life reflects the faith in which he has been raise.
When the lamp light is low and the night is long, Samuel is sleeping in the temple. God comes to him calls his name. He might not know it to be the voice of God. He might not know what to do when he hears the voice of God but he knows who to go to. When he is in the temple and he hears someone one calling, he goes to Eli to see what needs to be done. He is willing to listen, and follow instructions, even in the middle of the night. He may not know who is calling but he knows that he needs to be ready to listen and to do what he is called to do. Even when he has yet to really know what it means to be a person of God, Samuel was willing and ready to do what needed to be done. He was willing to seek guidance and to listen.
The message God tells Samuel that Eli’s sons will not be priests after him. That it will be the messages that God gives to Samuel that will make the ears of those who hear tingle. From this point on it will be Samuel who God will use and through Samuel God will work.
And Samuel goes back to his bed with this knowledge. He was ready, he was willing, he was eager to hear the word the Lord had to say to him, but it must have been really hard to know that God was calling you to shake up the status quo. That God was going to change the way things were done, that God was going to use you to undercut the way things had “always” been done. He sat awake that night knowing that God was choosing to work through him instead of working through Eli’s sons.
It is neat to think that God called Samuel by name. That he was minding his own business, doing the work his mother had commissioned him to do and God comes to him and calls him by name. God chose him, the little boy Samuel, the nobody who was more of a servant to a dottering old priest than anything else and called him by name. It would be easy to focus on how amazing it is that God calls us, you and me to do the work and the will of the Lord in this world. That God uses people like you and me who are just going about our mundane lives, doing our mundane things to carry out the very work of God.
The thing is that God did not wake Samuel up in the middle of the night to ask him to continue doing what he was doing, to affirm the work he was doing in the temple, helping Eli and serving Eli. He did not call Samuel by name to ask him to call him to a position of prestige and comfort. He did not even call Samuel to go tell that they were doing great! God did not call Samuel to do anything fun or easy. He called Samuel and in doing so called Samuel to change the way things were done, (sons of priests became priests), to uproot the status quo and to break the system.
Then with the first morning light, Eli calls Samuel into his room and asks him, “What did God have to say?” And Samuel has to tell him that God is going to get rid of his sons and that God is choosing Samuel to be prophet and priest in their stead. I am sure that Samuel expected Eli to get mad, to rail against him, to declare him to be a false prophet. I am sure there are any number of responses Samuel imagined as he lay in his bed, definitely not sleeping, until morning, but Eli did none of those things. Eli accepts the will of the Lord. He knows his sons, he has seen them, and although his father’s heart had a hard time seeing it, he knows that they really cannot go on serving as priests. They are simply not fit for the duty. He accepts the will of the Lord.
As people of God, the things God has to say to us are not always easy to hear. But when we, are like Eli and truly seeking after God; when we are like Eli and truly want to hear what it is God is saying, we will accept it and go with it, even if it is hard to hear, even if it means that we or those we love will lose our positions of authority and power. There is much we can learn from Eli’s, “Let the Lord do what seems good.” Wow. The faith it must take; the obedience, the maturity, to hear a hard word of God and accept it!
Here we have Samuel, at the beginning of his life, before anyone knows who Samuel is, when he is just a nobody, a servant of a priest, doing what he is told, God comes to him. Samuel does not even know the voice of the Lord when he hears it, but he is willing to listen, to hear, to do what needs to be done. He is willing to seek out leadership and guidance from another who does know. And he is willing to do whatever it is God is calling him to do; even if the call is scary, even if the call is to bring about change that others might not be willing to accept; even it if means shaking up the status quo and dismantling broken systems. He is ready to hear, willing to listen, and eager to carry out the work and the will of God. We all should be a little more like Samuel.
And we have Eli, at the end of his life. Old and set in his ways; faithfully seeking God even at the end of his life. He has made some mistakes, but he is still listening for God. He is still serving God. He is still teaching and guiding those younger than he, to walk in the faith, instructing them to how to hear God’s voice, instructing them on how to listen and how to obey. And even willing to accept the word of God, even when it means that he will lose his power, his position and his authority, he is willing to accept the will of God, even when it does not seem like good news to him, he is willing so see that the work and will of God is good even when he does not like what it means for him. We should all be more like Eli.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Enough for Today - Exodus 16:1-18

The Israelit­es are making their way across the wilderness. They have passed through the Sea with Egyptians and their chariots floating its waters behind them. They have ventured forth with the God of their ancestors, who has promised to lead them back to the land, which God had personally given to their ancestor Abraham and his descendants (who just so happened to be them). Even though God was in many ways leading them to the home, they never knew they had, in many ways, they are walking in the spiritual footsteps of Abraham, to whom God said, “follow me and I will lead you to land which I will show to you.” Stepping out into that wilderness and following a God they barely knew they had, who had done, great and sometime frightening things! But great things none-the-less.
God had sent the plagues, which did not end so well for anyone who was not a God-fearer. Then when the Egyptians had chased them across the wilderness, after saying they could go, God divided the water for the Israelites to pass through safely, but the result was not the same when the Egyptians attempted to follow them into the “dry sea.” But the end result was that the Israelites were finally free.
And there was much rejoicing (yeaahhh). But it soon stopped, they were running out of water and were getting mighty thirsty, and just in time they came upon some water, but it was unsuitable to drink, it was bitter so God made it good to drink, sweet.
Then, as they traveled, they realized their rations were not going to be enough to get them where they needed to go. After all it is hard to pack enough for a journey if you do not know exactly how long its gonna be. They are in a barren wasteland where food is scarce. They have not brought enough with them to feed them throughout their journey, and there seem to be very little prospects of finding food along the way.
God already provided them with water that was clean and sweet, but that is not enough when they are now hungry. So here they are somewhere between Egypt and the “land to which God was taking them.” And they about to run out of food. And this does not make them happy.
As they set up camp that evening Moses can hear the rumblings among them. As they settle down that evening with the last of their lamb for their dinners and eating the last of the berries they had brought with them, the fear and anxiety is palpable. The people begin to mumble and the mumbling turns to grumbling, and grumbling turns to rumbling. Why did Moses bring out into the desert? Did he do it, so we could eat the last of our animals and watch our children die? What the people are beginning to really wonder is “Is God really among us?”
Moses begins to fear that they are so angry that they may make and attempt on his life, so he goes to God with the problem. “God, these people might just up and kill me, if they don’t get some food , here real soon.” God tells Moses that they will all have enough to eat, enough meat and enough bread. God tells them that when they wake up in the morning, there will be bread laying on the ground for them to eat. When they poke their heads out of their tents after a good nights sleep, bread will be laying on the ground, with the morning dew. It will cover the ground all around them. And they are to each gather just enough for one person to eat each day, no more, no less. Each one will have just enough to eat for one day.
But that is not all, in the evening, just as the sky is going red and the sun begins to dip beneath the horizon, the encampment will be filled with quail. Everyone is to gather and cook the quail and fill their bellies before they go to bed each night. Enough bread and enough quail for each day, every day.
Everyone has just enough. No one needed more than enough. There was bread for one day, and quail for one day. God provided enough for each of them, each and every day. They were on the move there was no reason for them to carry around food they had not eaten, food that they did not immediately need. But they would always have exactly enough, exactly what they needed. Enough for each one, enough for everyone. And each night they went to bed full and satisfied.
At the hour of their greatest need the people are satisfied; satisfied in more than one way. Satisfied, in that their hunger is relieved and satisfied, in that their fear of dying is abated, in that are provided food, for everyone, everyday, but also satisfied in that God provided an answer their desperate question, “Is God really among us?” God shows them that they are not alone. They were not brought out into the wilderness to die, not by Moses, not by God. God is a God who will provide, exactly what is needed, when it is needed; enough for today.
Thousands of years of hind sight cause us to look back on the Israelites and call them, “silly.” Of course God would provide for them. Of course God did not bring them out there to die. That is not what God is all about. We know that is not WHO God is. We know that God would never do that to the Israelites.
Those silly Israelites, didn’t they know that God would not take them into the wilderness and leave them there to be killed by wild animals, starvation or even thirst?”
Don’t they know that is not how God acts?”
No they don’t. They don’t know God, not really. This is the beginning of God’s relationship with these people. They really did not know the one true God of all creation from false, capricious and sometimes vindictive gods, that were worshiped by the Egyptians. When Moses came to them to bring them up out of slavery, that was really their first introduction to YWH God, Moses has just introduced this “I Am” God. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Thus far they have seen that God is a powerful God, who could out magic the host magicians of the Egyptian court. This is a God who could call down death on their enemies and control the forces of nature, making a dry path through the sea. This God could take bitter water and make it sweet. They are in a land with out bush for berries or animals for hunting. Can they trust this God to provide what does not exist? Was this new God, still among them, way out here in the desert? So far God had proved to be faithful and true but they were still learning. They were still coming to an understanding of exactly who this God, the God of the universe, this “I am that I am” truly is.
It is the same with us. Sometimes we wonder, “WHO is this God we have chosen to follow?” When we are truly honest with ourselves each of us can find that there are times in our lives when we are just as unsure about God as the Israelites in this passage:
Can I trust God?”
Can I trust God with my money?”
Can I trust God to meet my daily needs?”
Can I trust God with my hopes? My dreams?”
Can I trust God with my parents, my children, my livelihood?”
Is God really with me today? Will God be with me tomorrow?”
Is God among us?”
I can remember laying on a make shift bed, snuggled underneath a top sheet laying on top of a fitted sheet wrapped around a comforter in a tiny little one room apartment, with very little food in the cupboard. My computer was sitting on a box. My clothes were stacked in neat piles in the corner and my newly completed Greek homework was resting on top of my brand new seminary books, which were stacked on a bookshelf, which was one of few pieces of furniture there. Lying on that “bed” in the dark crying to God, asking God, “Why?” I had moved halfway across the country to attend seminary. And my life had almost immediately fallen apart around me. Here I was alone, hungry, laying in the ashes of what were my hopes and dreams, still slugging through my homework, beginning Seminary, because I did not know what else to do. I felt so lost.
In that moment I knew what it felt like to be the Israelites, as they made their way through the wilderness toward Mt Sinai. It felt like God had brought me out to this wilderness call the “Midwest,” a land that was flat and far from home and a city which simply was not a city, not anyway that I would consider a city, a real city. And I wondered if God had brought me out here and left me, not so much to die, but to fail, to shrivel up and live a shell of the life, I had once envisioned I would live. I wondered if God was still there.
It was not that God had not worked amazing miracles in my life before. It was not that God had not proven that God was trustworthy to provide exactly what I needed all along my journey thus far, but this time felt different. This time might really be the end of me. This might really be the ruins of my life, this might really be the time that things were too big for God; this time I really felt like there was no place I could go, there was no way that things would ever be right or good again. It had all come crashing down around me and there was nothing anybody could do to fix it, perhaps not even God.
There are times in our lives when we look around us and we wonder; “Where is God now? I am so lost. There is not enough money to make it the next month. I am thirty. I am hungry. Can God really be here among all this?”

These are not the questions of some silly Israelites who lived a long time ago and have nothing to do with us. These are our questions. This is the tenuous relationship we are building with God. Even when we have seen God work miracles in our midst in the past, when we come to this new thing, this new trial, this new fear, this new part of our journey through life, we have to learn once again, that God can be trusted. We have to learn once again that God does not, will not, forsake us or leave us. And it is ok, to feel this way. Each time we find ourselves in these kinds of places we will come a little closer to, become a little more confident in, trusting God. It will be just a little easier than it was last time. Each time we find that we are hungry, thirsty, lost, in need and cry out to God, we will find it easier and easier to trust and know that God is there, that no matter what is going on, no matter what we have done, no matter what life throws at us, no matter what kind evil befalls us, God is still among us and God will always provide exactly what we need, and in all things, when we turn to God we will be filled and be satisfied.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

When the God of all Being Calls YOU: Exodus 3:1-15, 4:10-17

One of my favorite statues of all times stands to your right when you enter the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. It is a statue of Jacobed, Moses' mother. She is a seated figure carved of smooth white stone, holding her infant son Moses. Her face if full love and full of grief, her story and the story of her infant son written all over it. If you have never seen here there, she alone is worth the trip.
Moses, is the primary figure in our passage today. Quite a lot has happened to bring Moses to this point. Pharaoh, was nervous because it seemed there was a lot of Hebrew people living in his land, so he enslaved them. But although they suffered in their slavery their population continued to grow and Pharaoh was afraid that there was the possibility that they would over run the place, so he decided to fix “Hebrew over population problem” by having all their boy babies murdered at birth. It is Jacobed, Moses' mother who saves her baby boy by putting him in a basket and floating him down river, were he is found by Pharaoh's daughter who took pity on the infant and decided to raise him as her own.
So, Moses, is raised in the household of the very Pharaoh who was seeking to have him and his kindred killed. As he grew, he became aware of the hardships of his people and when he came to the defense of a fellow Israelite who was being abused by a slave master, he killed the Egyptian in his zeal. He fled the land of Egypt and ran all the way to Moab (which is just on the other side of the Jordan from the land God had promised to his forefathers). There he marries, Zipporah, the daughter of a priest (whom we can only assume is what would at this time be called a “god-fearer,” one who followed the God of Abraham). And he settles down, starts a family, and watches after the flocks of his father-in-law.
He is doing just that, watching the sheep, when our passage catches up to him today. He is alone watching sheep and sees a bush catch fire. “Now that’s odd,” he thinks and goes back to counting sheep, “231, 232, 233, (yawn) 234, 235, (head nod), Wait, is that bush burning? It’s on fire, but it’s not burning.” “Count sheep? Check this out? Count Sheep? Check this out.”
So he goes over to look at this bush that refuses to burn, while still burning. And then the bush does something entirely unexpected, (as if burning, not burning was not unexpected enough) it speaks to him. Well, more precisely, God speaks to him from out of the center of the bush.
Now, I want you to hear me, God calls to him from out of the bush. I am not sure what to do with this. The God of the universe, the God who put the stars into place, who created all that lives and breathes and swims in the sea, is in this bush. The burning, not burning bush, is somehow containing the inexhaustible, uncontainable God of the universe. If I ever doubted that God could and does choose to use anyone (or anything) to accomplish whatever it is God needs done, there is my ‘proof’ right there. God uses a bush. But I digress.
God speaks to Moses out of this bush. In fact, God and Moses have a little conversation about the people of Israel. God has come down because God cannot stand by and allow God’s people to suffer as they do. God will rescue them, God will not allow them to be oppressed. God is going to do something. God is going to send Moses to them.
Moses is not immediately keen on this idea and does not believe the people will trust him. And they have a really good reason not to, because you know after all he was raised as an Egyptian, as the grandson of the Pharaoh, it would be kind of hard for them to immediately see where his loyalties lie. Not to mention he killed a guy. Sure it was an Egyptian, and he was doing it in defense of an abused Hebrew, but he still, just up and killed a guy. Between his family ties and his past actions, his character is a little less than trust worthy. He is not so sure this is a good idea. So, as a way to “distract” God from this silly idea of choosing him to rescue the people, and perhaps get God off track he asks God for a name.
Now names are interesting. As parents we get to actually take on the task of “naming” our children. It is one of the many things parents do as they prepare for a new baby. Well, let’s face it, many of us thought about what we would name our children long before our children were even a possibility. Mike and I, who were not planning on having any children when we were dating, discussed what names we liked, if we did indeed have children. In fact we picked out Cidra’s name during one such conversation.
What makes a good name? The sound of it? Does it need to have meaning you like? Does it have sentimental value? Does it have a connection to family? Is a character in a novel you like? What makes a good name?
We all kind of take names for granted, we all have one, after all. But God did not have one. Not at this point, not that we know of. If Abraham or Isaac, Jacob or Joseph knew it, none of them ever passed it on. Moses did not know God’s name, the scriptures do not tell us, or at least prior to this point it is not revealed.
What is really interesting about Moses asking God for a name, is that’s not the way is usually worked. Usually the people named their own gods. The gods’ of Egypt were named and formed by the people who worshiped them. Just as you or I might name a newborn child.
The Egyptian God, Rah's name was not given to his people, but the people gave it to Rah. The great god Rah was the Sun and the god of the Sun was named Rah, by the Egyptian people. The people understood the power of the Sun. The power the Sun had for good, to bring light and life and the power it had to do evil, to scorch and burn, to turn a fertile land into a desert. They knew the power of Rah in that they knew the power of the Sun.
Who is this God who has gone unnamed? How is Moses to understand this God? What power does this God have? How can God make promises to save the Hebrew people, if they do not know or understand who this God is? What does God do? What is God’s name? It is in God’s name that they could begin to know and understand what kind of power God might have? Is rescuing them from their Egyptian oppressors even within God’s power? If Moses was being honest these were the questions that were truly at the heart of all this is, “Can I trust you?” “Can you actually do what you say you will do?”
So what is God’s name? We translate it here, “I am who I am.” Or “I will be who I will be.” Or, “I am who I am being.” Or even, “I am being who I am.”
Translation is such a funny thing. It gives the impression of a thing, a close proximity. Translation in itself is almost like rewriting a metaphor so that people in a different place and culture can understand it, but things are so very often lost in translation, especially when something is hard to translate or has no clear equivalent. And the four Hebrew letters that make up God’s name: “Yhod-heh, vav, heh,” are not very easy to bring over to English.
So let me be very clear the word here is not just a word. It is not like God’s name is something easy like “Sun,” or “the Creator.” The word here for God’s name is not really a “thing,” nor is it a descriptive phrase. God's name is a cognate, a form, of the verb “To be.” But there is not good or precise way to translate what it means in its entirety.
The word is a verb, but it has no tense, it is a non-declined verb. It is verb-like, but it does not have all the pieces parts that give a clear and distinct meaning. When cleaned up and polished it can be brought into English, “I am who I am.” Or less clean, “I be, who I be,” but at the same time it has a future cast, since it is not in a tense per-se, it is in the present tense and the future tense at the same time and also is in the past. “I will be, who I will be” “I have been who I have been.” But it is more about God “being”; “I am being, who I am being.” “I am who I am being.” “I will become who I am.” “I am who I become.” “I am being who I am.” It gives the idea that God is the “becoming God.” That God is “being.” All being, what it means ‘to be”, what it means to “become,” is found in God. God is the God through whom all things find being, in whom all being is found. God is the ONE in whom all, everything IS. God is the IS in all things. We “are” because all that makes us able “to be”, “to become,” “to do” is found in God.
God does not simply have a name like Bob, because Bob-ness would be limited to name who God actually is, because God IS. The name God gives to Moses is not a name it is not a noun it is kind of verb (because God is the action that God does), but not a verb that can be nailed down to yesterday, today or tomorrow. It has no tense because who God is, is not found within the confines of time.
This is fantastic. Moses wants to know God’s name because he needs assurance that God can be trusted. He needs to be able to tell the people that God is capable of doing what God says God will do. Is God powerful enough to fight Pharaoh, all the god’s of Egypt, and the great god Rah for God’s people? Is God mighty? Is God powerful? Can God truly rescue them? So he asks, Who are you? What is your name?
And God says, “I am who I am.” I am the God who is, who was and will be. I am the God who IS BEING itself. Anything that IS finds its BEING in me. I AM! Um yeah, I think the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob, can take on Egypt and her host of puny limited gods who find their power in the things to which this God gives being.
At this point it should be fair enough to say to Moses, “Yes, Moses this God to whom you speak, the God of your fore-fathers, of Abraham, of Isaac and of Jacob, the God whose name is Being itself, can handle rescuing a population of people from their oppressors. They can trust God and you can trust God.
But Moses is not fully convinced that HE is the one God really wants. Moses was uncertain about this God who seemed to have forgotten about them for a little while, this God he had perhaps forgotten about for a while. But this God is not merely the God of the sun or the Moon, this God is the God of all being and that is pretty amazing, but then this God of all being tells him, Moses, the baby in the basket, the adopted grandson of Pharaoh, the killer, the runner, the sheepherder that he, Moses, has been chosen to lead his people to freedom.
Perhaps he has no reason to not follow this God of his ancestors from here on out, but what he can not do is go talk to grandfather (who is pretty upset with him and probably wants him dead), and all the the Hebrew people living in the land of Egypt. Nope, he can not do that. No way no how. They won't believe him, they won't follow him, and besides he can't talk very well. God has heard that through the course of this conversation. “You have heard me as I have spoken to you!” Moses says to God.
So what does God do? God gives Moses, God's own name, so the people will believe him. God gives Moses signs to show the people, so they will follow him (and to give him some authority with ole Pharaoh) and finally God tells him that he did not need to worry about his inability to speak, if he is worried that he can't do this, God will allow Moses to use Aaron, his brothe, to help him speak to the people and to Pharaoh.
Moses is full of excuses as to why he can not follow God, as to why he can not do what it is God has called him to do and God is full of answers. No matter what Moses throws at God, God has an answer. God has called Moses and there is not amount of excuses real or imagine which God will not over come to allow Moses to do what it is God is calling Moses to do.
So there we have it,God give's Moses God's own name. We have God’s name, “I am.” God is not merely the God of all things, God is the God in whom all things find being, God is being, the ONE whose very essence it being itself.” “The Being God, the ISing God, the Becoming God”
Yhod, heh, vav, heh;” We often bring it into English as Yahweh. But we don’t hear it very often. In fact other than right here, our English Bibles seem to not ever mention it again. But in Hebrew it is all over the place. It is used throughout most of the Old Testament books. But it is not there in English. That is because from very early on the Hebrew people decided the name of God was sacred and they avoided saying it. They would write it, it is there in the scriptures, but whenever they read the name of God they would instead say the word “Adonai”, which means “Lord”. And out of this long standing tradition of not actually “saying” the name of God, we translate it, “Lord”. And to distinguish it from when the original word is actually “Lord,” often times it is there in all capital lets, “L-O-R-D”
But when the early Hebrews read their scripture the name of God was there, they knew it was there, a constant reminder of exactly who God is, of exactly who they were worshiping. They could see it there, they knew it was there, always before them. They had no excuse to ever forget. We on the other hand, because of the way our bibles bring the word into English, do not have this constant reminder. Sometime it is harder for us to remember. Sometimes we forget.
We like Moses during the course of our lives find ourselves in situations, going through periods, where we might begin to wonder. “Can I trust God in this? Can I trust God with this?” We may even be brave enough when we are honest with ourselves, to ask, “Can God really handle this?” And we need to remember, we need to remember exactly who we worship. We do not worship a God who can create all things. We do not worship a God who can command all things. We worship the God who IS the is in all things, the being-ness behind the actual being of all things. We worship the God in whom we all find our being. No matter how frightening, no matter how disconcerting, no matter how all consuming, the situations in our lives are, God it bigger. Our God can be trusted to be able to handle our situations and the concerns in our lives.
But even when we have come to trust God, we still have excuses, both real and imagined. We are uncertian we can do the things God is calling us to do. We are uncertain we can be the people God is calling us to be. We are unsure we can live up to what it means to be a Christian living wholly given over to God. We feel as if we could never be the kind of people who can talk to our friends or neighbors about this Jesus we love so much. WE feel like no one we know really wants to hear about our God and how absolutely amazing God is. We are unsure if, we can be the kind of person who can live the love of God in all the places we go. We are uncertain if we can respond with loving kindness in the face of disparities that we face in our day to day lives. We are uncertain we are the ones who really should be standing up for the oppressed in our world or if we are the right people to speak truth to power in this world where those in power are daily perpetrating and allowing injustice to run rampant all around us. We feel we are too small, to insignificant to make any real changes in this world. But when God calls us to do these things. We are able, God will give us any of the tools we need and will even bring people to come alongside of us, as Aaron did for Moses to bring strength to the places we are weak. We may have excuses as to why we can not be the people God is calling us to be, but our God, the God of all being is bigger than our excuses. God will enable us and empower us to do anything God is calling us to do.