Listening to God’s voice through generations

Listening to God’s voice through generations

In thirty-one years of preaching, I have never started a sermon by saying, “A funny thing happened to me while I was working on this sermon.” But, a funny thing happened to me while I was working on this sermon. You see, on Monday, my husband and I had our hearing evaluated by an audiologist. That’s right. After more than two – well, maybe five -years of putting it off, I had my hearing checked the same week I am preaching on a passage about hearing the voice of God. One of the things the audiologist told us was a fundamental piece of biology which I had not figured out before. “Everyone thinks we hear with our ears,” she said. “We don’t. We hear with our brains.” That seems to be Samuel’s predicament. Samuel’s ears receive the sound of his name. But he cannot hear with his brain and certainly not with his spirit. In fact, Samuel is confused by where the sound is coming from. That’s a classic sign of hearing problems. He doesn’t have the tools or the understanding to process the sounds. Yet, it is to Samuel that God speaks. God knows Samuel by name, knows where to find him and God waits patiently while Samuel learns how to be in this new relationship, he didn’t even know to expect. Samuel does have a resource to help him hear. Samuel has his mentor, Eli, who is responsible for his training in the priestly work. Remember, at the beginning of the passage, we were told that the Lord’s word was rare at the time. Now, through Samuel...
How Do We Live In This Wilderness?

How Do We Live In This Wilderness?

You’re not you when you are hungry. That’s the line from the Snickers candy bar commercials. That ad campaign has been a great success around the world. Because everyone, everywhere can relate. When we are hungry, we are not ourselves. The Snickers commercials portray what we become when we don’t get enough to eat. Demanding divas. Grouchy gremlins. Crazed coaches. Feisty fighters. If our identity completely changes with a blood sugar shift that can be resolved by a candy bar, we can begin to empathize with the attitude of the Israelites. Nearly two months had passed since the people had left Egypt. Now, every crumb of that unleavened bread they hurriedly pack up is gone, and the roasted lamb is only a memory. There’s not even a peanut from an old candy bar to be found at the bottom of the bag. God’s response to God’s hangry people isn’t to fill up their backpacks and tent shelves with everything they could possibly need for the next forty years. There, in the wilderness, the promise of God is enough for one day. The prayer of Jesus, Give us this day our daily bread, probably has roots in this wilderness experience. Jesus taught us to pray for one day’s supply of bread, provided one day at a time. And like the Israelites in the Sinai, Jesus wanted us to receive not just what we need, but what we all need. Give us this day our daily bread has us praying not just for you and me, but for all God’s children – including those who take too much and those who...
How Do We Get There From Here?

How Do We Get There From Here?

Kelly Gissendaner might seem an even more unlikely person than Moses to be a sign of God speaking. The state of Georgia executed Kelly in 2015. She was executed for a crime to which she confessed. She had conspired with her boyfriend, who murdered Kelly’s husband. Kelly was executed, and the man who committed the murder is eligible for parole. In that way, the American judicial system did not serve Kelly Gissendaner well. But in other ways, it did exactly what we hope the criminal justice system will accomplish. In prison, Kelly became truly remorseful for the terrible wrong she had willfully done, understanding the full consequence of her evil actions and the awful consequence. Kelly was transformed while incarcerated. As part of a theology program in the prison, Kelly developed a deeply rooted and enacted faith. She immersed herself in worship, prayer, study, and service. She reconciled to her children and was a steadying influence on fellow inmates she counseled. The theologian Jurgen Moltmann with whom she corresponded, the Pope, and even Gissendaner’s children asked for the Georgia Board of Pardons and Parole to commute Kelly’s sentence from death to life without parole. Because of those efforts, Gissendaner’s execution was twice delayed. When the efforts ultimately failed, her theology professors were concerned the execution would be deflating to her friends in the program. The women had found such hope in Kelly’s and the witness of other Christians speaking up for her. The women remained fast in the faith. One woman said, “It had been so long since I had seen God move. The worst has happened, and I’ve...
God has a dream and a way for you.

God has a dream and a way for you.

Some people seem to live dream-like lives, don’t they? That was Esau, Jacob’s older brother. He was probably chosen first when their friends were picking teams for games. He was probably the teachers’ favorite. Esau got into the best colleges, joined a great fraternity, graduated with honors and got a high-paying job. His family was beautiful. Have you ever known people like that? Everything comes easily to them. They aren’t anxious about anything because they don’t need to be. It’s not that they don’t work, they just don’t work too hard, and they get – not what they deserve – they get more. For the rest of us, life is more of a challenge. So we understand Jacob. Jacob’s name means striver, hustler, supplanter. And that’s exactly what he needs to be to get on in his life. Some people have it made, and others of us have to make it happen. In Jacob’s story – may be our story – we discover that making our own dreams come true is a perfect way to go the wrong way in life. The best dreams come from God. The best dreams, the things we most deeply yearn for priceless gifts, things like being loved and respected, cherishing those who are close to you, having integrity, beholding beauty, discovering joy in your work, being able to make a positive difference in other people’s lives. Dreams like that are blessings from God. And blessings cannot be hustled. They can only be received. Rebecca, Jacob’s mother, had told her second child that God had promised that he would be blessed. God had even...
We see the sacrifice.  God provides possibilities.

We see the sacrifice. God provides possibilities.

In first-year Hebrew, we spent one semester learning the alphabet, vocabulary, and grammar.  The second semester, we started translating and this is the first passage we translated, this terrible passage about a man being asked by God to prepare for the sacrifice of his son. The passage makes sense as a “starter passage” because there are many repeated words and phrases:  “took, take”,  “went, went up”, “look, looked”,  “here, here, here I am.” But our ineptitude made our translation very slow so that the arduous journey of Abraham and Isaac seem endless.  Word by word, it felt like we were going with them step by step up that mountain on a dreadful journey.  It gave us plenty of time to wonder what God was asking of Abraham, Sarah, and Isaac. Plenty of time to wonder why Abraham kept moving forward.  Plenty of time to whisper into Isaac’s ears, “Turn around.  Run home.” Plenty of time to wonder where they were going. The sacrifice that God appears to ask of the small family is awful. But the truth is we are often asked to make sacrifices that are awful. To let go of a relationship that mattered to us. To give up food or drink that we believe we cannot live without.  To walk out of safe situations and into dangerous ones.  To commit our money to something other than our comfort. Often the journey to that sacrifice is slow and tortuous and filled with questions.  We cannot believe that a loving God would call us to do what seems like death to us. But in this story, as in our stories, God’s...