January 18, 2015
Cathedral Church of St. Paul, Burlington, Vermont
The Very Rev. Jeanne Finan
Listening for God
Hannah wanted a baby.
Scripture doesn’t tell us much about her husband Elkanah
and his desires,
but we do know that Hannah longed for a child.
She prayed to God for a baby
She sat at the doorway into the sanctuary of the Temple in Shiloh
and prayed and prayed.
The priest Eli saw her and heard her praying--
she was praying so fervently and so non-stop
that at first he thought something was wrong with her--
this constant mumbling of prayers over and over and over.
But when he Eli talks with Hannah,
he realizes the goodness of her heart.
He blesses Hannah and she is then blessed and becomes a mother.
She has a little boy
and she names him Samuel.
Some say that Samuel means God has heard.
God has heard your prayers, Hannah.
In gratitude Hannah dedicates Samuel to God
and after he is weaned he goes to live in the Temple
to serve and to be educated by the priest Eli.
One night, when Samuel is around 12, maybe 13 years old,
he hears a voice calling his name.
It is so distinct that it wakes him from sleep.
Samuel thinks it is the priest Eli calling him.
So he gets up and goes to Eli
and asks, “What do you need?”
Eli tells Samuel,
“I don’t need anything. I never said a word.
I was asleep.”
So Samuel goes back to bed
and back to sleep.
But he hears the voice call his name again.
And again Samuel goes to Eli
and again Eli says,
“Samuel, I did not call you.”
But then,after this happens three times,
Eli understands-- that someone IS calling Samuel.
It is not Eli.
It is God.
God is calling Samuel to become the leader that is needed at that time.
God is calling Samuel to do a new thing,
to restore what is falling apart,
to build up what is being torn down.
God is calling Samuel to break the news to Eli
that his own sons will not take over his position of authority and power,
but this boy--this young boy Samuel--
is the one that God has chosen to lead.
How do we know when God is calling us?
Often that voice is not as clear as it was for Samuel.
We may not have an Eli handy to interpret for us
in the middle of a dark night.
What is God saying to YOU? What is God saying to me? To us?
What is God calling us to be, to do?
We need to understand that answering God’s call
is not always easy or pretty.
Indeed, Samuel is going to face many challenges.
as will Jesus and his disciples.
Even in this season of Epiphany,
as we count the stars shining in the heavens,
we are on a journey that will soon cross over into Lent
and Holy Week and we will find ourselves once again
at the foot of the cross.
Listening to God is accepting risk,
Doing the right thing often has a hefty price tag.
About a week ago Tom and I went to see the movie SELMA.
We both found it to be an excellent film,
a film which brought back memories,
both good and very bad
from the time when we ourselves were teenagers.
I remember Selma.
I was not there.
But Selma came into my house via the television
in our living room in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Selma entered into my very protected white middle class world
as it was spread out upon the front pages of the newspapers.
Like many people in the United States,
were horrified at what happened in Selma.
My parents were not activists in the civil rights movement.
but they knew wrong from right
and they knew that people were people.
regardless of the color of their skin.
They knew it was wrong to bludgeon an unarmed person with a billy club.
People marched in Selma
because they had heard God calling them to freedom from oppression.
They did what they believed was right,
what they believed was right in God’s eyes.
The first march took place on March 7, 1965.
They were marching from Selma to the state capitol of Montgomery
to speak out for voting rights.
That march, often known as “Bloody Sunday,”
involved about 600 marchers.
Those marchers--men and women,
young and old--
were viciously attacked
as they crossed over the Edmund Pettus Bridge after leaving Selma.
Alabama State troopers and County officials
attacked the unarmed marchers with billy clubs and tear gas.
And it was televised around the world.
The second march took place two days later
when Martin Luther King, Jr,
along with clergy of many different faith traditions
led a much larger crowd over the bridge once more.
Only this time when the marchers and the troopers and the police
confronted each other,
the troopers stepped aside.
Was it a trick? A trap?
What did it mean?
None of the marchers, none of the leaders of the march, know.
There is a powerful scene in the film
when King and the marchers stand there motionless--
and then King and all the religious leaders kneel
and then the marchers lined up for miles behind them kneel
and they bow their heads and they pray.
They let go of their agenda and their plans
and they listen.
After they pray--
and this is no twenty second toss up prayer--
King stands and turns
and leads the marchers
back to the church where they had begun.
Some people are upset,
angry that they did not keep marching;
but others understand that Martin Luther King, Jr.
and some of the other leaders that day
felt that God called them to turn around,
to wait for the promised court order that would hopefully offer protection
for the marchers to travel safely from Selma to Montgomery.
Tragically, that very night, James Reeb,
a Unitarian Universalist minister from Boston,
who had come to Selma with thousands of others
to march in the second march,
was beaten to death by a group of angry white men.
Answering God’s call can be dangerous.
But it can also make a difference.
Bloody Sunday and Reeb’s death led to a national outcry
and motivated the passing of a new federal voting rights law
to enable African Americans to register and vote without harassment.
There was a third march that began in Selma on March 25.
That group of marchers--now over 25,000 in number--
made it from Selma to Montgomery to speak in support of voting rights.
calling us to root out the hatred and fear
that is still breeding--
not only in this country but throughout the world.
God calls us to monitor carefully the little seeds
of fear and prejudice and anger
that breed in our own hearts.
God seeks to shine light into every dark nook and cranny
of injustice and oppression.
And yes, there are still a lot of dark nooks and crannies.
We are God’s hands and feet in this world.
This is no accident.
At times we are called to speak and to act,
but at times we are called to be quiet,
to be absolutely silent and to listen.
To be still.
God hears us and our prayers
but God also wants to be heard.