"TINGLE" - John 1:43-51; I Samuel 3:1-20

A Sermon by Alex Evans, Pastor

Second Presbyterian Church, Richmond, VA

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Texts: John 1:43-51; I Samuel 3:1-20


            I want to begin today with an important Biblical question.

            How is it that the people God - created and called, the descendants of Abraham and Sarah, watched over for generations, led out of slavery from Egypt, through years of squabbles and challenges in the desert – how could these people actually become a unified people among other people in the region?

            How is it that a “rag-tag” bunch could become . . . a holy nation?

            How is it that a wandering, amorphous, unstable, tribal group, easily open to idolatry, to syncretism, to barbarism, could actually become a centralized, stable monarchy with political and theological legitimacy?

            Do you know the answer to that?

            The answer to how this transition happened is found in two books of the Bible – the books of First and Second Samuel.

            Prior to those books, God’s people were a wandering, complaining, troubled group with ongoing suspicion about leadership. They had regular quarrels and worries about their future. They had plenty of challenges in regard to idolatry, their identity, and their chances of success as God’s people. You can read about all this in Genesis, then Exodus, and through Joshua and Judges.

            Then comes 1st and 2nd Samuel.

            And after 1st and 2nd Samuel, the people are established – with a centralized monarchy, land, credibility, and stability.

            Here we are once again in the wonderful confines of this sacred sanctuary. For generations, people have gathered in these pews, under these majestic hammer-beams, to be open to God, to listen to God’s Word, to sing and pray and be covered by God’s Spirit. As God’s people, we too are also seeking to become a certain kind of people – a) people of faith who can trust God amidst the challenges and changes of life, b) people of kindness and love who spread God’s love in the world, c) people of justice and purpose, who seek to partner with God in the unfolding of God’s promised justice and peace in the world.

            How are WE going to become all that God seeks US to be?

            There is a wonderful story at the beginning of 1st Samuel that has great importance for God’s people changing from a troubled tribe to a centralized, stable, legitimate people of God. And this story has some major insights for our lives, as we seek to move from where we are to what God would have us be.

            This story involves a boy – a boy named Samuel - who emerges as God’s authorized leader. Samuel and his leadership prove most critical to God’s people making this transition from amorphous, unstable tribal community, easily open to idolatry and syncretism, to the centralized, legitimate monarchy of God’s people. And what happens with Samuel can be instructive for us.

            We first meet Samuel in 1st Samuel 1. He is born to his troubled mother, Hannah. In response to the lovely gift of a son, Hannah promises Samuel to God, saying: “as long as he lives he is given to God.”

            When we get to 1st Samuel 3, Samuel is a young boy, living and serving God alongside Eli, the chief priest in the temple, and one of the leaders of God’s struggling people.

            Listen to what happens – I Samuel 3 –

Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread. 2At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; 3the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was. 4Then the Lord called, “Samuel! Samuel!” and he said, “Here I am!” 5and ran to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call; lie down again.” So he went and lay down. 6The Lord called again, “Samuel!” Samuel got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call, my son; lie down again.” 7Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. 8The Lord called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy. 9Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place. 10Now the Lord came and stood there, calling as before, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

11Then the Lord said to Samuel, “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make both ears of anyone who hears of it tingle. 12On that day I will fulfill against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. 13For I have told him that I am about to punish his house forever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them. 14Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be expiated by sacrifice or offering forever.” 15Samuel lay there until morning; then he opened the doors of the house of the Lord. Samuel was afraid to tell the vision to Eli. 16But Eli called Samuel and said, “Samuel, my son.” He said, “Here I am.” 17Eli said, “What was it that he told you? Do not hide it from me. May God do so to you and more also, if you hide anything from me of all that he told you.” 18So Samuel told him everything and hid nothing from him. Then he said, “It is the Lord; let him do what seems good to him.”

19As Samuel grew up, the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. 20And all Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was a trustworthy prophet of the Lord.

            This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

            I know you have heard the wonderful phrase – “God is doing a new thing.” Here is one of the major turning points in the Bible – when God does a NEW THING.

            Eli and his leadership, and especially Eli’s sons and their leadership, were causing quite a mess for God’s beloved people. So, as God often does, God shifts gears and announces that things are going to go a different way. The boy Samuel grew in stature and in favor with God. And Samuel was called to lead God’s people in a new way. And Samuel’s leadership is what launches God wandering, troubled, floundering people toward stability, credibility, and legitimacy.

            This is a story about hearing God’s voice, recognizing that God is real and at work in our lives, and listening to what God would have us do. This is a critical step in becoming the kind of trusting, loving, serving people that God calls us to be. 

            And there is something particularly fascinating about this story.  God says in verse 11: “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make both ears of anyone who ears of it tingle.”

            This word – TINGLE – is mentioned only three times in the Bible. It is an interesting word with an interesting message.

            Normally, when we hear, our ears do not tingle. Our ears receive words, and our brain interprets those words, and all of this is part of important communication. But if our ears hear and they TINGLE – something else is going on. Certain words, and certain moments, trigger physical and emotional parts of us. Then we know something significant is happening. Our senses are awakened. Our hearts are engaged. Our lives are lured in some way. It is not just a hearing, but a transformation. It is not just comprehension of some words; a message is touching us and moving us – our hearts, souls, minds, and wills - in a new, deeper, more significant and altering way.

            When Samuel recognized that it was God speaking, he knew for sure that his life had a particular mission and focus – he would be a leader of God’s people, replacing Eli and working on the mess, helping God guide his people to a better destiny. 1st and 2nd Samuel tell this story – God’s people transition to a stable, unified, legitimate monarchy.

            In our first lesson today, we hear about another person whom God encountered. Jesus, along with Philip, approached one named Nathanael, who said, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Jesus speaks directly to Nathanael: “I saw you under the fig tree.” And Nathanael responds with awe: “Rabbi, you are the son of God.” (John 1:43f)

            It does not say so, but I bet Nathanael’s ears were TINGLING. It was an encounter, an engagement – way more than just hearing something. His heart, soul, body were so touched that he was moved to speak and follow Jesus. He was on a new path toward becoming all that God would have him to be.

            This is instructive for all of us.

            We live in very complicated times. We wonder about civility and decency, about integrity. Most of us are quite busy going to work, juggling priorities, making ends meet. Many of us have creeping health issues, . . . or concerns about our loved ones,  . . . or facing transitions.  And many of us have important jobs to do that get so much of our energy. Moreover, we try to support our children, . . . or tend to our parents, . . . and maintain some balance and sanity with worries, and work, and more.

            And we live in a contentious world. We have growing disparity between the rich and poor, . . . increasing suspicion and animosity among nations,  . . . anger and unrest with our seeming inability to make progress on important issues like climate change, immigration, healthcare, world peace, and more.

            The great St Augustine put it like this: “there is no saint without a past; there is no sinner without a future.” God is always working on us, shaping us to live and love and serve God better in the world.

            Just as God spoke to Samuel with a life-changing message that would begin a new thing for God’s people, God is speaking to us – not just words, but hoping our ears TINGLE.  And we do not just want to hear; we want our hearts and lives powerfully engaged in a new way – so we can keep journeying toward God’s promised reign.

            When we really hear – and our ears TINGLE – we know we can trust God with all the things that are worrying us: personal issues, family crises, national and international concerns. As with Samuel and Nathanael, God knows our names; God understands our struggles; God meets us in the mess; and God has plans for our lives.

            As with Samuel and Nathanael, we are each part of God’s unfolding purposes. And God’s presence and purposes are meant to be lived out in all the moments of our lives. God’s important calling is not so much WHAT we do, but HOW we do everything.

-                           How do we embody God’s presence and care in our homes, in our places of work, as we encounter others?

-                           HOW do we share God’s love and kindness, show God’s compassion with those whom we meet each day, with the way we move through the day?

-                           HOW do we promote God’s goodness, stand up for God’s justice, advocate for God’s grace with the little things and the big things of our lives?

This is what God calls us to be about as disciples, as people who live for the kingdom, as people who know God and seek to make God known in the way we live. This is OUR calling.

            Kathryn gave me for Christmas Gregory Boyle’s newest book, Barking to the Choir. We have talked about Gregory Boyle before. He is a Catholic priest who leads Homeboy Industries in Los Angelos, the largest gang intervention, rehab, and re-entry program in the world.

            In one passage in the book, Boyle writes this. “Often enough, folks will say that “one door closes and another opens,” but sometimes there is a hallway, a grace period before people find the next door. At Homeboy Industries, I tell our senior staff that part of our task is to “line the hallway,” to make that distance stretching between the old and new versions of one’s self a comforting one. We encourage and cajole with constant tenderness as the tentative soul takes steps toward the fullness of becoming. The hallway can be long, and the lure to return to an old, tired, but known and safe version can be compelling. And those who line the hallway haven’t fully arrived either. Our mutual accompaniment with each other along the way pulls us all over the finish line. It’s about the “rehab of the soul,” . . . . We all line the hallway on this good journey with only gentleness in our rucksack and our own brokenness within reach.” (p. 117-118)

            What a great image of the church, and faith and life together. We keep wanting to help each other hear – and have our ears TINGLE – with the loving words and presence of God calling our names. We keep striving to “line the hallway” and encourage and cajole each other, to offer our best selves to God’s very important work in the world – spreading love and hope, peace and justice. We keep striving to help each other find ways to live more fully as God’s servants – to trust God in the hard moments, and share kindness and tenderness that brings happiness, to advocate for peace and justice in the face of a contentious and complex world. This is how we become all that God made us to be.  This is how we get closer and closer to the full reign of God.

            Here is how Martin Luther King, Jr put it:

            “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’

“Every person must decide whether he/she will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.”

            “Darkness cannot drive our darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”

            May our lives TINGLE with the presence and promises of God. May we re-dedicate our lives to “lining the hallway,” to partnering with God in doing NEW THINGS that promote the love and justice, the light and hope of Jesus Christ our Lord. AMEN

Prayer of Commitment: We believe, O Lord; help our unbelief. And show us the way to the loving kingdom of Christ our Lord. AMEN

Alex Evans, Pastor, Second Presbyterian Church, Richmond, VA preached this sermon during Sunday morning worship on Sunday, January 14, 2018. This is a rough manuscript.

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