North Congregational UCC
New Harford CT
2ND Sunday after Epiphany
January 17, 2021
FOR YOUR MEDITATION
“Realizing that we all share a common destiny is one of the first steps along the road to racial harmony.” Tipper Gore January 18, 1999 luncheon meeting MLK Jr.
Largo G.H. Handel
INVITATION TO WORSHIP:
We gather in worship because we believe that “God is still Speaking” is more than a motto, it is an expression of reality. Even though we are in our own homes, it is the fellowship of North Church that unites us, along with anyone else who has joined us, to listen prayerfully and with our hearts and minds open, to tune in to God’s presence among us. We gather, in response to God’s summoning us in our lives, to offer praise and offer ourselves in service. God is our help and support; nothing we have done can remove us from our Creator’s care.
HYMN OF GATHERING
O God, in a Mysterious Way No. 30
O God in a mysterious way great wonders you perform.
You plant your footsteps in the sea and ride upon the storm.
Deep in unfathomable mines of never failing skill,
You treasure up your bright designs and work your sovereign will.
O fearful saints, fresh courage take. The clouds you so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break in blessings on your head.
Our unbelief is sure to err and scan your work in vain.
You are your own interpreter, and you will make it plain.
God of all our days, we know that you know our every thought, word and deed. There is nothing we can do and nowhere we can go that allows us to evade your presence in our lives. As we seek to be doers of your will, help us to be clear in our understanding so that our own prejudices and desires do not impede your desire that we have an abundant and purposeful life. Amen
I Samuel 3:1-10,19-20 Pages 306-307
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. At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; the 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. Then the Lord called “Samuel! Samuel!” And he said “Here I am!” and ran to Eli and said, “Here I am for you called me.” But Eli said “I did not call; lie down again.” So Samuel went and lay down. The Lord called again, “Samuel!” Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But Eli said “I did not call you, my son; lie down again.” Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. The Lord called Samuel again, a third time. And Samuel 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. Therefore 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. Now the Lord came and stood there, calling as before. “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”….As Samuel grew up, the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beer-Sheba knew that Samuel was a trustworthy prophet of the Lord.
“God calling! Check the caller ID” Pastor Art Yost
God has our number. I’m not always sure we have God’s number. The psalmist, in a passage not read today (Psalm 139) writes “O Lord, you have searched me and known me…you are acquainted with all our ways.” Therefore I know that God has our number. Do we know when God is calling us? How can we know it is truly God and not someone like a telemarketer? (Hint: If it is dinnertime, it’s probably a telemarketer)
The reading from I Samuel this morning finds Samuel in bed. He hears his name being called and this happens twice. (How annoying) Both times he leaves the comfort of his bed and seeks out his mentor, the priest Eli. Each time Eli tells Samuel go back to bed. I didn’t call you. When it happens a third time with Samuel again going to Eli, the old priest understands what’s going on and tells Samuel, “go back and lie down and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” In other words, answer the call. The message the Lord gives him is not one that Eli will want to hear. To Eli’s credit he insists Samuel tell him the whole message. Samuel becomes a trustworthy prophet of the Lord.
(A little background is important here. Samuel’s mother, Hannah was not able to get pregnant. In a prayer to God, she begs for a child and makes a promise that, if given a son, she will dedicate his life to God and give him up for a life serving in the temple. She names the child Samuel which means “God has heard” in Hebrew.)
The lesson also begins with the statement “The word of the Lord was rare in those days.” Depending upon who you are you might agree or disagree with this in our time. Certainly the Bible is a very popular book in terms of sales. However, the way it is used in many homes, doesn’t mean we are aware of God’s word. The family Bible is often a place to record family history, serves as a bookend for other smaller books, merely a dust collector or used as a prop.
In addition many people profess to have a direct line to God and will often say things like “God told me to…” or simply tell others what God demands of us and them. I know that I have uncomfortable feelings when people profess having a “direct line to God” for different reasons. Too often the message I hear from these people is a message of judgement, a message of fear and punishment. The message might not be clearly from God due to the static of cultural biases, personal prejudice or a desire to bend others to their view of reality. While trying to follow God’s word is meaningful and important, it has often had difficult consequences. (Refusing to believe Earth wasn’t the center of the universe, using particular verses out of context to prove a particular point, claiming racial or cultural superiority).
For all the good Oral Roberts did with the blending of medical science with prayer and attending to faith, his vision of a 900 foot Jesus at the foot of his bed led to the construction of a 900 bed facility which could not be maintained after eight years. His belief that God would hold him hostage if he couldn’t raise a certain amount of money was a dubious way to run a financial campaign.
Even when answering a call from God to serve others we can run into difficulty. E. Stanley Jones was someone I knew a lot about because he was a Methodist Pastor. He committed to Christ at age 17. At age 23 a college president asked him to teach at the college and told him it was God’s will. At the same time, a dear Christian friend tried to get him to join him in evangelistic work in the United States. Then he received a letter from the Methodist Board of Missions asking him to be a missionary to India. He, himself thought, he wanted to be a missionary to Africa. Jones described this as a “traffic jam of wills.” He spent most of his life in India.
I had a similar feeling when I was focused on what to do for this service and sermon. We are in the season of Epiphany so the lectionary reading from Samuel related an epiphany lesson for Samuel and for us. At the same time, on the 18th we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
(OK one quote from King Jr., “Faith is taking the first step, even when you don’t see the whole staircase”) Then this coming week is the Wek of Prayer for Christian Unity. Then of course we have the Inauguration of President Biden/Kamala Harris and the ongoing threat to our democracy. What direction should I go to provide a meaningful experience of faith to share with the people at North Church? A little bit of each was my decision.
In my faith journey I have never experienced a calling in the sense that some people have. There was no one decisive moment when I committed my life to Christ. I had no visions or voices telling me this is what I should do. I was raised by loving parents who taught me to say my prayers at night, took me to church regularly even when some days I didn’t want to go. I did have an “Eli” in my life who was a young pastor from England who came to the church when I was a teenager and worked well with the youth of the church. My sister and I were invited over Saturday mornings to “do the bulletin” which we did. But it also was a time when he listened to us and encouraged us. First, he encouraged me to go to college (first one in my family). Then he asked me one day if I had ever considered being a minister. That was a lot to think about. In college (Hunter College Bronx Campus) I was active in clubs (Latin Club, Earth Science Club, Gilbert and Sullivan Society and a YMCA based Student Christian Association.) The off-campus advisor was a woman, whose name I cannot remember, but she was a student at Union Theological Seminary. With all those influences I kind of drifted onward till I ended up at Union.
I have always seen myself as spiritual but not religious. I am far from dogmatic. I see in Jesus a clear picture of the nature of a loving God which I also see in Psalm 139 and other faiths. I have always understood that salvation rested in God’s grace and for that I should be truly thankful. I trust that whatever path I take, if I do it sincerely, with a loving heart and good intentions, God will use me and bless me. God does not micromanage me and I accept at times I can be wrong in my opinions and in my attempts to do justice and walk humbly with my God.
I also love this country and it pains me so much to see the divisiveness, mistrust and anger. Many people are hurting, times are difficult and because of the divisiveness, our government has not governed effectively. Dogmatic stances have taken the place of compromise. Personal success, holding on to power has led to an us/them dichotomy. When we try to understand, we are bombarded by so many sources of news, each with their own agenda, we have lost objectivity. When we invoke God in our form of government we ask God to bless us as if we are exceptional rather than realizing God loves every nation and everyone on planet earth and maybe beyond. Our exceptionality, if there is such a thing, needs to be expressed in being a blessing to other nations.
If indeed, as the UCC says, God is still speaking, we need to hear the call and answer the call. Besides our doubt as to whether God is really calling, we must confess that we sometimes are so busy all God gets is a busy single. We haven’t heard the call because the noise of the world and it’s problems (Covid-19, environmental, political, social) has drowned out the sound of the “still small voice” that Elijah heard finally.
One of my favorite stories is attributed to the Native American Cherokee. The story involves a grandfather and grandchild. The old man says inside us are two wolves. One is evil, one is good. The evil one is angry, greedy, guilty, lying, self- centered. The other is good. It is loving, kind, peaceful, generous, forgiving, and truthful. They are constantly fighting for control. The child asks, “which one will win.” The old man replies, “the one you feed.”
Answering the call from God and responding is feeding the good wolf inside us.
Be Thou My Vision Arr. Hal Hopson
Almighty and merciful God, as we join in prayer, we admit that we are stressed by so much happening in our society. The total number of people dying from all varieties of Covid-19 continues to increase even in the midst of a vaccine being distributed. We pray for all victims around the world and their families. We are grateful for the medical care we have in this country and give thanks for all those answering the call as health care workers at all level to care for the sick and dying, putting their own lives and the lives of loved ones at risk. While many are adhering to the health department’s recommendations, others are taking either selfish or foolish chances affecting themselves but also others who cannot escape contact. Our nation, as a working democracy, is at a dangerous crossroads. Violence that has occurred and the threat of even more violence unnerves us. We sympathize with those who are struggling-with financial difficulty, loss of job, conflicting loyalties, feeling they have been abandoned and betrayed by governments and distant from an awareness of your presence. With so much darkness, it is tempting to give up, turn away, and barricade ourselves with escapist activities. We give in to passions that divide rather than exhibit compassion that unifies us. In the midst of turmoil we seek your calm presence, your promise that you do not desert us in time of great need. Help us to answer your call to be a beacon of light so that those whose lives are turbulent can find safe passage and know that as people of faith we care and are willing to stay connected. We can do this, not alone but with your grace, your strength, your assurance along with others in our faith community who witness with us the truth of your love. We put our burdens upon you individually and collectively as we willingly help alleviate the burdens of others. We pray this is the spirit and name of Jesus, who taught us to pray Our Father, who art in heaven….
HYMN OF JOURNEYING
(Words written by Rev. Carolyn Winfrey Gillette Copyright and used by permission. (Rev. Art singing)
GOD OF LOVE, WE’VE KNOWN DIVISION
God of love, we’ve known division and we’ve seen its awful cost.
We have struggled as a nation, and there’s much that we have lost.
We have been a house divided – and divided, we can’t stand.
May our nation be united; give us peace throughout this land.
Turn us, Lord, from what divides us – fear that drives us far apart.
Greed that leads to great injustice, racist ways that break your heart.
May we seek what brings together – hearts that bear each other’s pain,
Care and mercy toward our neighbors, love that welcomes strangers in.
May we all, in conversation, speak the truth and listen well.
May we hear, across this nation, stories others have to tell.
May we learn from other cultures and be blessed by their worldview;
May we serve with one another – loving others, loving you.
You have challenged us to goodness; you have shown a kinder way.
It’s your love that now inspires us as we seek a better day.
May we end our harsh division; may we stop the hate and fear.
Make us one, Lord, as a nation; may we be united here.
Go into the world, searching out God’s path. Go with courage to speak God’s challenging word. Go, humbly, pointing to God’s presence in our lives. Go into the world as bearers of God’s blessing. May we be a blessing to all our world. Amen.
Prelude in G Minor J.S. Bach