Merciful Listening

Scriptures: 1 Samuel 3:1-20; Mark 2:23-3:6

Guest speaker: Aimee Goldmeyer

When I was growing up, I remember hearing the phrase “It takes a village to raise a child.” It takes a village to raise a child, and it begins at home. It begins with our parents and our brothers and our sisters and our relatives, as we begin to make our way into the world, to learn words and how to move, to learn how to interact with one another.

It takes a village to raise a child, because we all have different gifts and talents, and you never know where someone may be inspired to pursue a particular path in life, to be compassionate and kind and seek justice and mercy and all of those things.

Samuel was no different. Samuel was an answer to a years-long prayer by his mother Hannah. She wanted to have a child. It was the norm for women to bear children and be wives, and if you didn’t bear a child, you weren’t always looked at with respect. So she prayed for years and years and years while she watched other women bear children.

One day she was in the temple, praying with all of her emotion, and she was accused of being drunk. She said, “No, I have not been drinking. I’m just talking with God.” God heard her, and God answered her prayers and Samuel came into the world.

She prayed a prayer of prophecy about him, and she made a promise to God that she would dedicate Samuel’s life to God. So when he grew old enough, she took him to the temple, and dedicated his life to God.

This is where we find ourselves now. Samuel is growing up in the temple. He is learning from Eli and other priests who are there, for he doesn’t yet know God’s voice. He hasn’t had a personal encounter with God.

So when God calls in the middle of the night, while Samuel is in the right place at the right time, he doesn’t know that it is God calling. It sounds like it might be his mentor. So three times he runs to his mentor, saying, “I’m here. You called me.”

Eli, at first, didn’t recognize what was happening either. He had grown old. His body wasn’t working quite the way he wanted it to. And yet, he still had enough faith that when he finally comprehended that God was the one calling Samuel, he sent him back to the sanctuary, and gave him these instructions: say “Speak, for your servant is listening.” Samuel did exactly that, and heard his first message from God.

It takes a village to raise a child. It takes all of us, from the youngest of us to the oldest of us, to bear light into the world. Sometimes it is the children who lead us, because they offer kindness and acceptance in ways that perhaps we have forgotten. But at other times it is we who guide them.

Perhaps you know a child, a grandchild, a niece, a nephew, that you have helped raise. My niece is not yet three, and I am determined now, already, that she is going to be a bearer like her aunt, because that is a great and wonderful thing and a way to learn more about the world. She has other folks in her life to guide her, my brother and sister-in-law and good friends where they live, my parents, and the kids that she meets at school. It takes a village to raise a child.

I wonder, who helped you discern that call in your life, at some point in time? Was it a pastor who said, “I see some gifts in you. Would you like to help lead worship, teach Sunday School, help take care of the grounds?” Was it your best friend who challenged you to look at the world with new eyes, to speak up for those who are most vulnerable?

Was it a parent who took you for the first time to plant a garden for someone else, to serve a meal at a soup kitchen, to collect canned food for those who are hungry, who took you on a mission trip, who helped you become the person you are today? And who are the people you are helping become the people that they are becoming? It takes a village to raise a child

It takes a village to raise a child because we all have different experiences, different understandings of the world, and when we can hear all of those voices, we can make a difference.

In Dr. Seuss’s story Horton Hears a Who! Horton the elephant is meandering his way through the forest, and one days he’s in the right place at the right time for a speck of dust to come flying by on the wind and for him to hear the cries of teeny-tiny people who needed help. He’s not sure what’s going on, but he’s curious and he’s compassionate and begins to investigate.

They’re not too sure what’s going on, those Whos in Whoville, but he begins to realize that they need help. When he goes and talks about them to a friend, they laugh at him. And there are those who plot to destroy the lovely speck of dust on which the Whos live. But he persists and does whatever it takes to take care of them.

I don’t remember all the story, but I wonder who it was in his life who helped him to see that when someone needs help them. It takes a village to raise a child.

It takes a village to raise a child. It takes a village to gather together, to pray, to listen, to laugh, to reflect, to respond to needs that they see. In the story The Zookeeper’s Wife (it’s actually a true story), a zookeeper and his wife are living in Poland at the beginning of World War II.

Their initial call is to take care of the animals, to take care of the ones that are hurt, to bottle-feed those who need a little bit of extra attention. The zookeeper’s wife is particularly gifted at understanding what the animals might need and being able to think as if she was one of them.

Things of course do not go well in Warsaw during World War II. It is bombed, and the animals, being valuable, are removed to zoos in Germany and others are kenneled. And they begin to see that they have another ministry.

They work together to provide shelter for those who are fleeing from the Nazis. They have people living in the house to make it seem like relatives are visiting. They have a tutor there for their son. Others, working in the Underground, figure out ways to deceive the Nazis and stop them from destroying as many lives as possible.

Perhaps, in their childhood, a family member or friends encouraged them, developed their gifts, and the friends they made along the way helped them discern God’s call to provide shelter, despite the fact that the law of the land does not respect all human lives. It takes a village to raise a child.

It takes a village to raise a child, and sometimes it takes someone with a great deal of courage and faith in God and wisdom and understanding to discern a new way of holding out faith. Jesus and his disciples were wandering through a wheat field one day on the Sabbath. They were hungry, and they gleaned part of the crop as they went along.

It wasn’t just the authorities who were concerned about how to interpret and follow God’s law about the Sabbath, a day of rest, a day to give people breathing space. All people, of every walk of life, were concerned that they were not being faithful to the law, as religious authorities thought that they should. So they confronted him about it, probably more than once.

Then there came the day when it was the Sabbath, and Jesus looked over and saw a man with a withered hand, perhaps from rheumatoid arthritis or some other condition that wasn’t known back then. He saw this man’s need, and he healed him.

And again, the authorities were displeased. “How could he do this on the Sabbath? Nobody is supposed to work on the Sabbath. It’s a day to rest and draw closer to God.” A day meant to create life, to save life, became a day on which the authorities began to plot to destroy life.

It takes a village to raise a child. A mother who prays, who prophesies, as Mary did about Jesus, about God who was going to come and upend everything that those in power held dear, to change the status quo. And in the process, Jesus learned to listen to God, to pray, and respond to those in need, no questions asked, no matter the day.

Who is helping you discern your call? Where have you been challenged to interpret your faith in a new way, with new possibilities? And how are you helping those who are coming behind you to discern their call from God?

One wonders whether or not you really can hear God’s voice these days. Sometimes it’s tricky. It’s hard – at least I think it is – because every day, we are bombarded with messages from media, on Facebook, on Twitter, on the nightly news, from our family and friends, all telling us something different about what we need to be happy and how to take care of others or not, and all sorts of different things.

Sometimes, perhaps, maybe we’re overwhelmed by all the different messages, especially from those who are seeking to love their neighbors and to respond to crises, natural disasters, immigration raids, and poverty and hunger and all sorts of different things. Sometimes we don’t know what to do. That is when the village comes together. It takes a village to raise a child. It takes a village to raise all of us.

Because together, we can pray with one another, we can read Scripture with one another, we can reflect on the needs of our fellow human beings, and we can invite people into conversation that will help us figure out how to lead, how to make a change, and how to faithfully follow God, even when we know that we have made a mistake, and our dealing with the consequences of those mistakes.

Samuel didn’t want to share the message he had with Eli, because he knew it would not bring good news. And yet Eli, who knew God and knew what it meant to be faithful, said, “Tell me anyway,” recognizing his guilt. And Samuel grew to love the Lord more.

Are we reluctant to hear the message from God? Do we know what to listen for? Sometimes it’s hard. We listen, we hear something that’s we’re not sure it makes sense because it doesn’t go along with the laws that we know, the societal norms we grew up with.

I didn’t look it up for Iowa – just out of curiosity, did Iowa have any Blue Laws at any point in time, the laws that said what you could and couldn’t do on Sunday? When there weren’t ball games on Sunday morning, and families gathered together at the same time with one another in worship, and restaurants couldn’t serve certain beverages on Sunday. Perhaps you had them, or perhaps you didn’t.

Life changed, and faith changed, and the world changed, and it’s changing every hour of every day in all sorts of different ways. It takes a village to raise a child.

It takes a village to raise a child who listens. Who listens to that still small voice saying, “Love your neighbor. Feed the hungry. Help. Offer compassion. Work for justice. Seek mercy and wisdom and understanding.”

To hear a cry of someone in need blowing past us on the wind and to make a decision to respond. To care for animals who are in need. To provide shelter for those who don’t have it, whether because they are young, difficult family circumstances, unemployment, the loss of viable income, a natural disaster, or something.

Who has helped you discern God’s call? And who are you gathering together to help you discern God’s call, individually and communally so that all may have God’s life, all may hear God’s word, and all may help make this world just a little bit better, one day, one moment, one hour at a time?

Amen.

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