January 14, 2018: Sermon by Deacon Benjamin Wetherill
Lord, you have searched me out and known me; you know my sitting down and my rising up; you discern my thoughts from afar.
You trace my journeys and my resting-places and are acquainted with all my ways.
Indeed, there is not a word on my lips, but you, O Lord, know it altogether.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart bless you, oh Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Amen.
How would you respond if you heard your name called in the middle of the night? “Ben, Ben.” Or input your own name. Would you respond as Eli suggested or would you cringe in fear or perhaps think you were going crazy or dreaming? Would you describe yourself as a servant or as a slave? That is how the word in Hebrew, ebed, is translated, slave or servant. Would you be prepared to act on what the voice in the night told you? Do you even believe that it is possible for God to speak to you?
The prophet Joel declared that “your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit.” This is those days. The Lord Jesus has come and given all those who believe in him the Holy Spirit. That Holy Spirit dwells in all of us and speaks to and guides us. It is not only possible that God speaks to us (Jesus died to redeem us and bring us into a new relationship with God) it is probable. Does God ever speak to us out loud? I have never heard God speak to me out loud but I had a friend say once that he had heard God just like I am talking to you now. It is possible (all things are possible for God.). Is it necessary? No, the Holy Spirit does not have to be heard through our ears to speak to us. More often I believe he speaks to our hearts and our minds. Do we recognize God’s voice when we hear it? Elijah discovered that God was heard not in the storm, or the fire, or the calm, but in a still small voice. Do we take the time to still our minds and hearts long enough to hear that voice? That is the first step but what is more important is the next step, whether we listen and obey what we hear.
I have no doubt that God speaks to all of us and that we hear God. The question is do we listen and do we do what God commands? If we don’t then why don’t we obey? Do we not trust God? Do we doubt that it is God? Do we resist what God tells us or seek to do what we want? Have we so muddied the waters of our minds and hearts with our own desires that we have drowned out God’s voice? God wants to call us to follow him like Nathaniel but too often we get caught up in our own desires and can’t hear him. This is what Paul is speaking about to the Corinthians in our epistle reading today. We have been made free in Christ. We are no longer bound to the Old Testament laws but Paul reminds us that the law was given to us to guide us and keep us safe. When we sin, we make it difficult to hear God and we bind ourselves to people and actions that draw us away from God. This is why it is important that first we need to trust that God is good and to trust the Word of God found in Scripture. If I don’t trust God’s motivation and what He has revealed in scripture then I won’t avoid those things God has declared sin. Like small children when our parents told us something was dangerous or bad for us, we may choose to test it because we don’t believe them or think we know better. I don’t know about you, but too often as a child I tested what I was told with little or no understanding or knowledge of the danger I faced. As a parent myself I now know that my parents didn’t tell me things just to control me. They wanted to keep me safe and happy. This is God’s desire too. Science continues to reveal the truth of God’s Word in our everyday lives.
Recent research has shown that what Paul talks about in his letter is true. When we engage in sexual behavior we are in fact uniting our bodies to the bodies of our partners. Lab experiments have proven that during sex hormones and enzymes are released that encourage continued connection and that discourage sexual activity with other partners. This is all accomplished through the release of hormones in our brains like dopamine, which elicits a response in the pleasure center of our brains. When we remain with our initial partner those pleasure feelings continue and increase. If we engage in activity with more partners that pleasure is inhibited resulting in less and less connection to sexual partners. Rather than pleasure increasing with more partners it actually decreases. Consider that this is what we have discovered so far. What other consequences are there to reckless behavior?
Miracles and other experiences also reveal God’s goodness. Philip told Nathaniel that Jesus was the hoped for Messiah and he came to see for himself looking for reasons to believe or disbelieve. Often God answers our questions through answered prayer and miracles. Perhaps more often God meets a heart that chooses to believe halfway revealing Himself in response to faith. There is a quote from the Christmas classic, The Santa Clause, that puts it this way, “Seeing is not believing, believing is seeing.” I often note those cool pictures sold in the mall that just look like a bunch of random dots until you stare at them for a while and then a wonderful picture reveals itself seeming to coalesce out of the dots. This seems to be how faith works. Before we come to faith we can’t see God’s reality and then after we place our faith in God, we seem to see evidence everywhere.
Often in the New Testament we hear the followers of Jesus describe themselves as bond slaves of the Lord. Unlike those slaves that were involuntarily indentured, bond slaves would choose to be enslaved to a master. They came to love their master so much that they chose to give up control over their own lives and devote themselves fully to the will and destiny of that master. To this end they would have their ear pierced and an earring permanently emplaced to reveal their status. We too, as Christians, are called to devote ourselves in love to our master, Jesus Christ, yielding up our lives to His glory. We are in fact bond slaves of the Lord. How do we reveal our status to the world?
In the final book of the Harry Potter series the headmaster of Hogwarts, Dumbledore, tells Harry that “It is not our abilities that show what we truly are. It is our choices.” Harry worried that his abilities, that his nature, would cause him to be evil. Dumbledore showed him that we aren’t what we look like or even what we think but what we choose to act on. This is one of many truths out of Harry Potter that reflect the nature of God’s Kingdom. Christians reveal themselves best to the world through their choices, choices made known through our actions. This is why what we believe about God and choose to act on is so important. What we choose to believe is revealed through our actions. Do we believe that everything comes from God and is Gods? How much we believe this is shown through how generous we are. People who believe God provides never worry about how much they give away because God will provide. Do we believe God is good? Our belief is shown through good works that reflect God’s heart. It is also revealed in how we accept suffering. I can choose to be joyful in suffering if I know God is using my difficulties for good and cares about me. Too often we discount theology and doctrine but our theology and understanding of doctrine shape how we treat other people and the world around us.
“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 desires to say this about each of us. He told Nathaniel, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” Jesus makes the same promise to each of us. We need to also be mindful of Eli’s warning to Samuel. If we do not declare the Gospel of Christ to world then we may become subject to the consequences of not heeding that Gospel ourselves. So, what is God declaring to you in the dark of night? May we all declare boldly, Speak Lord for your servant is listening and then proclaim to the world what we hear. Amen.