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  • Robert John Andrews

Reflection: Listening




Manuscript of Reflection sent in due to Church COVID closed


2nd Sunday after Epiphany

“Listening”

January 17, 2021

Lycoming Presbyterian Church



LESSON – I Samuel 3: 1-10


3Now 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.”


HYMN


REFLECTION - Listening


Someone was needed. It is how, I believe, God does things. Through us. Through humans. Don’t know how the will of God gets accomplished any other way.


Someone was needed.


Speak, for your servant is listening.


The question is: are we listening?


~~~


The church pulpit wasn’t my intention. Oh no.


When young, I had better ambitions. In the best of our Reformed tradition, I felt called to serve in what regard as the noblest and highest calling a person can receive from God: to serve the public good in government.


The function of civil government among men is no less than that of bread, water, sun, and air; indeed, its place of honor is far more excellent. . . .

In short, it provides that a public manifestation of religion may exist among Christians,

and that humanity be maintained among men.

[John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, IV.XX.3].


My plan: become a Navy pilot. Enter politics. My goal was to become a senator, even serve in the cabinet.


Until I heard Martin Luther King Jr. Until I heard my pastors take a stand.


Until I heard a different calling calling me – for I came to realize how government can prevent you from lynching your neighbor but cannot make you love him. Jesus is our savior, not the state -- howsoever vital is the state.


If we love the gospel, how can we not be concerned with oppression, abuse, poverty?


We echo John Lewis’ ‘good trouble.’


Speak, for your servant is listening.


~~~


Can’t we all just get along? No we can’t. Not on our own. That’s a Presbyterian answer.


The church, through ambassadors such as King, argues it remains consistently “wrong to use immoral means to attain moral ends” lest we end up, without Christ in our lives,, with assaults on our national capitol. Bad trouble. Do we really want America made in the image of Q conspiracy tantrum toddlers? In the image of those celebrating the Jewish holocaust? In the image of lynch mobs violent against those who disagree with them? In the image of ‘we alone are right?’ In the image of christian nationalism? In the image of white supremacists carrying that flag of dishonor and infamy? This is heroism? In the image of terroristic militia, brown-shirts by any other name, disloyal behind the lie of patriotism? The Capitol you claim as your house also is the house of my African-American son-in-law (and father of our grandbaby), and it’s mine.


Veins of pain and anger, fear and bigotry, alienation and willful ignorance, lies and arrogance crisscross America. We know what happens to a house built on sand. I’ve addressed this problem often. Given recent events, those who rely on immoral means must regain America’s respect if they wish to be heard, supported, redeemed. Required: truth, contrition.


Myriad ways the church swims in the political pool.


I’ve stood on court house steps and offered prayers.


We encourage you to vote, more so, to get out there and hold office. What could be more honorable?


“In God We Trust” says my dollar bill. All others pay cash…


Swearing in on Bibles. Or the Koran.


Congressional prayer breakfasts.


Your tax dollars pay for military chaplains, from Imams to Rabbis to Priests.


We place national flags in our sanctuaries.


Since Reagan’s administration, your government sends an Ambassador to the Vatican (which makes us Protestants wonder how come we don’t get an ambassador too).


And the IRS distributes guidelines detailing which political activity by churches and pastors is permissible and which is impermissible, lest your non-profit status get yanked.


We’ve been meddling for centuries. Take the people who are trying to love God out of society and where would we be?


We’ve been meddling for centuries. The church slogs hip deep in politics, for faith requires more than namby pamby Jesus. Since when should church be nice? Nice means pleasing, a vague agreeableness. The word originally meant ‘trivial,’ ‘foolish.’ Lest we deserve the judgment of God.


I’m grateful to be chastened by how the Reverend reminded white moderate Christian liberals in his “Letter from Birmingham Jail” that they have been “more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained glass windows… I have watched white churchmen stand on the sideline and mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities.”


I’m proud when church “was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society.” Subtract moral religion from the equation and where would we be? That’s the church I love, until we become unholy cheerleaders of tyranny or silent in the face of unjust laws and inhumanity.

Speak, for your servant is listening.


We’ve been meddling for a Bible’s age.


Through a grown up Samuel God will punish Israel’s desire for a king by granting their desire.


Jeremiah preached that his nation was foolish and criminal and should surrender to the enemy. Them calling him a traitor and tossing him in prison.


Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed'nego refused to obey the unjust laws of Nebuchadnez'zar.


John Knox rebuked Queen Mary for repressing Protestantism in Scotland.


The Reverend Jonathan Witherspoon preached from his Princeton pulpit about the necessity of freedom and American Independence.


Who do you think took on slavery as incompatible with humanity, religion, and good government, despite the church’s own sins?


Give thanks, for every major social progressive movement can claim religious inspiration.


Who first challenged Nazism as demonic? Pastor Bonhoeffer.


Was not the Reverend John Mackay, Moderator of the Presbyterian Church, boldly loving the gospel when he was among the first to stand and defy Joseph McCarthy and the House of Un-American Activities, naming his tactics un-American?


Last, was not Marin Luther King Jr. political when he led boycotts and marches? King, as a disciple of Jesus, knew who the enemy was. Never persons. Always ignorance, want, hateful ideologies, prejudice, the power to dominate and violate the humanity of others.


The Kingdom of God, made in the image of God, must be paid for, it must be earned.


Speak, for your servant is listening.


~~~


Some time ago, my soccer teammate, Jerry, one of Danville’s Police Officers, found an 18 year old girl freezing to death in a parking lot off Mill Street. It was 3 AM. She had been dumped there by her boyfriend. Jerry draped a blanket around her shoulders and took her to the Gate House shelter in town, which welcomed her and gave her a warm bed and warmer love. We do more than pray for souls. That is when church and government work well together. Moral means for moral ends.


We are political beings. We also are spiritual beings. And that is the distinction we cannot, must not forget to bring to bear. We speak of soul-force. The terrifying majesty of truth.


How often are we misled by false voices? The world marches to the drumbeat of the world, someone once preached. The drumbeat of power and might and control.


Do you hear the different rhythm, reverberating against the tympanic membrane of our souls?


For we who belong to Jesus do not march to the world’s drumbeat – never can, never shall – but, from Arch Street to Pennsylvania Avenue, we march to the drumbeat of this drum major with the divine difference. For we also confess the ultimate inadequacy of all systems to redeem. If government were the solution, then Jesus would have taken out Pilate and Herod and set himself down on the throne instead of carrying the cross. If politics were the cure, the hope, then Jesus would have claimed power and authority and had his disciples handing out voter guides and bumper stickers.


But he didn’t. He refused to become his own anti-Christ and deny his own purpose and essence. For his kingdom is not of this world. And Jesus constantly warns us about selling our souls to the way of the world, as if power and money and fame can save anyone.


For it is not by power nor might nor domination but Christ-like love.


Speak, for your servants are listening.


Somewhere somebody must have some sense. Men must see that force begets force,

hate begets hate,

toughness begets toughness,

And it is all a descending spiral,

ultimately ending up in the destruction for all and everybody.

Somebody must have sense enough and morality enough to cut off the chain of hate and the

chain of evil in the universe.

And you do that by love.

There’s another reason why you should love your enemies,

And that is because hate distorts the personality of the hater.

So Jesus says love, because hate destroys the hater as well as the hated.


Amen


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