A Word From God
Based on 1 Sam 3:1-20, Mark 2:23 – 3:6, Psalm 139:1-12
I remember vividly the moment that preaching went from giving a public speech to something deeper, richer and more meaningful. Not to say that my professional talks in the Pharmacy world had not been meaningful or rich, but they were secular and scientific and no matter how well prepared and delivered, they really didn’t have the same weight behind them. Even my prior preaching at my home church or at other churches didn’t really feel any different than my other professional talks. No, it wasn’t until I stood up to preach at the Pennsylvania Avenue Baptist Church the first time that I it was pointed out to me that I was “bringing the Word of God” that morning.
I was struck by the import of that phrase, also by the sincerity and expectation with which the gentleman delivered that phrase. He had come to church that morning for that purpose – to hear a Word from God, rather than a presentation from just another human. I suddenly felt quite small and inadequate – like the Apostle Paul describes in 2 Corinthians 4:7 where he notes that, we have this light of God in the face of Jesus the Christ contained in clay jars. Clay jars which are easily broken, sometimes by their contents. While I had certainly prayed over the texts for that morning and done my due diligence to arrange my thoughts in an organized manner – that phrase, “bringing the Word of God”, humbled me with the reminder that as Psalm 139 reminds us, “…Even before a word is on my tongue, O LORD, you know it completely….” (verse 4) For the first time I realized that my new profession as “preacher” carried with it an awesome and somewhat unenviable task of speaking on behalf of God. With that thought in mind, let us go to God in prayer and ask for God’s word to be delivered this day…
Our Hebrew Bible scripture tells about the calling of the prophet/judge Samuel. Samuel is a young boy who has been given to the Temple to serve the priest Eli. Samuel had been there for a while serving and one night a voice calls to him from his dreams. He runs to Eli because that is the only person who would call him – but it wasn’t Eli…it was Elohim. God delivers a message to young Samuel that is difficult to hear and to bear – the destruction of Eli’s family and his eventual removal as a priest. This message from God came because Eli didn’t keep his sons in line and they desecrated the things of God. Eli took the news well – God had already warned Eli what would happen if he didn’t change the behavior of his boys. Samuel ultimately replaced Eli and God was always with him “and let none of his words fall to the ground” – all Israel knew he was a true prophet of the LORD. Samuel carried both the easy and the hard messages of God and always delivered them faithfully and well.
Psalm 139 reminds us that there is no time when we are not intimately known by God. While we are undergoing the miracle of conception and growth to birth, we are known to God; and all our days are written in the Book of Life. How much God knows and how limited we truly are! The Psalmist sings, “such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it….” (verse 6) The Word of God dwells in all places and in all times and is accessible to all of God’s creation. The LORD knows each and all of us and has searched us, discerned our thoughts and our many and varied ways. Thus, preachers (and all of God’s children) in all seasons can have access to God’s word that is specific and special to them and their place and time.
Jesus is doing what Jesus does, he is needling the Pharisees about their faulty view of God’s creation and of the law of Moses. He and his Disciples are strolling through a grain field that is ripe, and they eat some of the grain. Now, it is against Jewish law to do any kind of work on the Sabbath – as it is to be a day of rest. Jesus points out that there is precedent in the Hebrew Bible for special dispensation – even the great King David needed sustenance and ate the consecrated bread which was for the Temple priests alone. Need conquers law is the point that Jesus is making here. There was to be no healing activity as well – again, no work by observant Jews on the Sabbath. However, the need of the person to have use of his hand over rode any human law that the Pharisees chose to follow. God’s word is readily available and brings healing, justice and nourishment to those who understand how to find it and how to use it as it was intended.
One of the many reasons to study the word of God is to understand how to apply it truthfully in different situations. We see Jesus, time and time again, coming up against a rigid legal/religious system that missed the point of the rules in the first place. The rules that were in place, the 613 mitzvot, were at times so onerous as to be impossible to implement; likewise, some of them were so generous (think of the Jubilee rules) that no human who had acquired land over the previous 49 years would want to give it up to rebalance the scales. The Rabbis over the years created many work-arounds for the laws that they didn’t or couldn’t implement – and fixated on those that they could – in many cases to the detriment of their flock. This is partly the reason for our misguided understanding of the statement that we are to be stewards of all that God has created, not owners of all that God has created, has led us to this place where we operate in an economy of scarcity rather than great wealth.
Large corporations and buying collectives control the cost of every raw material that God has given us to use on behalf of the greater good. Speculators manipulate the price of every commodity from pork bellies and soy beans to oil futures. Stock markets are driven by the whispered numbers and share holder value rather than the intrinsic worth of an individual company. Now we even have crypto currencies which are unregulated and not tied to any standard and are being traded in place of physical currencies. The bottom line is that the wealthy get wealthier and the poor get more marginalized with each and every decision made without regard to God’s word. God’s word speaks of a place where there is no male or female, no Gentile or Jew, only children of God. God’s word is one of overwhelming bounty and abundance for all, not just a few who get in on the beginning of the next pyramid scheme.
The word of God speaks to us of a place where all persons, regardless of how they understand their sexuality, gender, ethnicity, or place in society, are welcomed to a feast with the same open arms and unabashed joy. God’s word speaks of a place where loneliness and broken relationships are unknown; where all have a place that they can return to called home where they are restored to their usual place in the family. God’s word speaks of creating communities that are healthy, whole, just, ordered, sustainable, healing, nourishing, loving – the latter with the broad and encompassing agape love of God.
This is the word of God that the United Methodist Church and all her constituent parts and people needs to have delivered so that she can hear it loud and clear. The word from God is that we have gotten to comfortable with our buildings and our trappings, our Conferences and our Boards, and we have forgotten to listen to what it is that God has been saying. God’s word is always creative and unifying – never divisive or uninspired. For too long we have labored with a super-structure that requires too much apportioned dollars and too little respect for the individual church.
What is my word from God for you all today? The Apostle Paul wrote it in 2 Corinthians Chapter 4 – we find ourselves afflicted but not crushed; perplexed but not despairing; struck down but not destroyed; always carrying the possibility that the life of Jesus will be made visible in our flesh. That word is “shalom” which means peace, harmony, wholeness, completeness, prosperity, welfare and tranquility. It is the word God speaks to us today and every day. Let us find our way to fully live into that word! Amen!