2020-01-17 Epiphany 2
Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
A hillbilly from Mossbank and his city slicker friend were walking through downtown Regina, down by Scarth street or some such busy place. It was lunchtime and there were oodles of people. Cars were honking their horns, taxicabs were squealing their tires around corners, sirens were wailing and the everyday sounds of the city were deafening! Suddenly the hillbilly up and says “I hear a cricket.” His friend said “What? You’ve gotta be crazy. How could you possibly hear a cricket in the middle of all this noise?!” “Yep, I’m sure of it,” said the hillbilly. “I hear a cricket.” “You’re crazy!” the friend replied. The hillbilly walked across the street to a cement planter where some shrubs were growing. He looked into the branches and sure enough, down at the bottom was a tiny cricket. His friend was completely baffled! “You must have super human ears!” “Nope, I reckon I’ve go the same ones as you” replied the Hillbilly. “That can’t be,” replied the friend. “I could never have heard that cricket in all this noise.” “It all depends on what you’re listenin’ for. Let me show you.” The Hillbilly reached into his pocket, pulled out a handful of change and dropped it on the sidewalk. The two friends watched as everyone within twenty feet turned around to look for the tinkling coins – despite the noise of the crowded street still blazing in their ears. “See what I mean?” said the Hillbilly. “It all depends on what you’re listenin’ for!”
Today, for the second Sunday in the Epiphany season we have a story of listening and hearing. The Old Testament story of Samuel shows how God used to speak to His people and make His will known. Epiphany is the season of God revealing Himself for us and our salvation, and the Old Testament was no different. God appointed prophets to hear the Word of God and deliver it to the people. Sometimes it was a good Word of God’s favour, and other times it was a strict Word of judgment. It all depended on the people’s level of repentance. If sin was left unchecked and allowed to run rampant, then the Word of God was Law and if need be, a correction to stop the iniquity like what happened to Sodom and Gomorrah. But there were other times when God would give His people “the silent treatment.” You know, when you’re so miffed at your spouse that you don’t really say anything. No angry outbursts, no yelling, no nothing. Just silence.
“Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord in the presence of Eli. And the word of the Lord was rare in those days; there was no frequent vision” (1 Sam 3:1). God wasn’t saying a whole bunch. The Word of the Lord was rare in those days – and not medium rare either. We’re talking scarce. We’re talking ‘not happening.’ God wasn’t saying much of anything. Now why would this be? Was God miffed at His people? Was His divine nose bent out of shape? Well, it has more to do with His people who had basically quit listening. Listen to this scripture from Proverbs: “Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint, but blessed is he who keeps the law” (29:18). Herein lies the reason why the Word of the Lord is silent. Or, perhaps to say it a different way, why people who don’t listen don’t hear. People who have cast off restraint don’t receive God’s Word because they don’t care about His will. It’s like the story of the Hillbilly and the cricket and the pocket full of change! You can hear anything you want to hear and listen for. Or, you can ignore it and let it be drowned out in a cesspool of noise. More than anything, the current generation of people have let the Word of God go silent in favour of the cesspool of worldly noise.
That might even be the true meaning behind the pandemic. Perhaps people had shut God out of life so much that He had to get their attention bigly! Before corona-madness, people were soooo busy with life, they made no time for God or His word to them. Church attendance largely was in decline as church after church closed their doors. People were running here, rushing there; majoring in the meaningless minors of life while missing the big picture of the Gospel! Psalm 46 says “Be still and know that I am God” (10). How often are we ‘still’? Not all that often. But think of how many times in the Scriptures Jesus went off by Himself to a quiet place to pray and be with God? And, when the Word of the Lord comes to Samuel in our Old Testament reading, it’s when things are quiet and he was still from the days activities. Our problem as a people - up until March of 2020 - is that we overload ourselves with so much stuff that we literally drown out God’s voice from our lives.
I remember grade 9, back in high school, when there was a government dictate that everyone had to take French. It might be the same today, I’m not sure. But we had no choice, everyone had to take it. So, struggle away I went with my “Au contraire, bon jours,” and my “Merci Beaucoup, Garcons” and my “j’allais a la salle de bains.” I didn’t like it and I didn’t spend the time with it listening to it and repeating it as I should have. And, after my compulsory 1 year, I dropped it like a “chaud pomme de terre!” The exact same thing can be said about our faith. If we don’t spend the time with God, reading His Word and listening to Him, His voice will be to us like a foreign language and we will miss things because we don’t understand. We will plug up our ears to all the ways He reveals Himself to us for our salvation.
But where do we hear God’s voice today? In the Old Testament, you had prophets like Samuel and like Jonah. They had specific messages for the people, and most of the time it was “repent of your sin and return to the Lord your God!” But those days have passed, just as the writer of the Hebrews says to us: “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son, whom He appointed the heir of all things, through whom also He created the world (1:1-2)”. Jesus our Lord and Savior is the fulfillment of all the prophets. He is the final Word of God. And, He has given us the Scriptures to be the definitive place we gather to hear God’s Word in all of its fullness. “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Ps 119:105). The Scriptures reveal to us God’s voice and His will, just like a light in a dark place. Even the smallest of birthday candles show us the glory of the cake that lies beneath! Just so with God’s Word to us in the Bible. Even one little verse can often illuminate our hearts and minds.
Think about the Scriptures like a campfire. The closer you get to it, the more you feel it’s warmth and the more light there is to see with. When we read the scriptures, we hear God’s voice. He reveals Himself to us. We hear His word of Law spoken to sin and unrighteousness, and we hear His word of Gospel in the forgiveness of our sins and His encouragement towards virtues. Our Lutheran Divine Service is designed with this in mind. The majority of what we hear and speak each week is scripture, in addition to reading God’s Word publicly. When we come to God’s House, week after week, we get to know Him and His voice. We become the sheep that hear the voice of their Shepherd and know Him. But it is a time thing. We absolutely must spend the time in His Word or it will end much like my high school french class: “la big flop!”
This is most definitely the real crisis of our time - even greater than Global Cooling, single use plastics and the China Virus that you have a 98% chance of beating even without a vaccine! Church attendance is in the toilet and Bible knowledge is at an all time low. The world is increasingly hostile to the message of the Gospel, refusing to hear the voice of God. It’s pretty safe to say that Canada is taking a downturn into darkness and many aren’t listening to the message of light. But, we need not fret. In Samuel’s day, it was much the same thing. Many of the children of Israel had gone astray and stopped their ears to the voice of the Lord. However, if we learn from history - instead of trying to cancel it like a bunch of numbskulls - we might just realize where our help comes from and cling to our Lord and His Word for our forgiveness, life and salvation. “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the Word of eternal life” (JN 6:68). This is where our Lord reveals Himself to us for our redemption. Fill yourselves with the light of His Word now and forever more. Amen.