Date: March 26, 2017
Text – Psalm 42, 1 Samuel 3:6-9
In 2005, it was Thanksgiving week. Most of my friends were planning to go home – Los Angeles, Atlanta, or New Jersey. I thought that I had to go somewhere too. I was tired from all the exams and readings for the seminary. So, I decided to visit my uncle and aunt in Baltimore. Since I did not have a car, I got a rental one. I had never driven in the U.S. so I printed out all the directions from the Map Quest. As I started to drive from Boston, the Map Quest was the only guide I had on my hand. I passed I-90 successfully. I switched to I-84 successfully. I then switched to I-91 successfully in Hartford. But the trouble came as I was passing through the New York City. I though that I was going my way with confidence but I ended up somewhere in Bronx. I did not have any GPS that could easily tell me, “Turn left. Make a U-Turn.” I was pulling my hair in the middle of nowhere.
Our life could be like that sometimes. We thought that we knew where we were going with our life. We figured out what we would do with our works. We invested in our time and life for it but later discover that we are not happy about it. We feel lost regarding why we need to go back to the work the next day. We fall in love with someone, marry the person, and expect our marriage to last till the death asunder. And someday, we discover that our spouse is somehow not happy about our marriage. We feel lost about how to fix our marriage and restore our love. We thought that our value and view are the only legitimate ones but one day wake to a new reality that the world is not the same as yesterday. We feel lost about defining our new role and how to make sense of the world.
If we had a GPS for our lives, we might find our lives a little easier to live in our dramatically changing world. A GPS that says, “Turn left. Turn right. Make a U-Turn.” I think that we Christians, at least, wonder, “What is God saying to us? How can we discern the voice of God?” When we go through unexplainable sufferings or tribulations, we look up to the sky and ask, “Are you really there?” We wish that God would speak to us directly revealing the will of God in audible voices loud and clear. I am sure that there could be some of you here who have heard the audible voice of God. But I think that most of us do not as if the parents tell their children that it is tie to go to bed. Wash your face and brush your teeth. I will read you some bedtime stories. And the question is, “Does God speak to us at all?” Or “Are we actually missing what God is saying to us?”
In Gifts of the Dark Wood, Eric Elens describes what happens to Bruce in the movie Bruce Almighty. After being fired from his job as a television weatherman, Bruce is looking for a sign from God desperately. He is driving down the highway one night and anxiously prays, “Ok, God, you want me to talk to you? Then talk back. Tell me what’s going on. What should I do? Give me a signal.” Then he passes a road construction sign flashing the words, “Caution ahead.” He does not recognize the message but continues to pray, “I need your guidance, Lord, please send me a sign!” A truck full of construction signs suddenly pulls in front of him that say, “Stop” “Wrong Way.” He still misses the sign and says, “Ah, what’s this joker doing now?” Finally, Bruce’s pager rings. He takes the pager off its holster and checks the number. Little does he know but it’s God paging him. “Sorry, don’t know ya.”
The video clip of Bruce constantly missing the sign from God seems insightful to us as we also reflect on the times when we feel lost. When we were lost in our spiritual journey, did God never communicate with us? Or was it that we kept missing the sign from God? Maybe we were preoccupied with the way we thought that God should answer to us with particular answers or particular ways. How about the story of Samuel and Eli from 1 King today? Samuel was a young boy serving the temple priest, Eli in Jerusalem. At night, Samuel hears a voice of God calling him, “Samuel. Samuel.” But he does not recognize it. We do not know exactly why. Maybe God was whispering in such a small voice. Maybe Samuel thought that it was ringing in his head rather than audible voice. So, he went to his master, Eli, and asked him if he was the one who called him. And this goes on twice.
What is surprising for me here is that the message is not actually for Samuel. The message is actually for Eli. But God does not speak to Eli, the temple leader, respected by his whole community as the reverend. The one who went to the seminary and wrote all the papers on the Hebrew Bible, history of Israel, worship of Jewish ritual and finally graduated with high honor. The one who would get up to speak in front of his congregation on the Sabbath and people would attentively listen to his message as if God had some message for them for that week. But no… it is not Eli who hears the voice of God, but Samuel, the young boy who does not have any seminary education, does not have any ministerial experience, does not have the certificate of ordination. God speaks to Samuel so that he would deliver the message to Eli.
If God would speak to us directly, or even if indirectly through someone else, would you be happy to hear the voice of God or be fearful of it? Most of us might think that if God could speak to us, God would praise us for our faithfulness in times of trouble and challenge. God would praise us for feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and volunteering so many hours when other people seem pretty preoccupied with their own lives. But many of us would be fearful because we cannot control what God might have to tell us. And the fact that God knows deeply what we think, the words we may not tell others but what we think. God knows the times when we are fragile, failing, and unfaithful to our marriage, to our bodies, to our relationship with neighbors, and our God through our words and thoughts.
I am sure that Eli would have been fearful to hear the words of God. It is because his two sons were embezzling the money from the temple, sleeping with women who came to the temple, and committing despicable sins against God and their community. And somehow, Eli, the father to these two sons, have not been able to correct them. I do not know if it was out of the parental love for his prodigal sons. Or fear of losing his two sons if he spoke the truth against them. We think that we often do not hear the signs from God. Maybe, we keep missing them because we only hear what we want to hear – affirming words, kinds words, encouraging words, the prosperity gospel that we put our trust in God, God will repay our faith and deeds with good health and possession. But we do not want to face our ugly reality.
But Eli boldly overcomes the fear of facing his reality by encouraging Samuel to speak to him what God told him. Eli wants to be attentive to the will of God rather than denying the truth and being kept in his own world. Despite its difficulties, Eli seeks to be guided by God to show him the way when he felt completely lost with his two sons. And that is what I find remarkable about the church as the body of Christ. Although all of us are not perfect in our thoughts and acts, we are called as the church that confesses our sins and brokenness before God and others. We are baptized into the community in which the Holy Spirit strengthens to grow in our love for God and love for God’s world. It is in the church we often hear the voice of God telling us how much we are loved by God, and we need to turn around.
As Eric Elenes explains, we might not have the Map Quest that lists all the direction from the beginning to the end. We might not have the GPS that immediately corrects our route when we feel lost. But the Spirit of God reveals and meets us like the second of thunder lightening so that we can see just a little further. As we do so, we learn to trust in the guidance of God who constantly walks with us in this spiritual journey, even if we cannot clearly see with our eyes yet. When we are willing to face our reality and follow the guidance of the Spirit, God would show us the way even through the others or the marginalized or unqualified that we expected the least.
“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always, though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”
– Thomas Merton