1 Samuel 3:1-20 & John 1:43-51

Jeff Davidson


Sometimes God leads us into remarkable moments of serendipity, moments of happy coincidence. Early Wednesday morning I sent Care my sermon title and the two scripture texts we just read. On Thursday, President Trump made his infamous racist and vulgar remarks about not accepting immigrants from certain countries or continents.

The reason that is serendipitous is that in our reading from John, Nathaniel says essentially the same thing as President Trump. John 1:46 – “Nathanael said to him, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ Philip said to him, ‘Come and see.”

That’s just a boring regular translation. It’s the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible. The Revised Presidential Version of Nathaniel’s question is, “Can anything good come out of that s-hole Nazareth?”

The interesting thing to me about this is that the Revised Presidential Version of that verse is probably closer to what Nathaniel meant, and maybe even what he actually said. People in the Bible were real people, with real strengths and weaknesses. They were sometimes rude, sometimes kind, sometimes vulgar, sometimes sweet, and sometimes inappropriate, just as we all are. The dismissal in Nathaniel’s question is a dismissal not just of Jesus, but of an entire group of people, and it’s rude, it’s judgmental, it’s racist or classist in the same sense that calling someone a redneck is or making fun of people from some other city or state is, and it’s wrong.

The hopeful thing from Nathaniel’s story, and we should hope and pray the same for President Trump, is that he grew to see the error of his ways. He started to view Jesus on his own merits, and not judge Jesus because of where he came from or how he spoke or what his educational level was. He learned that good things can come from Nazareth, just as they can come from Haiti or Africa or anywhere else. He came to believe in Jesus as the Messiah, as his Lord and Savior.

What got me to thinking about the scriptures that I shared this morning was a remembrance by a man named Bob Stuhlmann. I don’t know anything about Stuhlmann besides the fact that he has a blog that hasn’t been updated in a year or two. I ran across this blog entry called “Remembering Martin” from January of 2014, and it struck a chord with me. Let me share some of it with you.

Martin was working on his sermon when I entered the sacristy. I had come to meet the great and diminutive Rabbi Abraham Heschel. I extended my hand and stuttered, “r-r-r Rabbi Heschel I am honored to meet you.” Martin did not look up from his text.

He died a year later. His sermon that day…began, “There comes a time when silence is betrayal.” Those words rang out for me and our generation as surely as the words from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial four years before…

Martin broke his silence about the war in Vietnam that day. What silences do we keep in the face and memory of injustice, abuse, brutality?”

Some family systems harbored a code of silence. That loyalty to the family perpetuated emotional illness. I believe much of our addictive society is because we have nowhere to go to talk with some wise other about how this code of secrecy has affected us…

Our secrets are some of those crosses from which we need to get down. So look at the news, our history, your history. Sometimes silence is betrayal. What silences do you keep that prevent your painful and necessary healing? What do you and I have to look in the eye in order to fully live again, sing, and rise on wings?”

It’s hard for me to hear that in some ways. I want to speak truth to power. I want to be prophetic. I want to rail against the principalities and the powers of this world. I do not want to keep silent against injustice and evil wherever I may believe that I find it. I want to proclaim release to the captives and good news to the poor.

But before I can do that I need to be aware of the words that I need to speak to myself. I need to know and name the places where I am broken, the places where my wounds hold me back or make me weak. I need to hold myself to the same standard that I wish to hold other people to. I need to speak to myself and let God speak to me about the pain and brokenness within me.

In The Wounded Healer, Henri Nouwen shares the following thoughts.

A Rabbi asked Elijah, ‘When will the Messiah come?”

Elijah replied, “Go and ask him yourself.”

“Where is he?”

“Sitting at the gates of the city.”

“How shall I know him?”

“He is sitting among the poor covered with wounds. The others unbind all their wounds at the same time and then bind them up again. But he unbinds one at a time and binds it up again, saying to himself, “Perhaps I shall be needed; if so I must always be ready so as not to delay for a moment.”

The Messiah is sitting among the poor, binding His wounds one at a time, waiting for the moment when He will be needed. So it is with us. Since it is His task to make visible the first vestiges of liberation for others, He must bind His own wounds carefully in anticipation of the moment when He will be needed. He is called to be the wounded healer, the one who must look after His own wounds but at the same time be prepared to heal the wounds of others.

Because He binds His own wounds one at a time, the Messiah would not have to take time to prepare himself if asked to help someone else. He would be ready to help. Jesus has given this story a new fullness by making His own broken body the way to health, to liberation, and new life.

Proclaiming justice, speaking truth to power, all the brave and bold things that I want to do, have their root in the interior life of prayer, confession, and self-awareness. We must listen for and look for God’s leading in our hearts, and always be working to stay ready to follow that leading when it comes to us.

God’s word came to Samuel, but Samuel didn’t recognize it. Samuel was just a boy. He was learning the trappings of faith, the exterior parts of faith, but when the word of God came to him he wasn’t prepared to act on it at first. He didn’t know what it was he was hearing. It took the wise counsel of Eli to allow Samuel to understand that it was in fact God who was speaking to him, and that it was God who was giving him a message that he needed to share.

Even then, though, Samuel was scared. He knew that God had given him a message, but he kept silence about it because he was afraid that it would hurt or anger his mentor Eli. 

And what was the message that God sent through Samuel? That Eli had kept silent when he shouldn’t have. That Eli was aware of the sins and the blasphemies of his sons, and had not said anything. It’s fascinating to me that Eli was wise enough and spiritually mature enough to know that God was sharing a message with Samuel. Eli was insightful enough to know that Samuel did not want to share the message with him, and so Eli was probably smart enough to know that it was a negative message of some sort. Despite his wisdom and his insight, though, Eli had kept silent when he shouldn’t. He had let his sons go on unchallenged, and had not spoken out when he should have. And Eli’s family suffered horribly because of Eli’s silence.

I am not saying that you should just speak whatever it is you believe you should speak whenever you think you should speak it. That’s why the interior work, the self-examination and self-care that Stuhlmann and Nouwen talk about is so important. Eli’s sin wasn’t just that he kept silence; it’s that he kept silence when he should have spoken. He kept silence when God had led him to speak. The Old Testament is littered with the names of so-called prophets and priests who committed exactly the opposite sin – they spoke when God had not given them anything to say.

The words that God gives us to speak are not always brave words. They aren’t always words of judgment. Sometimes they are words of invitation. In our reading from John Jesus calls Phillip to follow him. Phillip does, and then calls Nathaniel, and Nathaniel responds initially with the words we started off with from John 1:46.

 Philip invited Nathaniel to follow not on a whim, not because it was trendy to follow Jesus. Philip invited Nathaniel because Jesus had spoken to something deep inside Philip, and because Philip was self-aware enough to recognize that and brave enough to act on it.

It takes bravery to speak out as Martin Luther King, Jr. did but it also takes bravery to speak out in other ways. You don’t need to respond, but how many of you have invited someone to church? How many of you know somebody who is interested in justice, interested in peace, interested in what Cardinal Joseph Bernardin called the seamless garment of being pro-life, including everyone from the unborn to the poor to soldiers to all people near and far, young and old? 

I know some people like that. Have I invited them to church? Have I talked to them about what this group of people mean in my life? Have I shared with them what Jesus means to me and how Jesus’ teachings influence my life? Obviously we don’t always do that with words. The best witness to what Jesus means to you is to live as Jesus lived. But even if we live as Christ-like a life as possible, do other people know that our life is grounded in faith in Jesus Christ? How would they know that if we do not at some point tell them?

I know some people like those I described. I have not always told them. It’s hard. It takes courage. It takes faith. It takes an awareness of our interior strengths and weaknesses. It takes sensitivity to others and to the leading of God in our own lives.

It doesn’t take any bravery for me to stand here this morning and denounce President Trump’s remarks as wrong and divisive and racist. Lots of people are doing that. I run no risk by doing so. In fact, I would probably run more risk if I kept silent about those remarks.

It does take courage to look inside myself and deal honestly with what I find there. It does take courage to share my faith with others. It does take courage to speak to other people about the things that are the most important and the most deeply ingrained within me, because in doing so I risk rejection and damage to my feelings. I risk losing a relationship.

Look inside yourself and listen to what God is telling you. Keep no silence as you speak with yourself about what needs to change in your interior life, what needs to be healed, what needs to be discarded, what needs to be forgiven. Keep no silence as you speak to God in prayer about how you are being led and what you are being called to do.

When you hear what God is calling you to share, keep no silence. Rather, speak the words that God gives you to speak. Speak them certainly with your actions, but speak them also with your mouth when that is what God is calling you to do.

When you see someone else in need of aid or comfort, keep no silence. Speak the words that God has put in your heart, words of compassion and love, words of faith and forgiveness.

When you know another person is in need of right relationship with God, keep no silence. Speak to them of your faith with the way you live your life. Listen for when God leads you speak to them with words of invitation, both to this community of faith and into a deeper relationship with the risen Christ.

When you see injustice and wrong, whether on an individual or a global scale or anywhere in between, keep no silence. Speak as God leads. Be prophetic. Be bold. Be brave. And be compassionate, for you are speaking of real people with real feelings. Like Samuel, you may in some way be proclaiming God’s judgment on them.

When God leads you to speak, keep no silence. Amen.


Hebrews 10:19-25

Jeff Davidson

Ming, one of our cats, and I have a ritual. When I get up I go to the bathroom, brush my teeth, take a shower, and get dressed. When I come out of the bathroom to get dressed, Ming lays down in the middle of the floor, between me and my dresser, and exposes his tummy. I tell him that he’s a good boy and that he has a fine tummy, and I lean down and give him a tummy rub. Every day.

I don’t remember when this started. Ming has always been a friendly cat, and when we brought him home from the rescue group he’d been with he adapted pretty quickly, but I just don’t remember when the ritual started. Whenever it began, though, there was for Ming an element of risk and an element of hope.

Cats don’t typically expose their most vulnerable parts. Cats don’t just routinely roll over and say “Here’s my belly. Do with it what you will.” I’m sure Ming knew me well enough by then to be reasonably sure that I wouldn’t kick him, at least not on purpose, but he didn’t know for sure. The first time he did it, whenever it was, there was an element of risk that I might hurt him or take advantage of him in some way.

There was also an element of hope. Ming wanted his tummy rubbed. The first time he laid down and exposed his belly, his hope was that I would rub it. I might have kicked him, I might have ignored him, our other cat might have jumped him – there were some possible negatives. But Ming’s hope that I would rub his belly outweighed the risks involved. (Ming’s a big boy.  His belly outweighs a lot of things.)

There were risk and hope involved for me as well. Not as much risk as for Ming, but there was risk nevertheless. When they play cats, like to grab whatever they’re playing with by their front paws and scratch it with their back paws. This is what they do with birds and things that they catch in the wild. I was running the risk that Ming would grab me and scratch my arm to pieces. He’s done that before in other contexts. It was a real risk.

But I hoped that I would get to rub his tummy, that he would purr really loud, that we would have a nice bonding moment, and that it would be a nice way to start the day. And for both Ming and I, our risks paid off and our hopes came true. And now we repeat the ritual every day.

“Risk Hope” was this year’s Annual Conference theme. We don’t always think about risk and hope going together, but they do. Think back to the Exodus, the children of God leaving behind their slavery in Egypt. The armies of Egypt are behind them. The Red Sea is in front of them. The Israelites are trapped. And God tells Moses to stretch out his hand, and the sea will be parted.

Now there’s not a lot of risk here for Moses. If he stretches out his hand and nothing happens, they’re no worse off than they were before. So he stretches out his hand – and the sea parts! Exodus 14 verses 21 and 22: Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and all that night the Lord drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land.The waters were divided, and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left.”

Now there wasn’t a lot of risk for Moses, but how about that first Israelite who stepped onto the newly dry land? That man or woman was risking hope. They were hoping that this wasn’t an optical illusion of some kind. They were hoping that the water would stay parted, that the land would stay dry. They were hoping that God wouldn’t change his mind.

To have this hope is one thing. To act on that hope, to risk that the hope is real and well-founded, is another. I don’t know how long it took, but eventually someone risked their hope, someone acted and stepped out into the parted sea. Eventually someone else did, and then another and then another, until finally all were safe on the other shore.

Hebrews 10 verse 23 says, “Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful.” Hold fast to our confession of hope. Do we do that? Do we risk our hope? Do we live in such a way that we must truly rely on our hope in God? Or is our hope, our faith, something that maybe informs our lives or our politics or something, but doesn’t really require risk on our part?

At Annual Conference we heard from the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria, the Church of the Brethren in Haiti, the Church of the Brethren in Spain, the Church of the Brethren in Brazil, and other international guests. As I listened to them I was struck once again by the very real risk that hope requires in many of these settings. In parts of the world where Brethren and other Christians literally risk their lives and their livelihoods, or risk the mockery and disapproval of a very secular society, what do I risk here in the United States?

This is something that I come back to a lot, and I don’t know that I have a lot of answers. I don’t mean to give a hard time to American Christians and I don’t mean to sound judgmental; I’m sure we all risk a variety of things in a variety of ways. I find myself wondering if I really risk hope in God, if I really risk acting on my faith in Jesus in all the ways and places that I could. I say I’m wondering but I’m not really wondering – I know that I don’t. I guess what I’m wondering is where and how am I called to risk? Where and how am I called to act on my faith, to believe that God will sustain me, to trust that Jesus really is my savior in this world and in the next? I don’t always know the answers, so I keep asking myself the question.

I don’t always know the answers, but I know what the Bible says. “Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Let us as a congregation and as a denomination sing together, pray together, worship together, talk together, discern together, and risk hope together. Amen.