Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Sermon written for June 10, 2012; 1 Samuel 8:1-22

Rev. George Miller
1 Samuel 8:1-22
“Pay Attention”
June 10, 2012

This evening is the Tony Awards, an event that honors the best of Broadway.

Since moving to Sebring I have rediscovered my inner “theater geek,” listening to the Broadway station on XM radio, seeing plays and volunteering at the Little Theater.

There is something about musicals that allows people to express universal emotions and experiences in a way that resonates.

My favorite Broadway lyricist is Stephen Sondheim who composed such musicals as “West Side Story” and “Gypsy.”

About 25 years ago he did a play called “Into the Woods.” It’s a fractured fairy tale featuring characters from different fables.

One such character is Rapunzel who is kept trapped inside a tower by the Witch.

Rapunzel longs to leave the confines of her prison but the Witch warns her about the dangers of the world, where wolves and humans will try to hurt her; that she is safer kept behind walls.

Yet, Rapunzel longs for her freedom and she finds it in a prince who rescues her. But things do not bode well, as Rapunzel is eventually killed by a giant in the woods.

In one of the play’s most heart wrenching scenes, the Witch sings a song of lament in which she states that children will not listen; that children can only grow from something you love, into someone you loose.

The idea of children not listening to sage advice is a sentiment that any parent can relate to when facing the fears of what waits for their children out in the world.

Yet, if one truly loves their child, their grandchild, their niece or nephew, there comes a time when we have to let them free, even if the risk seems great.

A life behind walls may be safe, but it is no life at all.

This is a bit of what’s happening in today’s scripture.

The people are no longer the slaves of Egypt; they are no longer under Pharaoh’s rule. They have been living freely in the Promised Land for the last 200 years.

They are a unique nation because instead of a king’s throne it is their devotion to God that binds them.

Instead of a monarchy, they have been guided by religious leaders who were anointed by God to protect them.

But it’s no longer enough for them. After 200 years of prosperous living the people want something more. They desire to be like everyone else. And every other nation has a king.

Being led by the Spirit and solely relying on God is not going to do it for them anymore.

So they turn to their current leader, Samuel, and they say “You are too old to lead us and your sons are no good. Give us a king.”

This breaks the heart of both Samuel and God, perhaps Samuel’s more so.

God says to Samuel “They’re rejecting me just as they always have; no matter what I do, they’re never happy.”

“Listen to the people. If a king is what they want, a king is what they’ll get.”

It’s interesting to hear how often the word “listen” is used in this passage.

3 times we have God telling Samuel to listen to the people. 1 time we are told the people refuse to listen to Samuel.

It says something about their relationship.

Listening is a useful trait for one to possess. It’s also a lost art form. Most people just seem to talk and talk.

Get a group of people together, especially extroverts, especially New Yorkers, and you’ll experience overlapping dialogue with no space in-between to actually hear one another.

In school we learn how to give presentations and how to do public speaking. But do we ever teach people how to listen?

To not make comments, to not add in one’s 2 cents; to not justify, fix, or one-up, but to just listen?

The key to earning people’s trust is not the talking, but the listening. The secret to a good job interview is to get the boss to talk and to listen to what she or he has to say.

The key to pastoral visits is to listen to the worries, woes, and the stories that are told.

To listen: which means to be quiet, to be engaged, to put the other person first for a while.

That’s what we see God doing here. The people complain, Samuel prays, but God listens.

Just as God was listening when they were slaves back in Egypt.

Although God is not pleased, God responds to their voices. “Listen to them,” God says to Samuel, “But warn them about what will happen when they do get a king.”

Unlike the Witch in “Into the Woods,” God understands that with love comes freedom. That true love is not saying to someone “The world is too dangerous so I’m going to lock you away forever.”

No, love is saying “I care enough about you to trust you; to give you the best tools I can to help you survive, and to be here when you need me.”

Love is saying “I’d prefer not to see you make a bad choice, but I honor you enough to know that the decision has to be yours.”

That is what God does in this story. The people are warned. The king will be like a ravenous wolf who takes their sons, their daughters and the best of what they got, causing them pain and strife.

But the people do not listen. They do not care. They only want what they want, which is to be like everyone else.

It broke God’s heart, yet God still says to Samuel “Listen to their voices.”

This is a timely story today and every day. In a world filled politicians vying for our attention, with computers and cell phones crowding our ears, I believe that God is Still Speaking.

Even if we are unable or unwilling to hear.

Though we are long past the age of holy men and women ruling our lives, God is still saying “There’s a world out there that will not love you like I do. They will hurt you, use and abuse you.”

“So let me be the head of your life. Let me walk with you, talk with you, and make decisions with you.”

But no matter what, God will not take away our freedom; God will not take away our choice.

God will not lock us away, even if it would seem to be for the best.

Because that would not be love.

In conclusion, I doubt it will ever be possible for us to go back to the way things were, when God and God alone ruled our lives.

We are too imperfect, we are too fearful; we are too enmeshed in political systems to ever rely 100% on the voice of God.

But perhaps, perhaps in our personal lives, in our private lives, we can learn to do a better job of welcoming those moments in.

Those moments where regardless if we are in the woods, or in complete sunshine, we welcome the Still Speaking voice of God, in which we humble ourselves enough to say “OK God, what is it you want me to do.”

And perhaps when we do so, we are able to stop, listen, and wait to hear just what God has to say.

And perhaps if we have enough moments like that in our day, we won’t have to worry so much about the woods.

May the Holy Spirit bless us each this week with a time in which we can listen, and bless our ears for us to hear the Still Speaking voice of God.


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