From the Mouth of Babes

This sermon was prepped for Wesley United Church, Montreal’s Sunday morning service on June 3rd, (Pentecost 2), based on 1 Samuel 3:1–20, and Psalm 139:1–6, 13–18.

In those days the word of the LORD was rare, and there were not many visions.

Eli, the High Priest in charge at the Temple of the LORD, his eyes were growing weak.

One night Eli, whose eyes had become so weak that he could barely see, was lying down in his usual place in the Temple. There were shadows cast onto the stone walls because the lamp of God had not yet gone out. Samuel, Eli’s young helper, was lying down in the house of the LORD, where the ark of God—the presence of the LORD, was. Then… the LORD called to Samuel.

Though our text doesn’t tell us so, it becomes clear that Eli has grown both blind and deaf to God’s word. “Samuel” the voice calls, stirring the boy awake. But, Eli can’t hear the voice—and Samuel has never heard it before—so both are confused.

Eli, the one whose job it is to intercede on behalf of Israel with God, as the High Priest, can no longer do his work properly. He no longer sees visions. He no longer hears the voice of God.

This is both about vocation—about young Samuel’s call—but it is also a story about Eli. It is a story about the changing of the guard.

The second portion of the reading today, verses 11-20 are optional. We can choose to just end at verse 10, with the declaration:

The Lord came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!”

Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

But if we stopped there, we’d never heard what God has to say.

So, we forge on to the hard stuff. We hear God say, “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make the ears of everyone who hears about it tingle.”

Samuel sees and hears God—he responds when he is called to, even though he’s confused. And, then God tells him that God is breaking open a new period in Israel’s history. The visions are coming back and the people will once again hear—so much so that their ears will tingle!

I tried to see if there was some deep theological meaning to ear tingling but alas not many biblical scholars have staked their academic claim there….

Then God tells Samuel about how the established powers, that have grown corrupt, will be dismantled. God speaks of culpability that is both active and passive.

Eli’s sons have boldly disregarded the Law and sinned against God; Eli did nothing to stop them. All parties are guilty.

This is a difficult message to hear, but an even harder one to deliver. You see, Samuel was raised in the Temple by Eli and the other priests. His mother, Hannah, dedicated her only son to God after a long struggle with infertility—so though his biological family visited him at the Temple annually, it was Eli who parented him.

Samuel lay down until morning and then opened the doors of the house of the LORD. He was afraid to tell Eli the vision, but Eli called him and said, “Samuel, my son.”

Samuel answered, “Here I am.”

The work of justice can be incredibly hard. … I’m reminded of a good quote from a silly movie:

In “Evan Almighty” God is talking to a character about prayer and says, “Let me ask you something. If someone prays for patience, you think God gives them patience? Or does he give them the opportunity to be patient? If he prayed for courage, does God give him courage, or does he give him opportunities to be courageous?”

God gives Samuel the opportunity to be courageous, and share the message he was given. God gives Eli the opportunity to be gracious, and upon hearing it Eli replies, “He is the LORD; let him do what is good in his eyes.”

Samuel was called to do a hard job—a risky job for a young man. He could have been rejected by his parent, thrown out of the only home he’d really known, lose his place in the Temple—his social standing and connection. But, he risked rejection and spoke.

The prophet Joel tells us of a time when God will pour out Spirit on all people. That our sons and daughters will prophesy, our old men will dream dreams, our young men will see visions. (Joel 2:28)

This is the same text the Apostle Peter cites in his sermon on the streets of Jerusalem after receiving the Spirit in the Book of Acts. And, as we are still in the Season of Pentecost it is on the forefront of our minds.

But, that is not a far-off time for us—because God is speaking through God’s children now. God is calling young people today just like he called Samuel then.

I think of the young people who survived incidents of mass shootings, of domestic terrorism, in the United States, who are speaking out for better gun regulation. People like … Emma Gonzalez, David Hogg, Sam Zeif, Julia Cordover, Cameron Kasky, Jaclyn Corin, Kyle Kashuv, Ariana Klein, Alfonso Calderon, Lorenzo Prado, and Lane Murdock.

I also think of young women like Malala Yousafzai who advocated for girl’s education in Pakistan despite being targeted by violence.

But we also have brave young people speaking out here at home.

There’s Tina Yeonju Oh, a Climate change activist from Sackville, N.B.

Or, Sarah Jama, the Ontario director for the National Association of Disabled Students and an anti-racism Community Organizer from Hamilton.

Or, 13-yearold Autumn Peltier, an indigenous activist from Wikwemikong First Nation whose fighting for water protection and conversation.

Young people across Canada are also making their voices heard concerning the Kinder Morgan Pipeline, demanding the government begin investing now in renewable energies instead of propping up old systems.

God is calling young people across Canada, and our world to speak and they responding saying, “Here I am”!

From the mouth of babes, God will speak.

What a risky phrase: “Here I am”. Because God doesn’t tell Samuel what the plan is before God calls him.

And what does God ask him to do? God asks him to have a personal conversation with someone he loves, someone he respects. That can often be the riskiest thing we’re called to—the hardest piece of justice work.

And, it is the first step on a long path for Samuel—who will become a prophet who speaks to crowds, who anoints and condemns kings.

I often hear people quote the Apostle Paul out of context saying, “God will never give you more than you can handle!”

But, God gives us really hard things—hard opportunities.

1 Corinthians 10:13 reads: “No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.”

Samuel’s call teaches us that we are all called—to both big and small acts of justice. We’re given people to help us discern our calls like Eli does with Samuel. And, we’re given challenging but achievable tasks. But sometimes, it takes community to achieve them, sometimes it takes the Spirit, we cannot always rely on our own strength.

In our prayers today we will reflect on the God of the Sabbath, who tells us the work of justice cannot be done without rest.

So, breathe deeply, friends, and gather your courage, because a risky but good God is calling you—yes even you!—to courageous acts.

A Spirit that Speaks Without Words

This sermon was prepared for Wesley United’s Sunday morning service on May 20, 2018, Pentecost Sunday. Scriptures are based on John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15, Psalm 104:24-34, 35b, and Romans 8:22-27.

Today the global church celebrates Pentecost Sunday, except for our Orthodox family which will be celebrating in a few weeks. Pentecost, often called the “Birthday of the Church”, historically has celebrated the Spirit descending on believers in Jerusalem following Jesus’ ascent into heaven.

But, Pentecost can be a little complicated for the United Church—we have a ‘big tent’ theology that includes folks who have strong opinions on the Spirit, soft opinions on the Spirit, and no opinion on the Spirit at all.

However, we’ve also been blessed in receiving a variety of rich traditions from the various Biblical authors, which mirrors our own internal diversity.

Sometimes she is Wisdom, at God’s side during creation; or dancing in the street, calling wise men and women to follow her.

Other times, it is a still small voice speaking after the storm; or a cloud that descends from the heavens to rest on someone. The popular story in Acts talks about tongues of fire licking the heads of the disciples when the Spirit descended on them.

For the author of the Book of John it is the “Paraclete”—which we clumsily try to translate as “advocate”, “comforter”, or “counsellor”.

Do you have a name that that you call her? Is there a story that has always struck your imagination?

I was struck, this week, by Paul’s description in the Romans text we read today.

He calls it… “that very Spirit that speaks with sighs too deep for words”.

This image moved me because it felt the closest to the Spirit that I know.

I grew up in a charismatic community where it seemed like the Spirit was stirring, and moving, and doing somersaults in everyone but me. I thought that I was broken for a long time—that I wasn’t really a Christian because I didn’t experience what everyone else seemed to.

Little did I know that the spirit had been stirring me all along; she just spoke in a hushed voice—sending me Morse Code messages.

Later, in university, I joined a liturgically oriented community that was more into contemplation than hallelujahs. They taught me to listen, to appreciate those unintelligible sighs of the spirit. They showed me that we’re all wired differently and that God will speak to us each in our own way. For me, it wasn’t very dramatic, but it worked.

And, this new orientation called to mind a very strong memory I had from when I was a kid. I was walking home one afternoon from my friend Madison’s house, down a back alley lined with large trees. I walked underneath the canopy and noticed that the asphalt was sun-dappled. It made me look up. And when I did I saw the brilliant yellow sunlight drenching this domed ceiling of leaves turning them lime green. I stopped walking and I just stood there. I had the strangest sensation—I felt overcome because it was beautiful and I was at peace.

Have you ever felt the Spirit stirring you? Maybe when you were out for a hike; working in your garden; holding an infant in your arms; or creating art?

For me, it was probably less than a minute, but that moment has stuck with me my whole life—it still gives me goosebumps. It’s a special memory, of feeling like I wasn’t alone in the world, that there was goodness.

And, she has continued to speak to me through nature, sometimes using her own voice; and other times, often speaking through someone else—a loved one, a poet, or a mentor.

Does she speak to you in whispers or sighs? Does she use her own voice, or the voices of others?


Returning to our Romans text, for Paul, the Spirit represents kinship and liberation—particularly liberation from sin and death.

To paraphrase, earlier in chapter 8, Paul writes that “those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear; rather, the Spirit you received brought your adoption to Christ’s kinship.”

This Spirit, he says, is one of “life and peace”; it affirms our status as Children of God.

Paul tells us, in the passage we read together, that when we are weak this same Spirit also intercedes for us. It is our lifeline to God—an umbilical cord that connects us.

It is personal, and it is present in our joys and our suffering—as we develop and grow.

For Paul, we are gestating right now but will be birthed to new life in Christ. In that far off time, Paul says that our bodies will be made new, flesh turning into spirit. Now, whether you subscribe to his thought or not, it’s important to remember that this new life to come doesn’t preclude us from getting to work here and now.

We are not gifted the Spirit for nothing—as the saying goes “God didn’t give you a head just to hang a hat on!”

No, where some people might rest on their laurels, waiting for their spiritual birth, Paul has always been about business—the “in’s and out’s” of daily life. Paul’s letters are filled with endless suggestions on how to live out this earthly life while giving glory to God with your every breath.

So, how can we live our lives giving glory to God with our every breath? Well, we’ve got a great resource to call on:

Because the same spirit that moved over the formless void in Genesis, who brought all these things into being by imagination and evolution, is the spirit our Gospel stories tell us was given to each of us.

The spirit of a God who created, and is creating, with the chaotic energy of volcanoes, forest fires, hurricanes and floods. The spirit of a God who orchestrates the eternal changes of seasons, and planetary rotations.

This same spirit is within us.

We celebrate God both in our very being—as creatures—and in our creativity. We’ve been endowed with the freedom to do so many marvellous things, and they all honour God.

We also celebrate God when we affirm that same spirit dwells in one another—by honouring our neighbours we also honour God.

Last, we celebrate God when we care for the whole of creation and make space for it to breathe and grow. We are not the only imaginative beings in this universe! Our world is evolving and changing in marvellous ways—bringing us brilliant colours, intelligent animals, and beautiful geological formations—this whole world is absolutely marinating with creativity! We honour God when we stop to appreciate it, and work to preserve it.

Are there other ways you honour God in your living, and allow the Spirit’s creativity to flow through you?

I’d love us to take a couple minutes to share some thoughts with one another. Feel free to share with your neighbour an image of the Spirit that is meaningful to you; a moment in your life you felt her stir you; or, a way you honour God and the creative Spirit in your daily life.