Sermon and Intercessory Prayers 3/6/13
Preaching today at Strood Methodist Church. The service went well overall and I received some positive and helpful feedback.
Below is the Sermon followed by the intercessory prayers I created for the day.
The book of Samuel describes a situation of political change in ancient Israel. The descendants of Aaron who had inherited the priestly roles had inherited positions of power and influence. Eli’s sons, we are told, let this sense of power corrupt them and they became arrogant, bullying the poor and abusing women in the temple. Against this behaviour, we are given the figure of Samuel, who looks after Eli and carries out his service to the temple with humility and deference.
Samuel hears God’s voice in the middle of the night, but does not recognise it, and thinks that Eli is calling out for assistance. With bitter irony, it falls to Eli himself, whose family is to be stripped of their position and power, to help Samuel realise that the voice he is hearing is actually that of God.
This must have been extremely hard for Eli. He had already been warned that a judgement was coming upon his family for the sins of his sons and for the fact that he had proved unable to control them in their abuses. We are told that he was too weak to control his sons. And this is possibly true as in Ch 3 Eli is said to be very weak and almost blind. Of course the reference to blindness may be a fulfilment of the prophecy made in Ch 2. Verse 33 says: “Every one of you that I do not cut off from serving at my altar I will spare only to destroy your sight and sap your strength, and all your descendants will die in the prime of life”.
When I was studying this piece, what struck me was that this was happening in a time when God had apparently stopped speaking, and when he does so it is to raise a servant of his, a person full of humility and obedience to the will of God.
Perhaps in itself, this stands as a prophetic word for what God would later do in the coming of Jesus.
This is the key point. Eli’s sons had forgotten their role. They had been corrupted by the power they held, by the authority and position that they could show. They had become immersed in a sense of self of their own creation – something that was ultimately false – and in so doing had divorced themselves from the will of God, and thus from the heart of God.
It is the consequences of this that shows the way to their downfall. This is as true for us today as it was for Eli’s sons. To follow the will of God is to really enter into a relationship with Him. If we truly see God, then we can have no other response than to wish to worship and praise Him. Not just in songs on a Sunday, but with every breath that we take, and every activity that we do.
Samuel’s parents had given him up to the temple. For Hannah had promised that if God would hear her prayers for a son then she would “give him to the Lord for all the days of his life”. Samuel is pictured as accepting this and in seeing to be willing to give up his own wishes for his life, he is opened subsequently to God, who is able to grant him a much richer life than he ever could have attained with his own efforts.
In the Old Testament, this view of God’s will and action is often seen as something that happens outside, often acting on an individual. Think of Eli’s descendents, Moses and Aaron. Isaiah who saw the Lord in all his Glory, Jacob who wrestled with God. With the birth of Jesus and the culmination of his ministry, we see a pouring out of the Holy Spirit to many at Pentecost. Instead, however of raising up a prophet to be a leader, we see God at work among the poor, the disenfranchised, those without a strong political voice. So, Paul in 2 Corinthians speaks of his preaching from a position of physical weakness rather than strength. He is saying that he has no power or influence by himself. It is only by the Spirit that speaks through him, that shines brightly in the darkness. This Spirit, is the same Spirit that is one with the Father and Jesus, which is why Jesus can proclaim in John 8:12 “I am the light of the world”.
Jesus never spoke on his own account. In John 12:49, he reminds us that he did not speak on his own but always in accord with his Father, thus making his witness valid.
Because Jesus did not claim power or position for it’s own sake, we are called to follow his way, the way of servant leadership in the world. For the simple reason that if we follow our way, we cannot follow God’s way. We cannot follow two masters (Matthew 6:24). If we choose our own way, then we risk everything, since everything comes from God. Thus Paul speaks of being given over to death for Jesus’ sake. He could have meant quite literally that his life was often in danger, but he could also have been making a theological point – that we daily have to lay aside our own wishes – those that are linked to our self interest and our greed and selfishness for the sake of Jesus. Just as he really did set aside his own life for our sake.
These changes that Pauls speaks about are internal changes. They speak of God being on the inside, gradually changing our hearts and minds via the conviction and gentle mercy of the Holy Spirit.
And there is a lesson for us today. With the privilege of hindsight, we can now see that God acts externally and may call us to follow him just as he called Samuel, but he also acts inside us calling us to put aside our self centred goals for the better way of entering into a living relationship with the author of life himself – a relationship that means true reality- and inevitably doing God’s will.
So when we listen for God, we shouldn’t just listen for God’s voice in the external world, or just listen inside ourselves and thus exclude the world. We are warned against opposing God and following our will and encouraged to enter Eden and enjoy a full and healed relationship with God. This will involve a daily sacrifice, but the stark truth is there is no-one else and nowhere else we can turn to but God. God is everywhere and so both the outward seeking extrovert and the more quiet introvert will both find God if they open their hearts to him in his entirety. In so doing, we find that we are each other’s neighbour, so that people like you and I can share in the relationship at the heart of the Trinity. This is the Good News! This is what we are called to share with the next person. That we are loved by God and this knowledge is the pearl of greatest value.
When we look at TV shows like the Apprentice, or listen to Prime Minister’s Question time, or perhaps the Jeremy Vine Show, it is very easy to be conned by the seduction of power. Social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter can become nothing more than noise and activity – keeping us from talking to and perhaps more importantly, listening to the one who loves us the most. Don’t therefore be fooled by the false promises of power and position. Seek first the kingdom of God, and it truly won’t matter what role you carry out!
So my challenge to you is this. Where are you in your relationship with God today? Do you really wish to barter for your own way? Or are you ready to love God with all your heart, your soul and your mind?
May the Lord Bless you and keep you safe in his arms.
Lord, we bring before you those here today;
May your light shine in our hearts;
Lord we lift our lives to you;
At the foot of the cross, we lay our burdens down;
Release us, dear Lord, to live lives full of your Spirit.
Lord, we bring you our neighbours in Strood and Medway;
We bring you the fears and the anguish;
As your light spreads outwards from this place –
Bless these towns with your Holy Spirit;
Wash them anew;
Let these towns become a beacon for your light;
And a living, breathing witness to you.
Lord, we spread our arms ever outward;
As your light spreads across this land;
Bless those who are homeless, those lost or in danger;
Bless those in violent relationships;
Meet with those involved in crime;
As the light shines out in the darkness;
Lord, let there be light.
The light covers the whole world;
There is no hiding place for evil;
Outside us or inside us;
God is Lord of All