United Church of Christ (USA)
Second Sunday after the Epiphany
Sunday, January 15, 2012
The Rev. Kealahou C. Alika
“God Calls Us”
1 Samuel 3:1-20
For the second time in less than a year, I may be repeating myself in the message I want to share with you this morning. I thought about the anthem our choir has sung on a couple of occasions that was written and arranged by Carl J. Nygard, Jr. in honor of the ordination of his niece, Johanna Nygard, as a minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA).
The text is based on Isaiah 43:1-4. The lyrics include
the following words:
Fear not, for I am with you.
Fear not, for I have redeemed you
and loved you and blessed you
and called you by name;
You are mine. Fear not.
Fear not the threat of the fire,
Fear not the threat of the water.
Fear not, when troubles surround you
and trials confound you.
Be not afraid.
I am your God.
Fear not, for I am the Lord God.
My love will always surround you
and hold you; for you are precious to me.
I have called you by name,
called you by name, child, you are mine,
I am the Lord God. I am yours.
You are mine.
There is in the lyrics to the song the one phrase that
stands out: “ . . . you are precious to me.” That one phrase
reminded me of the film Precious: Based on the Novel Push by
The film premiered in 2009 at the Sundance Film Festival in Colorado. It won the Audience Award and the Grand Jury Prize for best drama. Although I did not see the film, I knew enough of the storyline to feel its effect.
The primary character is Clareece “Precious” Jones, an overweight, illiterate African-American teen in Harlem. Just as she is about to give birth to her second child, Precious is accepted into an alternative school where a teacher helps her find a new path in her life. She must overcome long-term physical, sexual and mental abuses by both her mother and father.
Precious finds her way out of her traumatic existence through imagination and fantasy. In her mind there is another world where she is loved and appreciated.
I don’t know that I will ever watch the film. It seems that knowing about it is enough for me. There is simply too much in it that would be difficult for me to watch and to hear.
There have been numerous interviews on television and radio and countless reviews in newspapers and magazines about the film. So even though one may never see the film there is enough information in a number of different media for one to get a sense of the trauma of Precious’ life.
There is a scene in the film when Precious stops at a window of a church and watches the choir inside sing a Christmas song. She begins to imagine herself, and her dream boyfriend, singing a more upbeat version of the song.
The film ends with Precious still resolved to improve her life for herself and her children and in that resolution the phrase “you are precious to me” comes to my mind. It was probably not the intention of the writer of Push or the screenwriter of Precious to suggest that there is a religious or theological theme to the story of Precious’ life.
But as I think about our reading from The Book of Psalms this morning, I cannot help but imagine the ways in which Precious came to discover in herself - with the help of her teacher, social worker, and others - that there is another world where she is loved and appreciated. The prophet Isaiah reminds us that God calls each of us by name. (Isaiah 43:1-4)
Whatever our lot in life, God calls each of us by name.
Long, long ago a young boy named Samuel was taken by his mother to be raised in the temple at Shiloh and to serve Eli, the priest. While this may sound like an unreasonable treatment of a young boy, it was common practice in a country in which children were not seen as belonging to their parents, but rather to be viewed as gifts from God.
Israel had no king at the time but was ruled by judges. However, it was a time for change, a change which would see Samuel become part of the transition to rule by king. Eli’s family had become corrupt and they were no longer worthy of becoming leaders of the country. Their succession was no longer possible and that was the message to be heard by Eli and his family.
It was the young Samuel who was called to deliver the unwelcomed message to his teacher. Even though Eli and his sons will not be king, it became apparent that God was willing to start afresh with Samuel.
Samuel slept in the room with the Ark of the Covenant, the
symbol of God’s presence with God’s people. Eli slept in another
part of the temple. The lamp of God, a night light, was dim but
still lit, suggesting that morning was near and something new was happening.
When Samuel first heard the voice, he thought it was Eli’s voice. After repeated calls Eli, “saw” through his own blindness that God was calling Samuel. He instructed Samuel on how to answer and interpret God’s call. Eli did not “hear” what God was saying to Samuel but he understood how God spoke.
Samuel was reluctant to carry the message of the destruction of Eli and his family, but Eli anticipated and understood God’s message and he conceded his power gracefully. Eli knew that God was calling Samuel to serve.
Whatever our lot in life – whether we are the young Samuel, the elderly Eli or Precious - God calls each of us by name to a life. Samuel sought to serve the people. Precious would go on to care for children.
We conclude our Hepadoma or Week of Prayer today. Throughout the week we asked that you pray about the ways in which God may be calling you to serve in the ministry of this church.
I hope you will find comfort in knowing that God calls each of us by name. God has searched us and known us. God knows when we sit down and when we rise up; God discerns our thoughts from far away and searches our paths and our lying down and is acquainted with all our ways.
Mahalo ke Akua!