Sunday, January 17, 2021
Second Sunday after Epiphany
Kalaupapa Sunday – Anniversary of the Overthrow – Hawaiian Monarchy
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Sunday
"When God’s Voice is Heard"
Pastor Scott Landis
While we have experienced some technical difficulties with our Vimeo broadcasts over the past couple of weeks, you may have been able to participate long enough to know that Epiphany Sunday – in fact, the entire season of Epiphany is my favorite season of the church year.
Here’s why. Epiphany literally means appearance or manifestation. Taken a step further, it means to show or shine forth. And going further than that, it can mean to reveal, or to illumine, or to gain insight. Epiphany is about listening closely for God in order to discern the way forward. In short, it’s really how we as the people of God ought to living our lives each day.
Epiphany is the season for deeper understanding – fuller meaning – a clearer vision for oneself individually AND collectively as a church as we seek to listen very carefully to God’s call in our lives. What am I being called to do as a follower of Jesus? How are we being called to “be the church” in our day? And, more importantly, am I or are we willing to listen?
Today’s story of the calling of Samuel is a beautiful illustration of the best that Epiphany has to offer.
Samuel, the son Hannah and Elkanah, was given over to the Eli the priest when he was a very young boy. This was to keep the promise that Hannah had made to God when God granted her a son after years of being unable to conceive. The problem was – Eli was a very weak and ineffectual priest. Furthermore, he had no control over his sons – who were also priests. They were corrupt and abused the persons in their care. They stole from the offering plate and generally did not pay attention to the guidance of God. God was frustrated with Eli and his sons and decided to work through Samuel to try and restore the sacred order of the Temple.
That’s where we enter the story.
Samuel is repeatedly called by God during the night, but he thinks it is Eli who is calling him. It takes a few go-arounds, but Eli finally grasps what is happening. Even though he has lost his connection with God – he has an “epiphany” of sorts. He knows what needs to be done, and so he tells Samuel, “If you hear the voice again, respond by saying, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’”
This whole experience occurred in a time that was described as, “The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.” In other words, the church had lost its connection to God. There was no accountability. No devotion. They no longer paid attention to God. Epiphany was not possible – because neither the priests nor the people were listening.
Fortunately, Samuel was spared all that. From his birth, he was set apart, blessed, and used by God to speak a Word of Truth to his mentor whose ears could no longer hear God’s voice. And speak he did – even though he was frightened to offer God’s message because of its scathing rebuke. At Eli’s beckoning he and his sons were “called out,” and God’s wrath was made manifest.
When God’s voice is heard – interesting things begin to happen.
In the case of Samuel, it goes like this when God says, “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make both ears of anyone who hears of it – tingle.” Which, I think, begs the obvious question, “When was the last time you felt your ears tingle?” Or more explicitly, when was the last time you heard the voice of God? [Pause]
This weekend holds an odd and unusual convergence of events to which I call your attention. Not only is it the occasion of our congregation’s Annual Meeting, today we are recognizing three important aspects of our lives – each one having at its center – at least one person who heard the voice of God who then responded in an incredible manner.
It was Fr. Damien who heard the voice of God calling him to the Island of Moloka`i and to the peninsula of Kalaupapa to minister to the needs of those quarantined there who were suffering with leprosy later known as Hansen’s disease. At his arrival he spoke to the assembled lepers as "One who will be a father to you, and who loves you so much that he does not hesitate to become one of you; to live and die with you."
Later, Fr. Damien expressed his devotion, upon hearing the voice of God even further by stating, "...I make myself a leper with the lepers to gain all to Jesus Christ."
He did this even after he contracted the disease and served those in his care until his death.
It was Queen Lili`oukulani, whose reign was overthrown on THIS DAY in 1893, who heard the voice of God – while under house arrest – a voice which prompted the creative process of writing – poetry, prose, and mele as she composed some of Hawai`is most beautiful music – one of which you will hear at the conclusion of my sermon. In her words,
“To compose was as natural to me as to breathe; and this gift of nature, never having been suffered to fall into disuse, remains a source of the greatest consolation to this day.[…] Hours of which it is not yet in place to speak, which I might have found long and lonely, passed quickly and cheerfully by, occupied and soothed by the expression of my thoughts in music.”
Her greatest legacy, it is said, was that she summoned the ability to forgive her captors and those who overthrew what was rightfully the Kingdom of Hawai`i knowing that God’s ways would not be thwarted. Hearing God’s voice, she responded not in revenge, but grace.
It was the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. whose birth we celebrate this weekend, who heard the voice of God inspiring him even as he also heard threats when mounting the Montgomery Bus Boycott. In his words, “Early on a sleepless morning in January 1956, rationality left me… [Then] almost out of nowhere I heard a voice that morning saying to me: 'Preach the Gospel, stand up for the truth, stand up for righteousness. ' Since that morning I can stand up without fear.”
Dr. King heard God’s voice often – and each time his ears tingled – his spirit was rejuvenated – he was empowered to do the work he felt called to do. [Pause]
Samuel, Fr. Damien, Lili`oukulani, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. – all giants in the art of listening – but really no different than you or me.
We may think that we are not good enough, not holy enough, not connected enough to hear the voice of God. But – as we often say in the United Church of Christ – “God IS still speaking.” We may just need to pay a little closer attention.
I invite you to consider these giants in the faith whose lives and testimonies we recognize this weekend – and there are many more just like them. When you look closely you may notice, they look a lot like you and me. Ordinary people called to extraordinary acts based on nothing more than listening to and heeding the voice of God. Because, “when God’s voice is heard,” it WILL transform your life – and grace will abound.
As you listen now to the Queen’s Prayer sung by Leihua Bissen, see if you don’t hear the voice of God. How is God still speaking to you - today?