The following service was streamed live via Zoom from the Ocean Grove church on January 10th at 10:30am.
The entire text for the service is printed below for home use by those who are not ready to return to public gatherings or who are otherwise not able to be at church on the day. Even though the service is streamed live, those who are unable to participate online may use this material at any time for their private devotions. If ‘two or three’ are gathered with you, you may choose a ‘leader’ in order to use the responsive prayers and readings as you would in church.
There are also links to YouTube files for music and, should you rather listen than read, sound files for some of the text, including the sermon . [I’m sorry about the commercials that sometimes come with YouTube clips. Be sure to click on the “Skip Ad” box if and when it appears in the lower right of the YouTube clip] When a YouTube clip has finished, simply click on the ‘back’ button of your browser to return to this page. Pictures can be enlarged by clicking on them.
CALL TO CELEBRATION
We gather in community to rest from our labours, to greet our neighbours, and to open our being to insight and intuition of that greater reality of which we are a part. So let us celebrate the richness and diversity of this life in the presentness of God.
LIGHTING THE CANDLE (if using a candle at home)
This flame is warm as the companionship of friends is warm
R: May we feel this presence with us.
L: God’s voice speaks in thunder and summer surf, in poem and concert hall.
R: May we listen for this word among us.
L: God imagines ripening crops and bustling markets, silent lakes and welcoming meals.
R: May we seek this will beyond us.
PRAYER OF APPROACH
We are bold to claim we sense a sacred presence in this place. May it awaken within again the wonder that humble us, the beauty that informs us, and the creativity that heightens and deepens our living, that we may give ourselves in honesty and openness to the larger life before us. Amen.
JOURNEY INTO SILENCE
Meditation “Follow Me” by Bruce Prewer
Don’t talk it through with those who cannot hear,
or wait until you fully see,
the day is young but yet it’s short,
just come and follow me.
Don’t seek advice from those who claim to know,
or wait to find some guarantee,
the risk is real but so am I,
now come and follow me.
Don’t bring out ledger books and count the price,
or wait for loves that seem cost-free,
the road is steep but views are great,
so come and follow me.
Don’t seek the answers to your questions now,
new ones will come of first degree,
you don’t choose me but I call you
to come and follow me.
Let there be a quiet time among us. May this silence remind us of the best hours we have known, and strengthen our resolve to live in that spirit which gives the better meaning to our lives.
….(30 seconds Silence)…..
OPENING UP TO GOD’S GRACE
God of grace, in the days when your word was rarely heard and when visions were scarce, you broke into Samuel’s life and called his name…and he said “Here I am, speak, for your servant is listening” We confess that often so many voices clamour for our attention that your word is again hard to hear. Forgive us if you have called us to be prophetic witnesses or to use our gifts to serve you, and we have not heard, or have been unwilling to respond. Lord Jesus Christ, you met Philip and Nathanael on the road and said “Follow me” – and they did… We confess that we do not expect to meet you on the familiar roads we travel and so we fail to discern your presence or your call on our lives. Holy Spirit, you empower us to recognise and to respond to the invitation of Jesus to follow him, even when that means travelling on unknown and unfamiliar paths. Merciful God, take from us all that hinders our hearing your voice and fill us anew with the Holy Spirit that we may joyfully respond to Jesus’ call on our lives. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
L: The good news is that even if we at first do not hear the divine word addressed to us, God calls again and again. When our words and actions separate us from God, the Apostle Paul assures us that Jesus was prepared to pay the price to restore us to God . Paul writes: “You were bought with a price; therefore glorify God…”(1 Corinthians 6:20), and so I declare to you, the door to life has been opened to us.
R:Thanks be to God!
FROM THE GOSPELS – John 1:43-51
43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” 46 Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47 When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” 48 Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” 49 Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50 Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” 51 And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”
FROM THE HEBREW SCRIPTURES – 1 Samuel 3:1-10
3 Now the boy Samuel ministered to the Lord before Eli. And the word of the Lord was rare in those days; there was no widespread revelation. 2 And it came to pass at that time, while Eli was lying down in his place, and when his eyes had begun to grow so dim that he could not see, 3 and before the lamp of God went out in the [a]tabernacle of the Lord where the ark of God was, and while Samuel was lying down, 4 that the Lord called Samuel. And he answered, “Here I am!” 5 So he ran to Eli and said, “Here I am, for you called me.”
And he said, “I did not call; lie down again.” And he went and lay down.
6 Then the Lord called yet again, “Samuel!”
So Samuel arose and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” He answered, “I did not call, my son; lie down again.” 7 (Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, nor was the word of the Lord yet revealed to him.)
8 And the Lord called Samuel again the third time. So he arose and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you did call me.”
Then Eli perceived that the Lord had called the boy. 9 Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down; and it shall be, if He calls you, that you must say, ‘Speak, Lord, for Your servant hears.’ ” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.
10 Now the Lord came and stood and called as at other times, “Samuel! Samuel!”
And Samuel answered, “Speak, for Your servant hears.”
A CONTEMPORARY WITNESS “Passing the Torch”
The writer of Samuel put the story about Eli and Samuel in context by telling us, “The word of the Lord was rare in those days.” (1 Samuel 3:1)
Our usual pre-sermon prayer takes on special significance in this context. Let us pray: Through the written word and through the spoken word may we behold the living word. Amen.
“The word of the Lord was rare in those days,” says the Revised Standard translation of the Bible. Another way to translate this first verse is, “The word of the Lord was not as vivid as it had once been.” It was a time when there wasn’t much good preaching, when religion appeared to be slipping off the radar screen of most people’s consciousness, when nine out of 10 Israelites rated their podiatrist more trustworthy than their priest; that sort of thing.
The story opens with old Eli. Stories usually begin here: at the temple or in Parliament House or the White House, where the people in power tend to be, shall we say, of mature years. The story begins where the older generation is in power, as it usually is. It is here we find old Eli.
Eli is a priest, the head priest. He has spent his entire life dealing with the word of the Lord. That’s what priests do. They mediate between God and God’s people, saying to the people what they think God wants to say. Eli has given his life to service in the temple, handling holy things, listening for God, studying the Scriptures. He does all this as a priest; as one who is designated by God’s people to help them listen to God. Preaching, in fact, has been defined as “priestly listening.” The preacher is the one designated to go to the Bible, in service to the congregation, to listen, and then to relate what is heard.
Well, Eli has been listening, listening for years. It’s not an easy time to listen for the word of God because, as the story tells us, the word of God was rare in those days, or at least not very vivid.
And yet, when the word of the Lords stirs itself and becomes vivid, it intrudes one night when the whole city is asleep, and it does not come to old Eli, but to young Samuel. God’s voice does not stir the old man who has been pouring over the Scriptures, listening, listening. It comes to the little boy who has not been pouring over the Scriptures, who has been listening for nothing more than old Eli’s voice.
This raises an interesting question: Why would God favour the boy, Samuel, with God’s word and not the old priest, Eli?
We may get a clue elsewhere from the Bible where we are told that Eli is overweight. In fact, in chapter four we are told that he falls and breaks his neck because of his weight. So we are dealing with not only an old priest, but an old, fat priest (hence the picture above). And as the high priest, he represents the establishment, and so perhaps we may gather that the writer is implying that the establishment is old and fat, too; complacent, old and fat. The temple establishment, like most forms of establishment, is complacent and content with what it’s got, and settled down with whoever shows up on Sundays. Eli is the personification of established religion.
With whom do you identify in this story? I confess that I am surprised to find that I have moved. There was a time when I would have immediately identified with young Samuel. I have loved this story ever since my mother read it out of a tattered storybook Bible. Why did I like this story so much? It was about a kid, a kid like me. It became clear why I identified with the story so much later in life, because I knew what it was like to be the one to whom the Lord speaks, calling, disrupting life, upsetting plans, giving a sense of vocation.
In the beginning, I hoped with all my heart that I would always be the young upstart, never giving in to conservatism, never falling into the establishment line. But at some point in my ministry, I began identifying with old Eli. I’m not sure when. Maybe when I had been in one place for almost a decade or maybe it was one of those stinking hot Sundays as I trudged unwillingly to church thinking that only a few would bother gathering on such an uncomfortable day, and I didn’t want to preach because I wasn’t sure that I had a word worth preaching.
I don’t know, but at some point I became old, fat, established Eli rather than young, innocent upstart Samuel. In Hebrew the word “Samuel” means a person who is from infancy to about 40. I am over forty…and then some. I am Eli.
Back in my angry young man, prophetic days, I could identify with Samuel. I came out of theological college with a fresh new word that had not been heard in the country church that was my first settlement. I got there ready to overturn and pluck up and tear down so that something new might be built up. In my dreams I still do that, but it seems that I have been become stuck in my place in the older generation; an Eli, one of the ‘religious professionals’ in an established religion. From this vantage point I watch the excitement happen elsewhere; where the young Samuels, fired up by the Spirit, gather in the enthusiastic younger people, who fill their churches with rock music and send their flock out to feed the poor, save the environment and march in protests against the establishment.
As in so many Bible stories we are witnessing a power shift here in 1st Book of Samuel. The torch is being passed. Later there would be sad events in the house of Eli. Someone is being brought down as someone else is being raised up.
We find that our church in 2021 exists in a considerably weakened condition compared to the strength and vitality of our parent denominations 60 or 70 years ago. We wonder: is this a temporary sickness, one of the valleys in the cyclic history of religion, or is it terminal? Meanwhile Pentecostal churches, Muslim mosques and Buddhist temples are growing. So-called New Age spiritualities abound. Is the word of the Lord going elsewhere? Is the torch of God’s truth being passed?
Note that Eli needs to tell Samuel that this voice, which so intrudes upon and confuses the young lad, is from God. Having had past vivid experience of God, the older generation at least knows how God sounds when the Word stirs. This reminds us that the younger, newer churches and the new approaches to faith still need the tradition; they need the roots of the establishment.
But it also tells us that we in the older, more established churches also need the vitality, vividness and unruliness of the younger generation. We need to celebrate this, though our churches seem to have difficulty attracting and relating to a younger generation. Thank God, God is not limited to us nor to our style of worship, our method of proclamation, our way of being the church nor even to the propositions of belief to which we ascribe.
Is this an inspiring story, this story of the call to little Samuel, or a depressing story? Much of the answer depends on your age and where you are sitting when you hear it. But perhaps, by the grace of God, despite our age and despite living in a time when the word of the Lord is rare, we celebrate that, by the love and the power of God, God still speaks. God comes to the little and the lowly, sometimes to those of whom we do not approve, and calls them by name so that God’s dream for us all might be fulfilled in our age, as in ages past, and for ages to come.
LITANY ‘God at Epiphany’
L: In response to the word reflected on, let us stand and share together a special litany. O God, whose presentness we sense in the time of dearth,
L: in the time of anxiety,
R: and in the time of opportunity,
L: in the hour of loss,
R: and in the hour of given wealth,
L: in the hour of breaking,
R: and in the hour when a new foundation is being laid,
L: in the day of chaos,
R: and in the day of renewal,
L: in the day of powerlessness,
R: and in the day when we witness to a grace that is not our own.
L: Love in us and in the midst of our community.
R: Stand revealed as light and hope and truth, that whatever the future brings, your peace may grow, your joy inspire, and your trust in us and in the world be justified at last.
WE OFFER OUR CONCERNS TO GOD
Holy Friend of the earth, if we could take all the world’s needs and sorrows to heart, we would become crushed by their enormity. As we begin the pray for others, guide us to discern those things we can achieve, and give us the wisdom to leave the remainder in your providential and redeeming hands.
Loving God, with our small assistance or without it, please bless those hordes of people who are hungry, homeless, without family or homeland.
With our assistance or without it, please bless the lonely people, whether they stand isolated in large crowds or whether they timidly hide away from others.
With our assistance or without it, please bless the pained souls who exist without any faith or hope, especially those who today contemplate suicide.
With our assistance or without it, please bless the dying and those who sit with them, and the dead and those who weep for them.
With our assistance or without it, please bless all those people of good will, who try to rectify the world’s ills, and sometimes get abused for their trouble.
God our most Holy Friend, be to all of us a strength in weakness, a light in darkness, a peace in anxiety, a courage in upheaval, and a robust joy in our happiness, Through Christ Jesus our inspiration and guide, who taught us to pray, “Our Father…”
THE LORD’S PRAYER
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name; your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven. Give us today our daily bread and forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Save us in the time of trial and deliver us from evil. For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours now and forever. Amen.
WORD OF MISSION
L: Let us go in faith to ponder in our hearts the mystery and the wonder of this season…(The candle is extinguished)…And now may the rhythms of our coming together: the melodies of our worship, and the harmonies of our farewells,
R: Make musical our living, soothing our spirits and uplifting our whole selves
L: This day
R: and into the beckoning future.
Bless us, God, with saints to tell us stories, with angels to surprise us, with friends along the way. Bless us, God, with strength and joy and courage all the length and breadth of our nights and days. Amen.