O God, You have never left us without a witness of Yourself. In every generation and in every situation You have given us light for the darkness.
Ten years ago, a group of children in our church asked the question, how are we living out our faith? If Jesus is feeding people wherever he goes, and we are followers of Jesus, what can we do to feed people? This simple but profound question led to the starting of a garden, Gideon’s Garden. It began with only a small plot and now 10 years later, we celebrated our anniversary with many people of all ages joining in to plant small plugs on 2 acres where with God’s good rain, and soil, and sunshine, and the dedication of young people and older people who come every day to water and weed and eventually harvest—many people in our community will receive beautiful healthy life giving food from our garden. This church listened and responded to the voice of a small child and God lead us to this glorious place. Speak to us Lord for your servants are listening.
Two years ago, we became more aware of the serious threat our neighbors face as immigrants in our community. We listened to their stories and learned of their struggles. God spoke into the midst of our Wisdom Outreach group and collectively we pledged to support The Berkshire Immigrant Center and offer a space in South County so that individuals and families could receive the counseling and legal guidance they need to secure a place in our community. Speak to us Lord for your servants are listening
Our first reading this morning is set early in the life of the nation of Israel. Israel had known strong leaders in Moses and Joshua. Then after settlement in the land, the Israelites are led by a series of judges who rise up to help face difficult times. At this point, Israel is not an organized nation. In fact, as the time of judges comes to an end, tribal wars begin to break out setting the people against each other.
Samuel has come as a young child to serve God under the guidance of the priest Eli. He lives in a precarious time when “the word of the Lord was rare.” His day was a period of political anarchy in Israel’s history where “every person did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25) Indeed in an earlier chapter we learn that two sons of the priest Eli, Hophni and Phinehas were “scoundrels; they had no regard for the Lord or for the duties of the priests to the people.” (1 Samuel 2:12) The times are as dark as the night that falls at the beginning of the story.
The boy, Samuel, is bedded down in the temple with the ark of the covenant while Eli sleeps in another room. Samuel hears a voice calling to him and three times he gets up and goes to Eli to see what he needs. Samuel was young. We are told he “did not yet know the Lord.” He was not listening for the voice of God. In the night, Eli fails to understand what is happening and sends the boy back to bed, telling him, “I didn’t call you.”
Eventually, Eli realizes that it is God who is speaking to Samuel and this time he tells him to respond to the call, “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.” Eli knows these words, but perhaps he hasn’t spoken them for years. He has given up on expecting to hear God’s voice.
God speaks in the world often when we least anticipate it. God’s voice can speak in the world through voices and lives that we least expect. But God’s voice is all around us if we listen with an open heart and willing mind.
God speaks through the voices of young people who are tired of feeling constantly in danger in their own schools and cry out for adults to act. God speaks through the stories of children and youth of color who want us all to recognize that their lives matter and their dignity is not up for debate. God speaks through the images of refugees who cry out for an escape from violence and long for a place of safety for themselves and their children. God speaks through friends and neighbors in need. God speaks through the beauty of creation and the call to lovingly fulfil our responsibilities as stewards of this earth.
Walter Brueggemann, imminent Old Testament scholar and teacher, says that it is the work of the church to pray without ceasing so that God’s voice is actively heard in our world. Because he says, “when God is summoned back into play, neighbors work together for good—lions and lambs all work for the common good– and good neighborliness yields abundance, rather than the scarcity that leads to fear and predation. When God is mobilized, Creation can be restored.”
How are we listening for the life-giving spirit of God in our own lives? How are we opening ourselves to those who can teach us, which includes the very young, the elders, the youth group, those who have different life experiences—the ones with insight, wisdom and generosity to teach? When darkness seems to fill our times, when the culture promotes caring primarily for our own desires and doing what is right according to our own eyes, how do we become aware of the voice of God?
God is the source and guide for good in the world. Samuel recognized that his prophetic action was grounded in God’s voice and direction. God calls us to act in love on behalf of the world. To act with justice, which Cornell West calls, “tenderness in public”– is to follow God’s ongoing activity in the world. But to follow God, we must listen prayerfully. “Speak Lord for your servant is listening.”
God speaks. We are called to respond. But first we must listen. Samuel’s prophetic life will follow his prayerful listening. After he opens his ears to God, he receives his prophetic calling. What he is called to do is not easy. Samuel must speak during a time of change, turmoil, and impending war (3:11-20-4:1) Samuel won’t be able to lie down forever but must get up and act on what he has heard.
Dedicated to the Lord by his mother Hannah at an early age, “the Lord remains with Samuel as he grows up and lets none of his words fall to the ground.” The nation will recognize him as a prophet who listened to and spoke the words of Yahweh. Samuel will crown Israel’s first king, but not before warning the nation about the oppression inherent in political power (1 Samuel 8). Samuel will end the drought of divine silence in Israel.
Gideon’s Garden is an example of how God’s call works for the good. All who come in need are welcomed. All who need are fed in body, mind, and spirit. People who work here find purpose and healing. The good earth grounds all and nourishes all. The garden continues to flourish and grow. God continues to speak through this garden and our community.
Yesterday, the young people who will guide and care for this garden this year, gathered and organized a splendid celebratory event—Kyle Gangel, Ryan Weir, TJ Weir, Fisher Riska, Fox Riska, Harley J Margraff, Diego Francisco, Eriel Domingues, and Juan Diego Cabrero. Juan Diego had a table where he sold herbs to raise money for the garden. Our beloved Pennie, guided and loved each person present. Children played, Baby James was bounced, the garden was planted, food was shared and music filled our hearts with joy. In prayer we wait to hear what God intends for this glorious place. In prayer we will try to faithfully respond. Speak Lord, your servant is listening.
Quote from Walter Brueggemann from his lecture at the Festival of Homiletics, May, 2018.