31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
October 21, 2018
1 Samuel 16:1-13
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
Today is the fourth week of our Season of Generosity, a season to celebrate God’s blessings, a time to cultivate more generous hearts and lives – not just for within this Christian community, also for our daily lives in the world. And, of course, the Season of Generosity is when we make a financial pledge to our shared ministry for 2019.
For the last three years, we have chosen to use an Every Member Canvas. An Every Member Canvas is just what its name implies. A dedicated team of Stewardship visitors, led by two very capable Campaign Chairs, and supported by an enthusiastic and committed Steering Committee and a busy, busy group of mailing volunteers, visits every member of this church community.
As wonderful as the stewardship visits always are, as relationship building and faith-filled as they always are, we don’t actually get to visit every member of this community. Sometimes, it is the member who is nervous about receiving a visit, and sometimes, it is the visitor who is nervous about going.
It reminds me of our scripture passage from first Samuel. God has called Samuel – for a second time – to anoint a king of Israel, a king of God’s choosing, a king that will be faithful and in relationship with God, a king who will listen to God’s prophets and God’s words.
And Samuel doesn’t want to do it. Samuel has already announced his retirement. Samuel still mourns for King Saul in the way we can sometimes mourn for the past. And Samuel is afraid. Samuel is afraid of what Saul will do to him, and it’s a real fear. Saul has shown so far that he is a fearsome warrior. Saul has also shown that he is rash and not inclined to always listen to God’s instructions or God’s prophets.
Samuel has good reasons to fear. Don’t we always have good justifiable reasons to fear? And yet, God does not mince words with Samuel. God says, “Go.” “Go, I have chosen a new king for myself. Go because you are my instrument, called to call another.”
Samuel is not the only one who is nervous though. The elders of Bethlehem are also afraid. When they see Samuel coming, they begin to tremble. “What is he doing here? What does he want? Is he coming to judge us? Is he coming to criticize us and make us feel bad? Is he coming to ask us to increase our annual pledge?” I’m kidding. The elders did not actually say that last part.
Fear. It’s all over this passage, and it’s all over our lives. We are becomingly increasingly fearful to even talk to people. I read an article last week about how more and more pastors are nervous to preach the good news of Jesus Christ for fear they will be accused of being too political, for fear they will offend people. I hear that same fear from those who are asked to be stewardship visitors: What if people ignore my call? What if people say no to a visit? What if people are offended when I ask them to support our shared ministry – with money?
Offended – it’s one of the reasons we give for not inviting others to come to worship, a reason we give for not talking about our Christian faith beyond this church community. Even though our number one job as Christians, given to us by Jesus himself, is to make disciples and share the good news with others, we don’t do it.
I absolutely understand. I’m afraid, too. There are times when I am deliberately vague about what I do for a living because I don’t know how the other person will react. Will they think I am trying to obligate them to come to worship? Will they feel forced to explain why they don’t practice a faith?
Sometimes I deliberately do not talk about my connection with God and my participation in this community of faith – two things that give great joy to my life, give life to my life – because I am afraid of offending someone – or at the very least making them feel awkward.
Even as an ordained United Church of Christ minister, inviting someone else to know God, to give, to serve, to actively participate in building God’s kingdom of shalom and peace is still the hardest part of ministry- even after 19 years! So imagine how challenging it is for our stewardship visitors to call you each up and ask to come visit with you and talk life, faith, and what we love about this Christian community. I know you know how hard that is because if it was easy, we would all be stewardship visitors.
Often, we let fear hold us back from Christ’s call to invite another into relationship with God or into deeper relationship with God, as is the purpose of our stewardship visits. We think only about what it means for us, how it feels for us.
Imagine though if Samuel had stayed safely in retirement, imagine if Samuel had clung to his initial reaction, “Nope, I’ve tried that before and it did not work. Frankly, it was a disaster. I’m going to decline this year.” Imagine if Samuel had said that. Imagine if Samuel had refused to take the journey. Imagine if Samuel had turned back the minute he encountered the elders’ fear and resistance.
Then David might never have been anointed as God’s chosen one, the King of God’s people, Israel. David might never have established a kingdom of peace in which the comforting words of the book of Psalms, including Psalm 23, were written. David might never have had a son, Solomon, who would build God’s Temple in Jerusalem, and from this line of kings, we might never have had born a Savior, Jesus the Christ.
If Samuel had listened to his fear instead of to God, we might not be here today – knowing that we are unconditionally loved by the Creator of the Universe.
I’ve begun watching a new show called “God Friended Me” about Miles, an aetheist, who is Facebook friended by someone calling themselves “God”. In each episode, “God” sends Miles a friend suggestion. Miles tries really hard to ignore “God”, but always ends up meeting the friend suggestion and somehow making that person’s life better: a mother and daughter reconnect after twenty years, an autistic child communicates with his mother for the first time through the gift of music, an orphaned child and a grieving widower become a new family.
Miles is an extremely reluctant, resistant even, servant of God. He does not want to be an instrument of God. Samuel does not want to be an instrument of God. We sometimes do not want to be instruments of God. We don’t want to be the one who calls, who invites someone else into relationship with God, into a deeper relationship with God. It’s scary – for all of the reasons I have already said, for all of the reasons you can come up with in your own mind. But it is not about us. It’s about the person God is calling us to connect with. It’s about the difference God will make in their lives.
We are called to reach out to others and we are afraid…so the only thing we can do is take baby steps. Begin by talking about faith within the security of this loving, inclusive, non-judgmental community of faith. Begin by saying yes to a stewardship visit. Begin by calling the office and asking for a stewardship visit. Begin by talking about this sermon with your best friend, your walking partner, your cubicle desk mate. Forward someone, not a chain email, but a spiritual meme or a devotional you feel is God speaking to them.
Begin somewhere because each of us is called somehow, someway to reach out to another with love, with generosity, with the invitation to serve God. Each one is called to reach one, to make a difference in someone’s life, to make a difference in the world.