Trusting God When Things Get Tough

Pastor Kim Gilliland
Pentecost 2/Proper 4
SCRIPTURE: 2 Corinthians 4: 5-12 and 1 Samuel 3: 8-20
So Samuel told him everything, hiding nothing from him. Then Eli said, “He is the Lord; let him do what is good in his eyes.”
1 Samuel 3: 18 (NIV)

SAMUEL & ELI

We’re starting off this morning on a journey through 1 and 2 Samuel. Today we’ll be talking specifically about Samuel but will only be a precursor to what is coming next. What comes next is the beginning of the kings of Israel and specifically King David who is undoubtedly one of the best known characters in the Old Testament because of what he was able to accomplish. It was David who defeated Goliath. It was David who led Israel into battle against the Philistines. It was David who united the tribes of Israel after the death of King Saul and claimed Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. We’re going to be touching on all of those things over the next six weeks and we will discover what an amazing leader David was for his people and how he yearned to follow after God’s heart.

Then I’m on vacation for three weeks but when I get back we’ll take a two or three more weeks and talk about the more personal side of David. What we will discover is a man who, while a great leader, was also often conflicted about what he was supposed to do and often struggled in his role as king. More than anything else, we will discover a very fallible human being who struggled in life just as we do and often made mistake just as we do except that, as king, his mistakes had graver consequences.

But let’s start with Samuel. Actually, I preached on this passage back in the fall when we talked about a number of stories in the Bible where people were called by God. Samuel’s call is found in 1 Samuel 3 beginning at verse 1. I’m not going to read the first part of it but, just as a reminder, Samuel who is just a boy is sleeping near the altar in his usual place in the temple. And when I say temple, I don’t mean the great big building in Jerusalem. At this time the capital of Israel is at Shiloh and the Temple is the same movable worship centre that the Israelites had carried with them throughout the forty years of the wilderness wanderings that we call the Exodus.

While lying in his usual place, Samuel hears the voice of God calling to him but he thinks that it is Eli, the high priest. He goes to Eli and wakes him up. Eli tells him to go back to bed. He has not called him.

Then God calls Samuel again and Samuel goes and wakes up Eli again, thinking that it must be him. Eli sends him back to bed. And then it happened a third time but this time Eli realizes that something is up and tells Samuel how to respond to the voice. That’s where we pick the story up this morning. In 1 Samuel 3:10 (NIV), we read: “The Lord came and stood there, calling as at the other times, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’ Then Samuel said, ‘Speak, for your servant is listening.'”

Samuel has finally responded to God’s voice in the right way. And that’s usually where we end this reading. It’s classic. Someone who hears the voice of God finally understands what it means and responds in a positive way: “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” That will preach because that is what we all hope to do all the time. If we ended the story there, all would be good but the story goes on.

1 Samuel 3:11-14 (NIV) says this: “And the Lord said to Samuel: ‘See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make the ears of everyone who hears about it tingle. At that time I will carry out against Eli everything I spoke against his family – from beginning to end. For I told him that I would judge his family forever because of the sin he knew about; his sons blasphemed God, and he failed to restrain them. Therefore I swore to the house of Eli, “The guilt of Eli’s house will never be atoned for by sacrifice or offering.”‘”

Ouch! That’s harder to preach but we’ll give it a try. This is the reason why Samuel has been called by God. It is because he is be Eli’s successor. Eli is not only the high priest, he is also the judge. What is a judge? Remember that this story takes place before kings ruled in Israel. Before them, Israel was ruled by a series of judges. These judges show up in the book of Judges in the Old Testament. You might recognize some of their names. Samson was one of them. So was Gideon. There was even one female judge named Deborah. As it turns out Eli is the second last judge because Samuel will succeed him as the final judge. It is Samuel who will anoint the first king and begin the line of royal succession for Israel.

But Eli has two sons who are also serving at the temple. Why won’t they succeed their father as the judge of the nation? As these verses indicate, it is because Eli’s sons have not exactly been faithful. 1 Samuel 2 talks about their wickedness. It talks about how they treated the sacrifices with disrespect and how they slept with prostitutes. And it appears that they weren’t exactly discrete about it because all of Israel was aware of their sinful actions. God will not let their unfaithfulness go unpunished. As we find out later in 1 Samuel, their punishment will be that they will not succeed their father Eli as high priest and judge over Israel.

God has revealed this to Samuel but not to Eli. But Eli is about to find out because he wants Samuel to give him a report of what happened when God called him. 1 Samuel 3:17 (NIV) says: “‘What was it he said to you?’ Eli asked. ‘Do not hide it from me. May God deal with you, be it ever so severely, if you hide from me anything he told you.’”

So clearly Eli clearly wants to know what God said to Samuel. And Samuel is going to tell him. In 1 Samuel 3:18 (NIV) we read, “So Samuel told him everything, hiding nothing from him. Then Eli said, ‘He is the Lord; let him do what is good in his eyes.’”

Eli now knows what he wants to know and maybe he wishes that he hadn’t asded. Samuel has told him what God said. God may not have been specific in his words to Samuel but the writing is on the wall. What happens in 1 Samuel 4 is that Israel finds itself at war with the Philistines. A battle takes place in which Israel is defeated by the Philistines. In that battle Eli’s two sons are killed. God’s words to Samuel are fulfilled. Eli’s sons have received the punishment for their sins.

THING DON’T ALWAYS TURN OUT

I think the challenging part of this story – and I think the difficult one for any parent – is that from the moment Samuel tells Eli what God said, Eli knew that it would not end well for his sons.

As parents, we want the very best for our children. I remember holding each of our children when they were babies and wondering how they would turn out, what they would grow up to be. I confess that I now do the very same thing with our grandchildren. What will they be like ten or twenty or fifty years from now? How will they turn out? How will their lives make a difference to those around them? We have such high hopes for our children and, it turns out, for our grandchildren.

But sometimes those hopes and dreams come crashing down and then what do we do? Some of you know this but not all of you. Rebekah’s roommate at university this year wasn’t feeling well. It was just the week before the final exams. Things didn’t improve and so he parents drove down and took her to the hospital where she was diagnosed with a brain tumour. We’ve learned recently that she has stage 4 brain cancer. I know that Rebekah’s heart goes out to her. But do you know something? My first thoughts were for her parents. How do you respond when your beloved child who is just beginning to blossom is diagnosed with stage 4 brain cancer? Some of you know what that’s like. You’ve told me that it’s the worst thing ever and I believe you. But I can’t imagine. All of those hopes and dreams for a bright and prosperous future dashed in a matter of moments.

Do you think Eli was any different? He had such great hopes and dreams for his sons but they would never be fulfilled. They would never be high priests. They would never be the judges he hoped they would be. And in the midst of those thoughts, I’m sure that Eli remembered holding his infant sons in his arms when all was right and life was good and filled with potential. Clearly, this is not the way Eli hoped things would be.

How many of us can say the same thing right now? How many of us look at our own lives and our own families and realize that things are not working out the way we had hoped they would? I can’t remember a time when we have had more hurting people in this congregation than we have now. It seems that every time we turn around, something is going wrong for someone. There have been umpteen diagnoses of cancer and other diseases. Larry fell and broke his hip. Oswald broke his ankle. Some of our people who were once very active cannot get out any more. Some people who were looking forward to an active retirement are now looking at long term care.

I know it weighs on us. I know it weighs on me and I wonder how we, as followers of Jesus, can faithfully respond to these realities. And then I look back at the words that Eli spoke in verse 17 when he said, “He is the Lord; let him do what is good in his eyes.”

What does that mean for us now? What does it mean for those people going through those tough times? I think it’s safe to say that Eli chose to trust God. He chose to accept the fact that his two sons – whom he dearly loved – were not going to achieve what he hoped. And he accepted it for one simple reason; he had no other choice.

What does that say to us? Does it say that we should just accept everything that comes our way? Of course not. We should do everything in our power to make things better for ourselves and everyone else as well. But some things you just have to accept because no amount of time or money or good will will make the least bit of difference. How does the serenity prayer go? “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.” Somethings we can change. Somethings we should change. But somethings we can’t change. But what do we do with that? How do we still trust God and respond faithfully to the things that we cannot change?

ACT

I’ve certainly had things happen in my life which I wish that I could change but I knew I could not. I’ve talked before with you about how I developed PTSD like symptoms while serving with the army. That was something I wish I could change but I know I can’t.

I remember how unbearable the symptoms were. I developed panic attacks, various phobias, extreme anxiety and depression. I remember having flashbacks and so many nightmares that I was afraid to go to sleep. I called it the pit because it was like a deep black hole that I didn’t think I would ever escape. That wasn’t the way I had planned to live my life. In fact, when I think about what I was like in those days, I don’t really even recognize myself. It was like there was another person living in this body. Much of that was hidden from most of you but I could not hide it from my family.

I went through a battery of therapy methods in an attempt to deal with the symptoms. The initial therapy was ineffective. When I got anxious and experienced flash backs I was told to reframe my thoughts, to intentionally replace those negative mental images with positive ones, to reshape my thinking patterns. This stuff worked for a while but it never lasted very long and I just grew more and more anxious and depressed.

And then a therapist at the OSI clinic in London got me onto something called ACT which stands for Acceptance Commitment Therapy. ACT starts with the premise that you have to accept the things you cannot change. I could not change those intrusive images and flashbacks. I could not stop the nightmares. I could not stop those things or send them away. Do you know why? It’s because they were part of me. They were who I was. That meant that every time I tried to reshape or reframe my thought patterns I failed because the only person I was fighting against was me. And when you fight yourself, guess who loses? You do.

I had to accept what I could not change and I could not change my memories. I could not change the sights and the sounds and the smells of what I had experienced because they were deep inside of me. They are part of who I am. So to accept them was to accept me. That was a huge first step to my recover.

I see that in Eli. I see a man whose life was not working out the way he hoped it would, whose sons did not grow up to be the men he wanted them to be. There was nothing he could do about that and so he said of God, “He is the Lord, let him do what is good in his eyes.”

Accept the things you cannot change. That’s the first part of ACT and it’s critical to learn to do that not just with PTSD but with everything. Following acceptance comes commitment. That’s what the C stands for. But how does that play out? It plays out by committing ourselves to being the best people we can be at whatever it is that we do regardless of how much our worries, anxieties and fears want to stop us.

I could not change my past and I could not change my memories. I have no power to do that. But what I can do is be the best person I can be. I had to learn to be the best husband, the best father, the best padre, the best pastor and the best friend that I could be regardless of what happened to me in the past that I could not change.

This is what that might look like. Andrew played football with Essex High School. I thought it was important to be at his football games. But I didn’t always want to do that. Sometimes all I wanted to do was curl up in a dark room with the lights off and hide away in the pit. And so I had to make a choice. Would I go to the game or would I hide away? Every single time when faced with that choice I when to the game because that is what a good father does. I’m not going to lie and say that I always enjoyed the game or even paid attention to it. Sometimes there were too many things going around in head to focus on football but I made sure that every time Andrew looked up in the stands, he could see his father there at his game. Why? Because that’s what a good father does. He goes to his son’s football games.

That sort of thing also played out with our other children just in different ways. It also played out with Ruth as I tried to be the best husband I could be. Did I always get it right? No, you can ask Ruth about that if you want. But she’s a tough woman and together we got through that. And in some ways, we’re still getting through it. And the good news is that it does get easier and we are a stronger couple for it.

Eli accepted the things he could not change and he also did his level best to be the best father, priest and judge that he could be for the rest of his life. As long as he had breath in him, he tried to do what God had called him to do to the very best of his ability.

In the very last story about Eli in 1 Samuel 4, we find him waiting at the gates of Shiloh. The army of Israel had gone out to do battle with the Philistines, Eli’s two sons with them. Eli is anxious to hear any news about how things have gone.

And then a messenger comes running with the news. Israel has been defeated, the ark of the covenant captured by the Philistines and Eli’s two sons were slain. Eli, at ninety-eight years old, hears this news and knows that his purpose on earth is done. His sons are gone, the ark of the covenant is gone. It is time for him to move aside and let another take his place so that Israel can be restored. And so he dies. Has his rule been perfect? Absolutely not, but until the very end he did all that he could do even if it was waiting for news of the defeat.

I know that there are all kinds of people in this congregation and community who need to hear a message like this. I hope these words have helped you. I hope my story and the story of Eli and Samuel have given you a reason to keep trying. And in the midst of whatever you are going through, please remember that God is there. Even if you don’t feel him, he is there. He loves you and cares for you and wants only the very best for you even if you can’t see it at the time.

I just want to close by reading again part of 2 Corinthians 4 that Reg read earlier today, Verses 7-12 say this: “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.”

PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE

God of All Creation, your Spirit flows around us reminding us of your love and care for even the least of your creatures. We give thanks that you are as close as a prayer. When life seems to be too much to bear, your hand reaches out to us offering hope and help and healing. We give thanks for all of your precious gifts. We are grateful for cool swims after hot days, trails and roads upon which to ride our bikes, early morning fishing trips and refreshing evenings spent on the front porch. We also thank you for the crops that are growing in the field and even now working their way to the harvest.

Thank you for the hope that you give to us in the difficult times of life. Regardless of how hopeless or unsolvable our circumstances may appear, you can enter in and change things for the better. Strengthen our faith and help us to believe every hope, every possibility, and every promise that you have made.

We thank you for summer visitors and yard sales. We think about how motorist, cyclists and pedestrians must sometimes share the same space. Help us, O God, especially with the end of school approaching, to be careful and watchful for one another. Speaking of school, we offer our prayers and support for all of the students, teachers and staff who will be entering exam time this week. May that go well and as smoothly as possible.

Be with the people of this province this week as we vote for a new government. We ask for good voter turnout and fair elections. We also pray for good government that is responsive to the needs of all people.

We lift up in prayer those of our community and congregation who are sick this week at home or in hospital. We remember especially Sharon and Larry, Helen, John, Lyle, Oswald and David. We ask for your Healing Spirit to be upon them.

Holy God, we know that all life is valuable in your sight. We are grateful that your love and compassion are limitless and unconditional. When we are faced with difficult decisions or situations, help us to remember that you are always ready to help offering guidance, strength, patience and wisdom. You provide the example of how we should treat others. Keep us faithful as you are faithful. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE

June 3, 2018 / Pentecost 2 / Proper 4

SCRIPTURE

1 Samuel 3:1-10, (11-20); Deuteronomy 5:12-15; Psalm 81:1-10; Mark 2:23-3:6; 2 Corinthians 4:5-12

CALL TO WORSHIP

Let us praise the one who lifts us up;

who carries us above our worries

and takes our burdens from our shoulders.

The glory of God is shining around us. Alleluia!

Come, let us worship.

PRAYER OF APPROACH

We come, God of Life, seeking the hope that you make possible this day. Your love surrounds us in ways too numerous to count and too strong for us to comprehend. In that love there is also your challenge to us to daily walk closer to your way. In our worship, we ask for a fresh breath of your Spirit that our lives may be renewed with dreams and visions of a brighter tomorrow. Your Word is life and we call upon that Word to fulfill our deepest yearning. Amen.

PRAYER OF CONFESSION

Blessed Jesus, we thank you for your sacrifice that made it possible for all people to be renewed in their relationship with you. You abolished the barriers that once separated us from your Holy Presence. Forgive us when we, your people, erect walls of conflict that divide ourselves from one another. In the midst of separation, help us to be ministers of your love and healing to all people. Enable our lives to reflect the same forgiving and reconciling Spirit that you have shown towards us. Amen.

ASSURANCE OF PARDON

In a world of strife and anger, there is a calming Spirit that hovers over the face of the earth. The Spirit of Christ reminds us of the power of God’s amazing forgiveness which is able to overcome the deepest and darkest sins of our lives. When we confess our sins, we are redeemed and made new in the cleansing blood of Jesus.

DEDICATION OF OFFERING

What could we give that would adequately convey our need of you? What could we provide that is not already from you? Your generousity is beyond our need. May all of our lives and resources be set aside for the sharing of your Good News. Amen.

COMMISSIONING

Jesus died as he lived – with great passion. Go now, and live with that passion. May our lives and our actions proclaim the Gospel which is for all Creation.

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