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Illustrations for Proper 4 | Ordinary Time 9 (2018)

1 Samuel 3:1-10
Paul Marcarelli is not necessarily a well-known name, but I’m confident you’ve heard him. He’s the guy from the Verizon commercials that made famous the line, “Can you hear me now? Good.” In the commercials, he’d be in various places, testing Verizon’s phone coverage. I thought about those commercials again as I read this passage.

The call of Samuel is one that most parents can envision. Samuel is a young boy whom God repeatedly calls. Samuel thinks it’s Eli each time. Not until Eli recognizes that God is calling the boy does Samuel know what to do. There is an important line in this text that I think may get overlooked. Verse one notes “the word of the Lord was rare.” The spiritual condition of the people and their leaders was corroded. Hearing from God was not the norm. Is listening for God the norm for us? The point of the Marcarelli commercial is to emphasize how good Verizon’s signal strength is when it comes to cell phones. Verizon claimed to have the best service in all parts of the country. They assert you are better connected with Verizon.

Your phone coverage is not nearly as important as your signal strength when it comes to hearing from God? Do you have an open line of communication with God or are there dead spots? If you were to rate your communication with God, how many bars would you give it? Two bars? Three bars? Four bars? None? If God was trying to get through to you, would he be able to say, “Can you hear me now? Good!”
Bill T.

1 Samuel 3:1-10, (11-20)
Hans Nielsen Hauge, while in his mid-twenties, became very dissatisfied with his Christian life. This led Hauge to embark on a journey of spiritual discovery. He read many religious books and attended many religious services. The entire time he was long for “the spiritual rock, Jesus Christ.” During a worship service in the Spring of 1796, while singing the hymn Jesus I Long for Thy Blessed Communion, he experienced spiritual peace and comfort, and the assurance of his salvation. Immediately he asked the Lord what he should do, and the answer returned that he should be an evangelist to the people of Norway. Hauge said the thought came to him in these words, “You shall confess My name before the people; exhort them to repent and seek Me while I may be found and call upon Me while I am near; and touch their hearts that they may turn from darkness to light.” Hauge travelled the country preaching the gospel message. He was imprisoned ten times because the established church had not sanctioned his ministry. Hauge was a successful evangelist because along with preaching he taught business and industrial skills. Hauge was fifty-three when he died from bleeding lungs. His last words, spoken on the day he died, Monday, March 29, 1824, were, “O Thou eternal, loving God!”

Application: As we read in our lectionary reading, Samuel struggled to understand his calling. From the Psalm we read that the Psalmist desires for God to know him. We all walk a journey until we find spiritual peace and have a clear understanding of our calling.
Ron L.

1 Samuel 3:1-10, (11-20) and Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18
John Krakauer is better known for his books about the wonders and the dangers of the great outdoors, "Into the Wild" and "Into Thin Air." In one of his later books, however, "Under the Banner of Heaven," he asks a question every person of faith should be asking themselves -- how can we tell a true leading from God from a false one?

Krakauer tells the story of two brothers, Ron and Dan Lafferty, who were members of a fundamentalist offshoot of the Mormon Church. In 1984 the two brothers, following what they believed was a revelation from God, entered a younger brother's house and murdered his wife and infant child. The two found confirmation for their actions in what they believed was a divine revelation in prayer, in their scriptures, and also after sharing this divine revelation with fellow church members. At every level they found confirmation that God wanted them to commit these murders. In their own minds, even after they were arrested, tried, and imprisoned, they had done the right thing.

At their sentencing the judge said, "In my twelve years as a judge, I have never presided over a trial of such a cruel, heinous, pointless, and senseless a crime as the murders of Brenda and Erica Lafferty. Nor have I seen an accused who had so little remorse or feeling."

Dan Lafferty, who actually committed the murders, later said, "I've always been interested in God and the Kingdom of God. It's been the center of my focus since I was a young child." About the murders he said, "It was like someone had taken me by the hand that day and led me comfortably through everything that happened. Ron had received a revelation from God that these lives were to be taken. I was the one who was supposed to do it. And if God wants something to be done, it will be done. You don't want to offend Him by refusing to do His work."

Krakauer's book was published in 2003, while the United States was recovering from the attacks of 9/11, which were also religiously motivated. He wrote to show that believers of every faith may delude themselves into thinking they are called to act in the name of God, by the will of God. The boy Samuel listened to God and acted on what God said. How do we as a church listen to God's voice and what do we do to confirm it is God's voice?

(quotations from Under the Banner of Heaven, by Jon Krakauer, pp xx-xxi)
Frank R.

2 Corinthians 4:5-12
Just the other day my husband was speaking about the computer he is building and he mentioned that there was a primary hard drive and a “slave” drive. The word “slave” carries so many negative connotations, I asked him if there wasn’t another term for the drive. He responded with a group of initials which meant nothing to me.

This portion of the second letter to the church in Corinth describes Paul’s relationship with the church as being “slaves” for Jesus’ sake. It’s still an uncomfortable word and I am not sure any church planter would refer to themselves as a “slave” to the church they are planting. The word brings to mind working without benefit, being owned by another person, brutal treatment, no way out of a situation with someone on which you are totally dependent – and without a choice in the matter or anything else. I’m much more comfortable with the word “servant” but there is a reason Paul chooses the word “slave.” He feels he has no choice but to follow Jesus, to be led by and be controlled by Jesus. Jesus is the “owner” of his spirit and ministry and actions. Paul dedicated his life, after his conversion on the Damascus road, to the proclaiming of the good news of the gospel and the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus.  Maybe, after all, I, too, am willing to be a slave to the gospel and to Christ. Are you?
Bonnie B.

2 Corinthians 4:5-12
There are some phony preachers who promote themselves as being above all. Mohamed promoted himself as the latest word from God.  Be careful you don’t praise your pastor or synod president as though they were God’s only unique servants even though they may be very good. I have heard some TV preachers who preached like they were God.

Even Billy Graham is humble. When I went to breakfast with him in New York just before the 1963 World’s fair he told our group of pastors that he had a donation big enough to put up his own promotional center at the fair, but he didn’t want to appear more important than the Christian church exhibit which had almost all the denominations represented in it. We encouraged him to build his exhibit. Then we would promote his exhibit in ours and have him promote ours in his. We jokingly said that then we would outnumber the Mormons three to one!

I have been helping a woman I know who is so depressed she is almost at the point of suicide. I read her this passage and it helped her to see some light shining in her darkness. She could see that even death was not the end. We would only be joining Jesus in his death, which was far worse than anything we can imagine. Keeping an eye on Jesus is the solution to most of our problems. The solutions are in his spirit and not in us.

In Muslim countries Christians often face persecution and even death. Even in Nepal, a mostly Hindu country, where I served, you could face prison and torture for your faith. It only became legal to be a Christian there in 1992.

In our country you might face criticism if you suggested that our faith was the only true faith accepted by God. Some feel that violates the constitution.

The Apostles did face death for their faith so that our faith might be improved.

Our suffering may be nothing compared to theirs as well as to some missionaries in the world today. Some are suffering just for being American.

We are just jars of clay that can be easily destroyed though the message inside will never die. Even though our body may be destroyed, the message inside us lives forever. The message inside us should be passed on to our family and friends even after our death.

The main purpose of our church is to help us fill that jar and share its contents.
Bob O.

2 Corinthians 4:5-12
John Calvin helpfully illumines this text’s references to “life” and “death.” He writes:
Now as death denotes all afflictions, or as life full of vexations, so also life denotes a condition that is prosperous and agreeable; agreeably to the maxim: “Life is -- not to live, but to be well.” (Calvin’s Commentaries, Vol.XX/2, p.208) 
The good life is always threatened by vexations (v.11). Martin Luther nicely explained this reality:
Evil and good, sadness and joy must alternate, just as summer and winter, sunshine and rain, and a good and evil year follow each other. Now we are sad, then we laugh again, soon we are again depressed. (What Luther Says, p.782)
Luther adds why this situation is good for us. For God gives us courage to endure the times that he gives us treasures by fallible means, that we must live death along with life. He adds:
For we ought to have the greatest courage at the very time when evil befalls us, for that is where God shows His good will; we should be more pleased at the time when the most unpleasant things happen, for then it is certain that the acceptable Will of God is at work. (Luther’s Works, Vol.25, pp.442-443)
Mark E.

Mark 2:23-3:6
In June of 2014 Chick-fil-A employees near Orlando, Fla., went to work on Sunday after the mass shooting at a gay nightclub in the city, breaking a longstanding restaurant policy of remaining closed on Sundays. Employees provided food to people who were donating blood and to law enforcement officers who were part of the response effort. The chain has been closed on Sundays since 1946 to allow restaurant employees a day of rest and worship. However, workers at that location decided to make an exception. They posted on Facebook, “We love our city and love the people in our community. ‪#‎prayfororlando.”

This, I think, is an example of what Jesus is talking about in this passage. Observing the Sabbath was important, and it was right to recognize it, but not at the expense of hurting people. Jesus reiterated for the Pharisees that reaching out to people was more important to God than outward observance of the law. It’s the same today.
Bill T.

Mark 2:23--3:6
Samuel Robbins Brown worked his way through college in the mid-nineteenth century. He waited on tables. He sang. He taught music. And, upon graduation, he had fifty dollars in his pocket. Brown was an industrious man. After teaching in the United States, he went to China as a missionary with his wife Elizabeth. Because of Elizabeth’s health, the couple had to return to the States. Upon his return he pastored a dying church in New York. But, most notably, he established Elmira College. Elmira College was the first chartered women’s college in America. He and his wife brought many children into their home to be raised and cared for. The children followed a very strict routine that included chores, and academic and religious studies. Family and friends often innocently joked about Samuel’s habit of rising many hours before others in his family. Samuel wrote a letter on Friday, March 24, 1844, to his sister Fanny to explain his early habit of rising early. In the letter, Samuel noted that the president of the college where he was a student “used to say that, if a man was up at the proper time in the morning through his college years, he would acquire the habit and it would not easily forsake him. Perhaps this may account for my habitual early rising. If not, I don’t know how to explain it.”

Application: Jesus discusses a religious legalism that is oppressive because it imposes needless restrictions on others. This is different than having a healthy habit that one voluntarily commits to; such as, rising early in the morning.
Ron L.

Mark 2:23-3:6
Jesus encountered opposition because he healed people in a way that displeased the religious authorities. How could anyone be displeased when someone is healed?

The November 2017 issue of The Smithsonian magazine includes a suite of articles about the flu pandemic of 1918-1919, along with articles targeting where the next pandemic may come from. There's also a feature about the search for a vaccine that could be administered once in a lifetime, and would effectively eradicate the flu as a threat to humanity.

That seems like a great idea, doesn't it? Currently scientists and drug companies scramble to identity the current version of the flu, which changes yearly, and is not always effective. But as an article points out, "The current, imperfect flu vaccine brings in more than $3 billion per year worldwide."

This means that some companies are reluctant to pay the billions necessary to develop that perfect vaccine. The current system guarantees a huge financial return every year. A more perfect vaccine would mean drug companies would not get nearly the return on their investment. With so little financial incentive to develop a universal one-time-only flu vaccine one expert is quoted in the article as saying that the "flu vaccine is practically an orphan drug."

(Want to know more? See the November 2017 issue of The Smithsonian. The quotes are taken from p 61.)
Frank R.
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