1. Back in Lutheran seminary,
2. there was a teacher who loved to teach us using riddles.
a. One day he asked us:
b. Once there was a small congregation
i. which needed a new cross for their church.
c. However, they were too poor to afford one.
i. What could they do?
3. One person suggested,
a. “They could have a raffle, or a car wash or some other fund raiser.”
4. Another said,
a. “They could write in for grants, or ask the bishop for a loan”
5. A third offered,
a. “They could see if anyone in their congregation
i. would donate their time to help raise the money
ii. by soliciting donations from the local community.”
6. But true to form, our teacher just shook his head and continued teaching,
a. without giving us the answer.
7. I always hated these questions,
a. because I felt like he was trying to make us look stupid
b. and make himself look smart.
c. Especially since all our answers were what any parish would do:
i. Find someone who knows how to organize a fund raiser,
ii. Find someone who knows how to write in for grants,
iii. Find some professional who knows how to raise money for a cross
1. and then let them do it.
8. We do this all the time. And not just in churches.
a. When we have health problems,
i. we go to doctors
b. When we have legal problems,
i. we go to lawyers
c. When we have personal problems,
i. we seek out counselors, psychologists and psychiatrists.
d. Because these professionals have the necessary training and experience to fix the problems in our lives.
e. And because we know that we do not.
i. IN fact it is that very logical, very understandable fear
ii. that we are incapable of solving the complex problems in our lives and the lives of others
iii. that causes us as individuals and families,
iv. as churches and even as nations
1. to place our health, safety and security
2. into the hands of professionals, of leaders
v. And trust them to care for us.
9. And yet if our answer to that professor’s question was to do what any of us would do,
10. then what was God doing with Samuel?
11. For one night Samuel hears a voice. He thinks it is his teacher Eli’s voice.
a. But Eli soon realizes that it is God calling Samuel.
12. And for that matter, what was Jesus doing with Simon?
a. For Simon’s brother Andrew was a disciple of John the Baptist,
b. when John tells Andrew that Jesus is the “Lamb of God”
i. which in John’s Gospel means that Jesus is the one
1. who would be sacrificed for the world’s sin,
ii. Just as the lamb was sacrificed in the temple in Jerusalem for the people’s sin.
c. Andrew brings his brother Simon to meet Jesus
d. and immediately Jesus gives Simon a new name: Peter,
i. which for the Christian community meant
ii. he would be the foundation stone of Jesus church.
13. We don’t know much about Samuel
a. but one thing we do know is that at this point in the story;
i. he is little more than a boy.
b. He might have been an obedient disciple of Eli, but he was no leader.
14. And while we do not know much about Simon Peter at this point in the story;
a. but anyone who know the rest of the story knows
i. that while he might have been an expert fisherman,
ii. he was ill-equipped to be the first pope.
15. And yet God calls,
a. not the professional but the amateur Simon Peter,
b. not the expert but the novice Samuel
i. and make these followers into leaders.
16. God does it in these stories and does it in many others.
17. God does exactly the opposite of what we would do,
a. and maybe that is because there is something in this story that we miss,
b. but God wants us to see.
18. Not unlike how that professor taught us using riddles,
a. hoping that we would see as well.
19. After class that day I approached him and asked him
a. to tell me what the answer was he was looking for.
i. He pulled a worn little yellow book out of his briefcase and gave it to me.
ii. It was called New Gospel parables ,
1. and it was filled with the little stories he would use to illustrate his lectures, and to baffle his students.
iii. I quickly found the story about the cross. It went:
iv. “Once there was a small congregation which needed a new cross for their church.
b. However, they were too poor to afford one.
i. What could they do?
ii. Then they had an idea.
1. They made the sign of the cross over water, oil and bread and wine; they made the sign of the cross over themselves
a. and over each other.
2. it was then that they saw that they did not need a cross anymore; for now they had lots of them.”
20. The message was instantly clear:
a. They no longer needed a sign of their faith,
i. they became the sign,
ii. as did everything they touched.
b. And in that they became the only kind of leaders God ever really wants;
i. not strong powerful leaders,
ii. but weak, sinful amateurs,
1. like Samuel, like Peter, like you and like me.
21. Because, you see, the strong have a great weakness.
a. Their great weakness is the temptation to believe in their own abilities.
i. And thus, only in themselves.
22. But the weak have no such illusions.
a. And that is precisely why God calls Samuel,
b. it is why Jesus chooses Peter,
i. So that God can use their weakness
1. to show forth God’s strength,
ii. and thus, they can become a sign
1. not of their own power,
2. but of that different kind of power
c. God’s power in the world,
i. Which Jesus embodied and taught about,
ii. using stories not unlike the ones used by my professor,
iii. To get US to open our eyes and SEE.
23. Maybe the real problem we face these days;
a. Is that we have told ourselves a story
b. That we are a mighty, strong nation; that shining light set on a hill.
c. A leader, respected by all.
d. But in the last 20 years we have been attacked from without,
e. we have waged and lost wars overseas
f. and We have been rocked by financial recession and political corruption from within.
24. And it dawns on us; we are NOT who we believed ourselves to be. And we are AFRAID.
a. And therefore, we are sotempted to place our lives
i. into the powerful hands of others,
ii. so that we will be protected defended and well, made great.
25. And yet all too often we have discovered,
i. most bitterly on January 6th,
ii. when the attack which once again shattered
iii. the story we tell ourselves
iv. came from within
b. that those powerful hands are not ultimately interested in our good,
i. but only their own.
26. And yet the question begs to be asked: if not them, then who?
a. Whom do we choose?
27. Maybe THAT is precisely the problem my professor sought to illuminate with his riddle,
a. And that God seeks to rectify with Jesus.
b. To choose the weak like Peter,
c. to call the small, like Samuel,
d. to Call ALL of us and to place into our hands
i. the sacred gift of responsibility for ourselves and for one another,
ii. so that we might use our hands,
iii. and our hearts
iv. and our heads, to serve.
28. Because that is great Christian riddle
a. or if you will parable
b. that is told again and again in scripture:
c. the story that we live our lives by.
29. And that is:
a. if we despair of finding a sign of God’s presence and action in our lives
b. in the midst of the crises that have wracked our lives
c. as a nation and a world,
i. Listen to Jesus
ii. and open our eyes.
iii. For we are the sign.
iv. OR at least we are when we see its truth:
1. That the weak truly are the strongest
2. the servants are the true leaders.
3. And that God entrusts US all with the responsibility to care, protect, build up and ultimately heal our broken nation and world.
v. And in THAT reveal that kingdom, that reign or rule that Jesus revealed in his life.
1. And calls us to do as well.