January 21, 2018

Who Has Your Ear?

3rd Sunday of Epiphany

First Lesson:  1 Samuel 3:1-10

Second Lesson: 2 Thessalonians 2:13-17

Gospel Lesson: John 1:43-51

Situation 1: While buying groceries, the hurried checker forgets to scan $50 of steak. Do you think, “His mistake, not mine. They were overpriced anyway.” Or do you say, “You missed the steaks. I wouldn’t want to steal those.” 2: In school, the teacher goes through a test you’re taking soon. Notes are all over the board. Before the test the next day, you notice the answer laden info is still up there. Do you think, “Her fault, not mine. I didn’t try to cheat. I’ll consider this a happy accident.”  Or do you say, “Teacher, so you know, you left info on the board. It really wouldn’t be right for us to use it during the test.”

3: Your child is in a sports league. Practice is on Thursday and games are on Sunday – our worship times.   What do you do? Contact the coach/league and say, “Can’t my family have one day off from all this craziness to go to church and spend time together?”  Or do you think, “If Ralph/Lisa isn’t in this league, they will be left behind.  Plus, I like the other parents, and they will be having fun without me.  Guess I can gut the season out.  It is only a few months long, right?” 4:   A coworker is very open about their “lifestyle”. Other workers put up rainbow flags/pride symbols so this person knows they’re with them.  That coworker notices you don’t have any of this, and asks how you feel about “the movement”. What do you say? “Hey, it is your life and you can do what you want?” Or do you say, “I care about you, so let me tell you what God’s Word says...   

What is the deciding factor as to what you are going to do in any of these circumstances?  Who has your ear. To have someone’s ear means that person will listen to you and likely do what you want. If voters here think about changing Sunday service times, and then I offer my suggestion to leave them the same, and they do just that, I have the ears of that body.

So who has your ear? Let’s focus on 3 options. 1) The world.  If the world has your ear, you’ll see things from its perspective, not God’s. 2) The devil. I know he is portrayed these days as a boogeyman from a bygone era meant to keep people in line. That’s a lie.  He is a roaring lion looking for souls of faith to devour.  And 3) God.  He has spoken clearly in his Word about right and wrong, good and bad.  So, which of these 3 have our ear most often?

In our text, Samuel was a young servant to Eli, the High Priest. It seems part of his job was to watch over things in God’s house at night. While there, he hears a voice – God’s. God calls Samuel.  Samuel thinks it is Eli.  Possibly the aged man needed some help.  So he runs to him and Eli says, “Nope, I didn’t call you.  Go back and lie down. This happens a 2nd and 3rd time. Then Eli finally realizes the Lord is calling Samuel.  So he tells him, “The next time you hear the voice, say, “Speak, Lord.  Your servant is listening.”  God calls again, Samuel responds as told, and they chat, but that is for a different sermon.

One more thing. Vs. 1 of our lesson: “In those days the word of the Lord was rare.”  God didn’t speak much.  Why not?  When do we refrain from speaking? When people aren’t listening. At that time in Israel, few were listening. Someone/thing had their ears. Priests were doing a terrible job pointing people to the Lord and his Word.  Eli’s sons used their positions to fill their bellies, and woo women. The general public wasn’t much better. This happens at the end of the time of the Judges.  Israel was a mess. People who looking to other nations or false gods for military victories, good crops, kids, etc.  And not long after this, they demand that instead of having God rule directly over them, they wanted a king, just like everyone else. 

So whether it is the leaders or the people, who had their ears? Options #1 and #2. That Eli’s sons, leaders in the church, would take advantage of worshippers – if that’s not horrific and devilish, I don’t know what is.  And the people – if outrightly saying, “We want a king so we can be like everyone else” is not the world having your ear, I don’t know what is.  Either way, whomever had the ear of the people, it was not the Lord. Therefore, he stayed silent.  “The Word of the Lord was rare.”

Samuel was different. Instead of hearing what he wanted to hear or changing the message to benefit himself, instead of listening to the cravings of his heart or taking cues from the world, he says, “Speak, Lord.  Your servant is listening.” Why did he do that? Because God has his ear.  God spoke.  Samuel listened.  

How would Samuel respond to the previous scenarios? To the clerk, “You missed the steak. I don’t want to steal and break the 7th Commandment.” To the teacher, “The info on board makes it easy for us to cheat. Please erase it.” To the coach, “Sam Jr. will not play. Sunday is our church/family day.”  And to the coworker, “Only because I care do I say what you’re doing is wrong. Let’s talk about what God has to say to each of us.”  And we all know our responses should be the same.

So easy to nod our heads as we sit here, right? Yet so easy to forget as we walk out the doors. Why?  Because out there we are assaulted in every way by our two enemies – the unbelieving world and Satan. This world is nuts. It seems like Satan has a free run on the place. This world is sick – sick with sin, temptation, lack of morals. Wrong (in God’s eyes) is right; right is wrong. Up is down; down is up. Morality is immoral; immorality is moral. A leader of a Satanic temple made a statement about morality in the Washington Post, as if he were some expert on the subject.  Messed up indeed.

And that is the world and the one pulling its strings that attacks you daily.  Next time you sit down to watch the evening news, notice how many of the stories are about people, things, and situations clearly contrary to God’s Word. You will be shocked.  So what?  Well, you are fed a steady diet – from news sources, movies, TV, websites, etc. – of sinful, wrong things being praised and things God has prohibited (for our good) being called beneficial.  And that has an effect, doesn’t it?

I talked to a few religion teachers at KML over the past few years.  All of them have said you can see the influence of the world on the children more each year.  A Christian school in a Word of God class.  That seems like the safest environment for our children ever.  But each year, there are more skeptical questions about homosexuality, creation, morality, etc. I see the same in the church in general.  Long held biblical truths are at least questioned (not in the good way) and often disputed.  Why?  Because too often people, including us, listen to what God’s enemies say.  Too often they have our ear, and we make decisions and base priorities on what that world has to say. It’s Eden all over again – “Did God really say…?”

“But that’s not me!” you may say.  “I still believe in a 6-day creation, that abortion is wrong, and Jesus is true God and true man.”  Good! Keep holding to that.  But realize someone/thing is always trying to feed us.  If we are not feeding on the good stuff – God and his Word - we are feeding on the bad stuff we just talked about. And at times, we’ve taken a bite, right?  We look the other way when someone does something clearly wrong and echo the refrain of the world, “They can do what they want to do.”  Maybe we cringe a little when I or someone else say something the world says we can’t say, like “Jesus is the only way to heaven.  All other religions are false and delusions of men’s minds” – wishing that wasn’t said in such a harsh way. Or think about the activities that occupy our time.  Do we ever give ourselves a pass for something we know we shouldn’t be doing because it is wrong because everyone else is doing it, we don’t want to miss out on the fun, or whatever?

We can’t sit here and say our spiritual enemies never have our ear. And at times, they’re like an earpiece, barking orders, all of which are contrary to God’s Word. And this is not just a matter of poor decision making. This is sinful, dangerous. Think looking to the world will bring you closer to your Savior? Think following Satan’s messed up path, even in an indirect way so it seems we’re doing what we want, will bring peace? Will either of these enemies give us confidence and hope?  No. They seek to rob us of both.  And that’s exactly what will happen if we keep listening, keep lending our ear to them.

So now what?  Maybe you remember that section where Jesus says that if our hand or foot causes us to sin, we should cut it off. He wasn’t speaking literally.  He was saying that if something leads us down a sinful path, we should remove that thing from our lives.  Well, if our ears cause us to sin, let’s cut them off.  Again, not literally.  But if what this world and Satan himself are saying to us is against God’s Word, we have to cut them off.  How? Repent.  We do this from time to time, and I do it because while I could try and write a confession for all of us, you know you and your struggles. So take a minute and come to God. Be honest about the times you’ve failed to listen to him and have given your ears to all the wrong sources and people.  Admit that at times you’ve not been too concerned about what he says, or at least have been more concerned with what others say.  And come clean about how often you’ve followed through on the wrong guidance you were given.

What did you think about during all that?  Again, you know your issues and I know mine.  But before we move on, there is something we NEED to hear God say: “I forgive you.”  We all have times we foolishly don’t want God to speak because we don’t want to hear it or because what we are doing is wrong. But we can’t hide from our sin no matter how hard we try.  Our conscience can only take so much before it cracks.  We know our sins.  So does God.  That is why he did what he did. Jesus knows what we face.  People were always trying to get in his ear.  The disciples tried to stop him from completing his mission because they did not want to lose him.  Satan tried with all his might to derail Jesus with temptations of the world.  Throughout his ministry, people were telling him what to do, to give up, to go away.  But who had his ear?  His Father.  And that Father strengthened him to ignore those voices and remain on the path – the path to the cross.

Thank God that happened.  Without that cross, we have nothing with which to soothe our aching consciences.  Without it, the full weight of our sins would crush us. Without it, we have nothing to bump back against all the garbage we hear.  But we have that cross. It means the hurting soul can always find relief in the one who died to win our forgiveness. It means that the full weight of our sins was unleashed on Jesus, and due to that, we’re spared. It means that no matter what the world says and no matter how foolish it tries to make us feel, we know the truth. “Jesus lived for me. He died for me. He rose for me.  I am loved, forgiven, heaven bound.”  That’s peace, confidence, hope. All that is straight from the mouth of our Savior.

But what about the bad stuff we face every day, the voices we hear over and over? Back to Samuel.  When he heard God speak, he didn’t start hearing what he wanted to hear.  First, he went to a trusted believing friend and mentor.  And when Eli finally realized who was speaking to Samuel, he told him what to say and Samuel did it.  Essentially, the answer to the question, “What about all the bad stuff I hear?” is Samuel’s own words: “Speak, Lord. Your servant is listening.”

I know that sounds so simple, but it’s the truth.  Too often the world and its cohorts have our ears.  But that doesn’t just happen.  That is a decision we make.  So let’s pray God gives us the strength to stand against the world and stand with Samuel, “Speak, Lord.  Your servant is listening.”  When we feel like what the world says makes sense and sounds right… “Speak, Lord.  Your servant is listening.”  When Satan tries to confuse us about what is truth… “Speak, Lord.  Your servant is listening.”  When we know the many voices around us only lead us down the wrong path… “Speak, Lord.  Your servant is listening.”  And when we need to know the truth that comforts, that gives hope, and that soothes our aching hearts and hurting ears, we say, “Speak, Lord.  Your servant is listening.” Amen.