I Samuel 3:1-11
I Timothy 4:11-16
You know that I often have trouble coming up with sermon titles—how do I give some sense of the entire sermon in four or five words? I joke that it takes me longer to come up with a sermon title than it does to write the sermon.
And I have to admit, “Anger, Fear, Helplessness” probably didn’t draw a lot of people here this morning. It’s a little, well, negative, isn’t it? Certainly, something like “Joy, Courage, and Power” would have been more appealing.
But we are thinking about the earth, our home, during this Season of Creation. And “anger, fear, and helplessness” is a quick summary of how teenagers in the United States feel about climate change. A Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll released this past week showed that when they think about climate change, 57% of teenagers said that they feel afraid. 52% feel angry. 43% feel hopeless.[i]
They know and accept the scientific consensus that warns of the coming changes—and they can see those changes beginning already. As one person put it: “Young Americans will face [these challenges], because their parents and grandparents did not. They will do so with little time and a cash-strapped federal Treasury that the baby boomers fleeced to pay for tax cuts and retirement benefits.”[ii] Those of us who are Boomers spent the summer congratulating ourselves that we gave the world “Woodstock,” while younger generations confronted current reality with a growing sense of fear and loathing.
We shouldn’t be surprised then, when the results of that Post-Kaiser poll were reported in an article titled frankly enough: “Why Baby-Boomer’s Grandchildren Will Hate Them.”
Near the beginning of The Little Prince, the author states: “Grown-ups never understand anything by themselves, and it is exhausting for children to have to provide explanations over and over again.”
We “grown-ups” need to listen to what children and youth are saying through their anger, fear, and helplessness.
In calling congregations to mark the Season of Creation this year, an international and ecumenical group of church leaders said what many of us, young and old, recognize.
“Across Latin America and Africa and around the globe, precious rainforests are burning at terrifying rates. Scientific analysis and tragic first-hand testimonies also continue to reveal the scale of the crisis, with record-setting heat waves, deadly droughts, and dangerous storms affecting people and places around the world. Most distressingly, the effects of climate change are not felt equally. Disadvantaged and vulnerable people, subsistence farmers, women and girls, and indigenous communities are likely to bear the worst effects of the climate crisis. With each passing day, it becomes increasingly clear that we live in a decisive time for the climate crisis.”
This was same point made by the Iowa City Climate Strikers and high school student, Massimo Paciotto-Biggers, on Friday, when he stood in front of hundreds of people at the University of Iowa Pentacrest after they walked from the Iowa City City Hall.
“The Amazon is burning. Houston is flooding,” he said. “We have 11 years to act,” adding with a note of hope and a call to action: “It's not too late.” On the Pentecrest he emphasized the 11-year window left to take action and called on the crowd to participate in a die-in by lying down for 11 minutes. [iii] Young and old joined in.
Again, the call to observe the Season of Creation this year continued: “As Christian leaders, we believe that we must care for God’s creation as faithful stewards. We believe that we must protect the poor and vulnerable, who are at risk from starvation, conflict, and sickness that climate change brings. We believe that we must protect the intrinsic value of creation and the natural world, as each species gives glory to God through its existence. Lastly”—and this is what we need to hear this morning—“we believe that we must address climate change for future generations. We must stand in intergenerational solidarity and act now to protect the earth for our children and the generations that will come after us.”[iv]
Robert Coles wrote about the spiritual lives of children and in the process discovered that children are “seekers” attempting to make sense of their world and their faith, much like the rest of us who are older.
And so we come to that wonderful story of the call of Samuel that we heard this morning.
The author of I Samuel remembers a time when the word of the LORD was rare, a time when visions were not widespread. That is to say, a time very much like our own.
Samuel is just a child, and he, too, is puzzled in his own time. In the darkness he hears a voice. It sounds loud and clear. It calls his name: “Samuel! Samuel! Three times he hears this call. And three times he stumbles through the darkness to old Eli and says: “Here I am!”
Samuel senses that something new is taking place, that something—or someone—is calling him beyond anger, fear, and helplessness into a new way of living.
The word of the LORD is rare, but it comes to Samuel. And it is a mystery.
Samuel doesn’t know what to do.
Eli, on the other hand, old Eli, faithful for so many years does not hear this voice that summons Samuel with a new possibility. It takes Eli some time to figure out just what’s going on. Finally he gets it. “God is calling you. When you hear your name again, say, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”
No one is an island. Lives that matter are not lived alone. Really, no life is lived in isolation. We need one another.
Children and youth need adults who can help them to understand what they are hearing in the world, to discern the very voice of God, if you will. This is not an easy task. It requires our own spiritual growth and ability to discern.
And adults need children and youth who can hear the cries of the earth, even the call of God, and tell us that message even when it is troubling, disturbing.
Children and youth have a way of seeing and hearing that is unlike that of adults. It’s not that they have special sight or are so innocent.
It’s just that they look at the world from a different perspective:
They see things that adults don’t
Everything is new and they are in the process of creating the world for their lives and they will not be stopped and, really, that is the way of life.
The Books of Samuel begin with a people in moral chaos, economic upheaval, and political uncertainty. They are a people who need to undergo a “radical revolution of values.”
In this unpromising situation, Samuel is given a message.
His words are not words of comfort. Samuel will speak words of judgment. He will condemn their failure of leadership at a critical time in the life of the people of Israel.
This is a story of endings.
The message of this story, however, is that, in spite of our human tendency toward failure and corruption, “God will not acquiesce to evil.” If we are to accept God’s judgment in our own time, we will acknowledge our own complicity in the destruction of our planet.
The study that told of the anger, fear, and helplessness of teenagers in the face of climate change also revealed that only 29% feel optimistic. This is similar to the percentage of teens who are taking action—joining marches, as millions did last Friday, and changing their lifestyles, yes. But, as important, maybe more so, seeking to change the politics around climate change.
Youth have caught onto the reality that this is far more than a matter of personal virtue—the treat to this planet requires political and economic and legal action. And it requires the best in all of us.
The of the call of Samuel is a story for our time because it is a story about a time of a new beginning that comes as old, established ways of doing things collapse. With the planet entrusted to our care threatened in the way that it is, our nation and our entire world are entering into such a time. And so we must ask ourselves:
Who will speak the unpopular word of truth to those in power?
Who will say those things that will cause the ears to tingle?
Who will say those things that many leaders—and we ourselves—will not want to hear?
Even now, voices are raised.
They are often the voices of the young.
Let those who have ears, listen.