Inspired message “Gifts of the Dark Wood: The Gift of Getting Lost” by Pastor Toni Carmer from Sunday, March 4th.
Gifts of the Dark Wood: The Gift of Getting Lost
1 Samuel 3:1-10
First United Methodist Church, March 11, 2018
Pastor Toni Carmer
The path we journey through life is seldom straight, often winding, and sometimes uncertain. The turns can be gentle or sharp. We look around us, and what was once familiar isn't familiar anymore. We realize we're lost.
Have you ever been lost?
I was new to Valparaiso, but I wasn't new to driving 80/94, and that's the way I intended to get to the United Methodist Church in Griffith for a meeting. I had plenty of time to get there and needed to have some lunch so I stopped at Wendy's. I didn't have anything but a few coins in my billfold after that, but it was okay because my gas tank was full and there wasn't anything I needed to spend money on along the way anyway. (This was before the time of debit cards).
After eating, I got on the road and I don't know how I did it, but I ended up on the Toll Road. Toll Roads require money. As soon as I figured out what I'd done, I made an exit. I had no idea where I was—but I pulled along the road before getting to the Toll Booth and got out of my car and started looking through my glove compartment, under the seats, under the mats, in all the cracks and crevices—surely there was some change somewhere—but there wasn't.
I got back into my car, proceeded forward and explained my predicament to the Toll Booth person, offering what I had left in my billfold. She kindly let me through.
I got stuck in some kind of a traffic jam, people were being crazy. Again, I had no idea where I was. Still don't know. Don't ask me why I did it because I know it wasn't the smartest thing in the world—but I turned around and got back on the Toll Road.
I took another exit. It said no Toll required, but it didn't tell me where it was going. Maybe it was one of those random gifts God gives. But the road led to nowhere: some company parking lot with no other choice but to return to the Toll Road.
I know how ridiculous this all sounds. I realize I was making one bad decision after another.
I ended up at the Chicago Skyway. Really. I told the nice lady at the Toll Booth what I'd done. I was distressed and it was probably pretty obvious. She told me to make a U-turn (everything was obviously very different then than what it is now), to go to the farthest un-personed toll-paying place, and when I got there to beep my horn twice, and the toll guy would open the gate and let me through. Really?Ok. I did what she said. The guy hollered at me across a line of cars, "pay the toll!" I hollered back, "I don't have any money!" Seems like we went back and forth like that a couple of times and then he shook his fist at me and pressed the button, raising the gate and letting me back onto the Indiana Toll Road.
I think I was so traumatized at that point that I have absolutely no memory of how I got through the final toll booth, which ultimately led me to Griffith United Methodist Church, but I did make it, and my friends thought my experience was the funniest thing they'd heard in a long time.
I admit, now, it sounds pretty ridiculous. And kinda funny. Now. I can see what I did to get myself into that pickle. But, at the time, I was lost, I didn't know what to do, and it was pretty awful.
Maybe you've been lost, and can remember how awful that felt.
There are different ways of getting lost. Little kids get separated from their parents sometimes. They were with you one second, and now they're not. Maybe you can remember a time when you were the child, and you suddenly realized the adult you were with wasn't there anymore. Or you were the adult and you had this sinking realization that the child you were with has suddenly disappeared. He may just be under the clothes rack where you're standing, but for a few seconds, it's awful.
Sometimes we find ourselves in a new situation, maybe we've moved or started working a new job or began taking classes at a new school, and we're not sure where things are, where to go, or who to talk to. We feel lost.
Sometimes people get overwhelmed in their lives and with the activities and happenings around them, and they end up getting lost in unhealthy behaviors as they attempt to escape their struggles and worries. They get lost in unhealthy relationships, unhealthy behaviors…before they realize it they're lost in their addictions to pornography or gambling or drugs.
There are many different ways we can become lost.
Life sometimes zigs and zags in ways that we wouldn't have expected.
It can overwhelm us, throw us off, make us fearful.
We feel lost in the Dark Wood. We wonder if we'll find our way back.
And yet today, we're talking about the gift of being lost. Being lost being a gift is a little tough for us to imagine. And yet it is in these vulnerable times when we are more able to listen for God's voice, for God's guidance…when we're most open to following where God is leading…because we've lost our own footing, we're in unfamiliar territory, and we know we can't figure out our next steps on our own.
Our scripture this morning describes the call of Samuel, who became one of the prophets of Israel. I wouldn't describe Samuel himself as being lost; he was probably about 12 years old or so at the time, and was serving as an assistant to the Eli, the high priest of Shiloh. (Here's the back story:) Eli had raised Samuel from the time he was about three. His mother Hannah had brought him to Eli as she had promised God she would do this in thanksgiving for giving her a son, as she had been unable to bear a child.
So Samuel wasn't lost, but Israel was going through a dark time; the nation could be described as being lost. Eli's sons were also priests, but they were wicked men who did not know God and who took advantage of their position. Scripture says that the Word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread. God was silent…or perhaps no one was really listening.
Until the night God speaks to Samuel.
"Samuel, Samuel," the Lord says to the young man.
Samuel thinks that Eli is calling him and runs to him in the next room. "Here I am!" he says to Eli.
"Go back to bed," Eli tells him. "I've been asleep!"
This happens two more times before Eli finally realizes that God is calling Samuel: "the next time you hear the voice, respond, 'Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening'." Samuel may not be totally convinced of what Eli is telling him, but when he hears the voice call his name for the fourth time, he responds as Eli has instructed, although he doesn't address his caller as Lord. "Speak, for your servant is listening."
The Lord speaks to Samuel then, and then again, and again. And Samuel's word came to all Israel (1 Samuel 3:21b).
The nation is in trouble—lost—when the Word of God comes to Samuel. Through God's word, the people are led out of the Dark Wood. It's not always easy: restoration and renewal, making things right again—take time and patience. But listening and then following God brings the people into a place where they can once again find hope.
What encouragement does this story in the Bible offer us when we're lost? What can help us to recognize God's voice/God's guidance that can lead us out of those times when we're lost in the Dark Wood?
First of all, even though we spoke of God's voice being described as thundering and lightening last week, so often God speaks and acts in ways that are much more subtle.
Do you remember the story of the man sitting on his roof praying for God to rescue him from the flood? He sends away a row boat and a motor boat and then a helicopter, and ends up drowning. In heaven he asks God why his prayer wasn't been answered. I sent you 2 boats and a helicopter, what exactly were you expecting?
We may not hear God's voice, there may not be any flashing signs or obvious message—and yet, God speaks…when we're open to listening.
Secondly, God spoke to Samuel when he was quiet and alone. Do we slow down enough to listen? Do we open ourselves, our hearts and our minds to what God might want to say to us?
Third, I think it's encouraging to know that God called Samuel several times. Samuel didn't understand that it was God speaking to him at first, but that didn't stop God's pursuit. God continued to call until Samuel understood. If we're willing to believe that God won't give up on us for any other reason, it just makes trust that God will persist in calling out to us, even when we're a bit clueless. We've all been a bit clueless at times, haven't we?
Fourth, and something that I find very encouraging in this story, is the fact that God used Eli in spite of his failures—to instruct Samuel, to prepare Samuel, to help Samuel hear and know that God was calling him. It's a word of grace. It's a word of hope. It’s a reminder that God's faithfulness is more powerful than our unfaithfulness. We can be mediators of the Spirit's voice to others even when we haven't done such a great job at following it ourselves.
In the Dark Wood, even those who are lost themselves can be gift-bearers to others who are seeking to find their way in the dark.
Receive the gift of being lost, and allow it to bring blessing.