Mark 13:1-8/ 1 Samuel 2:1-10/ Hebrews 10:19-25
Listen and Discern
I’m afraid I have to start today’s message with a dark story. When I was young, there was a shocking news story on TV. The members of a religious cult were found dead in what appeared to be a murder/ suicide. Once in a while, we hear stories like this, and it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise, but my mother was doubly shocked because she found the name of a fellow Methodist minister’s wife. She and her daughter were found dead with the rest of the cult members. My mother said that this woman always had a tendency of believing in suspicious things.
As I said, stories like this are not unfamiliar to us. However, we don’t even have to dig the stories of religious cults to find people who are misguided in their beliefs. We saw Christians who believe that God will protect them for COVID and refused to wear masks, avoid big gatherings, or get vaccinated. We saw Christians condemning queer people to hell or believe that women’s place is in the kitchen and raising children. In the medieval Europe, Christians believed that killing Muslims and taking control of Jerusalem was God’s will. When learning the history of England, I heard of blood thirsty men going on Crusades because killing Muslims is not a sin. We know a lot of people who use the name of God and quote the Bible to justify their bigotry and acts of evil. They are misguided because whatever is in the Bible or not, they are missing the big picture of God’s love for us.
In today’s gospel text, Jesus warns his disciples about false prophets and being misguided. They hear Jesus foretell the destruction of the Temple and want to know when it will happen. Historically, Jerusalem was destroyed by Rome in the year 70, but that’s not the point. Jesus is warning his disciples not to be misguided by different rumors. Chaotic times produce a lot of false rumors. Some people would claim they are the Messiah sent by God, but they would be misleading.
We have seen in history, even in modern history, people who claimed they were the reincarnation of Jesus and lured gullible people astray. There are churches that teach the privileged groups’ agenda; that is how members of the minority groups get marginalized and discriminated against from the Church. Since God is invisible, inaudible, and intangible, we will naturally have difficulty discerning God’s will. That is why it is extra important for us to learn to listen attentively. Or else, it is too easy for us to put God in our mental boxes and construct God according to our beliefs instead of being transformed by God’s guidance.
Samuel and Hannah
We heard the story of Samuel during the story time. His mother Hannah longed for a son and prayed earnestly. The reason why she wanted a son was because her husband had two wives, and although Hannah was his favorite, the other wife had a good reason to despise her for having children. I’m not even going to dwell on the injustice of polygamy. Skipping this ugly part, she prayed earnestly, and God gave her a child. To show her gratitude, she dedicated her boy child in God’s service.
What we read in First Samuel chapter 2 is Hannah’s prayer of thanksgiving where she praises God’s goodness and justice.
When Samuel was a young boy and living with Eli the priest, who was training him to be God’s worker, God spoke to the boy. He was young and had no experience with God, so he thought it was Eli who was calling him. After several times, Eli realized that God was talking to the boy and instructed him to listen to God and answer. This is how young Samuel learned to listen to God’s voice.
Challenge of Hearing God’s Voice
I imagine this story to be similar to our experience with God. It is not easy to discern God’s voice. When God called me into ministry, it took me several months of prayer to finally realize what God wanted for me. We should learn to listen attentively with an open mind and spirit to lay down our ideas and egos to discern God’s voice.
When I learned the gospel messages with no personal agenda and influence, I heard God’s universal and non-discriminatory love for all God’s people and creation. I learned that our human prejudices should be fought and corrected. I learned that it is wrong to cause or ignore people’s suffering.
Provoke One Other to Love
Listen to what we read in Hebrews chapter 10 with open hearts and minds, and we will hear God beckoning us to keep our faith in the faithful God and provoke each other to acts of love. If we have been inspired and challenged by great people of God, we should follow their good examples and inspire others to do the same.
Training to Listen Attentively
Let us train ourselves to listen to God attentively. Only through humble and attentive listening can we discern God’s voice and guidance. Read the gospels and other books of the Bible with a prayerful heart so that we can lay down our voices and listen to God’s. Let us constantly pray that God will open up our hearts, minds, and souls to listen to and discern God’s will.