When I was training for ordination, we spent a week each year at Easter school, a time in which we concentrated on one particular aspect of the ministry ahead, and heard from a huge range of speakers about both relevant theology and praxis.
One year our topic was listening – to God, to one another, to our communities, to history, to children…
By the end of the week I was in no doubt that listening was far more important than any communication I might attempt…that if I failed to listen, I might as well give up and go home before I’d even started.
It was a great week, but I’ll remember it most of all because of just one speaker.
He was a hospital chaplain – the lead Chaplain at Bath Royal United Hospital, in point of fact – and he came to talk to us about listening to the dying.
I’m confident that his input was both engaging and helpfu overall, l but there is one thing that he told us that I will never forget…one thing that I pray makes a difference to me every day of my ministry.
You see, he told us that each day, before he pushes open the swing doors and steps onto the wards, he prays
“Lord, redeem my foul ups”
"Lord, redeem my foul ups”
It’s a prayer that I try to remember to use again and again, before almost any kind of pastoral encounter.
It’s one that Eli might have had cause to pray too
An ineffectual high priest, a weak father whose sons were running out of control…a feeble mentor to the young Samuel…he didn’t have much going for him really.
But yet, God DID redeem his foul ups, even though his sons perished and his reputation was lost.
Without Eli, Samuel would probably never have got God’s message and the whole shape of Jewish history would have been quite different
But it really wasn’t easy….to be the one who listened, the one who heard was all but impossible.
Everything was against him.
First, "the Word of the Lord was rare in those days."
Well, I suspect that the word of the Lord wasn’t actually that rare – God is a God who communicates, it’s the people he is speaking to who have trouble receiving him…and people receptive to that word were as rare as hen’s teeth. They just didn’t recognise a word from God when it hit them on the nose.
I wonder if that sounds at all familiar….?
The Word of the Lord was rare, but all the same, God found someone to speak to…someone who might be able to share his message if only he was given the right sort of help.
You see, Samuel didn't understand who'd called him at first. My guess is that he was not prepared due to his age, lack of experience,- and just possibly the fact that it was the middle of the night…. I’ve been on call at night quite often…and I know that when the phone rings, it takes a minute or two for me to really wake up, to make sense of the words that are being spoken to me…the details of which ward, which hospital needs a priest here and now.
And that is even when I’m expecting the call.
Small wonder that Samuel just couldn’t get the message without help, but God was persistent until Samuel understood….
Then, of course, when Eli had triumphantly redeemed himself, things got still harder.The words that Samuel was given to speak were harsh and unwelcome words to hear…and harder still for the boy to deliver to the man who was supposed to be his mentor.
I wonder how nearly, after all that effort, God’s message was stifled…
It’s never easy, being a prophet….and it must have been so tempting for Samuel to keep the message to himself…
"I meant to deliver it God, but somehow the time was never quite right…"
Lord, redeem my foul ups
A colleague on a preaching list pointed out some rather wonderful adverts, produced for American tv but also available online.
They are designed to encourage people to volunteer, to make a difference in their communities.
One of them shows a homeless man, lying on a cold pavement.
“This is Jack Thomas. Today someone almost brought Jack something to eat, someone almost drove him to a shelter and someone else almost brought him a warm blanket …and Jack Thomas, well, he almost made it through the night.”
Lord, redeem our foul ups.
I’m sure you can think of some of your own…chances missed, steps not taken because, though we mean to get around to helping, at the crucial moment we are too busy, too tired, or just too distracted.
We don’t see the significance of the small act that we can identify.
What does it matter if I make a phonecall, knock on a neighbour’s door, sign up to help with a community programme…
I’m just one person. I can’t really matter. I cant possibly make a difference.
But I can, and so can you.
God’s call to us is for obedience, regardless of whether we can make sense of the task we are given…
For both Eli and Samuel there are fragile moments, moments when God’s message could have easily been missed or stifled. The story turns on small decisions made in the middle of the night by an old man and a young boy, neither of whom really knows what the consequences of their actions will be.It’s the same for Nathaniel & Philip. The scope for near misses, for messages lost in translation is huge
Lord, redeem our foul ups
As we lose sight of you, pull us back on course
As we seek to drown your message with easier, more comfortable alternatives, pull us back on track.
Lord, Redeem our foul ups, and set us free to be your voice, speaking words of truth and light amid the darkness.