Second Sunday After the Epiphany 2018 — Preaching Notes

Listen  |  RISE UP!

Our guest writer for the Season after Epiphany is Rev. Dr. B. Kevin Smalls. Dr. Smalls is a native of Washington D.C., and an elder in full connection with the Baltimore-Washington Conference. He currently serves as the senior pastor of Hope United Methodist Church in Southfield, Michigan.

Dr. Smalls holds a Bachelor’s Degree in History from Claflin University, a Master of Divinity from Interdenominational Theological Center, and a Doctor of Ministry from United Theological Seminary, where he focused on postmodern preaching to contemporary audiences with an emphasis on hip hop culture. During his twenty years in service to the United Methodist Church, Dr. Smalls has served in a variety of appointments. He is the founder of the Young Adult Christian Cafe and the Off the Hook Bible Study. He is an author who has published a book and a number of articles in periodicals, and he is a contributor to the Africana Worship Book.

Dr. Smalls is married to Lisa Karen Smalls. They share parenting responsibilities for their six children. We are pleased to share Dr. Smalls’s unique voice, poetry, and insights into the Scriptures with the wider church during this season.

Spoken Word

(Note that we recommend presenting the spoken word as part of the liturgy. See Worship Order for ideas on how to present this as part of the worship service.)

Nothing more frightening
Than heightening the expectation
That God will speak.
Hearing these days is rare.
I don’t have any more risks
To spare. 

No need in hanging around
Taking the chance of being let down
By the One who always lifts.
Better take matters in my own hands
This time.
If God is quiet…certainly others aren’t
Buy here, pay here, sale here
Try it here, go there, sit, stand
Sand, slipping through fingers of hope
Trying to scope any voice I can…but\
There is
No voice.
No choice. 

When the Word is rare
No one could dare
Suggest I just wait.
No one would care
If I pick my own blessings
Or if I seek my own dressings
To my own arrangements.

I’d rather do that…than
Trust.  Trusting leaves
The possibility for disappointment.
Acting on my own,
Will help me to clone my own
Similar to the one in my mind.

Except, it never works.
Is always the best way.

Listening to, “yes.”
Listening to “no more distress”
But also listening to “no”
Listening to “follow me…
Trust me…hope in me”

Shhhhh, everyone, hush,
I’m listening this time…

I’m taking the bold leap
I’ll sit in suspense
even at the expense of
my disappointment.

I’d rather hear a “no”
From God
Than a shallow
“yes” from the mess
Of this world.

Shhhh, ya’ll.
I’m listening.
Speak God…
You got me.

Preaching Ideas

The second week of this epiphany series leads us to the theme of listening. Listening, of course, is a critical part of the Christian path. This week, we encounter a text where the Word of the Lord is rare, but God’s voice emerges as God attempts to get Samuel’s attention. Samuel is initially confused by this and assumes that his mentor, Eli, is calling him. There are many angles in which to approach this theme of listening. Typically, Samuel is the lead in the story, but it is also worth paying attention to Eli.

Sociological/Psychological Imagination

It is very much worth exploring this unique relationship of a mentor who has taken young Samuel on to guide him spiritually. Eli raised Samuel, but Eli was also slightly accountable for some of the silence of God. You could also explore Eli’s life, and how God used him in developing Samuel’s spiritual formation. Emotionally, what was it like for Eli to be in the place that ushered his student to a God that was speaking to him as he once spoke to Eli? How do we address the challenge of meeting that day when God gives our job to another? Are we willing to listen and trust? Are we willing to pray our own covenant prayer, “Let me be employed by thee or laid aside by thee?” Listening sometimes includes being informed that our ministry is now that of making room for the next to come along.

Social Justice Imagination

There are times when it is hard to figure out which way is the right way. We are bombarded daily with news about safety, yet we want to be faithful disciples who offer hospitality. We are hearing that there are wars and rumors of wars, yet we want to be people of peace. We want to be bold and destroy the barriers that divide people and communities. How do we speak to this dangerous, difficult, and challenging time of unrest? The path could very well be that of seeking God’s voice, as opposed to just our own. Who is calling us anyway? Is it those who are close to us, or even kin? Or is God calling us to radical action? Samuel had to figure out where the voice was coming from.  Fortunately, he had assistance from his own village to point him to the way. How do we point our people to the ultimate voice? To be prophetic is to echo the voice of the one who demands justice, peace, and love.

Pastoral Care Imagination

How well do the young and old co-exist? There has been a lot of talk about how the young and the old don’t see eye-to-eye. Yet, we learn all throughout the Bible that both the young and the old are sacred gifts. Joel prophesied that the old will dream dreams and the young will see visions. It is a sacred gift to know that the greatest miracles may be born out of interaction between the young and the old: Ruth and Naomi, Mary and Elizabeth, and of course Samuel and Eli. The one link that is possible to bridge these generational gaps is that of listening. What narratives can be used to illustrate the power of two generations sitting together at the same table, bound by the voice of God, who finds a way to make community among them?

Youth/Young-Adult Imagination

Here is a good place to imagine what it’s like to be frustrated as we learn to distinguish God’s voice among all the other voices out there. Here you might take a life application approach and find a way to weave God’s voice throughout all the unique challenges in youth and young-adult culture: Youth who struggle to get their locker open; young adults who are trying to figure out whether to leave home or not; youth who are battered by bullying; and young adults who may be having the biggest break-up in their lives. God’s voice enters these scenarios as well. What a joy to know that God is a God who speaks to everyday life, even theirs.