“Keeping Watch”
1 Samuel 3:1-11; John 14:1-14

How many of you noticed in the stained glass behind me that Jesus is wearing purple sneakers before you were told by someone else? How many of you are noticing it for the first time right now? (note: I wish I had a photo of it? Anyone?)

We do this all the time don’t we? I’ve driven one particular road many times, and the other day I noticed a home I hadn’t seen before. It was a big home. I’m pretty sure I hadn’t noticed it there before, but I’m also pretty sure it didn’t just drop in there out of no where since the last time I was by.

Sometimes we just don’t notice things. We don’t see them but they are always there. When someone points it out to us, or we finally wake up and notice it ourselves, we feel a little silly don’t we? How could be miss something so obvious!

Well, it just happens to work out that way sometimes. We have our focus and that’s what we’re looking at. The road… what’s happening in front of the church. Where our focus is, well, that’s where we’re looking. So we don’t always see other things in our periphery.

I want to share a short video clip with you. What I need you to do is to count the number of times the team in white passes the ball. That’s all you have to do. If you’ve seen it before, don’t give the answer away please.

Did you see it? Did you see the gorilla on the first pass?

Once you’ve seen the gorilla, you can’t miss it. It just stands out like a sore thumb. The gentlemen who created this video have made others like it, just to show how our perception can be manipulated and we can totally miss something that should be so obvious. Our focus is on counting the balls, and we totally miss the gorilla walk through the middle of the screen.

Now that we’ve had some fun, anniversary services are a fun time in the church. We invite past ministers, we invite other people we know, we all come together to share in a special day. A day we remember the past, things we have done by bringing in faces we recognize.

However, I would ask a lot of churches what’s different today than what happens the rest of the year? The only real difference I see in some places is we actually bring the people in we talk about the rest of the year.

We like to talk a lot about our past. How busy things were. How big our Sunday School was. How many used to come into our sanctuaries. We also talk about how the world changed around us and we no longer feel relevant. We haven’t changed, we’re still here and doing what we’ve always done, so why don’t people come and join us? These are all good things, but do we need to focus on them?

When Samuel was lying in in the temple one night he heard a voice call his name. The only other person around was Eli, the priest, so Samuel went to him to see what he wanted. Eli hadn’t called him, so sent sent the young man away. Three times this happened until Eli finally realized someone else was calling Samuel. It was the Lord. So Eli told Samuel what to say when he heard the voice again. From there God told Samuel he was going to do something new in Israel, and Samuel was going to be part of it.

The fun part of the story is that God told Samuel he was going to put an end to the rule of Eli and his family in the temple. Eli’s kids had gone wild so it was time for someone new to take over. Those crazy preacher’s kids!

In reality, God didn’t actually do a whole lot of “new” things. God, once again, was trying to restore His divine plan for creation. Just like in the Garden of Eden, people fell away from what God had in plan for the world. Throughout the prophets in the Old Testament, we see God using prophets to call people back to lives of faith. Not to do something new, but to pay attention to what God was trying to do in the first place! That being a world of peace and unity, and a world in very close relationship with its creator.

God was calling his people to pay attention. But people became so focused on meeting what they perceived to be their own needs, they missed what God was asking them to do. They were so focused on counting the number of times the ball was passed, they missed out on the most obvious thing in the picture.

So many churches out there are focused on the past, the way things have always been done. Why not really, right? It worked before, people were here by the hundreds. I see it a lot in rural churches, where the young people simply moved away from the community altogether. When a community loses its youth, the community loses its energy, its new ideas, its ability to pass a torch down to the next generation.

But I don’t think it’s over. Not by a long shot.

Many churches may be struggling with membership and finances, but we are still here. We still have hope in the God we seek to serve. Our God who came to earth himself to show us how much He loves us by his death on a cross. Jesus said in the great commission at the end of the Gospel of Matthew that he will be with us to the end of the age. And there’s that great line from the book of Romans, “If God is for us, who is against us?”

John 14 is a beautiful interaction between Jesus and the disciples. Jesus is sitting at the table in the upper room with the rest of the disciples. Judas has left to do what he has to do. And Jesus breaks the news he will be leaving them very soon.

Imagine after 3 years with Jesus how you would feel in this situation. All that you have seen and heard in following him. What are you going to do? You are going to feel bad? Sure your are, you don’t want Jesus to leave. He has been your life and guide for 3 years, and now he’s going to leave?

Philip makes a request, “Lord, show us the Father.”

Jesus responds they have all seen the Father already, because they have seen him. Jesus says if you believe in him, you believe in the Father because the two are the same. Look at the works I have done, Jesus says. They speak to what God is doing. Jesus also tells the disciples that those who believe are also capable of great things, maybe even greater!

So… what do we believe? What are we focusing on in our churches?

Are we focusing on what God wants us to do, or are we focusing on what we want to do?

When God whispered to Samuel in the still of the night, He told Samuel he was going to do something new, something different, something that will make anyone’s ears tingle who hear about it.

What is God whispering to His churches? What is it that we need to get excited about? What is it we see when we look at Jesus? Do we see God in action? Do we want to be part of his amazing promise to the world?

There’s nothing wrong with doing things the way they have always been done, if you are clear that it’s what God wants you to do. By doing these things, do they excite you? Do they bear fruit? Are lives being changed? Are people being helped? Are people responding to the invitation of Jesus Christ when they take part in these activities?

As God’s people we need to be continually checking ourselves to be sure we are doing, or still doing what God would have us do. Many times in the Old Testament God had to redirect His people. He had to change the direction they were taking because it was taking them off the path He had laid out for them. They got too focused on other parts of the journey, and missed out on what God was asking them to do. Often, they found themselves in a whole heap of trouble when they followed their own plans too long, and God pretty much had to bail them out.

Thankfully I don’t think we’ve gone that far off track. God hasn’t had to pull us out of slavery or kill off the preacher’s kids. Jesus Christ came instead. God in the flesh came in person to show us the way and to teach us directly how we are live our lives in relationship to Him, others, and the world.

Are we close to Him? Are we listening to Him? Do we hear the call of God in our lives? And are we doing what He is calling us to do?

God is calling to us. Signalling us the direction to take. Are we keeping watch?