What to Expect
 — Rev. Phil Hobson

January 18, 2015


1 Samuel 3:1-10
John 1:43-51

Grace and Peace to you this morning. Grace and Peace.

What can I expect?
When can we expect delivery?
When should I tell them to expect you?

Questions we use all the time, and revealing ones. We want to know something about what is coming up, what we ought to prepare ourselves for.

Sometimes they are small things, like when do you expect the mail tuck to come by? Sometimes they are much bigger things: I hear she is expecting.

Samuel has perfectly reasonable expectations: he is a boy serving in the Temple of the Lord. If it is the middle of the night and he hears his name called out, he knows what is expected of him: run and see what the priest needs. Samuel hears his name, and runs to the one he expects to be calling it.

The first time, Eli may have been upset his rest was interrupted, but also may have been pleased the boy was responsive. The second time, perhaps he was annoyed: “Is this going to go on all night?” So maybe we can forgive Eli for not remembering what to expect the first two times. Three times, three times, three times: Eli expects something different. The Lord is calling.

Therefore Eli said to Samuel,
“Go, lie down; and if he calls you,
you shall say, ‘Speak, LORD,
for your servant is listening.'”
So Samuel went and lay down in his place.
Now the LORD came and stood there,
calling as before, “Samuel! Samuel!”
And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

Eli tells Samuel to expect that the Lord will speak to him, but gives Samuel no expectation as to what the Lord might say. And it says that the Lord came and stood there, calling as before.

This says something about Eli’s wisdom about God: the Lord is God, and God is sovereign, meaning that God will speak when and where and if God wants to speak, and God will say what God will say. Not even the priest at the Temple of the Lord could guess what God might say. And our inability to control or hem God in means God can show up to a boy serving in the Temple rather than to a priest or king or royalty or anyone who might otherwise expect they would be higher up on the guest list.

My friend Ed Middleton, when he would celebrate a baptism for someone old enough to remember the experience, would tell them, “Expect to feel something.” On the one hand, this is an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace, and so the experience should have some kind of oomph. On the other hand, he did not want to presume to know how each person would experience. He offered the expectation but left it open to the individual’s personal experience of the sacrament.

He offered me the same advice when I was going to be ordained, which is accompanied with the laying on of hands. And he was right. I felt something.

Fast forward to the Gospel lesson this morning. Philip goes to Nathaniel.

Philip found Nathanael and said to him,
“We have found him about whom Moses in the law
and also the prophets wrote,
Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.”
Nathanael said to him,
“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”
Philip said to him, “Come and see.”

On the one hand, Philip, Nathaniel, indeed all of Israel, had an expectation of the Messiah. They were steeped in the stories and the hopes.

But they also had expectation of Galilee. That was the place of those rabble-rousers. That was the outskirts. That’s where the rednecks came from. Can anything good come from there?

Imagine if someone from Washington, D.C., or New York, or L.A., or even Chicago were told that someone important came from Charlotte. Can anything good come from Charlotte?

The Battle Creek Enquirer-News published the following story from on June 9, 1944:

“On a broad, windswept gun deck of a flagship off the French coast soldiers and sailors of many creeds heard a protestant communion prayer offered by Naval Lieutenant R. H. McConnell of Charlotte, Michigan, just prior to the invasion according to a dispatch from the Associated Press. The Rev. McConnell, a Congregational pastor at Charlotte for five years prior to his enlistment as a navy chaplain 18 months ago, is about 38 years old. His wife and three children reside in Charlotte at present.”

Some of you already know this story. The prayer that was broadcast over all the ships before the D-Day invasion of Normandy was spoken by our own Rev. McConnell, given leave from this church to go serve, and who later returned to pastor this church.

Can anything good come from Charlotte? Of course, many good things have come from here, not simply those that have an international impact in a pivotal moment of history.

So maybe we need new expectations about ourselves and our church and our community.

One last surprise from these verses. Right after Nathaniel expresses his doubts, Jesus does not berate him. It sounds more like praise:

“Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!”

Nathaniel spoke his mind. He did not pretty up his words or hedge his bets. Maybe what Jesus needs is for us to be more honest about where we really are, what we really think and believe. Some of you are really good at this. I never have to wonder what you are thinking!

But after being honest, let us open our expectations. Maybe it is the Lord speaking to us. Maybe what we need to do is to say, “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.”

For God will say what God needs to say, to whomever God needs to say it.

Thanks be to God. Amen.