Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | January 15, 2012

2012.01.15 “What I Learned at Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken” – 1 Samuel 3: 1 – 10

Central United Methodist Church

“What I Learned at Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken”

Pastor David L. Haley

1 Samuel 3: 1 – 10

January 15th, 2012


          “The boy Samuel was serving God under Eli’s direction. This was at a time when the revelation of God was rarely heard or seen. One night Eli was sound asleep (his eyesight was very bad — he could hardly see). It was well before dawn; the sanctuary lamp was still burning. Samuel was still in bed in the Temple of God, where the Chest of God rested.

          Then God called out, “Samuel, Samuel!”

          Samuel answered, “Yes? I’m here.” Then he ran to Eli saying, “I heard you call.

Here I am.”

          Eli said, “I didn’t call you. Go back to bed.” And so he did.

          God called again, “Samuel, Samuel!”

          Samuel got up and went to Eli, “I heard you call. Here I am.”

          Again Eli said, “Son, I didn’t call you. Go back to bed.” (This all happened before Samuel knew God for himself. It was before the revelation of God had been given to him personally.)

          God called again, “Samuel!” — the third time! Yet again Samuel got up and went to Eli, “Yes? I heard you call me. Here I am.”

          That’s when it dawned on Eli that God was calling the boy. So Eli directed Samuel, “Go back and lie down. If the voice calls again, say, ‘Speak, God. I’m your servant, ready to listen.'” Samuel returned to his bed.

          Then God came and stood before him exactly as before, calling out, “Samuel! Samuel!”

          Samuel answered, “Speak. I’m your servant, ready to listen.”    – 1 Samuel 3: 1 – 10, The Message

I’d like to share with you today what I learned 11 days ago at Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken in Memphis, Tennessee. Other than that it was some of the best fried chicken I’ve ever eaten in my life, and how the next day we wished we’d taken a bag full to eat in the car on the way home. And how FedEx and Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken are both based in Memphis. Interesting possibilities?

But before we talk about that, you need to know that this is one of those days when we cease searching for God, and God comes searching for us, for a man or woman, boy or girl, who will answer the call to do God’s will.

I can’t say I look forward to this Sunday. Obviously, I answered a call from God, or I wouldn’t be standing here today. But, like all who answer God’s calls, there are times when I get weary. There are times I like to pretend like I’m deaf, not listening to God’s call, like husbands sometimes do to their wives. Sometimes the call of God is hard and asks us to go in directions we’d just as soon not go, and do things we’d just as soon not do. And so we pretend we’re not listening: “You talkin’ to me, God?” “Did you say something?” “Because I thought I heard something, but maybe it was my iPhone.”

In accordance, the Old Testament story today is a classic biblical story about the call of God: the story of the boy Samuel, who hears and answers God’s call. “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.”  As we hear this story, may the prayer of Samuel become our own.

I heard a seminary professor say this was favorite story in the Bible. He said his parents read it to him when he was little, and ever after he said, “When is the Lord going to call me?”  Sure enough, in time, the Lord did.

If you know the story, you will remember it began in the same Temple. In 1st Samuel 1, poor Hannah, childless and barren, comes to the temple seeking God’s favor.  So fervent was her praying, the old priest Eli thought she was drunk, and tried to send her away.  But she persisted, and received Eli’s blessing.

And God granted Hannah’s prayer. She became pregnant and had a child, whom she named, Samuel, “God Has Heard.”  She was so happy in 1 Samuel 2 that she sings a song that Mary, the mother of Jesus, would one day emulate. Hannah dedicated Samuel to the Lord, and took him back to the temple, where he would be raised as a priest.

But, as it turns out, Hannah was also lucky, because she’d been met by the priest Eli and none of his miserable sons. As 1 Samuel, chapter 2 makes clear, they were a bad lot: they didn’t know God and cared less about the people. Eli kept getting reports on how his sons were ripping off the people and sleeping with the women, women like poor Hannah who came seeking help, only to be taken advantage of. Eli took them to task: but they were too far gone and refused to listen to a thing their father said. You would think they were teenagers!

Maybe this is why the story says “The word of the Lord was rare in those days.”  With priests like that, and a temple like that, maybe God’s tongue was tied.  But that’s about to change.

Here’s little Samuel, asleep in his bed, in the cute little robe his mother had made for him.  And the Lord called, “Sam – u – el. Sam – u – el.”  Off Samuel went, little feet pitter-pattering across the floor, running to Eli, thinking Eli was the one who called. “Wake up wake up” Eli says: “What?” Samuel says, “You called; here I am!” And Eli says, ”Go away, kid; you bother me!” I didn’t call; go back to bed.”

Samuel goes back to bed. There it is again: “Sam – u – el. Sam – u – el.” Off he runs to Eli: “Wake up, wake up!” “Now what?” says Eli. “You called?” “Samuel, do you think this is a game? I’ve got 2 masses and a funeral tomorrow; please get a drink of water, go to the bathroom, go back to bed and leave me alone.”

The third time it comes. “Sam – u – el. Sam – u – el.” This time he finds Eli already up. It had finally dawned on Eli that maybe this was God calling Samuel. So he tells Samuel: “Look – the next time – first of all, don’t wake me up.  Secondly, say this: “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”

So Samuel goes back to bed, and once again the voice calls. And Samuel says: “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.”

Even though that’s where our reading ended, that’s not the end of the story. What God calls Samuel to do, may have made him wish he’d covered his head with his pillow. What God called them to do was fire his mentor Eli, and tell Eli’s sons, “In my office now!” Dread it though he did, Samuel reported to Eli every word he’d been told. And Samuel said: “God is God: let God do what God thinks best.”

Still today, the call of God is often hard, asking us to go in directions we’d just as soon not go, and do things we’d just as soon not do. The most famous people God calls to do this are called prophets; of whom Samuel was – after Moses – one of the first. “Nice work if you can get it,” the writer Saul Bellow once said of the job of prophet, “but sooner or later you’ve got to talk about God.”

Martin Luther King, Jr., was such a man, whom God called in a way he did not expect. All he’d ever wanted to be was a preacher, like his Daddy. When the Montgomery Bus boycott took off in December of 1955, King was a 26-year-old minister with little more than a year’s experience as pastor of Mongomery’s Dexter Avenue Baptist Church. When black residents chose him – without his knowledge – to head the Montgomery Improvement Association to continue the protest, King would later admit that his unanticipated call to leadership “happened so quickly that I did not have time to think it through. It is probable that if I had, I would have declined the nomination.”

Sure enough, things heated up. The death threats against him and against his family came, and he was shaken. So in January 1956, as with Samuel, it was a nighttime conversation with God that saved him.

“It was around midnight,” he explained years later. “You can have some strange experiences at midnight.” (Samuel would agree to that.) A threatening phone call had gotten to him: “N—–, we are tired of you and your mess now, and if you aren’t out of this town in three days, we’re going to blow your brains out and blow up your house.”

King said he sat in his kitchen before an untouched cup of coffee and thought about:

“a beautiful little daughter who had just been born. . . . She was the darling of my life. I’d come in night after night and see that little gentle smile. And I sat at that table thinking about that little girl and thinking about the fact that she could be taken from me any minute.

And I started thinking about a dedicated, devoted and loyal wife   who was over there asleep. And she could be taken from me, or I could be taken from her. And I got to the point that I couldn’t take it  any longer. I was weak. Something said to me, you can’t call on Daddy now, he’s up in Atlanta a hundred and seventy-five miles away. You can’t even call on Mama now. You’ve got to call on that something in  that person that your Daddy used to tell you about, that power that   can make a way out of no way.

And I discovered then that religion had to become real to me,  and I had to know God for myself. And I bowed down over that cup of coffee. I never will forget it . . . I prayed a prayer, and I prayed out loud that night. I said, “Lord, I’m down here trying to do what’s right. I think I’m right. I think the cause that we represent is right. But Lord, I must confess that I’m weak now. I’m faltering. I’m losing my courage.     And I can’t let the people see me like this because if they see me weak    and losing my courage, they will begin to get weak.”

And it seemed at that moment that I could hear an inner voice saying to me, “Martin Luther, stand up for righteousness. Stand up for     justice. Stand up for truth.  And lo I will be with you, even until the end of the world” . . . I heard the voice of Jesus saying still to fight on.     He promised never to leave me, never to leave me alone.” (Martin Luther King, Jr., “Thou Fool.” sermon, Mount Pisgah Missionary Baptist Church, Chicago, Aug. 27, 1967, pp. 11-14, King Papers.)

It was that midnight encounter with God in the kitchen, which gave King the strength and courage to go on, through all the years, until that sad and tragic day in Memphis.

Which brings us back there.  You see, before we ate at Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken, we’d toured the National Civil Rights Museum, 3 blocks away.

Through the use of displays and an audio CD, you are taken on a chronological tour of the struggle for civil rights in our country. For example, there is a white hooded sheet of a Ku Klux Klan member, surrounded by pictures of lynchings. Interactive displays are the most powerful: you board on a Montgomery Bus to sit by the figure of Rosa Parks, in her defiant seat in the front of the bus, as you hear the bus driver yell at her to get out of that seat, and what was going to happen if she didn’t. There is a lunch counter where the figures of students sit, while angry figures stand around them, threatening them, harassing them. There is a burned out bus, a testimony to the courage of the Freedom Riders – white and black – who rode through the south. You walk under the arches of the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, where marchers were brutally beaten by police. Finally you stand near the interior of Room 306, to look out the window onto the balcony at the spot King died.

It gives you a greater appreciation of the moral courage and tremendous price, paid by all those who fought in the long struggle for civil rights, and especially those like Dr. King, who paid the price in their own blood. Little did we ever expect that the call to greater justice and righteousness would come through the unwavering voice of a Baptist preacher, and that the way it would come would be through walking, sitting, praying, singing, and most importantly, the non-violent resistance of those who were it’s victims.

So what did I learn at Gus’ World Famous Fried Chicken, as we ate there afterwards? Not only that the chicken was very good, but that in a restaurant, three blocks from where Dr. King was killed, whites and blacks and Asians and all people of color could sit down together to eat without question, ONLY because of the tremendous price paid by those like Samuel and all the servants of God since, who heard the call of God and answered, “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.”

May this prayer become our own.  Amen.


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