Meet Me At The Bell Tower

In our lesson from Samuel, we hear about a boy called to fill the vacuum left by priests who had so thoroughly abandoned their calling that “the word of the Lord was rare in those days” (1 Sam. 3:1). The sons of Eli were blaspheming God by using their position to fleece people who were just trying to worship God. The result was a spiritual impoverishment over the whole land. And thus God calls Samuel by name, “Samuel, Samuel!” Samuel then does become a great prophet in the history of Israel. He’s there to help set up the first kingdom as well as many other things.

One thing I don’t like about the way Bible stories like this often get preached is what I call the “God has big things in store for you” sermon. In our narcissistic culture, affluent society, it is not uncommon for preachers to flatter their congregations with messages full of grand purposes and messianic callings. Let’s be clear, this story is not about you becoming a Samuel, becoming the next King of the world. We already have enough of these folks. Instead this is a story about God and what God can and does do. God gives a vision and plants it often in those we least expect to have it. I guess what I am saying is this, when I read this text I am not thinking, “Hey God, you know where to find me, I am ready to lead the nation!” Rather when I hear this text I am thinking that I know whom our culture presents to me as important and successful but I want to know who our God is sending to us so that we are led in a new and better direction.

At the end of this passage is a foreshadowing of what is in store for Samuel with the words, “And the LORD let none of his words fall to the ground.” That’s a striking image to let none of his words fall to the ground. And it reminds us that when someone has a vision the words offered to express these insights ought never to be taken lightly. Behold, our God is doing a new thing!

Some of you know Kim, Lucy and I attended a national gathering in Winnipeg this week to honour 12 young Canadians whose art inspires us all to consider and imagine what reconciliation looks like in this country when we are discussing our Indigenous Peoples. Lucy was one of those honorees. Most of the three days were spent listening to Indigenous Elders, whom when they were Lucy’s age had already spent more than half of their lives far away from their families, in overcrowded schools, with no access to their own culture or spirituality. They had no support and no advocate. I could not imagine being taken from my family at age five seeing them for only two months a year, stripped of all of my traditions and culture.

That pain is well-known. What might be less well-known are stories like the one we heard from Michael Redhead Champagne, a young Indigenous man who saw terrible violence, gangs and drugs, and hopelessness among Indigenous young people in Winnipeg’s North End. Michael, following his spiritual teachings, went out to the land and had a vision, a vision offered by the Creator. That vision sent him into his community. "In 2011 what brought the community together was funerals, hospitals, and it was at vigils. But today we have celebrations like Meet Me at the Bell Tower, we have opportunities like Got Bannock, the Bear Clan Patrol," said Champagne. Michael took his vision to the street and asked young people in Winnipeg’s North End to join him at the iconic Bell Tower where he offered a constructive interpretation on the events of the week, encouraging words, words too important to “fall to the ground”. Some 60-80 youth join Michael every Friday night at the Bell Tower and there has been a measurable reduction in violence and gang membership. Moreover Michael has organized volunteers to patrol the North End each night, offering safe refuge for woman walking along the street. Last year, Meet Me at the Bell Tower was given the Annual Human Rights Commitment Award by the Manitoba Human Rights Commission and other civil liberty groups.

I believe in visions. Before I came to Bethany those of you who were here then embarked on a visioning process and together you composed something that was named the 20/20 Report. It is on our website if you ever want to look it over. It was ambitious. But many words did fall to the ground because it sometimes felt like the motivation was less living into a unique and contextual call God was placing on our hearts but instead “keeping up with the Joneses”, trying to be a successful church like other more well-attended churches we knew about. When the aim is to be worldly successful words can and do “fall to the ground.”

More recently some of those words have been picked up off the ground and they are being lived out thanks to the excellent work of our Revelations Committee. These folks have excellent vision. They see a world filled with lonely people who wonder if they belong, if they matter. Do you recall the reason Samuel was called upon to answer his call had to do with Eli’s loss of vision, a metaphor for his lack of appreciation and insight into God’s intent. In short it had become more about Eli’s vision of himself and less about Eli’s vision for and with his people. Our Revelation Committee is looking to our church, to our community, to the larger world, and seeing where and what God is calling us to be. What a blessing!

This past year we have started a weekly Walk and Talk, community meals, a Congregational Care Ministry, partnerships with ISANS, helping new Canadians who live neat by. And there is more to come! I hear God calling our name, “Bethany, Bethany…” And when we meet this challenge, when we are creative, bold and true to our vision God will not let our words fall to the ground. These words will bring life and life in abundance.

Thanks be to God for calling on us, for calling us to life-giving community, for giving us the visions of our Revelation Committee and most of all, for living out this vision with action, for living out this vision not for numbers or dollars or pride but for authentic faith-filled discipleship.

And all God’s people said…