Don’t Be A Grout – A sermon in memory of one of the greatest preachers I’ve ever known or heard

Don’t Be A Grout!

1 Samuel 3:1-20

Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.

At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was. Then the Lord called, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’ and he said, ‘Here I am!’ and ran to Eli, and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’ But he said, ‘I did not call; lie down again.’ So he went and lay down. The Lord called again, ‘Samuel!’ Samuel got up and went to Eli, and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’ But he said, ‘I did not call, my son; lie down again.’ Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. The Lord called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’ Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy. 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.’ Then the Lord said to Samuel, ‘See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make both ears of anyone who hears of it tingle. On that day I will fulfill against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. For I have told him that I am about to punish his house for ever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them. Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be expiated by sacrifice or offering for ever.’

Samuel lay there until morning; then he opened the doors of the house of the Lord. Samuel was afraid to tell the vision to Eli. But Eli called Samuel and said, ‘Samuel, my son.’ He said, ‘Here I am.’ Eli said, ‘What was it that he told you? Do not hide it from me. May God do so to you and more also, if you hide anything from me of all that he told you.’ So Samuel told him everything and hid nothing from him. Then he said, ‘It is the Lord; let him do what seems good to him.’

As Samuel grew up, the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was a trustworthy prophet of the Lord.


The Grout was a steam-engine type of automobile built in 1900 in the back of a bicycle shop in Orange, Massachusetts. It was a strange little machine. (There’s a photo of it.)

grout 1905

The Grout’s 2-cylinder steam engine was mounted horizontally at the center of the car, with the boiler at the front under the typical car hood. I say the Grout was strange for the driver, though, because the 225-pound pressure plate on which the car ran was under the driver’s seat. Just what an automobile driver wants, pressure on one’s posterior as you cruise around town.

In 1901 the Grout added an enclosed body model followed in 1901. An unusual model was the 1903 Steam Tonneau, which was fitted with a cowcatcher at the front.

At full production, there was one automobile a day coming off the assembly line. The United States thought so much of Great Britain that we gave them several Grouts.

I hate to break the news to you, but the Grout is no longer being built. So your next car will not be a Grout. But if you want to see a Grout, you can drive to Orange, Massachusetts and see them in the Orange Historical Society Museum.

Now what does any of this have to do with anything?

Well, I tell you that story to explain the sermon title, Don’t Be A Grout. Turning grout into a verb, grouting is putting something that is present into the past tense. Grouting is becoming obsolete quickly. Grouting is – is that the best you can do? Grouting is having a poor vision of what can be or should be. Or put another way, it’s building a car that may have been acceptable in the distant past but not the present or the future. And grouting, when it comes to God or the church or scripture is thinking you have captured that which can’t be captured, believing you understand what cannot be fully understood. It’s acting as if the past is somehow privileged or better just because it was some special moment in the past, as if God somehow has no present or future. It’s believing that God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow and that your understanding of God will be the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. Grouting is living with the certainty of your baby blanket Christianity without ever stepping foot into the terrain of doubts and questions and mystery and experience.

Do you know any grouters? Not grouters in terms of grouting tile but grouting in terms of taking society backwards. Lord, have mercy. God, help us. The world has its share of grouters. Lord, have mercy. God, help us. The church, the steeples have a lot of grouters. Amen. You are darn tootin’ we do.

It seems there has always been a conspiracy in the church to deprive the people of God of advancement and new information and insights. It seems there has always been a conspiracy in the church to freeze God and rob the people of God, to use a United Church of Christ phrase, of a still-speaking God. It seems the ecclesiological powers that be have preferred God captured into dogma than being released into the street and into the hearts and minds and experience, yes experience of God.

Now don’t get me wrong. I am not against some measure of nostalgia. After all, my last athletic achievement was in the seventh grade. I am not against healthy doses of nostalgia. You are looking at someone who enjoyed history college classes and church history seminary classes more than any other classes. Put a check mark in the nostalgia, I love history column, but not – but not at the expense of a living, growing, still-speaking, experience of God.

Now what does this have to do with our scripture lesson?

First some background. Let’s start with Hannah. Hannah in the Hebrew means “God’s gift to the world.” Know anybody who thinks they are God’s gift to the world? Well, they should have the name Hannah, which also means “grace” or “favor.” Only problem was Hannah wasn’t feeling particularly graced or favored or like she was any gift to the world. In fact, in ancient times a lot of women found their self worth, at least according to male written scripture, related to their ability to produce children, specially, XY chromosome children, baby boys. Has your self-worth ever gotten tangled up in one issue?

Well, guess what —–Hannah, like just about every other Jewish woman mentioned in the Bible, was barren.

But guess what – barren Hannah did become pregnant and she names her baby boy Samuel, which means “heard by God.” God heard Hannah’s prayers.

The story takes an interesting turn. Hannah, the I want a baby boy so badly mother, ends up giving up her Samuel at a young age.

Doesn’t sound like a Jewish momma to me and definitely doesn’t sound like my Gentile mother. My mother said she gave all of her four boys back to God when we were born but mom – love you momma – mom didn’t give her boys away to anybody, including her daughter-in-laws.

But not Hannah. She turned Samuel loose, at least as much as she could, enough to let him live with Eli, whose name in Hebrew means “My God.” Hannah handed over little boy Samuel to old man/priest Eli, who lived in the temple, and was nearly blind. But while he couldn’t see diddly Eli could hear. And what he was able to do was teach Samuel to hear the voice of God. Remember “Samuel” means “heard by God,” and thank God we are all heard by God – Amen!, – but what is going on now in the narrative is Samuel learning to hear God with the help of his teacher old, blind Eli.

Hearing the voice of God isn’t an exactly easy thing to do, is it? Unless you are a Grouting Christian who knows more about God’s will than God knows.

You know, I’m not worried that some Christians aren’t going to make it to heaven. I’m worried they are going to overshoot it.

Our scripture lessons informs us that the word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread but Eli, old blind Eli taught young Samuel to hear God and catch God’s vision.

Now what does this have to do with me? Well, I had an elderly preacher, a getting on up there in age preacher, teach me how to hear God and catch God’s vision.

As a freshman at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill I regularly attended the worship service of University Baptist Church. I did this because my mamma taught me to go to church. She took us Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night and to anything special going on at the steeples. Another reason I attended worship at University Baptist and rarely missed a Sunday is because I was mesmerized by University Baptist’s preacher, Dr. Thomas Downing, who had a Scottish brogue. Keep in mind this was a university church. People often were heard to say, “Well, I don’t know what he said, but it sounded good.”

Well, not only did it sound good, the theology, the depth, the experiences was eye-opening, world changing, mesmerizing.

Vicky before meeting me attended another church in Chapel Hill but she took fell in love with Dr. Downing. She also noticed how her ears tingled while listening to Dr. sermons, how none of his words fell to the ground. And so we ended up going to University Baptist for a long time. During seminary I got to ride with Dr. Downing to Southeastern Baptist Theological seminary and be in the preaching class which he taught. During seminary I also got to be the seminary intern at University Baptist. And best of all, Dr. Down and his wife, Sue, took us under their wings and taught us how to hear the voice of God and catch God’s vision.

How can I describe Sue. She was a pit bull preacher’s wife.

One Saturday evening Sue and Tom had us over for dinner. During the course of the meal Sue shared how someone had come up to her in the sanctuary one Sunday wanting to know her opinion on whether the sanctuary should be painted mint grin, beige, or white. Sue reared back and blurted out, “I don’t give a damn what color the sanctuary is painted. And I don’t think God gives a damn either.” The Downings taught us God’s voice is not concerned with the trivial.

Dr. Downing modeled being a clergyperson trying to hear God’s voice, which was a still-speaking voice. Dr. Downing taught us to keep on listening even when, especially when, it seemed the word of the Lord was rare and visions were not widespread.

There was such a time in Dr. Downing’s life. He was having a very dry spiritual time in his life. He was in between spiritual oases. One afternoon, the phone rang. A voice that sounded as thought it had come from the deep south, a little black woman named Priscilla from Baton Rouge, called and asked Dr. Downing if he would come down to Maryland General Hospital to be with her husband, Lee, who was dying of leukemia. The last thing Dr. Downing wanted to do was add another sick person to his list and go down there, but he went. When he walked into the room, he saw a black man with bony hand lying in bed – pale, sick, and dying. Dr. Downing introduced himself. He said, “All I want you to do I read some scripture.” So Dr. Downing read John 1:1-14, 1 Corinthians 13, 1 Corinthians 10:13- all the major passages that he liked. Then they had prayed and Dr. Downing left.

Dr. Downing realized when he had left that something had happened to him – that he had heard a voice, and that in hearing one voice he had heard another voice, and that the spiritual desert was gone and somehow or other he was back in the presence of God, because he had been with a sick person who turned a hospital room into a sacramental sanctuary.

Two days later, Priscilla said on the phone again, “Please come back. Lee is worse.” So Dr. Downing trotted back to the hospital, and the man was in worse shape than he had been and was about to die. He asked Dr. Downing to kneel down beside him and he took Dr. Downing’s hands in his. And he said to Dr. Downing, “I want to give you peace.” He then prayed and Dr. Downing left.

The next morning, Priscilla called to say that Lee had passed and that they would wait for Dr. Downing to come down before they took the body away. Dr. Downing went down and had power over his body.

In those three experiences Dr. Downing found he had been to church three times and that his priest was a black man named Lee, just like Samuel found his priest was an old, nearly blind Eli, who couldn’t see worth a flip but boy could he teach a boy to hear the voice of God.

Now what does this have to do with you?

Now what does this have to do with Wedgewood?

Do You Know What Your Problem Is?


I know a clergyperson who used to be on the staff of a very prominent, rich church.  He later became the executive director at a ministry for the homeless. In comparing his two clergy stints, he said, “The rich have problems too.  Their money just allows them to hide them better than the homeless are able to hide their problems.”

Everybody has a problem.  Really, everybody has problems.

Do you know what your problem is?  Do you know what your problems are?

I enjoy having fun, and one of the ways I have fun is by asking people, especially my wife and son, a question as if I have the answer, when, in fact, I don’t have the answer.  Nothing like intonation to throw your audience off.

Anyway, the other day I asked my wife, “Do you know what your problem is?”

No response from my spouse of 34 years.  Although she bit the hook.  She thought I was going to tell her her problem, complain about some facet of her wonderful being.  I was just playing with her.

Before she could answer, I continued.  “Everybody has a problem.  And everybody needs to know their problem.”

To which she quickly replied, “You are my problem.”