Holy Troublemakers and Tingling Ears

Rev. Laura Fitzpatrick-Nager

First Congregational Church of Old Lyme

1 Samuel 3:1-11

January 14th, 2024


We need in every community a group of angelic troublemakers.”

-Bayard Rustin


Then God said to Samuel, “See, I am about to do something that will make both ears of anyone who hears of it tingle.”


I have read this scripture passage from the first book of Samuel in the Old Testament numerous times and never noticed the tingling ears before. God said to Samuel both of his ears will tingle…How could I miss that? A calling- that voice in the middle of the night nudging you to step out, get up, go forward or begin again is a whole-body experience-from head to toe. A true calling whether to embrace a new endeavor or a relationship or justice issue…..is an embodied commitment. Whatever the outcome. When you think you might hear the call, you’re all in.  From our thinking brains to our tingling ears and marching feet.


As we can see from the story of Samuel from the Old Testament, it helps, too, to have a person like an “Eli”, in the wings- that wise mentoring figure whispering to you in the night, hey, this is the real deal, listen up! Jesus himself said to the disciples, “Let anyone with ears, listen!” – Matthew 11:15


Wrote one minister,

God can speak to us in countless ways—through beloveds and babies, Word and wind, music and mystery, heartbreak and healing, community and conflict, outcasts and oddballs, friends and frenemies, and still, we often miss or mis-identify God’s call. We think we hear something but, unsure of what it is, we go back to bed.


Sometimes “calls” flame up like a bush on fire in front of your eyes as Moses discovered…Or, you may hear a soft persistent voice that says, over and over again. You can do this, let your heart take courage (as the psalmist reminds us, Psalm 31.24) now is the time for this leap of faith into the unknown.


Be assured when you hear that it, you’ll know when the time is right ‘cause God says “even both of your ears will tingle”. One thing to remember about callings is that they often won’t let you go until you respond. Maybe you, too, have been awakened in the middle of the night to consider a crazy calling…and acted on it. What was the moment or experience like for you?


As people of faith we are called to wake up to the mighty task of justice. In (Micah 6, the very first line from another prophet to “do justice…”) This weekend, people around the world are honoring the legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and remembering the great cloud of witnesses along with him who contributed to the movement in large and small ways:  Many are unsung heroes like Ella Baker, Fannie Lou Hamer, Bayard Rustin, Coretta Scott King and so many others.


As they listened in their own ways to the summons of justice it often meant one’s physical body, too, was literally on the line.


Dr. King also had a few trusted mentors and advisors in his life in the role of an “Eli” from our scripture story.  Among them was, Bayard Rustin.


Rustin who lived out his calling as a pacifist and holy troublemaker, led many, including Dr. MLK to embrace non-violence as a philosophy and practice in order to change unfair systems and racist laws like Jim Crow.


If you haven’t seen the film about Bayard Rustin and his pivotal role in the movement for civil rights and peaceful protest, it’s currently playing on Netflix and well worth your while. (Hint: It’s also quite something to see Chris Rock play the NAACP leader, Roy Wilkins!)


There’s a powerful scene referred to in the movie and also described in Rustin’s writings, where Rustin arrives at the family home of MLK and Coretta Scott King in Montgomery (1956) for the first time hoping he can assist King in widening his prophetic leadership to the national level with mass peaceful demonstrations.


By the early 50’s, Rustin had become the leading practitioner of nonviolent direct action (teaching others about the power of sit-ins, boycotts, marches, picketing, hunger strikes and other actions) and traveled the world to advise leaders on planned nonviolent civil disobedience.  Raised as a pacifist by his grandmother, (surely, his ear tingling started then!) Rustin proudly said, “My activism did not spring from my being gay or for that matter from my being Black. Rather it is rooted in my Quaker upbringing and the values instilled in me based on a concept of a single human family and the belief that all members of that family are equal.


And now here he was teaching MLK in his own kitchen what that commitment to peace really meant. Walking up to the King’s front door, Rustin noticed right away that King was armed and saw that there were armed bodyguards and guns everywhere protecting him.  Of course, the King home had just been bombed (it was the 2nd month of the Montgomery Bus Boycott) so there was a good reason for the guns but Bayard counseled MLK that as the growing leader of the Civil rights movement that his commitment to Gandhian non-violence, to the philosophy of Satyagraha, required a rejection of ALL violence. Full stop. Even in self-defense. Shortly after that visit, King’s guards were disarmed and MLK never carried a gun again.


Rustin’s was the voice MLK needed to listen to at that moment in time, a moment that may have changed the course of civil rights history. He heard that voice that makes one sit up and listen, that makes the call of justice that “pure, clear note in the silence” as Dag Hammorskold wrote.


As a gay, Black man, Rustin was often marginalized by those in power who didn’t want him too near King…and forced him into the shadows -though Rustin didn’t stay there for long– That didn’t stop him from organizing the most successful peaceful march to Washington in our country’s history to date earning him the nickname, “Mr. March-on-Washington.”  in August of 1963. Something like 250,000 people showed up from all walks of life across our country to demand Jobs, Freedom from Racism and Votes for all. Ultimately, as you know, that famous March led to the historic passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  The iconic black and white photos of that time in our nation’s history are imprinted on many of our hearts and the voice of King, too, declaring, “No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.”,


We stand on their shoulders. All of us.  Whether you might call yourself a holy troublemaker or a pacifist, an observer, wonderer, or a supporter from the sidelines, we are all invited into that embrace for justice.

I’m curious what calls have you heard in your life, or not? What is it your faith, your passion asks of you here at FCCOL on a January morning in the mid-winter?  How shall we continue our work of faith together in the embrace of the belonging and dignity of all people?


May the timeless words of King from his I have a Dream Speech awaken each of us to a renewed sense of call: “Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley (of segregation) to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood (and sisterhood). Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.”


May it be so this year. May the tingling ears continue in the night and never stop.