By Rev. Catherine Elsdon (Sermon from Sunday, January 18, 2015) Scripture: 1 Samuel 3
In my reflection today I’d like to explore three points for your consideration:
- I believe that God is still speaking, calling us to follow.
- Listening for God in our lives requires paying attention and requires the help of others.
- God doesn’t just call us once—God calls us in different directions over the course of our lives.
Our story today is about God calling and a boy named Samuel learning to listen.
Before he was even born, Samuel’s mother had promised that his life would be dedicated to the service of God. So at a young age Samuel began serving in the temple and training as a priest, under the guidance of the old priest Eli.
Now you need to know that Samuel comes into the picture at a turning point in the history of Judah and Israel. People have grown weary of the occasional service of the judges. The current leadership is corrupt. Eli’s sons are abusing their priestly office and not following the way of God. So Israel begins to long for a change, for a king to lead them. God is doing a new thing and Samuel will be in the thick of it. He will be the one to oversee this change in leadership from judges to kings. God will continue to call upon Samuel throughout his life– Samuel will be a great prophet.
Today, however, we encounter Samuel at the beginning of his remarkable story. It is evening. The temple has shut down for the night. The priest, Eli, whose eye sight is failing, has gone off to bed. The lamp of God is burning low in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God is kept and where 12 year-old Samuel makes his bed. The setting is sleepy and dimly lit, which mirrors the reality that this was a time, as it says in verse one, when the word of God was rarely heard, visions rarely seen.
Some time in the night, God calls: Samuel. Samuel. The boy jumps up,
“Here I am!” Running to Eli he says, “You called?”
“You’re hearing things son, go lie back down,” Eli replies.
Samuel doesn’t recognize God. He doesn’t yet understands God’s ways. Samuel’s name literally means “God has heard,” but the boy is still learning how to hear to God.
Throughout the night, God calls a second and third time. Each time Samuel mistakenly goes to Eli. It is the wise priest who finally clues in. It must be God! He says to Samuel, “Go, lie down; and if you hear the voice again say, ‘Speak, I’m your servant. Ready to listen.’”
I find it so funny and so true to human nature that these two guys never imagined they’d hear God’s voice in the temple! I mean, who saw that coming?! Samuel is literally sleeping next to what was understood as the very presence of God!
I think the first lesson we need to remember here is this: the temptation may be great, but you could be in for a rude awakening if you fall asleep in church!
The second, and probably more important lesson, has to do with listening for God, which in reality is not an easy thing to do. I for one have never experienced a literal word or a booming voice. God’s is usually a still, small voice. In ways, we too live in a time when the word of God is rarely heard over the din of traffic and peer pressure, advertisers and alarm clocks. Communing with the holy, attuning ourselves to God’s presence, listening for God, that takes practice and attention, it requires the help of others.
I have a friend named Dawn. She’s a hairstylist and she is passionate about her work. The last time I was sitting in her salon chair she told me a bit about her story. As a young adult, Dawn has been active in the church while at the same time building up her hairstyling business. She began feeling strongly called by God to do women’s ministry. She wanted to help women of all ages by offering spiritual and emotional support. She spoke with her pastor, she tried to arrange events and programs. But nothing was taking off, she felt like she was spinning her wheels and it just wasn’t the right fit. She was feeling defeated and frustrated, until one day her friend said: Dawn, maybe God is calling you to do ministry through your work as a hairstylist?
That changed Dawn’s whole outlook. She realized that hairstyling could be a form of ministry. She recognized that each day at the salon she has the opportunity to help women feel beautiful, inside and out. She began to understand her work as part pastoral care: listening to women’s struggles, offering support and compassion and humour, sharing her own faith. Dawn feels very much that this is a ministry God has called her to incorporate into everyday life. But, as it was for Samuel, it took another person to help Dawn recognize God’s invitation.
Isn’t that often the way? That is why it is so important to be in a community that together listens and looks for God, engaging together in practices and discussions that attune our senses to the holy.
I remember as a teenager I was working on a project with my minister, John, one day. John is a humble and faithful servant of God, whom I adore. He turned to me that day and asked, “Do you think you ever might consider becoming a minister?” I remember I paused a moment, trying to conceal my teenage horror. I’m sure I responded politely: Oh, probably not. But I was definitely thinking in my head: Hell, no! It would be years before I really listened and responded to God’s call. But it was John who first pointed the way.
Thankfully, as we saw with Samuel, God doesn’t just call once. God’s is a persistent invitation, leading us in different directions throughout our lives.
Even now, God is calling.
In the voice of a child.
In the nudging of your conscience.
In the rhythm of a dance.
In the words of a friend.
The thrill of a sunrise.
In the stillness of prayer,
the poetry of scripture.
In the testimony of others.
In the cries of creation,
the cries of the oppressed.
God is calling. God is still speaking, if we have the will to listen.
God’s is a persistent invitation: to reverence life, to right wrongs, to follow the way of justice and peace, to use the time we have to build a better world.
God is calling. May we listen and respond with the prophets of every age:
Here I am, Lord! Is it I, Lord?
I have heard you calling in the night.
I will God, Lord, if you lead me.
I will hold your people in my heart. Amen.