God is Speaking, Are We Listening? | 17 January 2021
1 Samuel 3:1-20 | Common English Bible
3 Now the boy Samuel was serving the Lord under Eli. The Lord’s word was rare at that time, and visions weren’t widely known. 2 One day Eli, whose eyes had grown so weak he was unable to see, was lying down in his room. 3 God’s lamp hadn’t gone out yet, and Samuel was lying down in the Lord’s temple, where God’s chest was.
4 The Lord called to Samuel. “I’m here,” he said.
5 Samuel hurried to Eli and said, “I’m here. You called me?”
“I didn’t call you,” Eli replied. “Go lie down.” So he did.
6 Again the Lord called Samuel, so Samuel got up, went to Eli, and said, “I’m here. You called me?”
“I didn’t call, my son,” Eli replied. “Go and lie down.”
(7 Now Samuel didn’t yet know the Lord, and the Lord’s word hadn’t yet been revealed to him.)
8 A third time the Lord called Samuel. He got up, went to Eli, and said, “I’m here. You called me?”
Then Eli realized that it was the Lord who was calling the boy. 9 So Eli said to Samuel, “Go and lie down. If he calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord. Your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down where he’d been.
10 Then the Lord came and stood there, calling just as before, “Samuel, Samuel!”
Samuel said, “Speak. Your servant is listening.”
11 The Lord said to Samuel, “I am about to do something in Israel that will make the ears of all who hear it tingle! 12 On that day, I will bring to pass against Eli everything I said about his household—every last bit of it! 13 I told him that I would punish his family forever because of the wrongdoing he knew about—how his sons were cursing God, but he wouldn’t stop them. 14 Because of that I swore about Eli’s household that his family’s wrongdoing will never be reconciled by sacrifice or by offering.”
15 Samuel lay there until morning, then opened the doors of the Lord’s house. Samuel was afraid to tell the vision to Eli. 16 But Eli called Samuel, saying: “Samuel, my son!”
“I’m here,” Samuel said.
17 “What did he say to you?” Eli asked. “Don’t hide anything from me. May God deal harshly with you and worse still if you hide from me a single word from everything he said to you.” 18 So Samuel told him everything and hid nothing from him.
“He is the Lord, ” Eli said. “He will do as he pleases.”
19 So Samuel grew up, and the Lord was with him, not allowing any of his words to fail. 20 All Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was trustworthy as the Lord’s prophet.
John 1:43-51 | Common English Bible
43 The next day Jesus wanted to go into Galilee, and he found Philip. Jesus said to him, “Follow me.” 44 Philip was from Bethsaida, the hometown of Andrew and Peter.
45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law and the Prophets: Jesus, Joseph’s son, from Nazareth.”
46 Nathanael responded, “Can anything from Nazareth be good?”
Philip said, “Come and see.”
47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said about him, “Here is a genuine Israelite in whom there is no deceit.”
48 Nathanael asked him, “How do you know me?”
Jesus answered, “Before Philip called you, I saw you under the fig tree.”
49 Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are God’s Son. You are the king of Israel.”
50 Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these! 51 I assure you that you will see heaven open and God’s angels going up to heaven and down to earth on the Human One.”
In my humble opinion, it is the height of presumption to claim to speak definitively and with absolute certainty for the Lord God of the Universe. But, people do it, it seems, all the time.
Also, in my humble opinion, I do believe that one can speak humbly and with faith regarding what the Lord God of the universe has “said” to him or her. Because, this is something I do and you may do as well. It’s my vocation, quite frankly. The key words here are humbly and with faith. The minute we believe we’ve got God all figured it [especially for others], we can be assured that whatever we think we’ve got all figured out isn’t God but something else entirely.
The world of the Bible belongs to a very different time and place. There is so much that lies between the world of say a Samuel and a Nathanael, two persons we met in today’s lessons, and our world. Samuel and Nathanael would be just as lost in our world as we would be in theirs.
But, we do have some things in common. Samuel and Nathanael were human. We are human. Together, we know hunger and thirst, joy and sadness, hope and fear. And, we also long for meaning and purpose, a relationship with the divine, to love and to know that we are loved and that our lives matter as well as the lives of others and even the planet itself.
Today’s lessons are call stories. God is calling Samuel to a task. God is calling Nathanael to a task. Samuel’s call is to be a prophet to kings. He ends up being a big deal. Nathanael’s call is to follow Jesus. I think we can learn a thing or two from their responses to God’s call.
Our lesson from First Samuel is very, very old – nearly 3000 years old. It’s the only story in the Bible of Samuel as a boy. All the rest are of him as an adult prophet to Israel’s kings.
Samuel was dedicated to God’s service by his mother, Hannah, before he was even born. As a boy, Hannah presented Samuel to the chief priest, Eli, at Shiloh, a sanctuary city where the Ark of the Covenant resided. The ark was a gold covered chest that contained stone tablets of the Ten Commandments.
In our lesson, it is night. Eli is aged. He has lost his eyesight. He is asleep. Samuel is preparing to turn in for the night as well. He lies down in the temple in the candlelit darkness beside the ark and hears a voice calling: “I am here.” The words “I am” are reminiscent of the words to Moses from the burning bush on Mt. Sinai. When Moses asks who is speaking to him, the voice tells him “I am who I am.” Samuel believes the voice is his master’s voice, Eli’s. He reports to Eli only to discover it wasn’t Eli at all. This happens two additional times.
After the third time, Eli says it is God who is calling Samuel. The narrator tells us that this is something that hasn’t happened for a long time. God for reasons the narrator doesn’t tell us has been silent. Eli teaches Samuel how to respond. Say, “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.”
In the story, Samuel hears God but suspects that it is Eli instead. Eli has to teach Samuel that it is God as well as how to respond to God. I’ll circle back around to what God has to say to Samuel.
That’s our first call story.
The second call story involves Jesus gathering his inner circle of followers. This is something rabbis did. They were teachers and teachers gathered students. Jesus had already called Peter and Andrew and Philip.
Jesus’ call to Nathanael comes by way of Philip. Philip is so excited about his encounter with Jesus that he finds his friend Nathanael to tell him all about it. Nathaniel is skeptical. He’s having none of it. Everyone knows that nothing good ever comes from a place like Nazareth. Nathanael thought he knew everything there was to know about Jesus based solely on his hometown. As far as Nathanael is concerned, Philip is following a pretender, a wannabe, a false prophet. He’s wasting his time.
Maybe, perhaps. Philip doesn’t argue his point with Nathanael regarding what he believes about Jesus and his own decision to follow him. Rather, he issues an invitation. Okay, skeptical Nathanael, cynical Nathaniel, know-it-all Nathaniel, “Come and see.”
And, Nathanael does. When Nathanael sees Jesus, Jesus calls him by name [something, by the way, that God did with Samuel as well]. This catches Nathanael off guard. Nathanael wonders how this itinerant rabbi could possibly know his name or, for that matter, anything else about him. But he does. Jesus’ prescience results in Nathanael’s confession of faith – “You,” says Nathanael to Jesus, “are God’s son, the king of Israel.”
That’s our second call story.
There is a third call story. It’s yours. It’s mine. God doesn’t and won’t leave us be. God is always calling us and making claims upon us. God says to us over and over again, “I am here.” That’s what love does. “I am here,” says God.
Here’s a claim of the Christian faith. Our God is a living God, revealed in Jesus Christ, and present in and through the Holy Spirit. Which means, God still speaks. God still calls followers.
One of the high honors and privileges of my vocation as a pastor is to be a student of history and an accompanier of others on their life’s journey. As I read and study history, especially church and Christian history, I run across story after story of people of faith who have “heard” God and responded in faith. As a pastor, I listen to people tell the story of their life and ways in which God has spoken and acted and moved in that life and the ways that they have responded in faith. Significant transformations in people and moments in history, I believe, begin with a call from God.
God is speaking, still. To you. To me. To our congregation. To everyone. Sometimes, like Samuel we will need someone to help us recognize God and teach us how to respond, namely with openness. Other times, like Nathanael, we will be skeptical, maybe even cynical, we may have to go and see for ourselves. Is this God or someone or something else?
I don’t presume to know how God gets every person’s attention. But, through faith, I can be open to what God may be saying and doing and encourage you to be open as well.
Nearly weeks ago, we witnessed fellow Americans entering our nation’s Capitol Building while our elected representatives were in session to certify the electoral college results. What had become a riotous mob following a political rally entered our U.S. Capitol unlawfully and for that they should be held to account. They assaulted our capitol police, vandalized the halls of Congress, and terrorized our elected representatives. Their actions resulted in numerous deaths. Regardless of one’s political affiliation, I can’t see how any of this is defensible or okay. Republicans and Democrats alike have condemned it.
As people of faith, does God have something for us to hear, something for us to see, something for us to learn through this moment in our nation’s history. Samuel’s lesson is this: Be open, listen and learn. Nathanael’s lesson is this: Come and see. As a person of faith, I think there are many lessons to learn from January 6, many of which will take time and distance and the diligent work of journalists, political scientists and historians. But some lessons are evident right now.
Hopefully, we relearned that violence is always wrong – especially civic violence that pits fellow citizen against fellow citizen. It does more harm than good. It results in bloodshed and the loss of life. Jesus said, blessed are the peacemakers. He didn’t say blessed are the violence mongers. Jesus said to love our neighbor. He didn’t say to hate our neighbor.
Also, the truth matters and must be told and affirmed. Lies are corrosive and must be countered with the truth.
This brings me back to Samuel’s story. Samuel was called to judge Eli and his son’s for their wrongdoing, namely using the sanctuary at Shiloh to enrich themselves rather than serve the people. Justice demanded that Eli and his sons be held to account. Samuel loved Eli and didn’t want to say to Eli what God had called him to say but did so for Israel’s sake. Eli and his sons would never be in leadership in Israel again. Their story is a cautionary tale in the Judeo-Christian tradition.
Here’s where I want to end this sermon. May we attune to God’s call upon our lives. It’s first and foremost a call to embrace the grace God shows us in Christ. Having embraced God’s grace, it is a call to follow God. As Christians, that means to follow Jesus and his way of love of God and neighbor and justice for the poor, and exhibit the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.