This sermon was given by Rev Caroline on Sunday 14 January 2018, based on 1 Samuel 1-10.
Communication is a wonderful thing, isn’t it? Particularly when we really listen.
I don’t know about your experience but, sometimes I feel that I am not being listened to terribly well by the teenagers in my life. I can call out that “Supper’s ready!” at a decent volume and there is no response for some time or a call of “In a minute” …. I just have to whisper the word “chocolate” in the hall though and there is a dramatic opening of bedroom doors and stampede down the stairs in a trice!
Selective listening is an interesting phenomenon……yet we all do it at some time, don’t we?
Today our readings bring us that wonderful account of Samuel’s call and how he learned to listen well to God.
Now Samuel was is a position that we would consider very unusual these days – in fact, it just wouldn’t be allowed. Hannah, his mother, had been distressed at the temple because she was unable to have children. Having promised her son, if blessed by one, to God, she honoured that promise and took Samuel to the temple when he was weaned and dedicated him as a Nazarite and he was brought up by Eli serving in the temple.
Imagine what that must have been like for Samuel. His abiding memories from his early childhood would have been of Eli and helping in the temple. He was a barely weaned infant when he was separated from his mother (although we are told that she visited him each year). Night after night he would have slept in the temple. It was likely to have been a large building and his relationship with Eli would have been almost a parent-child one.
We are told that the reading happened at a time when the Lord rarely spoke and visions were rare. This was not good news. Unless we are hearing God’s voice, we start to do things our own way and society deteriorates – just as Eli’s sons did. Samuel, unused to hearing the Lord’s voice, takes 4 times to recognise that God was, in fact addressing him. He needed, as a future faith leader, to listen well to the Lord. All this happened at a time when God’s word was flowing to Israel as they started to listen well.
The details that lead into these 4 calls are hugely symbolic. Eli’s weak eyes remind us that he is not very discerning spiritually. Earlier in Samuel’s story he mistook Hannah for being drunk in the temple when she was distressed about her childlessness and he failed to act when his sons made a mockery of priesthood. Yet, we are told that the temple’s lamp had not yet gone out giving us a ray of hope that God had not given up on his people.
It is in this setting that young Samuel leaps out of bed to respond to the call that he assumes has come from Eli who despatches him back to bed. Finally, it dawns upon Eli what is going on. He is not a bad person – he is just a little slow to grasp things and act. He did eventually bless Hannah and rebuke his sons. Now, after the third call, he finally gives Samuel instructions on how to respond when God addresses him.
Then God does something important. He uses Samuel’s name twice: “Samuel, Samuel!” God does this for key people in Israel’s history – he called out “Abraham, Abraham!” When he was about to sacrifice Isaac. Abraham was the father of the faith. He called Moses’ name twice from the burning bush and he went on to deliver Israel and give the law. Samuel was first in a string of prophets who was faithful to listening well to God’s word and bringing it to God’s people.
How did he respond. “Speak, for your servant is listening”. What a wonderful way to start in prayer.
I wonder what people would say in these time if we asked them how clearly God’s voice could be heard. Would society, like Samuel, simply not recognise it at first or is society simply not listening? Like my children, when called to action, is society saying “in a minute!” Do we need some help to tune in to God in the midst of the clamour of everyday life?
Good listening is like tuning in properly to a radio station. If I have two stations playing at once, I cannot fully hear either. It becomes distorted, incomplete and frustrating. To listen well to God we need to lay down the clamour of life and give our full attention. Deep listening to God as individuals and as a community of faith is critical. Prayer needs to underpin all that we do. Good listening to God guides our paths. Good listening to each other and all whom we meet is an act of love and mirrors the love that God shows us when he embraces us into his family and listens to us in prayer.
And what limits our hearing?
- Avoidance – if we don’t listen then a problem doesn’t exist (for a while)
- Temptation – all those things that we do that “make us feel better” but rob us of our energy and resources.
- Feeling guilty
- Resenting something or someone
- Sense of failure
All of these things pre-occupy our minds and hearts and distract us like a second radio station from hearing the words of God.
We all have the capacity to hear the voice of God in our own lives loud and clear. God is inviting us to silence the white noise and crackles in our lives and to hear him crystal clear. He yearns for us to shake off the radio stations that discourage us and tune in to his frequency of peace and abundant love for the world and us, his children. When we walk tall in that knowledge and allow his voice to speak to us and through us, we can become more confident in taking risks and being open to all the blessings that God wants to put into our lives.
“Speak, for your servant is listening”