Sunday October 17, 2021

Rev. Christine Callaway

Speak Lord, We Are Listening


John 20:19-23  19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”  20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.  21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”  22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.


1 Samuel 3:1-21  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.  2 At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room;  3 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.  4 Then the LORD called, “Samuel! Samuel!” and he said, “Here I am!”  5 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.  6 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.”  7 Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD, and the word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him.  8 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.  9 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.  10 Now the LORD came and stood there, calling as before, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”  11 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.  12 On that day I will fulfill against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end.  13 For I have told him that I am about to punish his house forever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them.  14 Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be expiated by sacrifice or offering forever.”  15 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.  16 But Eli called Samuel and said, “Samuel, my son.” He said, “Here I am.”  17 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.”  18 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.”  19 As Samuel grew up, the LORD was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground.  20 And all Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was a trustworthy prophet of the LORD.  21 The LORD continued to appear at Shiloh, for the LORD revealed himself to Samuel at Shiloh by the word of the LORD.

Speak Lord, We Are Listening

How many of you liked history in school?  I never liked memorizing dates but I have always liked learning about how other people live.  The food they eat, their customs, I find it fascinating.  The time we live in says a lot about who we are; culture shapes us in ways we aren’t even aware of.  We are following the narrative lectionary this fall and one of the reasons for doing this is to put biblical events in a timeline.  When we skip around in the Old Testament it’s easy to get lost as to what happened when but the sequence is important.  We can learn much from how people have interacted with God and how they have changed in their relationship with God.  Today we are at a crucial changing point in Israel’s history.

From last week we skip forward in history quite a bit.  The Israelites have entered the Promised Land.  They conquered the land under Joshua.  So far it has been a confederation of the Twelve Tribes with no central leadership.  The tribes came together for defense under the various judges.  At this time in Israel’s history the Ark of the Covenant and the Tabernacle that traveled through the wilderness with Moses and the people is now at Shiloh. This is before any temple is built in Jerusalem.

Samuel has lived with the priest, Eli at the temple since he was a very young child.  He is still a boy at this time.  Let’s use our God-given imaginations to picture the scene in the temple.  Samuel is sleeping in the temple near the ark.  The lamp of God had not yet gone out so it is a dimly lit scene.  Samuel!  Samuel!  Picture a boy woken from his sleep probably both sleepy and confused. Huh, what, oh, Eli must be calling me.  “Here I am!”  He runs to Eli, and says, “Here I am, for you called me.” But Eli says “I did not call; lie down again.” So Samuel goes back and lies down again.  Again he hears, “Samuel!”  Again he gets up and goes to Eli and says, “Here I am, for you called me.” Again Eli says, “I did not call, my son; lie down again.”   Samuel lies down again and for the third time he hears, “Samuel.”  He goes to Eli for the third time and says, “Here I am, for you called me.”  Samuel must have been pretty confused by this time.  He knew someone was calling his name but each time he went to Eli, Eli said he hadn’t called him.  Eli, older and wiser than Samuel, figures out at this point that something is happening.  Samuel is hearing the voice of the Lord calling him.  Eli instructs the boy, “Go, lie down; and if you hear your name again, 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.”

I want us to notice several things about Samuel’s call.  First, let’s compare it to Moses’ call through the burning bush.  Moses’ call was dramatic and sudden.  There is no missing a burning bush from which the voice of God calls.  Samuel’s experience was quiet, simply a voice calling his name in the night.  Samuel kept thinking Eli was calling him.  He didn’t recognize the voice of the Lord.  A quiet, non-dramatic call like Samuel’s is far more frequently the case than a dramatic one like Moses had.  Samuel needed Eli to teach him to recognize the voice of the Lord.  Often we need someone older and wiser, a more experienced Christian to teach us to recognize God’s voice.  Wouldn’t it be easier if God sent us emails from heaven?  Then we wouldn’t have any trouble discerning when He calls us.  The message would clearly be labeled, “From God.”  That isn’t how God does it though.  His call often comes to us while reading scripture, out of a growing hunger for God’s word, through our experiences or through others.  No high drama, just a quiet voice inside. We will grow in our ability to hear God when we familiarize ourselves with scripture, with the word of God.  Then we will be able to discern God’s voice.

Second, God called Samuel four times.  God didn’t stop until Samuel heard Him.  God is persistent.  If God wants our attention, God will reach us.  We don’t have to worry about missing it.  Isn’t it great to know that God will keep calling us, keep reaching out to us with His love?  We see this throughout the Old Testament.  From the moment of the Fall in the Garden of Eden, God was reaching out to His people, calling them back into relationship with Him.  When the people continued to fail to listen, God sent prophets to reach His people but still the people didn’t listen.  Finally, God came to us in human form, He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to reach us, to reconnect us with God.

Third, once Eli taught Samuel how to listen to God Samuel listened and heard for the rest of his life.  It was a relationship; Samuel experienced an on-going, life-changing relationship with God.  Samuel spent his life listening to God and telling others what God said.  He was a prophet and as a prophet he was led to appoint kings over Israel.  First Saul and then David.  Samuel, through his relationship with God changed the world in which he lived.  He was obedient to God.  If we are open and willing, God will use us to change our world.  No, we won’t be appointing kings but God will use us in small ways.  Perhaps a nudge to speak a kind word to a stranger.  A whisper of peace and forgiveness when we are in conflict with someone.  A word of reassurance when we are troubled.  All of this is available when we hear God’s voice.

But, we cannot hear the voice of God unless we listen.  Our world is so busy and so noisy it can be so easy to miss God’s voice speaking to us.  It takes time to intentionally listen.  To quiet ourselves before God, to still the noise inside our heads and simply listen, listen for God’s still small voice speaking in the quiet.  Once we have heard that voice we will want to seek God out, to listen again and again because that voice speaks of love, God tells us we are His beloved child.  God’s voice brings an inner peace that nothing else can bring.  Think of a child who is comforted by her mother’s voice.  That is how God’s voice can be for us.  When we are lonely, depressed, upset, worried, afraid; we can hear God’s voice through scripture, words of comfort from a friend, a hymn or Christian song that reminds us of God’s love.

Once we hear God’s voice how do we get to the place where we can say like Samuel, “Speak, for your servant is listening”?  How do we move to a place of obedience?  How do we lay aside our own will and follow God’s will instead?  There are two paths to obedience.  Fear or love.  Some think we are to be afraid of God, they view God as an angry father who must be obeyed and who will punish us if we do not obey.  That is not God.  When scripture says we are to fear the Lord it doesn’t mean to be scared, to be afraid but that we are to be in awe God, we are to have reverence for God, we are to worship God. God calls us to obey Him in love.  When we love God, we will want to please God, we will find ourselves wanting to obey.  We will want to know God’s will for our lives when we love God enough to trust God because as His children we know that God’s will is what is best for our lives.

So far, we have talked about God calling Samuel.  In our gospel reading from John, Jesus says to His disciples, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”  Jesus sends them and gives them the responsibility of continuing His ministry of forgiveness.  God called Samuel.  Jesus sent His disciples.  We are called and sent by God.  We are called to be a forgiving, loving people and to serve others.

In Matthew we have what we call the Great Commission.  Jesus says to go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.

In John this morning we have a different commissioning speech.  It is the evening of the day of the Resurrection.  Jesus suddenly appears among the disciples and says as the Father has sent me, so I send you.  Jesus is sending His disciples out in the world.  It is important to see that Jesus didn’t send them out in their own power but empowered them with Holy Spirit before He sent them.  When God calls us, He also empowers us. We do not answer His call in our own strength and abilities but with the Holy Spirit inside us to empower us

While Samuel’s call came ages ago and Jesus sent the disciples long ago, God still calls us today. And when God calls us He also equips us with all the gifts and graces, interests and talents that we will need to bless one another. Whether in the workplace, in our families, in the community, or in the church, everyone has a calling to fulfill. No matter what desires, dreams, and visions we have, they all come from God.

The question is: what will we do with those desires, those dreams, those visions? What will we do with those gifts and graces, interests and talents that God has given us? Will we use what God has given us to bless others and ourselves?

Answering God’s call leads to living our best life, to a life that fulfills Jesus’ summary of the commandments to love God, love others, and love ourselves. The question is: “What will you do, what will we do, individually and collectively, to answer God’s call in our lives?”  When God calls, let us answer Here I Am Lord.