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Sermons

The Voice in the Night

1/18/2015 Second Sunday after Epiphany  The text for today is 1 Samuel 3:1-1.

Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

It was a long day.  It began around 5:00 with final preparations for Sunday services.  It had a couple of hospital visits thrown in to the afternoon hours, and in the evening, a funeral sermon was prepared.  At long last, the day was done.  Although 9:30 in the evening seems like an early time to quit, with over 16 hours of non-stop work, it seemed like the right time.

The dogs were let out for the last time.  An old movie was put on.  And my head was plopped onto the pillow.  So quickly did sleep overcome me that the intro to the film had not even finished before slumber.

The night seemed so peaceful.  All was done.  All was prepared.  But then, suddenly, the phone rang, interrupting the calm.  Disoriented and shocked into semi-alertness, the eyes opened to reveal that the hour was now 11:00 pm.  Who would be calling at this time of night?  The heart sank and fear of tragedy swept over the whole body.  As the receiver was placed to my ear, the darkness of the night was shattered by a voice calling me by name.

The terror of being called in the night is not entirely misplaced.  If you have ever been awakened from sleep by the call of your name, you know how startling it can be.  Disoriented, not really awake or asleep, you react instinctively.  But, what if that voice is not the one expected, but the voice of God calling in the night?  Call for you or for me?

A pastor once confessed, “As a child, I was more frightened by the narrative in 1 Samuel 3:1-20 than by any other story I had been told.  Red Riding Hood’s confrontation with the wolf was tame compared to Samuel’s encounter with YHWH.  The prospect that the Lord might speak to me in the middle of the night was terrifying…”

Yet, the little boy, Samuel, was more confused than terrorized by the voice calling his name in the night.  He thought it was old Eli, the priest with whom he lived, who was calling him.  In a wonderful scene, three times Samuel runs to Eli, thinking that he had called him.  (Now, I’m sure his calling in night wasn’t surprising as old men – or women, for that matter – haven’t changed much in the past several thousand years. Therefore I suspect that the aged Eli got up several times each night and called for Samuel.)  So, hearing his name, Samuel reacted in a half-awake, half-asleep fashion – not knowing that the voice was not the voice of his mentor, but the voice was the voice of God, calling him by name.

The story says that “Samuel did not yet know the Lord.”  Anyway, I’m sure that he didn’t know the voice of the Lord any more than most of us would recognize it in the middle the night.  We hear our name called by a cacophony of voices all day long – voices beckoning us to do this, buy that, drink this, eat that, and so on and so on.  That makes it difficult to discern God’s voice at any time, let alone at night. If God summoned us in the middle of the night, I doubt we would hear the call or recognize the voice.  Yet, fortunately God is persistent in calling us as God kept calling Samuel.

An old story is told of that a minister who claimed he heard God’s call. But rather than giving a detailed message the Lord spoke two letters to him:  “P-C.”  Naturally, he assumed God was calling him to preach Christ.  A close friend corrected him.  “I have heard you preach,” he said.  “God is calling you to plow corn.”

This just goes to prove that hearing and discerning are not the same thing. For 12-year old Samuel, God called and Samuel went to a trusted friend, Eli.  It was Eli who realized the nature of the voice which was calling.  It was he who helped Samuel open himself up to discern the direction that the Lord was taking him.

We may equate the call of Samuel to the mysterious voices that Ray Kinsella heard in the movie “the Field of Dreams.”  With our mind’s eye we see little Samuel laying in his own cozy bed, sleeping, minding his own business, when suddenly, God intrudes.  God becomes a dream crasher, showing up where God has not been invited.  But this was not the case.  Samuel had been searching for God.  For, Samuel was sleeping in the temple near the Ark of the Covenant, the place where God was to be found.  Why would he be doing that if he was not longing to hear the word of the Lord?  Yet longing for the word and hearing it clearly and reacting to it positively are not the same. For, the Lord’s voice is a challenging voice, taking us down unknown roads of service.

Duke theologian Stanley Hauerwas observed:  “We rightly discover that to which we are deeply committed only by having our lives challenged by others.”  Samuel’s challenge came in the stillness of the night – in the calling voice of the Lord and the discerning voice of his mentor.

Through baptism, we have all been called to be disciples. We have been proclaimed beloved sons and daughters – yet few of us today have felt so directly and tangibly called as Samuel,  for few of us have kept ourselves open to hearing God’s voice.

Is God interrupting your sleep?  Are you immersed in daily prayer and study of God’s word?  Do you know the Lord through worship and sacrament?  Are you listening?  And if you listen, do you respond as Samuel, saying, “Speak Lord, your servant hears”?

Samuel’s response to God’s call was remarkable.  In it Samuel opened himself up to God and to God’s will for him.  Are you willing to do the same?  Are you willing to listen and respond in faith, even if it means a significant change in your life, even if it means that the Lord is setting you up to be a messenger of his word in a world that doesn’t want to hear, even if it means that you will be a puzzlement to your friends and a laughing stock to your foes?  For, the voice that called Samuel, challenged him and set him apart to be a prophet to the nations is the same voice calling us to discipleship today – even though prophets are not accepted in their own time- yet, God’s voice is also calling you to a close relationship with him.

May we discern the call of the Lord and may we answer with faith, saying “Speak Lord, your servant hears.”  For, the terror of the night might not be that late night phone call, but the voice of the Lord challenging and invited us to be his servants in this world.  Are you ready?  Are you ready to hear and respond in faith to the voice calling you by name?  Are you ready to say, “Here I Am Lord,” and follow him all the way to the cross and to the green pastures of eternal life?

Listen, my friends, to the one calling in the night.  And may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

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