1/14/2018 Second Sunday after Epiphany The text is 1 Samuel 3:1-10; John 1:43-57.
Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
If you can, imagine what it would be like to be as young as Samuel and to receive a vision and a call from God, or imagine what it would be like to hear the voice of Jesus calling and to be challenged to change the direction of your life so drastically as to leave family and friends, business and the comforts of home, all to follow the word spoken from God. That’s what happened to Andrew and Simon, to Philip and Nathanael. They, together with Samuel, faced the crisis of a new direction for their lives…a change that resulted from the beckoning of a single voice.
To no surprise, Samuel, at first, has no idea who was calling him. When he heard the unexpected call from God, he thought the voice was that of his mentor Eli. His confusion is understandable in that, as yet, he had “no knowledge of the Lord and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.” But, how did he mistake this unfamiliar voice, this unusual call, with that of the familiar voice and actions of Eli? If we think about it for a moment, Samuel’s confusion really isn’t unusual at all. Have you ever been awakened in the middle of sleep by the ringing of the phone? Half awake and half asleep, you’re not quite sure if the phone is ringing in your dreams or if it really is ringing. In this dreamy state, you pick up the receiver and you hear the voice on the other end, assuming it is coming from someone you know. It’s this type of thing that happened to Samuel. In the middle of the night, Eli was the only one around. And not expecting to hear any other voice, Samuel assumed that he was summoned by Eli. Eli, on the other hand, being a man of faith, was able to unravel the mystery of the voice calling in the night.
What I find most interesting about Samuel’s confusion over the source of the voice is that Samuel unknowingly chose to take his rest beside the “ark of God” which is the very symbol of God’s presence. The “ark of the covenant” held within it the tablets of the Ten Commandments, the staff of Aaron, and a portion of the heavenly manna with which God had fed the people of Israel in the wilderness after the Exodus from Egypt. What that meant is that Samuel could not have been any closer to God’s presence in the temple than he was and yet still he didn’t know from where the voice was coming and who was calling him.
Samuel simply was not expecting to hear God that night or any other night, even as he sat in the temple. He was unaware of God’s presence even in the holiest place he could be. So, he could not understand what was happening that night. It took the worlds of his mentor to open his eyes and his ears and his heart to the Word of God. And God called again, and Samuel answered. And in answering, Samuel’s life changed as he became the prophet and servant of the Lord God was calling him to be.
Andrew and Simon, Philip and Nathanael had an easier time discerning God’s will when Jesus called to them. They had no idea who Jesus was, other than some wandering rabbi, but they found something compelling about his stranger, something familiar about this unknown voice, and without hesitation, they left everything behind and answered Jesus’ call.
God has a way of intruding into the lives of people in unexpected ways and at unexpected times. God calls to us and we are often too busy, too focused on other things to hear him even if we happen to be sitting in the sanctuary. God calls and it is easy for us to be confused. But, God continues to call to us in the hope that we will someday listen and be receptive to his words of comfort and his challenges to move into new directions.
I’m sure that one reason that we sometimes have difficulty hearing the Word of God has to do with all the other voices demanding our attention and calling to us. There’s no escaping them, even on a Sunday morning. Children fidget. Friends talk. The choir watches the director. Pages turn as everyone looks to find the words of familiar hymns. It’s not easy to be still and quiet enough to discern the voice of God and God’s presence among us, even on a Sunday morning.
As Samuel was alone, in the darkness of the night, he had an easier time hearing God’s voice (even if he didn’t understand who it was speaking to him). His life was uncluttered that night in the temple. He did not take his rest with a child monitor or go to bed with the TV playing in order to empty his brain of all thoughts. Samuel was alone in the quietness of the temple. In the silence of the dark, God spoke and Samuel heard. He was open to hearing God, not because of any special knowledge or canned prayers, but because he was still and quiet in God’s presence.
We are often overloaded by so much sight and sound that even if we want to hear God, we have trouble picking out his single voice. As I have been told by those who have difficulty hearing that the hardest part of growing accustomed to a hearing aid is all the noise which needs to be filtered in order to pick up the single voice of the person across the table in order to participate in a conversation. When it comes to God and listening to him, we are often hard of hearing. God may be calling to us, challenging us to live as his children, his messengers, his servant people, and we simply can’t pick out his voice amidst all the noise that surrounds us. It is easy for God’s voice to be drowned in the plethora of noise, demands and activity which surrounds us.
Yet, my friends, there is a time for busy-ness and there is a time to be still. There is a time to be surrounded by people and activities, and there is a time to be alone. There is a time to keep watch, and there is a time to rest. There is a time to unclutter our hearts and minds and to listen to God’s word for us.
Take that time to be still and listen for God’s word. In a world filled with sound, there are so many voices crying out to us, calling us to a way of life that is far less than that for which we have been created and redeemed. Be still and listen. Be still and hear the word of forgiveness and grace. Be still and hear the word of judgment and hope. Answer the challenge to move in a new direction in your life, and take the plunge into faith-filled living. This change is the last change you will ever need to make. Jobs may come and go. Your personal finances may fluctuate with the stock market and friendships may flourish and die. But, the relationship established with God will last forever. Listen to him, my friends, and receive his word, answer his challenge to follow him, live as his beloved children, serve others and seek the best for all creation. For, God is calling you and me to a new life in him.
Let us open our ears and our hearts to his world and live as he would have us live. And may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.