“Your Servant is Listening”
1 Samuel 3:1-20
Belmont UMC—January 15, 2012
Ken Edwards, preaching
There must have been times when the young Samuel wondered what his mother had gotten him into; he had spent virtually his entire childhood assisting in the temple at Shiloh, training to become a full time servant of God, loyally waiting on the priestly family of Eli.
But not once had he perceived God’s presence in the temple or God’s purpose for his life. Samuel had been dedicated to God, but where was God? What was he supposed to do now? The text says that there were not many words from God being heard and there were no frequent visions to guide him. It was a quiet, barren spiritual environment.
Because Samuel did not yet know the Lord, he must have been directionless, wondering, and confused. Why was he at the temple? Why was he dedicated to this barren life? His role models for life did not offer much encouragement either. As priests, Eli’s sons were greedy, gluttonous and completely self-centered. They cheated the people, stole from the temple and desecrated it.
Eli was Samuel’s mentor. Apparently, he was kind, wise and obedient, but he was incapable of controlling his sons’ behavior and the sanctity of the temple had not been maintained under his leadership. He was a weak leader. With no vision or experience of his own, all Samuel could hope for was a lifestyle like that of Eli and his corrupt sons.
Samuel lived in Shiloh and Shiloh was thought to be God’s dwelling place, where the light always burned to symbolize that God was at home and where an oracle could always be obtained by priestly rites and rituals. At Shiloh the Israelites believed that they had God’s presence as a captive audience. At Shiloh Samuel literally slept in front of the Holy Ark of the Covenant. But the word of the Lord had not been revealed to him. It was a visionless, voiceless, experience. Where was God? Why was Samuel in Shiloh? What was God’s purpose for him?
And then one night the word of God came to young Samuel in an exchange that was both comical and tender. It was comical because Samuel thought Eli was calling him and he woke the old priest up three times before Eli was convinced that the word was from God.
Where had God been all this time? Have we not asked ourselves this question at one time or another? Where was God during difficult days? Where was God when answers did not come? Where was God when depression or confusion came over us? Where was God when we went to church week after week and felt nothing of God’s presence?
The Psalmists often asked God this same question. Were you hiding from me God? Were you asleep? Did you turn your face away from me? Were you angry? Will you always remain silent?
Is God no longer around? Does God have no words to speak to our generation, our culture, our church? Does God no longer offer us visions of hope and direction for our future? Will God reveal God’s purpose for us?
These are fair questions but they may be the wrong questions. It’s possible that we, like Samuel, have been face to face with the holiness of God but unable to perceive God’s presence because our spiritual senses have been dulled by a dark night of the soul or our busyness, or because we have forgotten how to come into God’s presence and hear God’s word.
Henri Nouwen once wrote, “The question that must guide our organizing activity in the parish is not how to keep people busy, but how to keep them from being so busy they can no longer hear the voice of God who speaks in the silence.” (source unknown)
Where has God been? God has been in Shiloh, near the Ark of the Covenant. But the vision and hearing of the Eli, his sons and their attendant and trainee, Samuel, have been dulled to the possibilities of communicating with this revelatory God.
Where is God? God is here! And God has a word and a vision for the people of this church, but we will need to have our spiritual senses awakened! God has been here all along. God has a purpose for our lives and we will need to learn to listen for it.
In last week’s text on Jesus’ baptism, a voice speaks from heaven, “You are my son, whom I dearly love. In you I find happiness.” (Mark 1:11 CEB) We want to be able to hear God say to us, “You are my child, whom I dearly love. You make me happy.”
Bishop Rueben Job wrote of that passage, “Like a sharp clap of thunder God can get our attention. But at other times God gets our attention with something that may be more like a gentle breeze touching our cheek, or a simple thought or urge that will not let us go. . . . Our task is to listen and pay attention so that we do not miss the gentle whisper or that sharp clap of thunder. They often come unannounced from many sources, such as Scripture, prayer, worship, events of the day, and other totally unexpected sources.” (When You Pray, pp. 33-34)
From the text we find clues for being able to hear God when God speaks. The first is to lie down! Be still! Samuel did not hear God in the moment of activity or when he was going about his daily temple duties, he heard God when he was lying still in the quiet of the night, alone, at rest, at the shutting down time of the day. We will need to be still, stop moving, stop our frenetic activity, our multitasking.
Mary Pipher described her journey to wholeness in Seeking Peace. She was learning to practice meditation and learning to be fully present to one thing at a time. She writes, “I have a long history of doing two or three or seventeen things at once. I am cooking, but planning my next road trip. I am talking on the phone but wondering if I have a can of tuna handy for lunch. I am bird watching but wondering if I have offended someone. I am walking, but even as I smell the French lilacs in the air and notice a heron on the lake, I am thinking of presidential politics.” (p. 218)
Through the Psalmist we hear God say, “Be still and know that I am God.”
If you are like me you have trouble being still. We have a work ethic that does not want us to take moments of stillness and quiet—it always seems like wasting time to us. There are times when I’m alone in the car, or running (not still physically but quiet and experiencing some level stillness is inside of me), at times when the house is quiet and I’m caught up with work or too exhausted to keep going. And in those moments I may experience some clarity about the God’s presence and purpose in my life.
I used to sit down and pray something like this each morning, “Okay, God, tell me what you want me to do today? What can I add to my already extensive list?” I prayed that prayer for 50 years and never got an answer. I have changed my prayer practice. Most mornings now I will find time to sit in my favorite chair and say to God, “Here I am again. Allow me to be in your holy presence.” I don’t talk a lot and tell God what to do; I try to allow myself to be with God, to be still, to be quiet, and to wait. And God prepares my heart and mind for the day ahead and for what may come.
We need to be still! And we need to be quiet! Soren Kirkegard said that if he were a doctor and were allowed to prescribe one remedy for all the ills of the modern world, he would prescribe silence. Most of us fill our lives with sounds and most of us find silence a little unsettling. But Elijah heard God in the stillness and the silence of the holy mountain, at a time when he was too exhausted to go on his own energy and he had to rely on God.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. heard God in the quiet of his kitchen in Montgomery, Alabama, late one night. King had not set out to be an activist or a crusader but the day after Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of a bus, Ralph Abernathy talked King into accepting the leadership of the Montgomery Improvement Association and King accepted assured that the bus boycott that had begun would be over in one day.
By the end of the second month of the boycott, King was feeling the weight of his role and began to despair. He offered his resignation and was refused.
Later in the month he returned home after a long day of meetings. It was around midnight and he was exhausted and he longed to join his family who had already gone to bed. A threatening phone call was keeping him awake—he was getting 30-40 threats a day. He made a pot of coffee, sat at the table with his head in his hands and he cried out to God. There he met the living Christ in an experience that would carry him through to the end of his life. He said, “I heard the voice of Jesus saying still to fight on. He promised never to leave me alone. No never alone. No never alone. He promised never to leave me, no never alone.” (Welcoming Justice, God’s Movement Toward Beloved Community, Charles Marsh and John Perkins, pp. 16-17)
When we are still and quiet we will want to listen! I’m not suggesting that I have ever heard God speak in those moments of quiet stillness, but sometimes in those moments there will come an inner knowing, a certitude, about something. Sometimes I come away knowing that I need to be quiet and still more often, but that’s a good message for me to hear. Sometimes I am inclined to check on a friend or a church member because they came to mind in those moments of quiet. Sometimes I hear that I need to let something go or pay more attention to my family. Sometimes I simply enjoy the quiet stillness and that is enough.
Today a story about a boy named Samuel allows us to imagine God calling our name in the quiet, stillness. God is calling us to fulfill God’s purposes in our world. God is calling us to something beyond ourselves. God is preparing us for the words, “Here I am!” “Speak, Lord, for your people are listening!”
Jurgen Motmann wrote, “The message of the prophet is a message for the people, a message sent into the camps of the exiled, and into the slums of the poor. It is a word against the captains of the arms industry and the fanatics of power. If we really understood what it means, it bursts the bonds of Sunday worship. For if this message really lays hold of us, it leads us to Jesus, the liberator, and to the people who live in darkness and who are waiting for him—and for us.” (The Power)
This Advent may we hear our call to be witnesses to that light and hope that came to us in Jesus Christ. In Christ light and hope have come into our dark world.