I know that place of discontent but in a different way. There have been so many times that I wanted to hear God’s voice speaking directly to me; to receive some kind of auditable nudge like you read about in scripture.
I chose today’s passage because it comes from a time in Israel’s history when God seemed to be mute. No more speaking out loud like it was with their ancestors. It seemed like God didn’t want to show up anymore, muchless speak up.
But was God quiet? Or had the people gone deaf? Sometimes we get so comfortable in doing things our own way, that we forget to listen to what God is calling us to do.
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. At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; 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. Then the Lord called, “Samuel! Samuel!” and he said, “Here I am!” 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. The Lord called again,....a third time....Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy. Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down, and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’”....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.
It says Samuel was still a boy when God called him to be a prophet. It seems it takes a child’s mind, one that isn’t filled with the noises of the world, to truly hear. But of course, before Samuel could be one who speaks God’s words to those in power, he had to first understand who was speaking to him.
At first, he thinks it’s Eli, the chief priest and his teacher. So he immediately answers, “hineni” a Hebrew word which translates as “here I am.” It’s a term that usually reflects a willingness to respond with action to one’s master.
After Abraham said “hineni” God called him to sacrifice his son Isaac. With Moses, God called him back to Egypt. When Isaiah said it, God called him to pronounce judgement upon those in seats of power.
Take it from me, when one says “Here I am” to God one can expect a difficult task will need to be fulfilled. Even when Samuel thought it was Eli calling him, he was ready and willing to serve. And here’s the first thing we learn from this story. God is calling each of us by name. And we must be ready and willing to say “Here I am.”
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Now, you might be asking yourself, how do I really know when it’s God calling and not the cacophony of voices in my life screaming for attention? How do I know it’s not my mind playing tricks? Or my ego deceiving me?
With all that is happening in the world these days, it’s hard to believe God is still here muchless is willing to speak. But if Samuel’s story teaches us anything, it’s that God is not silent or absent. God is always present, constantly reaching out to us in every space we’re in.
Often God’s voice is quiet and can be heard only in prayer. But there are times when it’s so loud and clear, even the noisiest of family reunions couldn’t render it mute.
Last night, for example, I had just fallen into a deep sleep when my brother-in-law decided to play our piano at full volume. I was shocked awake, and not very happy about it.
As I stewed in bed, something in my soul reminded me of the theme of today’s message: between the noise and silence. I meditated on that, finding the presence of God in that space. And before I knew it, my anger had lifted and I drifted off to sleep again.
I would argue that the closer one is to God, the better one will be at holding space between noise and silence. And the better one will be to recognize that every space is sacred because this is where God breaks through with miraculous encounters, timely remedies, and words of encouragement and hope. We have to be intentional with our hearing; always ready and willing to respond.
In early 2021, a strange word popped into my head while I was out walking the dog. I had no idea what the word meant, but it had a poetic and lyrical sound to it. Something in me began to say the word quietly in my head. Unfortunately, I get distracted easily…and like so many great thoughts, this strange word disappeared like a puff of air.
A few weeks later, I was distracted by another thought; thinking about the in between spaces that separate us. I wanted to know if there was a Greek word that described this place. So, I did what most great scholars do these days I Googled it. Can you guess what that word was? Anamesa. The same word that had popped into my head in the park.
Had I not spent the time to build a close relationship with God, would I have heard or known what God was revealing to me? Would this church take the direction it has if we did not listen and respond to God’s voice calling out to us?
In Scripture we learn God speaks to us in many different ways. We get natural revelations through creation. And special revelations, like when God speaks to us through Christ Jesus. But there are also endless personal revelations we receive when God communicates to us through books, movies, sermons, poetry, or good conversations with others.
Thus, Jesus teaches us to always be ready, “for the servant never knows when the master of the house will return.” Practicing mindfulness and intentional listening, will help us be prepared to hear God call. Trust me when I say, God is going to call.
As we learn from the text, Samuel is sleeping near the ark of God — the icon that symbolizes God’s presence. One could say, he was in a good spiritual space to hear God even if he didn’t know at first that it was God speaking.
It’s also worth pointing out that even though God’s word “had been rare at that time,” Eli knew how to instruct Samuel to respond – “Speak, for your servant is listening.”
Here’s another stumbling point for many of us. Perhaps we aren’t listening or hearing, not because of the noise or the silence, but because we don’t want to hear what God has to say. We don’t want to do what God wants us to do.
Eli knows when God speaks it’s always with a purpose. For Samuel, it’s to deliver judgment upon his beloved teacher. And as tough as it was to do that, Samuel obeyed God.
Has God ever called you to do something so difficult that you’d rather bury your head in the sand than comply? I suspect that’s true for most of us. Although Samuel doesn’t recognize this divine summons, his first instinct is to respond immediately.
If we say we follow Jesus, then we too ought to respond like he did when God’s call us – “To pluck up the lowly, and to pull down lofty; to destroy and to overthrow injustice; to build and plant the peace of God in the heart of every person.”
To accept the name Christian is to stand with Christ between the noise and silence, listening to all the different ways God speaks to others through our acts of mercy, grace, and love. This is our calling. The task of the church and everyone in it.
Samuel had no idea what God was doing through him. But that didn’t stop him from doing what was being asked of him.
Despite what you might think, God doesn’t need you to be a prophet. You only need to be willing and faithful to your call… no matter how hard or difficult it might seem. I mean, isn’t this what Jesus did?
In the sacred space of Anamesa, we must strive to be more like the one John calls the Word of God. Like him, our actions need to speak in ways that get people’s attention and causes them to respond.
Just as God spoke to our hearts through Christ, we too must allow Christ to speak through us so other hearts can be helped and healed.
Through him, we’ve been given a divine vocabulary. One that gives voice to the poor and downtrodden. A voice that can right the wrongs that plague our communities. And name injustice for what it is.
So, as you leave here today, I challenge you to attune your ears to hear the voice of God in your home, …your neighborhood and social community. Listen to what’s being said between the business and stillness. Because you never know if God is using someone or something to reveal or impart some divine truth to you.
If you make this your starting point, then you can easily be the heavenly voice that God sends out into the world to proclaim the good news in the same way St. Francis taught, “using words only when necessary.”
God is calling you. How will you answer? How will you respond?
Bartlett, David L. and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word, Year B Vol 2. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2009).
Marla Alupoaicei. How to Hear God's Voice Above the Noise. https://faithgateway.com/apps/fireamp/blogs/christian-books/how-to-hear-gods-voice-above-the-noise
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”