Can You Hear It?
Second Sunday after Epiphany-Year B
January 14, 2018
1 Samuel 3:1-10
In our forum series we are doing a set of Q&R with Adam and I. And last week there was a great question posed: when did you decide you wanted to be a priest. It’s one I’ve often heard in different forms throughout my life in ministry. I worked in an evangelical environment for almost 10 years before going back to school, becoming an Episcopalian and becoming a priest.
Why do you serve God in a church? What made you decide to be part of God’s mission on earth? Why did you decide on your calling? It is this last word — calling — that these questions boil down. What is it to respond to God’s call? I think it’s a tricky question — what is it to be called by God?
I think it can be intimidating to look at scripture to find the answer to this question: Mary is visited by an angel, Joseph dreams dreams, angels call out to the shepherds, a star calls out to many from foreign land. Now to be perfectly honest, an angel has never appeared to me, and certainly a chorus of angels has never been outside my kitchen window.
I think calling can be a little less scary and at the same time equally terrifying. Today’s story from the book of Samuel is a beautiful example of being called by God in a less dramatic fashion. Samuel has laid down for bed for the night. Now Samuel is not very old — he doesn’t know a lot yet, he’s sleeping on the floor. He’s a servant who has been committed to a life in the temple by his parents.
As Samuel is curling up under his blanket after a long day of work, he hears a voice: “Samuel. Samuel.” He shakes himself off, puts on his sandals and heads into Eli’s room. There’s something interesting about this choice of action. The first thought in Samuel’s head is “I know this voice. It is familiar to me. I’ve heard it call my name before. It is Eli’s voice.”
God’s voice is not always unfamiliar. More often than not, God’s voice is intimately familiar to us — to the point that it can be easy to miss. As happens to Samuel two more times as Eli says “I didn’t call you, go back to bed.”
Must be Eli — he’s getting old. I’ll see what’s going on.”
The familiarity of that voice doesn’t change. This is important as we contemplate God calling us.
Then Eli realizes that something is going on here. He doesn’t look at this little boy and say, “There’s no way God is calling him. He’s too young. One of my sons is playing a trick on him.”
No, he says, “The next time you hear the voice, say — Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”
And in that moment, all the ways we could discount that God is calling us (I’m too young, I’m too old, I don’t have enough experience, I haven’t been in the church long enough) all of those excuses are swept away with the simple command of Eli.
Ask him what he wants. You might be surprised by the answer. So Samuel goes back to bed a fourth time. And again the voice comes. “Samuel. Samuel.”
And this time, “Samuel says, “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.” And Samuel’s life is transformed forever. He becomes a prophet of the Lord, a priest who anoints kings, who is known throughout the land for his wisdom and love. All by simply responding, “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.”
I love this story from Samuel because it feels so familiar. When I’m asked “when did I decide to become a priest,” my brain changes that to “what did your call look like.
And for me it was years listening and not listening to God, sometimes mistaking others voices for God’s voice, of listening to those who know me best. For me, the final moment of decision came after my husband said, “Is it possible that God is calling you to be a priest and you’re not listening?
The most familiar voice in my life was the voice of God in that moment. Our call to live into what God is doing in the world does not require a chorus of angels. Sometimes it is a voice of a friend or loved one or that still small voice whispering inside our hearts.
How is God calling your name? Where is God calling you in this incredible mission to seek and serve God on earth and in all persons? Can you hear it? Can you hear your name?
Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.