Do We Listen to God?

“Do We Listen to God?” (preached at Epiphany UCC, Chicago)

1 Samuel 3:1-21 (3:8-10) – October 17, 2021

            Are you a good listener? Listening well is a real challenge. Many people are not particularly attentive listeners; they might get distracted, or they are preoccupied, or any one of a dozen other reasons. It is difficult sometimes to listen, especially when we are straining to listen to a crackle-y voice, like on an old-fashioned radio, or over a cell phone’s poor connection.

            If we consider our Scripture reading this morning, we are told something right up front: The Lord’s word was rare at that time, and visions weren’t widely known.” People couldn’t simply check out their Bibles, or look up a reading on their cell phone or laptop. No!

The word of the Lord was mostly verbal, chiefly an oral tradition passed down, passed around by priests and temple workers. There wasn’t a written set of Scriptures, except for probably a collection of the laws of Moses, an early account of the Patriarchs, and early history of the children of Abraham, probably kept in the Tabernacle, God’s special tent where God was pleased to dwell.

All of these factors are a challenge, when it comes to listening to God – in the time of Samuel, anyway. The Lord’s word was rare at this time. So, when God did speak to a person, that must have been a huge event!

The Hebrew word for “rare” also means precious. That would go for both the voice of God as much as for visions from God. As precious as precious metals or precious stones!

Even Samuel’s upright mother Hannah was not one of these favored people, to hear the voice of God. What we know from 1 Samuel 1 was that she was a barren woman for years and years; she could not conceive a child. Eli the priest finally saw Hannah in her need, praying in great distress. He promised she would receive what she prayed for so earnestly: a son.

Hannah was so thankful that she returned the precious gift of a son: she gave Samuel to the Lord when he was very young, to serve in God’s Tabernacle from that time forward. That leaves us at the point where we re-enter the narrative – here.

. And, what does this reading say about the boy Samuel? “Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord: The word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.” A few years have gone by since his mother Hannah entrusted him to the priest Eli. Samuel works in the special tent where God’s special presence is located, where the intricate Ark of the Covenant is stored, with the Ten Commandments tablets inside.

Do we begin to have some sort of idea how valuable—how rare it was for anyone to hear from God, the Lord Almighty, who made heaven and earth? If you and I are abandoned to total silence from God, that must be a very sad time, indeed.

Is it difficult to listen to God? I know we have a lot of competing sounds and voices in our world today. Just think of the insistent voices of business and school, assignments and responsibility that call to us. Remind us that we have more work to do. Something important to handle, an urgent message or an impatient person to get back to.

What about the seductive sounds of social media? All kinds of eye-popping entertainment? You and I can be entertained 24/7, 365 days a year, if we so desire. Talk about drowning out the voices of our friends and family! Much less the voice of God!

I know Samuel was still a boy. Children can have serious concerns and other important stuff going on, too. But, let us take a closer look at this passage: “Samuel was lying down in the house of the Lord, where the ark of God was. Then the Lord called Samuel. Samuel answered, “Here I am.” And he ran to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.” But Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.” So Samuel went and lay down.”

I do need to go back in our reading, and emphasize one point in particular. In verse 2, we are told the priest Eli had lost his eyesight. “With failing vision, he cannot see God as clearly as he might have during the height of his ministry. Although Eli could not see it, God had already called his student, Samuel, to lead Israel.” [1] The Lord was already calling to young Samuel, but Eli and Samuel are both missing that call. Misunderstanding that voice.

How often do you and I miss an important voice? Mis-hear or misunderstand? And, sometimes our attention is not the best. I know I can get distracted, and not hear. I’m sure you are aware of that, too. I suspect it’s happened to you when you’ve been worried or frustrated or distracted, Or, what about your kids, or grandkids? “How many times do I have to tell you? In one ear and out the other – could you stop, pay attention, and listen to me, for cryin’ out loud?”

The priest Eli may have been losing his eyesight, but he had not lost touch with his position. He was the priest of Israel, serving the Lord God Almighty. He had the internal insight to tell that the Lord was calling to Samuel. Our commentator Herbert Marbury tells us “Thankfully, it took Eli only three attempts to recognize God’s voice. The omniscient narrator heightens the reader’s frustration by clueing the reader in to the identity of the voice before Eli identifies its source. Finally, Eli realizes the gift that God had given to Samuel.” [2]

And, it is indeed a gift that God gives to Samuel! God calls to Samuel, and Samuel responds. He answers, as Eli prompts, “Speak, Lord. Your servant is listening.”

I know it is not the easiest thing to focus closely and to listen to God, especially when God’s voice is half drowned out by the cacophony of competing voices, sounds, buzzes and beeps of modern technology. Not to mention the internal worries, concerns and anxieties of this heightened pandemic, this COVID-time – worries not only for us, but for our loved ones, too.  

Sometimes it is good to slow down, to rest, to make oneself quiet within and without. And then, you and I may be more likely to hear God speak. “God persisted in the darkness of Samuel’s room until Samuel recognized God’s voice. Just as Samuel finally recognized God’s voice, God persists until we listen.” [3] Amen! Speak, Lord!

Can you slow down and listen? Listen to the voice of God? So often, you and I can be distracted or dismayed, preoccupied or anxious. Can we take a deep breath and unplug? Listen for that calm voice of love and welcome. Can we be as open to God as the boy Samuel?

            When we quiet, slow down and become available to God, we can see ourselves in the image of our Creator, not in the images developed by market-driven mass media. On that day, when each one has what she needs to respond, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening,” then the blessings of the Lord will truly be revealed among us. [4]

            Alleluia, amen!

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!


[1] http://www.theafricanamericanlectionary.org/PopupLectionaryReading.asp?LRID=94

Lectionary Commentary, 1 Samuel 3:1-10, Herbert R. Marbury, The African American Lectionary, 2009.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

Choose Someone Else!

“Choose Someone Else!”

Isaiah 6:1-8 (6:8) – May 30, 2021

            Have you ever had a really vivid dream? Colorful, psychedelic, surreal, even? Sort of like what we just heard in the Scripture reading this morning. I suspect that people first hearing about Isaiah’s vision from chapter 6 may have thought the prophet was going way overboard with such vivid, descriptive language!  

Let’s take a few giant steps back, and gaze upon the big picture of this vision. We see the immense Holy One, and we see little, tiny Isaiah. “God’s presence is so large, the hem of the Lord’s robe alone fills the temple space. This is vastness. Strange but faithful creatures envelop the throne. Smoke obscures the whole scene. We are used to the images of fire and smoke, cloud and height being associated with God. It is all here.” [1]

            Some might think that Isaiah was exaggerating a lot when he described the Almighty God, seated on a throne in the heavenly temple. Yet, that vivid, glorious scene from the heavenly temple is the template of what goes on in many worship services today.

            The first hymn many people think of when they consider Trinity Sunday is “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty.” This hymn’s verses either refer to or directly quote this Scripture reading from Isaiah 6 – the first line, “Holy, holy, holy,” “Cherubim and seraphim falling down before Thee” and “all Thy works shall praise Thy name in earth and sky and sea.” This Scripture reading from Isaiah does not give us any information at all about the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, but has been used effectively as a backdrop and assist in helping Christians get some understanding of this mystical, almost ethereal doctrine that is so difficult to understand.

            What’s this about comparing Isaiah chapter 6 and worship services? Most worship services begin with a hymn of praise. Look at Isaiah 6:3 – “And [the seraphim] were calling to one another: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.’” If that isn’t a hymn of praise, I don’t know what is. What’s more, some contemporary churches have several hymns or an extended praise time at the beginning of their services.

Many worship services then move to a confession (or admission) of sin. Let’s check out Isaiah 6:5 – Isaiah cried, “Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” We here at St. Luke’s Church have a confession of sin at the beginning of every worship service. I consider this vitally important! Just as Isaiah realized his sinfulness in the light of everything happening in that heavenly Temple, so we ought to confess our sins, too. We need to make ourselves clean on the insides before we can possibly come near to God.

After the confession and admission of sin comes an assurance or forgiveness of that sin, in Isaiah 6:6-7 – “Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, ‘See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.’” Just as we follow the prayer of confession in our worship with the assurance of pardon – Believe the Good News of the Gospel! In Jesus Christ, we are forgiven!

This template for the worship service from Isaiah does not have a reading of Scripture, but many other instances in the Hebrew Scriptures do, where the minister gives further instruction and exhortation using the Scripture. (This is exactly what I am doing right now! Exhorting the congregation, based on the Word of God.) What follows is all-important, the whole point and reason for it all! Isaiah 6:8 holds a call to service extended from the Lord God Almighty. This call is the focal point of the retelling of this vision. “I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”

When I first felt that call from God, I was in my early 20’s, attending an evangelical Christian college as a music major. Women were definitely frowned upon as ordained clergy. I heard that call, and I even reflected upon it, turned it over in my head and heart, and talked about it with some other students at my school. However, not much came of it – then – yet.

As we take a look at another call narrative, the one from Exodus 3 involving Moses and the burning bush, we get a whole different response to the question “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” Moses certainly does not want to lead the people of Israel! “Choose somebody else!” is his response. And, even after God says God will empower Aaron as Moses’ right-hand man, Moses still drags his feet.

Isn’t that like us, sometimes? Don’t we often drag our feet when God calls? Aren’t we more likely to say, “Choose somebody else!” when God taps us on the shoulder?

When you and I hear the Word of God rightly divided and expounded, when we breathe in the Holy Spirit-inspired Word, that divine response and possibility is there, for all members of the congregation, for each believer in the Good News. The heavenly touch of the Holy Spirit may well come upon each of us, bursting forth into fiery life! That Trinity, that Triune God can empower you and me, and help us to do things, to say words, to dream dreams that go far beyond what we could even think or imagine – like Isaiah.   

Yes, worship is wonderful, and the Lord has great joy in the worship of God’s people! Yet, what is the focal point of worship? Responding to the call of God. When God calls, can you respond, “Here am I, send me!” That is what God truly wants, an open heart, and a willing spirit.

Say with me, with Isaiah, “Here am I, send me!”

(Thank you to John Holbert for his Patheos commentary from 2015. I took several extended ideas from that article. https://www.patheos.com/progressive-christian/choose-somebody-else-john-c-holbert-05-28-2015

 “Choose Somebody Else!” John C. Holbert, Opening the Old Testament, 2015. )

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!


[1] https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/the-holy-trinity-2/commentary-on-isaiah-61-8-3

Commentary, Isaiah 6:1-8, Melinda Quivik, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2012.