< back to Sermon archive

Sermon for Sunday 18 January 2015

FIRST READING 1 Samuel 3:1–20

1 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. 2 At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; 3 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. 4 Then the LORD called, “Samuel! Samuel!” and he said, “Here I am!” 5 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. 6 The LORD called again, “Samuel!” Samuel got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call, my son; lie down again.” 7 Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD, and the word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him. 8 The LORD called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli perceived that the LORD was calling the boy. 9 Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.'” So Samuel went and lay down in his place. 10 Now the LORD came and stood there, calling as before, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” 11 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. 12 On that day I will fulfill against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. 13 For I have told him that I am about to punish his house forever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them. 14 Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be expiated by sacrifice or offering forever.” 15 Samuel lay there until morning; then he opened the doors of the house of the LORD. Samuel was afraid to tell the vision to Eli. 16 But Eli called Samuel and said, “Samuel, my son.” He said, “Here I am.” 17 Eli said, “What was it that he told you? Do not hide it from me. May God do so to you and more also, if you hide anything from me of all that he told you.” 18 So Samuel told him everything and hid nothing from him. Then he said, “It is the LORD; let him do what seems good to him.” 19 As Samuel grew up, the LORD was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. 20 And all Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was a trustworthy prophet of the LORD.


PSALM Psalm 139:1–10

1 LORD, you have searched me out; O LORD, you have known me. 2 You know my sitting down and my rising up; you discern my thoughts from afar. 3 You trace my journeys and my resting-places and are acquainted with all my ways. 4 Indeed, there is not a word on my lips, but you, O LORD, know it altogether. 5 You encompass me, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. 6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain to it. 7 Where can I go then from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? 8 If I climb up to heaven, you are there; if I make the grave my bed, you are there also. 9 If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, 10 even there your hand will lead me and your right hand hold me fast.


SECOND READING 1 Corinthians 6:12–20

12 All things are lawful for me, but not all things are beneficial. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything. 13 Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food, and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is meant not for fornication but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. 14 And God raised the Lord and will also raise us by his power. 15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Should I therefore take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! 16 Do you not know that whoever is united to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For it is said, “The two shall be one flesh.” 17 But anyone united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. 18 Shun fornication! Every sin that a person commits is outside the body; but the fornicator sins against the body itself. 19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? 20 For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body.
GOSPEL John 1:43–51

43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” 46 Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47 When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” 48 Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” 49 Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50 Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” 51 And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”


Throughout my military career and in many of my management classes, communication was a main topic of discussion. According to the experts cited in this training, there are four main areas of effective communication; the message, the sender, the receiver and feedback. The sender, the person who wants to share information, has the responsibility to effectively transmit the intended message and the receiver has the responsibility of receiving the message and providing feedback. For the sender, the message must be clear and for the receiver, meaning must be assigned. However, just receiving the message doesn’t necessarily mean communication has taken place. The receiver also has the responsibility for “active listening”; that is the person receiving the message needs to fully understand and affirm what has been communicated. Far too often, this is where communication breaks down. Words are said, responses are given, but no meaning, or an improper meaning, is ever assigned.
A New York columnist set out to prove, at a cocktail party, that no one really listens to what other people say. He says that when he’s invited to such a party, he always arrives late. When he arrived late for one such party the hostess greeted him and he explained why he was late. “I had to stop along the way and murder my mistress,” he said, “and it took longer than I thought.” Without blinking an eye, the hostess said she understood perfectly, “I was almost late myself, everyone is quite busy. Enjoy yourself. Have a good time.”
As the columnist mingled around the party, someone asked him what he did for a living. He said, “Oh, I am the executioner for the State Penitentiary.” The person said without reaction, “Well, that must be an interesting line of work. How does business look this year?’’ The trouble is that no one seems to be actively listening these days; even the people who are important to us.
A young woman tells of a time when her father went on a three weeks’ vacation to London, England. He called her one evening just to check up on her and see if all was okay. The phone line had some form of static on it. For the life of her, she says, she didn’t recognize his voice. She heard the person say something like, “Hey Hun, all is well?” She responded positively but she had no clue who she was speaking with. Her grandmother with whom she was staying was close by. Her grandmother saw the puzzled look on her granddaughter’s face and asked her, what’s wrong? The girl explained, “Someone just called checking up on me, but I have no clue who.”
Her grandmother asked if it was a male. She said, yes. Then her grandmother asked what the person’s exact words were. Then her grandmother said, “That was your father. Don’t you recognize your own father’s voice, even if there’s static in the telephone?” I suspect all of us have been stumped at some time or another when somebody called us and didn’t identify themselves. That’s what happened once to a young boy named Samuel. It wasn’t a phone call with static on the line. He simply heard a voice in the night.
Young Samuel was living in the temple of Shiloh. It was in the late hours of the night. The writer of the book of I Samuel reports that the lamp of God had not yet gone out. That’s a phrase that actually could mean one or two things. It might mean simply that it happened late at night or early in the morning. The only light in the temple was a candle hanging high up in the temple ceiling. And it was still burning. Normally this lamp either burns out or is extinguished at dawn. On the other hand, this phrase could have symbolic meaning.
Eli the high priest was at an advanced age. He was nearly blind. His sons, who were in line to take his place in charge of the temple, were scoundrels who treated the Lord’s offerings with contempt, blasphemed and generally abused their roles as priests. They were moral misfits who had no business taking over the temple duties. So the writer may have been saying that, even though the worship of God at Shiloh was not what it should be, God was still dwelling there. God hadn’t removed His presence, His light still shone even though dimly. Whatever this phrase means, Samuel heard a voice, the voice of the Lord.
You will recall that Samuel was in the temple because of a promise that his mother had made. Hannah, his mother, was one of two wives of a man named Elkanah. It’s a situation that seems to occur often in the Old Testament. The other wife named Peninnah was prolific at having babies. But Hannah couldn’t seem to get pregnant no matter what. Peninnah taunted Hannah unmercifully about this. Hannah would weep and pray passionately that God would give her a child. Her husband Elkanah would try to reassure her. He would say, “Hannah, why are you weeping? Why don’t you eat? Why are you so downhearted? Don’t I mean more to you than ten sons?” His reassurances, however, fell on deaf ears.
One day Hannah was at the temple of Shiloh. She was on her knees, praying fervently for a child. It was then she made a promise to God, “Lord, if you give me a son, I will give him back to you.” She was moving her lips without making any sound as she prayed. Eli watching her pray so passionately, moving her lips but making no sound, thought that she must be drunk. He said to her, “How long are you going to stay drunk? Put away your wine.” “Not so, my lord,” Hannah replied, “I am a woman who is deeply troubled. I have not been drinking wine or beer; I was pouring out my soul to the Lord. Do not take your servant for a wicked woman; I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief.”
Eli answered, “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him.” She said, “May your servant find favor in your eyes.” Then, says the writer, “She went her way and ate something, and her face was no longer downcast.” And the Lord did give Hannah the desire of her heart. They named him Samuel, which means “I begged from the Lord.” And after he was weaned, Hannah placed Samuel under the care of the elderly priest Eli in the temple of Shiloh to fulfill the promise she had made to the Lord. Now it is some years later.
Samuel, about 11 or 12 years of age, is lying on his bed in the house of the Lord late at night, when he hears a voice calling to him. Samuel assumed the voice belonged to Eli. You can imagine that Eli, being almost blind, would call on Samuel quite often to get things for him and assist him as he grew older and weaker. So Samuel ran to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.” But Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.” So he went back and lay down.
Again the voice called, “Samuel!” Now if this was some of us, we would either be frightened or very upset because we really don’t like to be bothered when we’re asleep. But Samuel simply got up and went to Eli again and said, “Here I am; you called me.” “My son,” Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.” Then the writer explains a key component to the story. He says, “Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord: The word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.” That’s interesting and it might suggest how ineffective Eli was as a high priest. Here Samuel was under his direct tutelage nearly all his young life and Samuel did not yet know the Lord.
A third time the voice called, “Samuel!” And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.” Then Eli finally realized that Samuel was hearing the voice of the Lord calling him. So Eli told Samuel, “Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” So young Samuel did as he was told and went and lay down in his place. The Lord came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel answered, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”
This is a beautiful story that many of us learned as children. And it’s an important story. Samuel would later become a Judge of Israel and one of its most important prophets. In fact, he was the last of Israel’s Judges and the first of its prophets. Remember, it was Samuel who anointed both Saul and David to be kings. He had an important role to play in the Old Testament. He played that role thanks to a mother’s promise and his own openness to the voice of God. Of course, we’re interested in what the story of Samuel means for our lives.
First of all, it reminds us of the importance of listening; listening to God and listening to one another. Most of us won’t be hearing mysterious voices in the night. At least, I hope not. I recently read that, according to some current research, the experience of hearing voices isn’t all that unusual. Estimates suggest that more than half of the “normal” population claimed to have heard strange voices at some time or another, while about 4 per cent of the population hears voices regularly.
Mental health professionals usually define hearing voices as a symptom of medical illness and I would suggest that, if this happens often to you, you might want to consider consulting a medical professional. However, many people who hear voices are able to live with them and may consider them a positive part of their lives. Some of you may watch the television program “Perception” where the main character is schizophrenic and hears voice and sees people who aren’t there. Many times these voices help him solve crimes. Many people hear voices but never find them a problem.
You may think you’ve never experienced this, but are you sure? You may have had the experience of hearing someone call your name only to find that there’s no one there. Indeed, research shows that, especially for recently bereaved people, it’s not uncommon to hear the voice of someone they loved after they are deceased. Hearing voices doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve got problems, though certainly it can. It can be especially problematic if these voices tell you to do something violent.
It’s important to note that when God speaks, it’s rarely in an audible voice. However, I do want to clarify that God certainly can. You’ll remember the story in 1 Kings about a prophet named Elijah who was told by the Lord to wait on a mountain top. Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper (12-13). God sometimes speaks through a gentle whisper. Generally, God speaks in the quietness of our own hearts. This is why prayer, especially pray that includes some quiet time to listen is so important.
Rabbi Burt Visotsky, in the Bill Moyers’ PBS discussion on Genesis, at one point says, “You know, I’m actually surprised to be surrounded by people who so readily hear voices. I’m a praying Jew, so I talk to God all the time, but I don’t usually hear answers. It’s a much more subtle process with me. God may tell Abraham and Sarah to get up and go and change everything about their lives. But nobody ever says that to me. If I hear God at all, it’s somewhere between the lines of a page I’ve been studying for hours when I am reading Torah, and all I ever hear is, ‘Burt, turn the page.’”
That’s the way it is for most of us. God most often speaks to us without words. He speaks through our life experiences. He speaks to us in the silence of our own thoughts after a time of laying out our needs and concerns before Him. That’s the importance of prayer. We come before God with our needs and concerns. God already knows those concerns before we enunciate them, but it’s still important that we bring them to Him. Then it’s important that we pause and wait for a few moments to see if God has something to say to us. Remember, God has concerns, too. They may be concerns about how we’re living our lives. It may be about someone in our family who needs our attention. It may be about something that needs to be done in the church or in the community. Give God a chance to speak. Take time in your prayer life to listen.
It’s also important that we take time to listen to one another, particularly in the family. Mark Merrill writes about family relationships. He was writing recently about multi tasking. He says that multi-tasking can be a good thing; but when it comes to relationships . . . maybe not so good. He recently was sitting in their family room and asked his daughter a question about a friend of hers. Without looking at him, she gave him a one word answer and started doing something else. He then asked her if she was listening to him. She said, “Yes . . . I’m just multi tasking.” Later he explained to her that he felt unimportant to her when she didn’t give him her full attention when they were talking. Hmmm . . ., he thought, “I wonder how many times I’ve done the same thing to her.” We all know what he’s talking about.
We rarely give each other our full attention. Two men were talking over coffee one day. One said: “I’m concerned about my wife. She talks to herself a lot these days.” The other said: “Mine does too, but she doesn’t know it. She thinks I’m listening.” No one in this room will be surprised if I say that this is the biggest complaint of most women: “He doesn’t listen to me.” It’s important when someone is speaking to us, particularly someone we love, that we look them in the eyes as a signal that we’re giving them our full attention, it’s part of the feedback I spoke of earlier. People need a type of response that lets them know not only was their message received but that it was understood as well.
Barbara Roberts Pine compares it to a catcher on a baseball team. Catchers rivet their attention on the pitcher. The pitcher is the absolute center of things. Heaven help the team if the catcher grows bored by his own moment of inactivity and decides to practice signals while the pitch is sent.
Author Bruce Larson once put it like this: “One of the greatest gifts that God can give us in life is the gift of listening. Listening is the key to success and perhaps even survival in most relationships. We’ve all seen beautiful double page magazine ads in which reputable business systems companies claim that they will teach the members of your firm how to listen. They suggest that the art of listening leads to business success.
I don’t know if they can deliver what they promise, but I am convinced that every year many businesses will fail, not because their product is faulty or their service poor, but because management and workers aren’t listening to each other. I’m also convinced that every year some marriages will fail because two people, though they love each other deeply, don’t know how to listen to each other. Even the one who looks so strong and adequate may be trying to communicate, “Help me. I’m frightened. I’m lonely.” Every year there are parents and children who will begin an irreparable breach because of feelings that can’t be put into words. Family members speak past each other and a relationship diminishes.”
Listening may be the most important sign of love. Samuel listened to the voice of the Lord and became a great man. We will become greater men and women of God if we, too, will take time to listen for the voice of the Lord speaking to us. And it’s equally important that we listen to one another. The Lord came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel answered, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

< back to Sermon archive