Sunday, January 17th, 2021 (Epiphany 2)
(Revd. Jeanette Hamer)
Hearing God's Call
Lessons from Samuel and Nathanial
(Related Bible readings can be found here)
This morning, if the Church had been open,
we would have had a baptism service for two little girls
who have attended our services for some months, ever since our last lockdown in fact.
It would have been a time to formally bring them into the family of our church fellowship
and welcome the family and Godparents into our midst.
The service has been postponed due to our current circumstances and we look forward to it taking place in the future. The readings set for the service are still relevant to us this Sunday.
Both readings touch on the call of God to the individuals.
God to Samuel, and Jesus to Nathanial.
A Baptism also shows a response to Gods call, a response that involves action on our part
and a difference in the way we live and the choices we make.
Let us look as the scriptures in more depth and see what message they bring to us.
Samuel is an important character in the Old Testament,
the last of the Judges and known as a humble, obedient servant and a pure man.
We are all familiar with the start of his story, in the chapter before our reading,
where we hear of a woman called Hannah, who longs to be a Mother.
She travels to Jerusalem with the family and whilst there, goes to the temple in Jerusalem to pray to God for a child. She prays earnestly, mouthing the words without sound and the old priest Eli thinks she is drunk and tries to shoo her away but she explains her situation.
She literally pours out her soul to the Lord and recognises him as the Lord God Almighty.
God hears her prayer and she gives birth to a son and names him Samuel,
which means ‘heard by God.’ All this, we realise, is part of God’s plan for his chosen people.
Hannah returns to Jerusalem with her son, probably when he was aged about 3
and leaves him with Eli to serve God in the temple.
It is here that we find him, some years later.
The first century Jewish historian Josephus puts him at about 12 years old at this point and he had been serving the Lord in the Temple now for about 9 years, visited each year by his family.
We know that Eli had strayed away from his calling from God and had become a weak spiritual leader and his two sons were evil. Our reading says that Eli rarely had visions or words from God and it is into this time of lack of direction for his chosen people that God does speak,
but not to Eli.
One of the things that really struck me was verse 7, where it says that
‘Samuel did not yet know the Lord,’
and so when he hears his name being called, his immediate response is to run to Eli’s side.
He had served in the Temple all these years but had not that personal relationship with God to recognise his call. I have talked before about the difference between head knowledge and heart knowledge. The step forward into a deeper experience of God.
Can you remember God’s first call on your life?
Did you recognise his voice from the start or did you look elsewhere?
Do we sometimes keep so busy in our churches and not actually hear what he is saying to us?
Is this time of lockdown an opportunity to stop, to listen, to hear and to respond?
Samuel responds, but goes to the wrong person.
Do we sometimes respond but before we really know or understand the request?
Do we rush in without testing the call and whether it has been God?
Three times God calls and it is not until the third time that Eli realises that God must be calling Samuel. This was something outside his own recent experience but he sends him back to his room and he instructs him on what to say.
Those oh so familiar words,
‘Speak Lord for your servant is listening.’
Samuel was in a place where he was close to the Lord, and it is there, in that place that he speaks.
Have we ever uttered those words?
Have we stopped, listened and responded?
As individuals and as a church community?
Do we want God to speak to us?
God wants us to persevere even if it seems he is being silent. He longs for us to find out more about him through his word and through our prayers; to know and understand his will.
The path ahead may not be easy but he calls us forward.
Phil Moore, in his commentary on Samuel says,
‘Hearing God speak is like pulling a tissue out of a tissue box. If we act on what he gives us, we quickly hear him speaking more. If we hesitate to obey, we find he waits before he speaks again.
Because Samuel kept on obeying God, verse 21 tells us that the Lord continued to appear at Shiloh, and there he revealed himself to Samuel through his word.’
Have we heard from God and failed to act?
Have we stifled his words for us? Let us open our ears to what he is calling us to do.
Our reading from John’s Gospel speaks of another call, this time to a man called Nathaniel.
When he first meets Jesus, he was seeking a thrill, he had heard of some of the things he could do; the exciting things, the miraculous things but he had not the true Jesus.
When Philip says, ‘come and see,’
Nathaniel’s response is ’Why? Nothing good can come from Galilee!’
It is the culmination of a series of faithful witnesses that eventually bring Nathanial face to face with Jesus. He realises that Jesus really knows him, even if Nathanial didn’t realise.
Are we faithful in our witness?
Do we say ‘come and see’, to others at every opportunity?
Do we bring others to that place where they can meet the living God and know him personally?
Where do we stand in our relationship with God?
Have we like Samuel heard his call?
Have we listened and obeyed?
Have we continued to listen, meeting with him, hearing from his word
and grown in our relationship with him?
And in developing our relationship, have we brought others to know him too?
‘Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.’