A sermon preached by Pastor Robert Schaefer
First & Spring Creek Lutheran Churches
Second Sunday after the Epiphany – January 15, 2006
Text: 1 Samuel 3:1-10
Friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
For the last three years, the Women of the ELCA have had as their theme the lyric to an African hymn that has gained a lot of popularity among American Lutherans: “Listen, God is calling!”
Those words have been a reminder of how our God works. He creates through a word or two. He starts a whole history of righteousness and salvation with a word to the faithful Abraham. He redeems a sin-broken world through the power of his Son, Jesus the Word. And he continues to speak to his people every day through his words of Holy Scripture. God’s voice echoes throughout history, and whenever people have listened for it, he has done marvelous things.
In the Bible, to listen to someone’s voice is another way of saying to obey that one. The Bible is full of people telling each other, “Listen to my voice! Do as I say, now!” It’s understood that hearing and acting are connected, so that when we truly hear someone we will also listen to them and take action. So when God speaks, our challenge is double: We need to hear his voice in the first place, yes…but after that the real challenge of obeying his call begins.
It’s often not easier to hear God’s voice, or to listen to him when we do. The story of Samuel’s calling is a fine example.
It has always been clear that the boy Samuel was meant for great things by God – his birth was as miraculous as they come in the Old Testament. From his earliest days he had been dedicated to God, and now he was living in the Temple, serving under Eli the priest of God. But up until this point in his story, Samuel has more or less been carried along on other people’s faith; he has not had any real hand in the series of events that have led him to his strange sleeping arrangements in the holiest place in the land. It was time for him to grow in faith, God knew. And so he called out: “Samuel…”
What follows is the rather funny story of a boy waking up again and again in the middle of the night to his name being called, and running to awaken his old master to see what’s the matter. Three times he roused the priest Eli out of his dreams with a snort and a grumble, since who else could be calling him at this hour? By the third time, Eli’s brain seems to be a little less groggy, and the priest realizes that God’s been calling for Samuel all through the night. The next time the voice beckons, Samuel will know how to listen to God’s calling.
There are many things that trip us up when it comes to listening to God’s calling – to hearing it and obeying it. Sometimes, like for young Sam, we’re just so used to how things usually go in our lives that we at first mistake God’s voice for something ordinary. We carry on with business as usual, hardly realizing anything important has happened at all.
But the cotton plugging our ears to God’s call comes in all different varieties. Consider Moses
As his eyes shone with the light of the flaming bush, there was no mistaking this experience for anything less than a run-in with God. There was no problem hearing God’s voice here! But Moses seems to have had some trouble listening to God’s voice. Once he heard, Moses wasn’t in any hurry to obey.
The problem, or so Moses says, was that he wasn’t terribly good at public speaking. This job God had in mind for him would require an awful lot of proclamation, and in front of the most powerful people in the land. What if he tripped up? What if he bumbled is lines in front of everyone? There must be someone else who was a little more eloquent – whoever that person was, he’d make a fine prophet. But Moses? He didn’t think he was the man for the job.
It’s hard to know what was really standing in Moses’ way. Was he just humble, or was he maybe humble in that false way that you and I know so well? Maybe Moses just wanted to go back to his sheep and his family. Perhaps he was afraid. Probably some combination of all these things. We can see in Moses’ story how many things stand in the way of our hearing and obeying God when he calls – but we can also see the marvelous things that can be done when we do pay close attention.
In the days of Jesus’ teaching, a wealthy young fellow came to him and asked what it would take to become his disciple. First Jesus asked him if he had kept the commandments – had he listened to God’s voice in the Scriptures? Yes, yes he had, every day of his life. But now came the hard part. Jesus asked him to do one more thing: to give away the things he owned, so that he would be ready to follow. Jesus spoke to him – the calling voice of God – but it looks like materialism won the day this time. Sometimes all it takes is our love for anything else more than God to plug our ears to his voice.
We are about to meet at First and Spring Creek in order to listen for God’s voice, and to listen to it. And from all I’ve said, from all the examples in the Bible, it sure seems as if the odds are stacked against us, doesn’t it?
But look closer. Samuel had a hard time hearing God through the din of his everyday life, it’s true. But God is extremely patient, and kept right on calling. God knew that sooner or later Samuel would start to understand, and Samuel mattered so much to God that he would call as long as it took to draw the boy to himself.
And Moses – he murmured his fears and his objections, but God provided an answer to each one. If Moses didn’t trust his tongue, God would have Aaron his brother do the talking for Moses. If Moses was afraid no one would believe him, God would perform wonders that would persuade them. God was determined that Moses was the right man for the job, and of course God was right.
And even that wealthy young man – the Bible doesn’t tell us what happened to him. I like to think that he eventually heard and obeyed Jesus’ call, too. Selfishness is a difficult obstacle to following God, it’s true, but if God found a way to reach Samuel and Moses, then there is a very good chance this man is also among the saints today.
All of which means this: God is calling right now to First and Spring Creek, and he has been calling throughout our history. He has a plan for us. Our task as we meet together is to listen carefully so that, like Samuel, we can hear God’s voice in our ears, and then to not only hear but obey that voice.
May God bless our annual meetings, and may he open both our ears and our hearts to his voice. Amen.