The Voice
Samuel 3:1-20

During the season of Epiphany we hear accounts of God revealing himself to individuals and groups in various different ways.  Last week we heard the story of Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan which included the Holy Spirit descending on him in the form of a dove and then the voice of God the Father declaring, “You are my son, in you I am well pleased.”  This week we’ve heard about Samuel being called by God in the middle of the night and the calling of Philip and Nathanael by Jesus.

I’d like to focus today on the story of Samuel and his encounter with God.  It’s a story that makes a whole lot of sense.  Imagine yourself lying down having a bit of a rest in the house of the Lord.  I’m sure you’ve all done it, this is the house of the Lord after all, I’m sure that from time to time throughout your life you’ve dozed off or at least day-dreamed while sitting in the house of God, especially during the sermon.  So it makes sense that young Samuel who is thought to have been about twelve years old at the time of this incident, might lie down for a bit of a rest.  You’ve all heard the line from Jesus, “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest.”  This is taking it literally.

I distinctly remember as a child being in church and being a bit dozy myself and the pastor said “Timothy” quite loudly in the sermon and I sat up straight thinking he had called out my name. I was a bit surprised when he wasn’t even looking at me!

So anyway, while young Samuel was having his well-earned rest he heard someone call out his name.  Naturally he went to Eli who was also resting nearby and said “Here I am”, thinking that Eli had called out to him.  After he was told that Eli hadn’t called out to him he went back and lay down again.  Once more he heard the voice and went to Eli, again it was not him.  Then it happened and third time and Eli worked out what was going on and explained it to Samuel.  He was told to go back and if he heard the calling again he was to answer, “Speak Lord for your servant is listening.”  As we know that’s exactly what happened, the Lord did speak to Samuel and gave him some news that he was to share with Eli that wouldn’t be taken too well.  He and his sons had been doing the wrong thing and were going to be punished for it.

Can you imagine how Samuel must have felt having to then go and share such news with Eli, the man who had been put in charge of caring for him in his role at the temple?  When he arrived to tell Eli though, it was made a little easier for him, he was told that he should tell Eli everything that he had been told.  Eli was obedient and accepting of the Lord’s judgement on him and his family for the wrong that they had done.

This isn’t so different to the calling that Martin Luther felt as he set about nailing the ninety-five theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg.  He knew that the church was doing the wrong thing and needed to be corrected, so he willingly put himself out on a limb to try and set things straight.  It wouldn’t have been an easy thing to do, but he did so with courage and conviction.  I’m certain that even though Luther didn’t literally hear God the Father speaking to him, he was convinced that the Gospel was being misrepresented and the church needed to be put straight.

Luther felt called to correct the church, Samuel was called by God to pronounce a judgement on those who were corrupt in the church at the time.  The manifestation of God or epiphany that we are hearing about today is then a calling to Samuel to admonish the church and its behaviour.  At the time as we heard there hadn’t been much in the way of the word of God or visions going on.  And many would say that’s what it’s a bit like at the moment.  Most of us have never seen visions or heard God speak directly to us.  Maybe that’s because there hasn’t been anything drastic enough happening around the place that needs correcting?

Some said when the steeple of a church in the United States was struck by lightning shortly after a vote was taken on whether to allow homosexual pastors that it was God striking a blow at them.  That may be true but we have not proof, no-one claimed to have heard God speak directly to the gathered crowd, so it will forever be termed a coincidence. 

Most of us can’t say that we’ve ever ‘heard’ the voice of God directly telling us to go and do something on his behalf, or to be told, “Follow me”, like Philip and Nathanael, but I would hazard a guess that most of you would have at some point in your life had what you would maybe call a God moment.  What was that like?  Were you scared, did you feel God’s presence, was it simply a calm sensation that came over you as you sang a hymn or heard or read a piece of scripture?  Some people try and belittle the experience of others and put it down to grandstanding or foolish interpretation of human things.  God has promised to be with us to the end of the age, he is always with us.  We know for a fact that he speaks to us through his word, the Holy Bible.

If it was to happen, and God did speak to us how would we really know if it was God calling or speaking to us?   Would we think it was a friend or spouse or neighbour calling to us or would we recognise it as God’s voice?  Would we need to go and have that voice or vision interpreted by someone else?  Yes we would, otherwise we might never know.

Some are called to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers.  Samuel was called to be a prophet, to speak the word of God’s judgement to the church.  Some are called to be pastors and teachers and to interpret scripture and to listen to the challenges and experiences of those we are called to serve, to interpret in the light of God’s word and to give guidance or admonish, and of course we are also called to pronounce forgiveness of sins to those who are burdened by the guilt of sin or who feel that they are not worthy of receiving salvation.

You may never hear God’s voice calling to you directly, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t love you or that you are not a part of his kingdom. Continue to read his word and experience his love and grace for you in that written word and through the wonders of everything that he has created for us.