Second Sunday After Pentecost (Proper 4B)

TEXTS: 1 Samuel 3:1-20 and John 1:43-51

Now the LORD came and stood there, calling as before, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” (1 Sam. 3:10)

What is it like to hear a call from God?

After a quarter-century in pastoral ministry, I’ve become very conscious of how so many people fail to hear the call of God. And this is true despite all the talking that the church does about how each one of us is called to be a follower of Jesus. Despite all the sermons that tell us we are each called to be like the prophets, hearing and speaking God’s Word to one another, it seems that few of us actually believe it.

Why is that? Why is it that so many people—who already believe in the living God—find it impossible to believe that God is speaking to them personally, trying to guide them in a particular way?

Here’s what I think: we fail to hear the call of God either because we are ignorant about how God calls to us, or because we allow ourselves to pass over that call—to “set it aside,” as it were.

Consider, for a moment, the boy Samuel. If you remember his story, you know that he was a special gift from God to his mother Hannah. She dedicated him to the LORD upon his birth, and—when he was still very young—she sent him to live with the old priest Eli at Shiloh.

The Bible says that Samuel lived in a time in which the Word of the LORD was rare—a time in which visions were not widespread.

Nevertheless, Samuel lived in a blessed place and in the holy presence. He witnessed the sacrifices made on the altar at Shiloh, and he ministered in the house of God.

Like his teacher Eli, Samuel prayed to the LORD. Like Eli, he served God faithfully. Day after day, he heard the sacred teachings proclaimed—the stories of God’s love. And Scripture tells us that “the boy Samuel grew up in the presence of the LORD” (1 Sam. 2:21).

Samuel, then—of all people—should have been able to recognize the call of God. But, as today’s reading shows us, he did not! That is, not until Eli recognized that call for him.

We are told that three times the LORD called to Samuel as he lay in bed, and three times the boy answered by saying, “Here I am!” and running to the next room to see Eli.

On the third occasion that this occurs, Eli perceives that Samuel is hearing God’s voice and instructs him: “Go, lie down, and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.’”

And so it was that Samuel finally heard what it was that God wanted to say to him. So it was that Samuel learned the fate that was to befall Eli. So it was that Samuel learned that he was to speak the Word of God to others.

I wonder: how much are we like Samuel? We live in a blessed place. We have heard the stories of God’s love, and we serve him in his house and in his world.

How are we like Samuel—dedicated to the Lord, yet believing that the voices we hear in the night come from another room? That our dreams are simply the result of eating too much pickled horseradish late at night? Or that the inner nudges we feel come only from our subconscious mind?

God calls to us in many ways. God speaks to us in many forms. And almost all of them are gentle. Almost all of them are subtle. Almost all of them can be mistaken for something else. That is, until we heed those calls. Then we discover that the power of God is in them, and behind them.

That’s what happens in today’s gospel lesson. The power behind the call of God is discovered by one who decides to listen to it. John tells us that shortly after his baptism Jesus decided to go up to Galilee. By this time, he had already received Andrew and Simon Peter as his disciples.

As he prepares to leave Bethany for Galilee, Jesus goes out and finds Philip. Jesus seeks him out—just as the LORD sought out Samuel—and he says to him, “Follow me.”

Philip responds to this call immediately. But, before he leaves with Jesus, he goes and locates a man called Nathaniel, telling him: “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus, son of Joseph from Nazareth.”

It is obvious that both Philip and Nathaniel are “seekers”—people who are looking for the Promised One of God. Nathaniel, however, is not prepared to accept that the call of God he has heard through Philip is in fact from God. And so, he replies: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

Still, Nathaniel goes along with Philip. He goes to check things out for himself, and in so doing, he discovers that Philip knows what he’s talking about.

I wonder: do we listen to our fellow seekers? Do we check out the calls they issue us, to meet the Lord in a particular place and time? Do we answer the call to discover what we have been looking for?

Make no mistake about it: God is calling all of us. He is calling to each one of us. He is calling us not just to follow him, but also to do and say particular things at particular times. He is calling us to walk a particular path with him.

God has a plan for you. And God’s call to you is personal. He seeks you out, as Jesus sought out Philip. God is calling you by name, just as he called Samuel by name.

God calls in our dreams. He calls in the voices of people who are trying to help us find our way. He calls through our spouses and our workmates, and even through our loudest critics. He calls to us when we take time to read the Bible, or to meditate. He calls when we are trying to decide what to do next. He calls when we gaze upon the heavens. He even calls out to us when we pray.

You know, a lot of people pray without ever really considering just how God might answer them. They speak to God without seriously considering how they are meant to listen to him. It’s like they pick up a telephone to speak into it, but they’re holding the receiver upside-down!

I remember a “Family Circus” cartoon I saw once. Bil Keane drew a yard filled with children playing. They were yelling and screaming, blowing horns, and crying. The dog was barking, a jet was flying overhead, and two boys were beating on a drum. Yet, inside the house, the mother said to her husband, “Listen. That’s P.J. crying!”

The mother’s ears were conditioned to hear the sound of one child’s voice, even above the din.

If we want to hear God, it sure helps to hold the telephone right. It sure helps if we have learned how and where he speaks. It sure helps if—by continual practice—we have conditioned ourselves to hear him.

So I urge you: listen for God’s voice wherever you are. Seek God’s call in whatever you see or hear—be it in a dream you have just had, in a sermon you’ve just heard, in the quiet voice you have heard inside yourself, or in the words of a friend.

Yes, by all means, listen for God’s voice in the words of his messengers: people who want to tell you how God has dealt with them—and even, perhaps, what they think God is trying to say to you!

Because that happens, you know, when you belong to a church. That happens when you gather with fellow believers. Sometimes they speak to you about God. Sometimes they have a message from God that is meant especially for you.

Listen, as well, to “the book.” Read your Bible, and judge the things you hear by what you find there, as the Spirit of God reveals it to you.

Examine the events around you and pray about them. In other words: look and listen! If you do that, you will hear the voice of God; you will hear his call.

Look and listen—and then do what you believe God has called you to do. If it is a true word, you will experience the power that is behind that word, behind that call.

You will see things happen as promised. You will see changes happening for the better. You will see God glorified. You will see mercy and grace, judgment and vindication. You will see new life arise out of ashes and new hope come out of despair.

Look and listen—and, as Jesus promised to Nathaniel, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.

Look and listen—and you will find what you have been looking for. Amen.


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