ST. STEPHEN’S PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH January 18, 2015
Are you Listening?
1 Samuel 3:1-10 (11-20); Psalm 139: 1-6, 13-18; John 1:43-51
Put up your hand if you consider yourself a good listener. Today I want to try something a little different, and I need your help and participation to make this work. Let’s see how good of listeners we really are.
Say with me the word ‘spot’ five times. What do you do at a green light? Let’s try another. What does r-o-a-s-t spell? What does c-o-a-s-t spell? What do you put in a toaster? If you take two apples from three apples what do you have? These listening games are silly but they also show that we can be better listeners.
When it comes to listening, there is our sense of hearing, which allows us to hear smoke detectors blaring, music playing, or joyful sounds, like laughter and children playing. Our sense of hearing helps us in conversations as we hear the voices of others. This sense allows us to experience many incredible things. I know that I take for granted the fact that I have a good sense of hearing, but what about those of us whose hearing is fading? What about those of us who hear very little or nothing at all?
The loss of hearing can be a hindrance and a barrier for sure. Although, technology has given us help in trying to aid hearing loss, it is still not perfect. I’m reminded of my grandfather who’s constantly complaining about his hearing aids, and how they don’t work. However, sometimes I think it has more to do with selective hearing. Although, he’d never admit that.
Our physical sense of hearing may affect how well we can hear, but the message this morning goes beyond this sense. I want to focus on listening for God, and listening to God. Both of these forms of listening transcend any physical barriers or limitations we may experience.
As we read in Psalm 139, God knows us intimately. God has a deep understanding of who we are. Our Father in Heaven knows us more than just the numbers of hairs on our heads. He knows what we are doing, he knows our thoughts, and he even knows our words before we say them! God formed us into being. God knows us inside and out. It can be comforting that God knows us so well. On the flip side, it can also be a struggle, embarrassing, or even unnerving having this knowledge. We are not perfect after all. We all have parts of ourselves that we are ashamed of, that we feel guilty about, feelings of insecurity, which can trouble us. We may not want anyone to know us in that way, yet God does. Gracefully, God loves us despite our tarnish and imperfections. Yet it is through this understanding that God knows us so well, that we can come to understand that since God knows us so intimately he wants, and seeks a relationship with us. In looking for this relationship, God calls to us, but do we hear him? Do we know it is God calling us? When we hear God, do we answer?
Samuel, was a young boy who helped Eli in the Temple. One night Samuel was asleep, when he heard a voice call to him. Samuel assumed that it was Eli, so he got up, as a good servant would, and went to find out why he had been summoned. The only problem was that it wasn’t Eli who had called him. Eli tells Samuel as much and sends him back to bed. After falling back to sleep, again Samuel hears a voice calling him. As a good servant, Samuel gets up and goes to serve Eli. Again, Eli quietly tells Samuel that he didn’t summon him, and probably begs the young boy to go back to bed. I’m sure Samuel had no idea what was going on. He might have even thought that he was hearing things or dreaming. He returns to his place of rest and falls back to sleep. As Samuel slept, he again hears his name. I’m sure by this time, he was feeling groggy and confused, perhaps even a little annoyed, but still he puts these thoughts aside. He gets up, goes to Eli, and announces his presence and willingness to help. This time, Eli figures out that it is God calling to Samuel. Eli, tells Samuel; “Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.’” Samuel returned to his sleep, where God calls to him, and he answers as Eli told him to.
This is such a fascinating story. Here is a story of a boy who God is calling, yet the boy doesn’t know or recognise who it is. He mistakenly thinks that it is his master, an old and failing man, who is calling out to him. Three times, he makes this mistake. However, who can really blame Samuel? Asleep in the Temple, he hears a voice, which he assumes is Eli’s. Who else would it have been? There was no one else around at that time. It is only logical that Samuel would go to tend to his master Eli. A key point is that we are told that Samuel did not yet know God. ‘Yet’, is the important word in that sentence. So, although Samuel worked as a servant to Eli in the Temple of God, the young boy did not know God. It took the discernment of Eli, to make Samuel aware that he needed to listen for God’s voice and calling. Once, Samuel was aware of who he was listening for, he could respond to the one who was truly calling him in his sleep.
For those of us who know God, it should not be a surprise that God calls us. Although we may get distracted or lose focus, if we our honest with ourselves, we know that we should listen for God’s voice. It’s easy for us reading the story to judge Samuel or wonder why he didn’t recognise who was speaking with him, but we must remember Samuel was not listening for God, because he didn’t know God. This is one aspect of the story. As the children of God, we are to be like Eli and help others to listen for God calling to them.
People are changed when they meet and hear God. Samuel was changed when he answered God; “Speak, for your servant is listening.” In the Gospel story, we also see how Nathanael was changed when he met Jesus and proclaimed; “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” For both of these individuals their first encounters with God, changed them and led them to live their lives for God.
Once we recognise God and understand we need to listen for God, then we must start to listen to God. How many times has God called to us, and we didn’t recognise God’s voice, or we simply didn’t hear or listen? Like in the listening games, we played at the beginning of this message; perhaps you were distracted or didn’t hear everything that was said. Perhaps you didn’t understand what you were asked to do, or maybe you just didn’t want to take part. This too can happen when God is calling us.
I’ll be the first to admit that I haven’t always followed what God wanted me to do. There have been times in my life where I thought I knew best. Times where I had a plan for my life and I didn’t want to deviate from that course. “Heavenly Father, I want to be a vet! I know I don’t really like sciences and math, but I love working with animals, so that’s what I’m going to do!” Looking back, perhaps I should have listened to God, as that dream lasted one whole semester of University. I can see that God was at work despite my decisions and stubborn ways.
As I grew older, often I would be asked; “Torrey when are you going to go to seminary? You’ll make a wonderful minister, just like your mother!” I would rationalize my decisions, and make excuses, so I’d answer; “I don’t think God is calling me into ministry. I feel called to teaching, and besides I can do God’s work in other ways.” Look how far that reasoning got me. There were even times I remember arguing with God over what I was supposed to do. Of course, these are only some examples. There are times when we don’t purposely ignore God. Sometimes we listen without really hearing. Other times we may think we are listening, but we fail to hear exactly what is said. I’m sure many of you can relate.
We need to consciously seek out God and make time to listen. God wants to have a relationship with us. To do so, we must listen for and to God, and when we hear God’s call we need to respond. Even if it might be difficult, or even when it is something we’d rather not do. Consider what God asked of Samuel. The first thing God wanted him to do was give a message of doom and gloom to his master, but he listened to God and followed through. How hard that must have been. Even the story of Nathanael gives us a wonderful example of listening and responding to God. Nathanael was called to be a disciple of Jesus. That could not have been an easy choice to make, leaving his home and family to follow Christ. However, Nathanael listened to Jesus and answered his call.
God calls each and every one of us. It is a personal call, as God knows us intimately. We only need to listen for and to where God is leading us, and to respond to God’s calling. When we are distracted it can be difficult to hear God. Sometimes we have selective hearing, because we think God’s call isn’t convenient. Sometimes it may just be outright difficult to hear God’s voice, because we don’t know what we are listening for. However, taking time in prayer, reading the Bible, worship, etc. help us to orient ourselves to God. Through taking time with God, we can learn to recognize where God is calling us. Furthermore, God speaks to us through others, just as Eli directed Samuel, and Philip guided Nathanael. God speaks to us in many ways. It is however, ultimately up to us to be honest and ask ourselves, ‘am I listening for and responding to God?’ Whether we have ‘perfect hearing’ or we’re ‘hard of hearing’, the message is the same for us all. God is calling, are w