Speaking and Listening

1 Samuel 3:1-20

“Brothers and sisters at first Presbyterian, I am sorry that I cannot be with you this morning. Unfortunately, Paul the son of Rely and Johanna must take precedence over Paul the pastor. My mother, Johanna, is close to being with the Lord, but her body is continuing to fight. I am spending these last moments with her and my Dad.

All of us, the Heins family, greatly appreciate the prayer and support that we have received from so many of you. Both your prayers and your casseroles are heavenly! It is truly a blessing for us to be a part of such a wonderful community.

Both Rely and Johanna are strong in faith, and they/we know that everything rests in the Lord’s hands.

Say thank you to all who are stepping up to fill in for me today. Take it easy on Paul Davis/Mike Sweeney. It’s not easy reading my quirky sentences and my less than perfect grammar and punctuation. Any theological disputes, or comments on poor writing, should be saved for me the author for when I get back, and I will be back in the saddle soon. I miss it too much!

Blessings to you as you worship. You have our permission to offer up a prayer, for through those prayers, we will be with you in Spirit. Now let’s get to the good stuff!…”

Hear this hymn from the beginning of Genesis, the first book of the Bible. “In the beginning,” sings the opening of the Word of God written, “when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said…” God spoke and creation popped into existence. This opening hymn in Genesis sings a proclamation of faith. God spoke, and the result was life – beautiful, diverse, harmonious life.

The climax of that creative speaking was humankind, created to enjoy and tend the garden, living intimately with the creator. Imagine Adam and Eve walking together with God in the garden, talking-intimately, comfortably, lovingly.

Later in the story of the bible, Moses talked with God also. “Thus,” says Exodus, “the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend (Ex. 33:11).”

Much later, when it seemed as if the voice of God had receded into the distance, when the whirlwind had seemingly grown quiet, the Living Word, Jesus Christ, arrived on the scene. This was the Word of God made flesh, dwelling among us, speaking words of wisdom, speaking volumes with acts of compassion and deeds of justice. The Bible is full of wonderful conversations with God.

With all of this speaking in the Bible, why isn’t it the same with us? Why, for most of us, most of the time, does the voice of God seem to be so hard to hear. Why can’t we talk with God like Adam and Eve in the garden, like Moses on the holy mountain, and like Jesus on the hilltops of Galilee? Why is it so hard to know what do in particular situations? why is it so hard to come up with answers to our deep questions?

Can it be that today, as it was in the time Eli, that the word of the Lord is rare?

I wonder how many times Eli would lie down on his bed at night, before this night with Samuel, and wonder why God wasn’t talking to him anymore? Do you wonder why God doesn’t speak more clearly, or more often? Do you wonder why things do not turn out the way you thought God told you they would? Why God don’t you answer?

There are some interpreters who believe that this story provides for us a model of faith. God speaks. He calls, and we listen. This may be true, but when I place myself in this story, most of the time I end up looking and acting a lot more like Eli, and not so much like Samuel.

Struggling with our jobs, our responsibilities, with relationships out of our control, with evil running rampant in the world, we become afraid and powerless to bring real change. This is not the worst of it. The worst thing is that in the middle of our mess, God seems to be silent. The word of the Lord is rare.

Perhaps it is because we are just too busy to listen? Too busy doing our own thing. Multi-tasking is a buzzword today, and we want to fit God in on our terms, speaking to us in the background while we keep working. There are so many things going on in our lives that God could be shouting, and we wouldn’t hear it.

Perhaps the word of the Lord is rare because we are just not ready to listen? Is it because we would rather do the talking, and on our terms? I am convinced that we often can’t hear God’s voice because instead of praying “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening,” we pray, “Be quiet, Lord, for your servant is speaking.”

Talk to me about my Sunday morning, Jesus, but leave Monday through Saturday to me. Help me lord, but in this area of my life and not in that. Go ahead and speak to me Lord! Give me a word about how ‘they’ have to change, but don’t talk to me about how I need to change.

There are many reasons why the conversation between God and us stops. As for starting it up again, there are no easy answers. There is no formula. There is no tried and true technique that works every time.

All we have is a faith that forgives, renews, and keeps sending us back into the temple to lie down and wait for that voice. This morning we are invited to simply quiet our spirits, clear our minds, and open our hearts…to listen. One preacher has said that the voice of God in Jesus was not a shout. The revelation of God comes to us as a whisper. In order to catch it, we must hush, lean forward, and trust that what we hear is the voice of God.[i]

And when there is silence the first time…and the second…what this story of Eli and Samuel does is send us back to our mat again, and again, and again, like Eli sent Samuel, to listen.

If you are having a hard time hearing God’s voice, if the conversation between you and the creator has stopped, know this: the light in the temple of the Lord has not yet gone out. Listen.

Eli is sending you back to your mat. Listen! Cultivate a habit of listening in your life. Find time in your day, every day, to take a break, to calm your spirit, to slow the thoughts and worries that usually stream through your mind, and listen.

Listen for that voice. Odds are you will not literally hear a voice speaking to you plain as day (You might!). But you just might calm your spirit enough to hear God’s voice in the voice of a friend, or in a story of Scripture, or in a new idea that pops into your head for the first time, or in some other way that God only knows.

Or you just may find five minutes of peace, which may be just what God wants to give you.


January 18, 2009

Rev. Paul Heins

First Presbyterian Church

Logan, Utah

[i] This comes from the great preacher Fred Craddock, but the source of this quote is lost. Forgive me Fred.

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  • Breakfast Encounter

    Last Friday morning, I stopped by my GP’s office to let them draw some blood for a test and to get my flu vaccine for the year. Because of the blood test, I had to ‘fast,’ arriving for the blood draw without having any food that morning. When the phlebotomist had drawn the blood and given me the shot, I went to a nearby diner to get some breakfast. Little did I know I was about to witness something extraordinary.

    While I was eating my pancake, egg, and piece of sausage and reading a book about Oscar Romero, a young man went up to the counter to pay. I didn’t notice any of this, of course (occupied as I was with not only Oscar Romero’s life and ministry to the poor of El Salvador, but also all that butter and syrup…) until the young man started yelling at the woman behind the counter.

    “Swipe it again!” is what drew my attention.

    She did, and the card must have been denied a second time. She ran it again, and the look on her face told me the same thing happened. Denied.

    The young man was getting more agitated and saying things to her under his breath. I was paying more attention now, and she asked if he had another card she could try.

    “No! I don’t have another bleeping card!” he yelled at her. Except he didn’t say bleeping.

    Now I’m not a stranger to harsh words. I’ve said them myself. Usually when I’m trying to get a rusted bolt off an old machine and it finally comes loose, taking some of my knuckle skin with it. And I think I quietly swore under my breath in January of 1988 when the Washington football team beat my beloved Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl, 42-10. There have been other times too. But never, ever at a person.

    Upon being sworn at, the young woman stared at the man like she didn’t know what to do (how could she?). Tears were about to appear. And the air in the room went real still. Like in the movies. I’m sure the background music was still playing, but it seemed deathly quiet at that moment.

    I was about to get up and walk over to the counter—not exactly sure what I was going to do once I got there—when another man who had been eating nearby wandered up real slow, eyes staring at the young man. He was a tall guy, with white hair under his old IFA ball cap, probably in his sixties. He asked the young woman, “What seems to be the problem here?”

    And that’s when the young man made what I thought was a fatal mistake: he answered when he hadn’t been spoken to. “It’s nothin’. My card won’t work,” he spat back.

    I thought a fight was about to break out, but the older man, his eyes searing into the young disgruntled one’s face, reached for his wallet and said to the cashier, “Aubrey, I’d like to pay for this young man’s meal, if that’s okay with him.” And after getting out some cash, he put his hand on the young man’s shoulder, not one of those friendly pats on the shoulder, but one of those firm grips that, well, made me think he was making sure the lesson was going to stick.

    I’ve had those kinds of hands on my shoulders a few times over the years. Perhaps from a coach, maybe from my dad once or twice; they happen when a boy or young man really needs to start paying attention.

    And after staring at him for what seemed like an eternity, the old guy said, “Be kind.” And then walked away.

    The young man left the restaurant and climbed into an oversize truck that was parked right out front, cranked up the volume on his radio, and left some rubber on the road as he departed.

    I went into the church office sometime later to finish my sermon, but I kept thinking about angry people and hurt people and kind people and people who teach lessons to those who could use them. I also thought about people who have a head full of kind words who refuse to tolerate ugliness.

    I hope I can be someone like that.

    I have a feeling Aubrey earned a whole lot of tips that morning. She deserved them.

    Be kind.

    That’s all for now.

    —Pastor Derek

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