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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