January 21, 2024



1 Samuel 3:1-20; Psalm 62:5-12


I've noticed something lately at home. When my wife, Paula, is in another room talking to me, and the TV, vent fan, or some other background noise is playing, it is harder to hear her than it used to be. I've noticed both of us saying "What?" more often than a few years ago. So, I either stop the TV or turned off the vent fan to be able to listen to what Paula is saying. It helps to turn off the background noise to hear one another. I know that means some hearing assistance may be on the horizon. Sigh.


This morning's passages are also about listening for a voice, not the voice of a spouse, but the voice of God. Psalm 62, attributed to David, speaks of hearing God's voice. This psalm was meant to be sung in worship, as the superscription, “Jeduthun” means "Temple singer." The psalm is a sustained declaration to put one's trust in God and God alone. Placing trust in mere human beings, who are insignificant and transient, is misplaced. Placing trust in the accumulation of things or wealth is futile.


Beginning with verse five, the psalmist waits for God in silence. The Hebrew word dawmam (דּמם) means to" hold peace or quiet the self" (Strong's Exhaustive Concordance). It does not mean verbal silence, as the English translation makes it sound. The idea here is more of a quietness of the soul, an inner stillness, a settling, very similar to when you are asked to close your eyes, place your hand on your heart, and breathe in and out before praying. A better translation offered by theologian James M. Mayes is, "Truly my soul is at rest in God, for from God is my hope."


Then comes verse 11."Once God has spoken. Twice I have heard this." meaning God has spoken to the psalmist only twice in his life. Just how God spoke is not shared, but the message is familiar to Hebrew worship. “Power belongs to God, and steadfast love belongs(and implied is therefore given) by God." These characteristics of God were frequently mentioned in temple worship. So, it is possible that the psalmist "heard" this message during worship in some way, either through a sung psalm, time of prayer, etc. It is interesting to consider that if the Psalmist is David, then David only heard God’s voice twice up to when the Psalm was written. I find that to be surprising.


Our second passage for this morning is well known when it comes to listening for the voice of God: Samuel's encounter with the Holy One late at night. Let's set the scene for this story.


As First Samuel opens, things could not be worse for Israel. Horrible acts are recounted in the book of Judges. Judges ended with the Israelite community in chaos. The prophet Micah establishes a privatized worship system (Judges 17), hiring a Levite priest to run Micah's personal temple. The tribe of Dan then takes over a peaceful town, kills all the women and children, as well as all the soldiers, steal Micah's idol of God and his priest, and adopt his religion for themselves (Judges 18). Then some men from the tribe of Benjamin abuse and rape one of the wives of an unnamed man from the tribe of Levi. This horrific act, which also suggests they have killed her, leads to civil war between portions of the twelve tribes that nearly wipes out the entire tribe of Benjamin (Judges 19-20). The Israelite community preserves the tribe of Benjamin by abducting two communities of women, six hundred in all (Judges 21), who are slated to become "Wives" of the remaining Benjamite men. No, things could not get worse.


The nation of Israel was falling apart. The system of judgeships had failed miserably. With all of the chaos, how could the community possibly continue? Would it die before it began? Would the promise God made to Abraham go unfulfilled? Who would God send to start to deal with this mess? God's answer is Samuel, Israel's last judge and first prophet since Moses. Samuel is the one who brings the tribes together, unifying the monarchy. Samuel's story begins in chapter one of 1 Samuel as we learn of his mother, Hannah.


Hannah is barren. Yet she is the beloved wife of her husband, Elkanah. Rather than seek out a surrogate to bear children for her, Hannah takes her longing for a child to God at the temple. While she is praying silently but mouthing her prayer, temple priest Eli thinks she may be drunk. (I guess people didn't normally move their lips when praying? Who knows why?) Hannah explained her plight to Eli. Moved by her plight, Eli asks for God's blessing. Eventually, she and Elkanah conceive the first of many children- Samuel, whose name means "God answers" or "Answer to prayer." Out of gratitude for God's blessing through Eli, once he is a young child, she leaves him with the priest to serve as an attendant in the temple. She hopes that Eli will help Samuel learn of God through the priest.


We learn in the story that Samuel was sleeping alone in his chamber, which happened to be where the lamp of God, which burned only at night, was. In addition, Samuel slept next to the ark of the covenant. Those were some cool decorations in his room! God's word and visions about faith were rare in those days. Despite his nearness to the ark and lamp, Samuel had no connection to or understanding of God yet.


As Samuel slept, he heard a voice calling his name. Samuel got up and went logically to Eli who was nearby, and said, "Here I am, for you called me!" Frustrated to be woken in the middle of the night, Eli told him to go back to bed. Yet this happened a second time and then a third. I’m having some flashbacks to when our children were young, often waking us up from a sound sleep for one reason or another. Finally, Eli realized God was reaching out to Samuel and told him that the next time he hears the voice, say," Speak God, for your servant is listening."


Eli helped Samuel realize God was calling and wisely advised him to answer. Samuel didn't object. He didn't resist. He returned to his resting place in God's house and answered. God spoke to Samuel and told him what he needed to do. Yet, his initial call from God was not an easy one.


The following day, inquisitive Eli insisted that Samuel tell him what God told him. At first, Samuel said nothing, until Eli threatened him with a priestly curse. Reluctantly, Samuel confirmed what God already told Eli twice through different people. God would punish Eli, ending his family line, because Eli did not put a stop to his sons' abuse of power. Hophni and Phineas stole sacrificial meat from the Tabernacle tent in Shiloh, the early religious center of Israel. That act was literally stealing from God.  In addition, they had sex out in the open with women in front of the tabernacle. Because Eli did not alter their behavior, the sons would die, as would Eli. Eli, knowledgeable of the previous warnings and prophecies about his family, said, "Let God do what God believes to be good." Later, in battle against the Philistines, Hophni and Phineas were killed, and the ark was taken. When Eli learned that his sons died and the ark was gone, he fell over backward and broke his neck, dying instantly. Samuel's prophecy came true.


What can then be said about Samuel? He answered his calling to God, serving as a prophet, a judge, a military leader, and a priest. He was faithful even in death. When King Saul sought his advice through a medium after he died, Samuel prophesied that Saul and his sons would die in battle, which did happen. Samuel fulfilled his calling, holding Israel together during its transition from warring tribes to a united monarchy up to the time of David.


God's call to Samuel was thousands of years ago when God's voice was rarely heard during a horrible, unstable time for Israel. Yet even now, in a similar time, when God's voice seems elusive, when awful things happen, God still speaks. We see continued genocide in Gaza, a mother and two children drowning while trying to cross the U.S. Mexico border while some may or may not have been restrained from helping, school shootings continuing unabated, etc. Even in such difficult times, the truth is that God still speaks. God still calls us, like Samuel, to act and speak, even though the message may be difficult to bear. Perhaps, as when Paula is trying to talk to me from across the house, we need to turn down the background noise of our lives so that, eventually, just like Samuel, we can hear and respond.


We do have some hearing aids to help us do just that, to hear God's voice better. We can find God's voice in scripture. We can attune our ears to God in prayer, which was never meant to be just a time to speak with God but also a time to listen. We can hear God’s voice in hymns, just as worshipers back in the temple thousands of years ago were inspired by sung psalms. And, like Samuel, we can hold peace, silence the self, quiet the soul, and say, "Speak God, for your servant is listening.".


In discussing this passage, Theologian Alphonetta Wines writes, "Answering God's call leads to living one's best life, to a life that fulfills Jesus' summary of the great commandments to love God, others, and oneself. The question is: "What will you do, what will I do, what will we do, individually and collectively, to answer God's call in our lives?"


So, in closing, let me help you hold peace, silence the self, and quiet your soul. After some time, I will lead us in a closing prayer and then say the words, "Speak God, for your congregation is listening." We'll then have an extended silence to listen for God's call. Let us begin - Begin by ensuring both feet are on the floor and you are seated comfortably. Place your hand on your chest to feel your breath moving in and out. Take some deep, slow breaths.


Closing prayer: Beckoning God, In the stillness of the night, you called Samuel into Your service. Call us into Your service with a voice we are able to hear and respond…Speak God, for your congregation is listening.