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                     of Almelund, Minnesota

         

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Speak, Lord - We’re Listening!

Pastor Marla Amborn

Immanuel Lutheran Church

October 16, 2017

1 Samuel 3:1-21

 

This morning we heard a story of hearing God’s voice and doing God’s will – the story of God calling Samuel and Samuel’s faithful response. Samuel’s story begins before he is even born. His mother, Hannah, had been unable to conceive a child. In a culture where her value as a woman was directly linked to her ability to produce children, this was a sorrowful situation indeed. So, Hannah went to the temple and prayed. She begged and pleaded and bargained with God “If only you will give me a child, I will dedicate him to your service.” Eli, the temple priest, observed her prayer and said to her “May God bless you and grant your prayer request.”

 

Hannah’s request was granted and she bore a son, Samuel. True to her bargain with God, when the boy was three or four years old she brought him to the temple, dedicated him for God’s purposes, and gave him to Eli to raise.

 

Our lesson picks up the story at a few years later when Samuel is about 10 to 12 years old. He has been living at the temple studying under the tutelage of Eli. One night, Samuel heard a voice calling to him “Samuel, Samuel!” and assumed it must be Eli calling for him. So, he gets up, runs to Eli’s room only to have the sleepy old priest tell him “No, I didn’t call you. Go back to bed!” This happens three times. The passage tells us that “Samuel did not yet know the Lord” and also that “a word from the Lord was rare in these days.” But Eli knew God’s voice. He remembered having heard a word from God in the past. So, Eli finally figures out that it must be the Lord calling Samuel. Eli instructs Samuel that if the Lord calls him again he should respond “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.” And that is just what Samuel does.

 

Samuel gets an earful! God tells Samuel that his beloved mentor, Eli, and Eli’s family, will be receiving God’s punishment. Although Eli was a holy, God-fearing man, his sons were scoundrels. They were stealing money from the offering and extorting bribes from people who came to the temple to offer sacrifices. God was not pleased! Eli hadn’t been effective in getting his sons to behave. So, God told Samuel that Eli’s family would be punished.

 

What a difficult message for a young boy to hear about his father figure and teacher! What a hard thing to have to tell Eli! Samuel was so upset he must have tossed and turned all night, not knowing what to do. When Eli came to him in the morning asking him what God had told him, he could see how troubled Samuel was. Eli told Samuel he needed to tell him the whole story. So he did. Eli responded calmly, accepting the predicted punishment as God’s will.

 

So began a series of messages from God to Samuel that would last a lifetime. Samuel became a prophet who regularly heard God’s voice. He became a spokesperson for God who regularly told people God’s messages. In his later years the people of Israel were begging for a king, like the neighboring countries had. Initially Samuel resisted this idea, believing that the country was better off being led directly by God. But when it because evident that the people were insisting on having a king, Samuel sought God’s help and God agreed to allow Israel to be led by kings. At God’s direction, Samuel anointed the first two kings of Israel – King Saul and later his successor, King David. Samuel’s life is a story of faithfully hearing and responding to God’s call. As God spoke to him Samuel listened to God and obeyed what God told him to say and do, even when it was hard.

 

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could actually hear God’s voice calling to you – as Samuel did? We may think “If only God spoke to me as clearly as he did to Samuel, certainly I would do what he called me to do.” But Samuel struggled. We see in the text for today that at first he didn’t even recognize the voice calling to him as God’s voice. It took three tries and it took Eli to figure out that the voice was from God. Once Samuel heard what God had to say he was hesitant to do what God told him to do, because what he told him to do was difficult.

 

Sometimes it takes other people to help us recognize what God is calling us to do. It can be helpful for trusted others in the community of faith to help us hear God’s message and figure out what God is saying to us.

 

Sometimes God’s call is difficult to respond to. It can be disruptive to what you had planned. You can wonder if you are up to the task. But when God calls you he also equips you. He gives you what you need to respond to his call. When God has something he wants you to do, he opens the doors to make it possible for you to do whatever he is calling you to.

 

When my daughter was three years old, one day she said to me ‘Mom, you’re not fitting into my plans!” It was funny. I could hardly keep from laughing at this little tyke telling me I wasn’t fitting into her plans. But that’s often what we do to God. We want to convince God to fit into our plans. Instead we should go to him seeking to learn his plans and seeking to fit into his plans for us.

 

God has plans and purposes for each one of us. God knew us from before we were even born and God had plans for each of us from before we took our first breath. God knows all the details of whatever is going on. He knows what’s good for us. Every day there are things that God calls us to do. Every day it is our job to listen for God’s voice and to respond to his call.

 

So how do we do that? How do we hear God speaking to us today?

 

A good place to start is with God’s word, as revealed to us in the Bible. We gave Bibles to our kids this morning. Those Bibles have the potential to change those kids’ lives. Bibles are powerful. Parents, grandparents, open those Bibles with your kids and grandkids. Read together with them from God’s word.

 

Bibles contain the living word of God. Every time we go to a scripture it speaks to us in whatever way we need to hear it. Have you had the experience of coming across a scripture you have read many times before and noticing something new in it? Something that you need to hear now? I’ve sure had that experience and I expect that many of you have as well. As we are seeking a word from God, digging into God’s word as revealed in the holy scripture is a natural place to start.

 

Another good way to open ourselves to God’s word is through prayer. We often tend to think of prayer as our talking to God. We bring our cares to God, and tell him all about whatever is on our minds. That’s a great place to start, but prayer needs to be a two-way conversation. It is most meaningful when we not only speak but also listen. We need to open ourselves to God’s answers. God already knows what’s going on in our lives. He knows our hopes and our fears. It’s not like we need to make him aware of what is going on. God is not only aware he is already at work in those situations, working for our good.

 

When we regularly enter into prayer with God, it becomes a place for God to shape us. God works in our hearts, and minds, and souls to help us live as the people he created us to be. We often tend to think of prayer as a way of convincing God to do our will. But prayer opens us up to doing God’s will, to fitting into his plans, to being shaped by God for God’s purposes.

 

As we grow in relationship with God we begin to notice God at work in the world. The more alert we can be to seeing God at work the better job we can do of joining God in his mission. Prayer becomes a place for God to shape and mold us to fit into his plans.

 

As God called Samuel, so too, God calls each of us. We are called to know God, to love God, to do God’s will, and to be God’s person in this world. Whatever God calls us to do, God gives us the capacity to do. God equips and empowers us to do his will.

 

God speaks to each of us, individually, as his beloved children, if we can calm ourselves and quiet ourselves enough to hear his voice. Spending time each day reading God’s word and praying opens up space for us to hear God’s messages to us, and strengthens us to do God’s will.

 

God also speaks to us as a community of faith. Jesus says where two or there are gathered there he is also. When we come together as people of faith, seeking to know and do God’s will, God makes himself known. We need to be careful not to push for our own desired outcome but to genuinely seek to know and do God’s will.

 

As part of our Vision 2020 process that many of us have contributed to, we are seeking to better know and do God’s will for Immanuel’s ministry. One of our action steps is to form a discernment group whose purpose is to come together in prayer to listen for what God is calling us to do. That group will begin meeting this week. We’d welcome your prayers to help us be open to hearing God’s messages for this congregation.

 

Eli’s advice to Samuel, is good for us to: “When you hear God’s voice calling to you say ‘Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.’” If we can be open to God’s call and respond by listening, God will reveal what he calls us to do and empower us to do it.

 

May we all be open to listening to that still small voice of God. And when God speaks to us, may we faithfully do his will. Amen.