The Scripture reading for this Sunday is 1 Samuel 3:1-3:21
The Sermon title is The Word of the Lord
Early Thoughts: When do we hear God whisper in our ear? What do we do next? Do we seek out the wisdom of others, possibly our elders? Do we engage the whisper? Or do we roll over and go back to sleep?
This week's reading tells us of the call of Samuel as a young boy. There is an element of misunderstanding in it as we see Samuel running to old Eli 3 times before anyone figures out what is actually happening. But finally Samuel makes the response "speak for your servant is listening".
And if we actually stop and listen to the voice, what if we hear something that we don't like, or makes us afraid?
Samuel is given a message to pass on to old Eli. Eli his teacher and mentor, Eli the wise priest. Eli the father of troublesome sons. Samuel is to tell this man that because of the abominable behaviour of his sons the mantle of leadership is passing from Eli's house. No wonder Samuel is reluctant (the text actually says he was afraid) to pass on the message.
To his credit Eli demands that the message be shared even if Eli had reason to think it was not good news. [If you look back at chapter 2 you find out that Eli has already been given the message once but has been unable or unwilling to correct the behaviour of his sons.] More to his credit Eli is willing to accept the word of the Lord.
Often it is tempting to preach about the beginning of this story, about the farce-like scene of Samuel running back and forth to Eli. Then the sermon culminates with Samuel's eventual response "speak for your servant is listening". ANother temptation is to pick up on a single line way back in verse 1 "The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread." and ask if we are currently in such a time as that, to ask if/how God is still speaking today.
But this time round what jumped out at me was Samuel's fear/reluctance to share the word of the Lord.
Sometimes God reveals hard truths. Sometimes as people of faith we are led to share hard words, to say things that are unpopular, to say things we ourselves would rather not hear. What do we do then?
We can pretend we didn't hear properly. We can find some way to express the words in euphemisms or platitudes, if we do that well enough we might even rob them of their offensiveness. We might say "at a better time" and hold off. Avoidance is a common way of dealing with awkward conversations.
That is when we need an Eli. That is when we need someone to say "it will be hard but you MUST share the words" [noting that Eli even threatens Samuel with a curse if he does not share the Word of the Lord].
It ends well for Samuel. He becomes one of the heroes, one of the chief prophets of the story. He will go on to anoint the first 2 kings of Israel. And he will continue to be called to do things that make him afraid -- such as anointing David while Saul is still king, such as telling Saul that God's favour is no longer with the king.
How will it end for us? When God challenges us with hard truths how will we react? Both as those who hear and those who pass on the truths?
PS: it also strikes me that if everything you hear God saying affirms all that you are doing and all that you believe then you might want to ask yourself if you are hearing ALL that God might have to say...