A sermon preached
Readings: 1 Samuel 3:1-10, John 1:35-42
“The Lord called ‘Samuel, Samuel’” (I Sam 3:4)
scene that night 3000 years ago –
The temple at Shiloh.
Evening draws on and the worshippers have gone home.
Just 2 people sleep in the Temple building overnight –
You could be forgiven for not ranking them as the Spiritual elite of Israel –
is old man Eli.
He is in many ways a broken man, he’s lost control of his wayward sons,
he’s weak and frail and blind – and old and disappointed man.
there is Samuel –
just a young lad given to the Temple by a pious mother,
he is a sort of apprentice altar boy.
old man Eli so frail,
it is Samuel who does most of the chores,
checking around and locking up as night falls,
Extinguishing the lamps, just leaving one burning.
This burns in
a small pine clad room at the heart of the temple,
the place where the Ark of the Covenant is kept.
Eli is already snoring in an anteroom –
And the lad beds himself down in front of the sanctuary lamp,
He knows it
will glow half the night
and then gradually burn down and all will be dark.
Imagine you are Samuel – trying to sleep.
All is quiet – just some shallow breathing from Eli in the next room –
And gradually the lamp is dimming but it still burns
But still you
do not sleep.
Then a voice “Shemuel, Shemuel”
Its Eli – you stumble out to his room – but he was sleeping
must have been a dream.
Then again Shemuel Shemuel
But still he sleeps, you realise you’ve woken him twice now.
Your feeling a bit frightened– its getting darker and it’s a bit creepy.
But you settle down in the gloom and then a third time the voice
Eli you must
have called me.
And this time Eli really wakes up.
Put yourself in his shoes or slippers for a minute.
You are an
old man –
you had thought that you were all washed up,
that the Lord had nothing useful left for you to do.
But now you realise that you have after all a key task to perform –
to open the lad’s ears to the voice of God. -
God who had been calling all night unrecognised.
So Eli with a
tremor in his voice
tells Samuel that it is God speaking –
goes back and there in the gloom
and hears God and speaks with him.
Today is Vocations Sunday
Traditionally we think of a
“vocation” as a particular kind of career –
particularly within the Church and the Caring professions.
And if on this vocations
Sunday there is someone here being called by God
to make that sort of choice, that would be a wonderful blessing.
Are you being called to a life of service? Or maybe to be a preacher?
If you think that might just be you, hang on to that thought,
and maybe talk to me or others about it afterwards.
But Vocations Sunday is a
wider than this.
The word Vocation simply means “Calling”
And on Vocations Sunday the key question for us all is this –
Whether we are Samuel or Eli,
What is God calling me to do??
I wonder whether in long dark
or amidst the bright bustle of daily life –
God is calling our name and we like Samuel fail to heed?
Maybe we are too young and immature to have learnt God’s accent?
Or maybe we are too old and world weary to expect God has anything left to say to us?
Well remember an old careworn and spent old man,
And a young lonely lad far from home –
And how God spoke to them one night long ago.
And one heard and the other explained –
And God’s work was done.
And how does God speak to us?
Like Samuel we may not always be sure
We need to pray and study and reflect,
So we may recognize the voice.
Sadly the world is full of those who are deaf to God’s call.
Either they simply can’t hear,
Or they choose not to hear.
beginning of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin,
and old villager comes to the Doctor
(played by John Hurt if you’ve seen the movie)
because he is deaf and has been for years.
removes an old dried pea from the old man’s ear –
and a miracle, he can hear again!
Later he returns to the doctor.
My wife, he
says, never stops talking and nagging and asking me to do things –
I never heard her before – I didn’t know –
could you please put the pea back in my ear?
And there are those who are
deaf to God’s call, and those who prefer to be deaf….
And often it is no laughing matter.
The trailer for
the first instalment of the new BBC2 series on Auschwitz
homes in not on the Nazi leadership
but on the ordinary people who participated in the horror –
I prepared the railway track says one,
I loaded the cattle wagons, says another,
I led the travellers to the killing fields,
I slammed too the oven doors, say others.
And was not God calling them,
crying out from every cattle truck,
calling out to be saved?
And they heard him not, or chose to close their ears.
And from the 1940 to the 1960s.
Tomorrow is Martin Luther King Day –
a day on which we all remember Martin Luther King’s
prophetic stand against racism, and seek to follow his example.
Martin Luther King, writing from Birmingham Gaol says this:
“We will have to repent in this
not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people
but for the appalling silence of the good people.”
God wants us to speak out for
justice and peace,
but how often we are both deaf to God and dumb to the world!
we’ve received New Year Greetings from Graham Shaw –
Graham a former member of the Mint
now a Methodist Minister working courageously
for justice and peace in Zimbabwe.
In his message Graham speaks sadly
of the on-going problems in Zimbabwe.
But then he goes on to say that sadly
many Christians feel that they can do no more,
and are leaving the problem to God.
Of course, says Graham, it is
“easier by far, and certainly safer, to wait, arms folded,
for the Saviour to intervene…..
this overlooks] the simple fact that our saving God
intends that we ourselves should be the agents of his liberating grace.
We pray “Deliver us from evil”,
yet fail to realize that the God who longs to set us free from the chains of oppression,
beckons us to join him in a partnership
in which evil is named, confronted and finally overthrown.
Whether it is on the road to Auschwitz;
or in the Alabama School buses,
or the political brutality & intimidation of contemporary Zimbabwe;
Whether it is on the beaches of the Indian Ocean
or in the cry of my neighbour in Exeter –
Our God is always calling to us in the night –
The God who shares our
suffering and pain
calls us, begs us, to speak, to act, to love.
Maybe we have slept long enough.
It is time to get up and say
“Speak Lord, your servant is listening”
“Here I am, Lord. Is it I, Lord?
I have heard you calling in the night.
I will go, Lord, if you lead me.
I will hold your people in my heart”