Speak to me, God. I’m listening.

(Last Updated On: January 13, 2024)

“Now the LORD came and stood there, calling as before, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”, (1 Samuel 3:10)

Hi Fighter,

We’re at the beginning of a new year – that time when we reflect on where we are going and think about alternative pathways. Perhaps that’s why our Bible passages this week focus on God calling people to do new things with their lives. Well, that’s the focus of both our Hebrew Bible reading and the Gospel, at any rate. The Epistle reading is Paul’s plea to the church in Corinth to stop being intimate with sex-workers which, Paul argues, is not really intimacy at all. Perhaps there are some of us who also need to hear that message as we make our new year’s resolutions. Even so, I’m going to focus on the calling of Samuel.

Samuel’s story opens with his mother-to-be, Hannah, praying for a child. She is praying in the ‘House of the Lord’ in Shiloh and was evidently so emotional that Eli, the priest, tells her she needs to sober up (1 Samuel 1:14). When he realises though that she’s distressed, he starts praying for her too and, lo and behold, Hannah soon gets pregnant and gives birth to a son. Hannah dedicates her new baby as a Nazarite (like Samson and John, the Baptist), meaning that he would never drink alcohol and that no one would ever cut his hair. Once he is weaned, Hannah takes the child back to Shiloh and puts him in the full-time care of the priest.

By today’s standards, Hannah’s decision to leave her son with a feeble old priest would be judged as negligent at best. Eli, we are told, had failing eyesight and limited control over his household, which was chaotic. Eli’s two sons – Hophni and Phineas – were impious, gluttonous and over-sexed. They apparently took for themselves all the best cuts of meat brought in for sacrifice, and they slept with all the female volunteers! I’m sure Saint Paul would have had a few choice words for them had he been able to pen an Epistle to the church in Shiloh!

Anyway … this is the background to the calling of Samuel that we read of in this week’s passage from the Hebrew Scriptures. It happens when he’s about twelve years old. In the midst of the corrupt and toxic environment of his upbringing, Samuel hears God calling for him in the night. The boy has no idea what is going on, but old Eli helps him understand that this is God trying to communicate with him. In the end, Samuel is left with a message from God to pass on to Eli. It’s an uncomfortable message, letting Eli know that time is up for both him and his sons.

The story of the birth and boyhood of Samuel is often seen as a romantic tale. A distressed mother has her prayers answered and gives birth to a boy who will go on to be a great prophet and leader of his people. The other side to this story though is of a boy who is handed over to a corrupt and dysfunctional family as a young child, and then has to wait twelve years being told what to do!

God works in mysterious ways. That’s the most positive spin I can put on this story, though it is true to life. For some of us, it’s obvious what God has called us to do. The rest of us stumble around for half our lives, trying to work it out. Sometimes, a wise friend will help us to see the path God has in mind for us. At other times, it’s somebody who is weak and full of problems, like Eli, who shows us the way.

It’s instructive, I think, that God doesn’t have a problem working through Eli in this story. Yes, the man is feeble and hopeless – responsible for a religious institution that is both hypocritical and abusive. Even so, God uses Eli just as God will use Samuel. God seems to be pretty flexible in this story – accepting whatever is on offer from whoever is willing to offer it.

I hope this reflection helps you with your New Year’s resolutions. Planning our way forward is difficult. God knows the future and we don’t. Even so, we know that God has plans for us, and we can expect guidance, though that guidance may come from the most unlikely people at the most unexpected times.

Our Sunday Eucharist

Last week marked another wonderful Sunday Eucharist. I was especially glad to have our Muslim brother, Tom, join David Baldwin, Stephen Sizer, and myself for the celebration of Epiphany, which always seems to me to be the feast of inclusiveness.

Inevitably and appropriately, much of our pre-service discussion focused on Gaza. I had bumped into Tom at the protest march for Gaza the day before the service. I’ve included some of my pics in this post, and I featured a few seconds of video from that march in the broadcast.

It was sobering to be marching for the children of Gaza just after commemorating the Massacre of the Holy Innocents (Matthew 2:13-18). As Stephen pointed out in his homily though, far more carnage has taken place in Gaza recently than Herod was responsible for in Bethlehem. Lord, have mercy.

About Father Dave Smith

Preacher, Pugilist, Activist, Father of four

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