“Listening to God in Stereo”
1 Samuel 3:1-20 ~ Rev. G. Scott Turnbrook ~ Northwood United ~ January 17, 2020
It feels so GOOD to finally hear again! It feels so good to hear! Have you ever gone swimming, frolicking in the water, only to emerge from the water and have one of you ears plugged. You can hear, at least on one side. But you cannot hear…fully. You cannot hear everything that is going on around you; you cannot hear everything on this side; you cannot hear in stereo. You push away at the ear; you lie on your side; you try ANYTHING to get that water out. But…it is stuck in there. And you cannot hear much of what is happening around you.
Have you ever had that happen to you? I suspect we all have. And it feels so GOOD when that trickle of water finally loosens up and we can hear with both ears. We can hear everything going on around us. We can hear in stereo! When I was examining this text earlier this week, I think there is a spiritual equivalent to this phenomena of hearing with both ears, hearing in stereo when we think about the way God speaks to us. It is right there in the text towards the end in the 11th verse: “…I am about to do something in Israel that will make both ears of anyone who hears of it tingle…” Not just one ear who hears God, but both ears who hear God’s word will tingle.
You see, I think there is spiritual parallel to having one ear plugged, to only listening to God with one ear and not with the other, to only listening to God with part of your life. It is a tendency we all have. It is something that I do, that I suspect we all do. And this text would like to unstop our ears, to let them tingle, and help us to hear the stereophonic sounds of God’s voice. So, let’s unstop our ears, put on our God-headsets and listen to God as Samuel and Eli teach us in this morning’s text. “Speak Lord for your servants are listening with both of our ears”.
God speaks in both the joys & pains of life
One way that we listen to God with only one ear is when we listen to God amidst the joys and forget God’s voice amidst the challenges. We hear God in the successes of our lives; we hear God in the times of sunshine; we hear God in the times of joy. However, when it comes to darkness and chaos; when it comes to pain and suffering, we turn away from God’s voice. God’s voice that speaks both in the joys as well as in the challenges. Scripture lifts up this dichotomy, so it is only natural that we have embodied it. In the creation story, God separates the light from the chaos of darkness and declares it “good”. Paul speaks of a time before Christ as “darkness” and the later pastoral letters refer to it as “sin”. Light and joy and happiness is where God resides and darkness and pain and suffering is to be turned away from….right?
In this morning’s text, we see this dichotomy lifted up between Samuel and Eli. For the elderly Eli, the lamp of God was dimming….he had looked the other way as he sons had taken horrible liberties with their priestly duties. He had not called them to account; he had not represented the temple; he had stopped his ears to God. Yet…the lamp of God, for Eli, had not yet gone out. By way of contrast to Eli, the spark of young Samuel allows God’s voice to be heard. Samuel comes to Eli again…and again…and again. And as this exchange continues, we hear that God is continuing to speak. God is speaking in the challenges and regrets that Eli had; God is speaking a voice of restoration amidst the desolation; God is speaking hope. God is speaking life even after death.
Do you relate to closing you ear to God ~ the ear that is open during pain and suffering and darkness? I think it is natural and easy to listen to for God’s voice in those times of joy and delight. Yet this text reminds us to open that other ear hear God’s still small voice that is speaking in the pain and suffering; that voice that is offering healing, and hope for tomorrow. We notice that Eli is not let off the hook easily for not controlling his sons amidst their escapades; however, we also see that God is about rebuilding and restoring. King Solomon wrote that the Lord would dwell even in the thick darkness, not just the light. And isn’t that exactly where we need God’s voice? The Hebrew Psalm that is paired with this morning’s readings is the 139th and it poetically speaks of this truth: 8If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. 9If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,10even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast.11If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night,” 12even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you. “Speak Lord for your servants are listening with both of our ears”
God speaks amidst our failure and success
Coming out of this way in which God speaks is a beautiful affirmation that God is found to be speaking amidst our failures. For Eli, he had increasingly stopped listening to God. Who knows where it began? When one son took liberties in his priestly role and he didn’t call him to account. Or was it further down the road when the sons were more pronounced? Increasingly, Eli had tuned out the voice of God calling for justice. The text notes that Eli’s eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see. Spiritual blindness was taking over for him. Yet it also records that “the lamp of God had not yet gone out”. There was still a glimmer of hope! As we see the interaction between Eli and the enlightened Samuel, we see God speaking amidst Eli’s failures of the past! God is found precisely at these crossroad moments in our lives calling us to come back home! Eli’s life would not end as a failed priest; he would help God’s presence to continue to be heard through the prophets to come!
Do you find yourself turning a deaf ear to God amidst a time of failure? I suspect we all do. Yet, these moments are precisely when God promises to speak, and guide and shape us. I love how many people make New Year’s resolutions. Resolutions to improve our lives; resolutions to move towards the right path; resolutions towards being the person they feel they were created to be. Sadly, we know that the likelihood of following through with them diminishes as we move further into the year. I wonder if we truly listened with an ear of faith; knowing God speaks and encourages us through the failures. I wonder if we might be that much more successful at being the people God calls us to be? Yes! God speaks, not just during your successes, but also amidst your failures. “Speak Lord for your servants are listening with both of our ears”
God’s voice is not just loud and powerful
Finally, what this text affirms for us is that God’s voice is not just heard in the loud and powerful moments of our life. We also must listen in the quiet moments when God is speaking. This text is a call story: it is the call from God to Samuel. And when we think of call stories, we think of some of the grand narratives that have been recorded. Isaiah’s call accentuated with winged angels placing burning coals upon his lips so that he might speak. Ezekiel’s call with chariots of fire descending from the heavens. These are dramatic calls with trumpets blowing and lightning striking! It is so critical that we balance hearing those calls amidst this soft and gentle call that Samuel receives. “Samuel…Samuel” (whispers God). Samuel faithfully goes to Elli to discern this whisper; go back to sleep…and the whispering continues….and continues. I suspect that God whispers far more than God yells in our calling. I know of few people who have had lightning bolt conversations with God; but, I do know of some. We must have ears attuned to God speaking softly as well as just in the moments when God is speaking with thunder and lightning. Because God will rarely speak when we expect. God will surprise a virgin with a baby to come; God will surprise a young boy with a call to prophecy; God will surprise you if you listen. God’s voice is not just loud and powerful, it is also soft, surprising, and serene. “Speak Lord for your servants are listening with both of our ears”
Listening to God speaking…in the pains of your life, not just the joys. Listening to God speaking…in the failures, not just the successes. Listening to God speaking…with a soft voice, not just waiting for an elevated one. Listening with BOTH ears. Yet, I think what I take away the most from this call story comes as we have been contrasting these two divergent characters of Samuel and Eli. As we consider the two,, I think we learn that faithful spiritual listening requires us have the ears of both Samuel and Eli: Samuel’s ear of youthful attentiveness as well as the Eli’s ear of wisdom. Samuel’s relentless ear, that even in the evening hours of slumber, would not give up on listening. Samuel is resting; he is comfortable, and he hears God speak. He gets up from his comfortable bed to discern this call with Eli. Samuel is persistent. He listens not just once or twice. He will continue until God’s voice is heard and understood. We must listen with the persistent ear of Samuel. And…we must also listen with the wise, seasoned ear of Eli. Eli had gone astray, yet the embedded wisdom of God continued in him. And, following Samuel’s persistence, Eli listened with Samuel until they discerned the word that God was speaking.
Friends, I know that God is speaking to you. I wonder what God is saying in your life today? What words are God speaking? Words of comfort and healing? Words of challenge and confrontation and calling forth? God has never been silent. God’s silence only occurs when we stop listening! Last week, we were reminded of the beautiful baptismal words God speaks at our beginning “You are my child the beloved in whom I am well pleased”. Today, we continue to open our ears ~ both of them, listening. May we listen with both of our ears wide open to hear the words God offers. The words of healing and hope. The words of justice and peace.