Second Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B, January 14, 2018
1 Samuel 3.1-10 (11-20); Psalm 139.1-6, 13-18; 1 Cor. 6.12-20; John 1.43-51
Pastor Renee Splichal Larson
Grace and peace to you from the triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
There is so much in our readings today, far more than I could possibly address. Yet, in each reading a question rises up for us to consider: How do we listen to or hear the voice of God?
Sometimes it seems as though things aren’t much different since the writing of 1 Samuel, for we hear that “The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.”
When was the last time you heard the voice of God or had a vision? Most of us would probably say from our own experience that “The word of the Lord is rare and visions are not widespread.” But, I ask this question seriously because people do have visions and people do hear the voice of God, whether they recognize it at the time or not.
Take Samuel for instance. As a boy he hears his name spoken, “Samuel, Samuel,” and he has no idea it is God speaking to him. Three times he goes to Eli, thinking it is his mentor who is calling him. It takes the perception of his mentor to figure out it’s really God who is calling Samuel. Eli guides him in what to do and say.
God calls Samuel’s name again and he says: “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” Then Samuel does an amazing thing: he actually listens to what God has to say. Perhaps what is even more amazing is that Samuel musters up the courage to claim his prophetic voice and share what God told him with his mentor. What God has to say through Samuel to Eli is not good, yet Samuel obeys and Eli received the message.
So one way we can hear from God is directly, but sometimes it takes someone else in our life to perceive that it is the voice of God trying to speak to us. People who know us say, “Pay attention! God has something to say to you.” We can go on with our busy lives or we can stop and say: “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”
Another way God speaks to us is through other people. Once I heard a story about a person who was having a really difficult time in his life. He didn’t know how he would find the strength to live another day. He went to a coffee shop just to sit and kill some time. While there, a total stranger came up to him and said, “I am supposed to tell you that everything is going to be okay. I don’t know what is going on in your life, but you are to know that it’s all going to be alright.”
Curious, the man asked the stranger, “Why are you telling me this?”
The stranger replied, “When I was sitting in this coffee shop, I felt overwhelmed when I saw you with words from God, and knew I needed to speak them to you.”
The two struck up a conversation and parted ways. The man made it through the day, and another day, and another, and life was okay, even more than okay for him. He was able to hear the stranger’s words as God’s word for him at that time in his life.
So sometimes God speaks to us through others or even uses us to be God’s mouthpiece for someone else.
Other times God gives us peace through prayer and that is the way God speaks to us. An example of this is with Martin Luther King Jr. We honor him tomorrow and what he did for our country leading the Civil Rights Movement.
I often wonder what it was like for him to lead such a courageous effort to end segregation and racism in our country. Did he doubt his own abilities? Was he scared? What gave him courage? I gained some insights to these questions through his book: Stride Toward Freedom.
In it he writes:
I was ready to give up. With my cup of coffee sitting untouched before me, I tried to think of a way to move out of the picture without appearing a coward. In this state of exhaustion, when my courage had all but gone, I decided to take my problem to God. With my head in my hands, I bowed over the kitchen table and prayed aloud.
The words I spoke to God that midnight are still vivid in my memory. “I am here taking a stand for what I believe is right. But now I am afraid. The people are looking to me for leadership, and if I stand before them without strength and courage, they too will falter. I am at the end of my powers. I have nothing left. I’ve come to the point where I can’t face it alone.
At that moment, I experienced the presence of the Divine as I had never experienced God before. It seemed as though I could hear the quiet assurance of an inner voice saying: “Stand up for justice, stand up for truth; and God will be at your side forever.” Almost at once my fears began to go. My uncertainty disappeared. I was ready to face anything.
Martin Luther King listened to God through prayer and heard the quiet assurance of the God who created and loved him, who would be with him to the end.
Maybe you’ve had a similar experience to MLK, when God “spoke” to you and gave you the gift of peace through prayer.
If you can’t relate to any of these stories, and if you are thinking, “Pastor Renee, God has never spoken to me,” I can understand that. If God speaks to us we can be left wondering if it really happened or even what it means.
But here is yet another way God speaks to us if only we make ourselves available to listen. God speaks to us through Scripture.
In our second reading a question is posed to us: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own?”
This is God saying to you, “Your body matters! You are holy and precious and I live in you. Live in such a way, and treat your body as if this is true.” In other words, “Don’t just go sleeping around or putting harmful things in your body, because I care about you and others around you.”
We also have the beautiful words of Psalm 139 this morning. We learn about God, how God, the weaver, has carefully and lovingly knit you together in your mother’s womb. “You are marvelously made,” God says.
Hear what God is telling you through Scripture. These words, God’s words are for you. I know that can be hard to believe. It’s easy to think that what God is trying to say to us is always for someone else. But it’s not. God speaks to you.
Maybe that’s part of our problem in the listening. We are convinced that God doesn’t speak to us or care. But God doesn’t knock all of us over the head with a two-by-four to speak to us, but most often works in subtle ways like peace through prayer, or through another person, or through a Scripture reading on a Sunday morning.
Maybe the real question is: Are we really willing to listen? And then not only hear what God is saying to us, but then have the courage to speak or to act on what we hear?
I have to admit that sometimes I don’t want to pray or listen to God’s voice because I’m afraid of what I’ll hear. Maybe I’ll get an answer I don’t want. It can be hard to open up to what God is trying to say to us, but God has created you and loves you, and you can trust God with God has to say to you.
So let us be still, open up our ears and say: “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”
 Martin Luther King Jr, Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story, 1st edition (Harper & Brothers, 1958), 124–125.