“Here I Am, Lord”
Text: 1 Samuel 3: 1-20
Prayer: O Lord, help us hear your call on our lives. May your voice speak to our hearts and remind us who we are and whose we are. May we seek to honor you in all that we do as disciples of Jesus Christ. Amen.
We are all familiar with the term “late‑bloomers.” It refers to people who respond later in life to an invitation and manage in the end to accomplish great things. History has known some famous late‑bloomers. Fortunately for us, early or late they followed their special invitation offered by God.
Anna Mary Robertson Moses was a happy, long‑time embroiderer until arthritis made that painful and difficult. Instead of the needles, she took up the paint brush at the age of 75, in 1935. Untrained, but in the firm American tradition of primitive art, her paintings were discovered in a drugstore window a la Lana Turner by a prominent collector in 1938, and a New York gallery show led to world‑wide fame.
Louis Bromfield, Pulitzer Prize winning author, compared her work to that of Peter Bruegel. She continued painting until close to her death in 1961, age 101. Although she started out selling her paintings for $2 or $3, depending on size, in 2006 — one of her 3,600 paintings, “Sugaring Off” (1943) — sold for $1.2 million. We know Anna Mary the painter as Grandma Moses.
The world knows Albert Einstein as a genius in the field of science. This is certainly true, but he did not start out that way. As a boy, growing up in Germany, many people thought him to be ignorant. He failed courses in mathematics; he was very rebellious. As a boy, he showed little evidence of the ability he possessed. Yet, it was Einstein’s theory of relativity and similar ideas that brought about the nuclear age in which we now live.
Dr Martin Luther King, Jr, one of the greatest social prophets of our time, was a late bloomer. Dr. King was an American Baptist minister and activist who became the most visible spokesperson and leader in the civil rights movement.
Name at birth Michael King, which he later changed, his father regularly whipped him until he was fifteen; a neighbor reported hearing the elder King telling his son “he would make something of him even if he had to beat him to death.” King suffered from depression throughout much of his life. But he is best known for his role in the advancement of civil rights using the tactics of nonviolence and civil disobedience based on his Christian beliefs and inspired by the nonviolent activism of Mahatma Gandhi.
On October 14, 1964, King received the Nobel Peace Prize for combating racial inequality through nonviolent resistance.
Each of these people received an invitation. One invitation was to painting, another was to science; the third was an invitation to greater service of God. These invitations were always present, because they were gifts from God. Once the gift was found, it became a permanent part of who these people were. The lives of these three famous people present a good illustration of how it is necessary to respond to God.
A sense of openness allows one to hear the call in a spirit of courage and conviction and sends the individual forward to do whatever it is that God asks of the person. Our lesson today asks us to be open to God’s call in order to do whatever it is that God asks of us.
The call of Samuel is a biblical story familiar to many. Samuel experiences the call of the Lord, but being unfamiliar with God he does not initially recognize it. On three occasions, as the passage states, God called the young boy to hear his word. Each time Samuel goes to his master, Eli, and asks for guidance. It seems that Eli was also, at least at the outset, unaware of the call. However, when the Lord’s invitation is received for the third time, Eli realizes it is God’s call and, therefore, says to his young charge, “Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, `Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening’ ” (1 Samuel 3:9).
The Lord then speaks a message to Samuel that I am sure was not expected or wanted. God’s message was harsh; punishment would come to the house of Eli.
Eli’s sons had done evil in the sight of the Lord and the old man had done nothing to stop them. Even with such a harsh message, Eli is still able to proclaim to the young Samuel, “It is the Lord; let him do what seems good to him” (1 Samuel 3:18b).
In other words, Eli accepts what the Lord has brought his way. Even in difficult circumstances he is able to respond in a positive way to the Lord.
As God called Anna Mary Robertson Moses, Albert Einstein, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to do great things, and as the Lord called Samuel to listen to his word, so God calls all of us. The question, of course, is how do we know what God wants us to do? How do we know that it is the call of God and not the call of someone or something else? The only way we can know is to be open to the invitation of God, as were the three persons in history and Samuel.
We must listen for God’s voice. How does God speak to us? People discover the message of the Lord in various ways. Few people today, I suppose, experience the theophanies we hear about in the Hebrew Bible. A theophany is some manifestation of God that we perceive by some or all five senses C sound, sight, touch etc. People today do not wrestle with God, as did Jacob, nor do they encounter the Lord in a burning bush that is not consumed, as did Moses.
None of us has ever seen a person taken up to heaven in a fiery chariot, as was Elijah. Even though God does not speak to us in these overt ways, certainly God is calling, but the question is: Are we listening?
God calls us in the events of our lives. Things happen in life, unexpected things, events that bring joy and triumph and those that bring sadness and defeat. The message is not always obvious; we are often confused by what God may be saying. Since the picture is not completely clear, we need to listen as well as observe.
The first thing we need to note is that listening is not the same as hearing. Hearing refers to the sounds that enter your ears.
It is a physical process that, provided you do not have any hearing problems, happens automatically. Listening, however, requires more than that: it requires focus and concentrated effort.
An 80‑year‑old grandfather went to his daughter’s house for Sunday dinner. When the meal was over, he announced that he was going to take a walk through the neighborhood. “I’ll be back in twenty minutes,” he said. But two hours had passed before he finally returned. “Sorry I’m late,” he said. “But I stopped to talk to an old friend and he just wouldn’t stop listening.”
I like that. Some people will not stop talking. We have only one mouth but two ears, you=d think we would listen twice as much, right? But blessed is the person who will not stop listening. That’s a wonderful gift to give to someone, to listen to them that intently. The greatest honor you can pay someone is to really listen to them. As David Augsburger once said, “An open ear is the only believable sign of an open heart.”
Listening is not the same as hearing. Listening requites intent. It requires focus. One common problem is that instead of listening closely to what someone is saying, we often get distracted after a sentence or two, and instead start to think about what we are going to say in reply. This means that we do not listen to the rest of what the other person is saying.
You can see how treacherous this can be. Listening is so important that many top employers provide listening skills training for their employees. This is not surprising when you consider that good listening skills can lead to better customer satisfaction, greater productivity with fewer mistakes, and increased sharing of information. That in turn can lead to a more creative and innovative workplace. But I think we can all agree: hearing is not the same thing as listening.
Listening to someone is also a way of saying you are important to me. You matter.
Author and radio teacher Chuck Swindoll once found himself with too many commitments in too few days.
In his book “Stress Fractures” he tells about getting nervous and tense about it. “I was snapping at my wife and our children, choking down my food at mealtimes, and feeling irritated at those unexpected interruptions through the day. Before long, things around our home started reflecting the pattern of my hurry‑up style. It was becoming unbearable.
“I distinctly remember after supper one evening, the words of our younger daughter, Colleen. She wanted to tell me something important that had happened
to her at school that day. She began hurriedly, `Daddy, I wanna tell you somethin’ and I’ll tell you really fast.’
“Suddenly realizing her frustration,” Swindoll answered, “Honey, you can tell me‑‑and you don’t have to tell me really fast. Say it slowly.”
“I’ll never forget her answer,” he says. She said, “Then listen slowly!”
What she wanted to know was if her Daddy cared enough about her to really listen to her. That is what many people hunger for. When we listen to them — really listen — we are saying you matter to me. You’re important to me.
And thirdly, of course, the most important listening we can do is to listen to God. It is interesting how much time Jesus spent in prayer. Obviously he believed listening to the voice of God was important. It’s God’s deepest wish — to direct His children toward positive, fulfilling lives. But most of us never listen. And so we miss out on some of life’s greatest joys. When we listen to someone we are saying you are really important to me. You matter.
God’s deepest wish is to direct us to a positive and fulfilling life. If that’s not happening in our lives, it is because we are not listening to God. Remember what the Apostle Paul said, “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). Notice he didn’t say that faith comes from talking or doing. Faith comes from hearing and that only happens when we listen.
Robert Holden, in his book, AHappiness Now!@ tells about a husband and wife, both in their late seventies, who decided, after fifty‑five years of marriage, to divorce. When their counselor asked them why, the wife issued a catalogue of reasons.
“He never asks if I’m happy,” said the wife.
“I assumed you were,” said the husband.
“He never says he loves me,” said the wife.
“I thought you knew I loved you,” said the husband.
The wife continued, “He never says I’m beautiful.”
The husband replied, “I look at you every day and admire your beauty.”
“We rarely talk,” said the wife.
“I know you like to read a lot,” said the husband.
“I read because we don’t talk,” said the wife. There was a pause. “And we never go out,” said the wife.
“I thought you liked to stay in,” said the husband.
“I only stay in because I’m waiting to go out,” said the wife.
The counselor continued to take notes. “He’s also very mean to me,” said the wife.
“In what way?” asked the counselor.
“Well, at breakfast, three times a week for fifty‑five years, he always serves me the crust of the loaf, and I hate the bread‑crust!”
The husband was distraught, “I give you the crust, my dear, because that is my favorite part of the loaf.”
“What we have here,” says the familiar movie line, “is a failure to communicate.”
The old prophet Eli told young Samuel, “Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, `Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.'” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.
The Lord came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!”
Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” What an eloquent, yet powerful prayer.
Are you listening to the people around you — especially those closest to you? More importantly, are you listening to God? A positive, fulfilling life awaits you. Just listen, God is calling to each of us. Amen.
Prayer: O Lord, sometimes we can=t hear your voice because we are surrounded by so much that distracts us, the noise of life. Help us to be still, and know you are our God, present at every moment, and deeply aware of our lives. May we be still and listen, and respond to your voice calling us in this life, to be the followers of Jesus Christ, in whatever way you do. Thank you for all your goodness to us. Amen.