"Couldn’t it Happen to Us Too?"

Date Sunday January 14, 2018
Service Second Sunday after the Epiphany
Text Text: 1 Samuel 3:1-10
Author Pastor Jean M. Hansen
Previous Sermon "Ending Up Where we are Supposed to Be"

     Commentator Debie Thomas writes that when she was growing up she heard the story of Samuel being called by God – today’s first lesson – fairly often. That’s probably because it’s one of the few Bible stories in which a child plays the starring role. She not only heard the story, but absorbed what she was supposed to learn, which she says were lessons about going to church, obeying elders and opening her heart to God.

     However, even though she knew she was supposed to feel excited at the prospect of a call from heaven, as a “high-strung kid with a radar for creepy things who actively feared the night”, the idea of God calling was more than a little disconcerting. No doubt, she writes, she would have bolted out of bed to run to her parents’ room, crawled into bed between them, and refused to budge until morning.

     If she heard God calling in the night now, she goes on to say, she would not call her parents, but she would question her sanity, or cut back on caffeine, or sign up for yoga and do everything BUT believe God is talking to her. (1)

    What about you, about us? What would you think, or do, if it seemed as if God was calling in the night? Last week focused on the importance of choosing to listen to God; you may recall that because the Magi and Joseph did so, after God spoke to them in dreams, Jesus was saved from Herod’s wrath. But, can we integrate such things into our 21st century world?

     Perhaps we’ll find that the gulf between then and now is not as wide as we think when we consider two easily overlooked details in today’s Old Testament reading. The first is the statement that “the word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.”

     According to scholar Roger Nam, this phrase does not occur anywhere else in the entire Hebrew Bible, which indicates that the time being described is a particularly spiritually barren period in Israel’s history. The word rare is typically reserved for an item, like jewelry, that is extremely valuable due to lack of supply. The historical reality is that there was political chaos in Israel at this time, and the spiritual reality is that there was little word from God, or at least little receptivity for it.

     The second interesting detail is that “Samuel did not yet know the Lord.” The phrase, “did not know the Lord” is used frequently in the Old Testament to refer to the Pharaoh who enslaved the Israelites, the sons of Eli who also are called scoundrels, and Judeans about to be punished through exile, to name a few. In other words, Samuel is not in exactly flattering company. Fortunately, the word “yet” separates him from the others. (2)

     It’s surprising, though, that this boy who was raised in the Temple and had an insiders’ view of religious life did not “yet know the Lord.” He had every opportunity to know God early and well. But, perhaps over-familiarity had dulled his senses and got in the way of his hearing God’s voice? So, it’s good that God called him again and again. (3)

     Both of these details, that visions were rare, and that Samuel did not yet know the Lord, point to God’s acting in spite of the person, a boy who had no personal experience with faith, and in the midst of difficulty, in this case a spiritual drought. God’s acts; is it grace? Samuel becomes God’s instrument.

     Does it seem like we live in a time when God is rarely heard, and many do not know the Lord? Many would say “yes”, but it’s important that we remember that this has been a condition that has existed throughout the ages, a situation into which God speaks in a variety of ways.

     Last Sunday we read how God spoke in dreams; today we remember God is calling in the night. So, perhaps the modern-day story that Pastor Janet Hunt tells about a night-time experience is also about Divine messaging.

     She writes about a time she was traveling so much that it was more normal for her to sleep away from home than at home. When she was home, though, she often had the same dream.

     It was always in the first moments after she had drifted off to sleep, she writes. She would wake with a start, convinced that there was a guest in her home for whom she was not prepared. So, she would try to sort out who was there and, as a result of her not preparing the guest room, had no place to sleep. Eventually she would wake up enough to realize that it was, in fact, only a dream.

     This happened repeatedly, so much so that she shared it with her friends, but they could only shake their heads, as unable to make sense of it as she was. Finally, one friend suggested that Janet talk about it with her spiritual director, so she did.

     Sister Audrey listed intently, and then said, “Well, I can’t say for sure, of course, but I can’t help but wonder if your guest is Jesus.”

     What if it was Jesus? Was the message, then, that she was not making room for him? This was upsetting, wrote Pastor Hunt, but then as she reflected on it she realized what a wonder it is to think that perhaps Jesus would be so persistent - in a way she could sense - to get near her. Since then she has stopped dreaming the dream, and she’s not altogether certain that much changed in her life after that, EXCEPT that ever since then she has had a deeper sense of the possibility of God speaking. (4)

     The most significant way that God has spoken to humanity is in and through Jesus, whose arrival as the Word made flesh we celebrated so recently. During the coming month we will read about what he said and did, and his ministry and sacrificial love will once again be remembered.

     But what if, like Pastor Hunt, Jesus wants to be a guest in our “house”, that is in our lives? What if the message God is speaking to us is, “make room for him,” and it implies more than recalling what we know, but involves being guided in how we live?

     I would guess that most of us, and I would include myself in this, do not really expect to hear from God in a way we can identify, and to which we can directly respond. Yet, if it can happen to Mary and Joseph, a poor and uneducated couple; and the Magi, who were non-believers; and Samuel, who at the time did not yet know the Lord; and Janet Hunt, a busy pastor, then couldn’t it happen to us too? AMEN


(1)   “The Outsider Prophet” by Debie Thomas, January 18, 2015, www.journeywithjesus.com

(2)   Commentary of 1 Samuel 3:1-10 by Roger Nam, www.workingpreacher.org

(3)   “The Outsider Prophet” by Debie Thomas, January 18, 2015, www.journeywithjesus.com

(4)    “God Calling in the Night” by Janet Hunt, January 2015, www.dancingwiththeword.com