Speak, I’m Your Servant, Ready to Listen
A sermon by Rev. Cheryl Harader for Peace Mennonite Church; October 17, 2021
“Here I am Lord” is one of my favorite hymns; it was a congregational song at my ordination. And as I read this morning’s scripture about a month ago, this song immediately came to mind. Then, as I got into narrowing down a focus for this morning, I realized that these words weren’t spoken by Samuel to God–they were spoken by Samuel to Eli. Big difference!
Moses says “Here I Am” in Genesis 3:4, and Isaiah responds to his call from God with “Here I am; send me.”
But Samuel’s response to God calling his name is not “Here I am,” but, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” Not the same.
In some ways, Samuel’s response is more compelling, more necessary.
Yes, Eli told him what to say, but he said it! Samuel had put himself in the position to hear God. He certainly didn’t say, “Ok. Here I am. Talk fast because I have a meeting to get to (or people to feed, or a book to finish).” No, Samuel was ready to listen.
Granted, it was maybe easier for Samuel because he lived in the temple. And he was just a child. So it should have been easy for him to find the time to listen to God.
You and I have a bit more going on than sleeping and eating in the church and just waiting for God to speak. I don’t like being the bearer of bad news: not living in the church is no excuse for not listening; no matter how important your meetings are, no matter how badly your family and/or other people need you.
We live our best life, I believe, when we answer like Samuel did: “Speak, for your servant is listening.”
This scripture made me think of another hymn that is not in our hymnals, but I remember singing when I was younger: “Speak, Lord, in the Stillness”
Speak Lord in the stillness; speak your word to me;
Help me now to listen in expectancy.
Speak, O Gracious Master, in this quiet hour.
Let me see thy face, Lord, feel your touch of power.
Speak, your servant listens; I await your word.
Let me know your presence, Let your voice be heard.”
These words invite God into our lives. They remind us of the importance of Spiritual practices/disciplines. Spiritual practices put us in the space of being available to God. They encourage us to “be still and know that I am God.” That God is God. They put us in a space to hear; it doesn’t have to be a temple, like it was for Samuel. For some, it can be in their own living room; for others a bench by a lake; or sitting in their own backyard in nature.
No matter where it is, it is a place where we can say, “Speak, I’m your servant; ready to listen.” And then we can stay and listen.
And that’s when things can really get interesting! Look at Samuel, Moses and Isaiah if you don’t believe me. What they heard were messages to deliver to other people:
God told Moses, “I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people out of Egypt.” Well, that wasn’t exactly what Moses wanted to do; not even close to something he wanted to do. A discussion between God and Moses then ensued.
God told Isaiah:
9 go, and say to this people,
‘Listen carefully, but do not understand.
Watch closely, but learn nothing.’ . . .
11 Then I said, “Lord, how long will this go on?”
And he replied,
“Until their towns are empty,
their houses are deserted,
and the whole country is a wasteland;
until the Lord has sent everyone away,
and the entire land of Israel lies deserted.
If even a tenth—a remnant—survive,
it will be invaded again and burned.
But as a terebinth or oak tree leaves a stump when it is cut down, so Israel’s stump will be a holy seed.”
Isaiah didn’t argue with God (that we know of) but I can’t imagine it was a message he wanted to deliver to God’s people.
And then there’s Samuel. I won’t read it again, since you heard it just a few minutes, but I remind you that God’s words promise the destruction of Eli’s family. Now, that part isn’t new. God told Eli similar words before this. But the last message is new: “I say to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be expiated (atoned for) by sacrifice or offering forever.” In other words there will be absolutely nothing that they could do to amend their sins. Powerful stuff. And that was what the child Samuel was to tell his master and mentor, Eli.
Maybe these messages are one of the reasons why we find it difficult to quiet our lives and listen for God’s call. Is it any surprise that it can be scary when you put yourself in the presence of the creator of the universe?
But I think a more challenging question for us is, what do we expect when we sit/stand before God? I’m afraid that we don’t expect anything; at least many times we aren’t truly open to the limitlessness of the Creator of the Universe, of our Creator.
Through spiritual practices and disciplines, we can learn to make ourselves more available to God.
And so we practice making ourselves more available to God, and we begin to hear God more often in our lives, to sense God’s leading and presence.
We have succeeded! Well, no. The hard work has just begun. Fun at times, too, of course. All we need to do is think back to Samuel and the others to realize the difficulty or hearing God’s call.
I truly believe God calls each one of us, to our vocation and to other actions.
I know two people at Peace Mennonite who made the difficult choice of being a conscientious objector during the VietNam war; there could very well be others, so I’m not naming names. This was not an easy call to respond to.
I know people who followed what their parents wanted for them, even though they felt their heart somewhere else. Once their parents died, they felt freed to choose another career path. They didn’t follow the desire that God put in their heart, and they had a hard time.
I’ve known women whose congregations and/or families turned their backs on them when they went to seminary and wanted to be ordained. Just deciding to go to seminary is almost impossible when your parents and/or congregation tells you over and over that God does not call women. It’s difficult to recognize that there is even a call. You aren’t expecting it.
It used to be the same for men who wanted to be nurses or women who wanted to be doctors or lawyers.
God calls some of us to be electricians, plumbers, nurses, doctors, bus drivers. The possibilities are limitless because our God is limitless.
I challenge you this morning to open yourself up to God, trusting that God will not desert you; just like God did not leave Samuel or any of the others.. God will not abandon you. Also, I challenge you to speak up and encourage the gifts you see in others, including family members. (Even when those gifts don’t lead in the direction you want them to go.) We sometimes need encouragement to put ourselves in a space where we can even hear God; a space where we can say, “Speak, I’m your servant, ready to listen.”