Hannah was unable to become pregnant. And she was troubled by this, she carried a deep hurt in her heart, like a scar. In one of her dark moments Hannah visited the temple of the Lord and in her bitterness of soul, she prayed to God, “Lord, hear my sadness, feel my pain, remember me, be merciful to me. Give me a son and I will give him back to you.”
As she prayed, she prayed silently and her lips moved. A priest called Eli wandered past her and said, “stop your drinking”, thinking she was drunk. And Hannah explained that she wasn’t drunk and she shared her story.
The priest, Eli, blessed Hannah and Hannah left.
In due time she conceived and gave birth to a boy, whom she called Samuel, because Samuel sounds like “heard of God”.
When Samuel had grown up a few years she took him to the temple and saw Eli. And she said, “Remember me, here’s the son that God has given me, and so I’m giving him back to God.”
And Hannah prayed a beautiful prayer about God’s faithfulness. And she left Samuel in Eli’s care. And Samuel learnt to minister before the Lord under Eli’s guidance.
Samuel grew up, and Eli grew older and older until he was very old and going blind.
And so we reach our reading.
In a situation where the word of God was rare, where there were few visions.
Where the people of God had got into a rut, and were not expecting God to speak.
Perhaps, rather than not expecting God to speak,
Perhaps, they just weren’t giving God any room to speak.
We have Eli, who has become a living, embodiment, a metaphor for the people’s relationship with God.
People weren’t paying much attention to the word of God.
And Eli was going blind, so he couldn’t read it.
And so there is this perpetual situation of trying to learn how to live when God’s word seems rare.
And one evening Eli is lying down resting, with the temple’s light source, the symbolic, lamp of God slowly burning down. Sometime in the night, the light would go out, and a new lamp would be prepared to be lit the next day.
And again, symbolism is powerful here, as the lamp starts to fade physically, it becomes a metaphor for the light of God. God’s public presence in the world.
The light is fading in the temple and soon it will be left in darkness.
Then, into this context, this background of shadows and a growing sense of rising darkness, God speaks.
But God doesn’t move a mountain, or send a firestorm or a flood.
God speaks, and to Samuel’s young ears, it sounds just like Eli.
This amazing sign from God, and it sounds like a voice in the night.
And it sounds like the voice of Eli.
Or maybe it doesn’t, maybe it does sound like God, a real “God” sounding voice, but Samuel is just too humble to imagine that God would speak to him.
Samuel, who sleeps in the temple of the Lord, near the Ark of God.
The voice, calls Samuel by name. “Samuel”.
And Samuel responds, he speaks into the silence and stillness, with the light flickering down.
“Here I am”
And Samuel goes to see Eli, who says, “it wasn’t me.”
And the same thing happens again. And again. But the third time.
When Samuel speaks to Eli and says to him, “Here I am; you called me.” Something changes for Eli.
It’s like scales falling off his nearly blind eyes.
It’s like the booming voice of God in the near silence of the temple.
Eli remembers, he remembers that he used to know what it was like to hear God talk to him. To read God’s word.
To actually experience God as a reality for himself.
But not just to hear God’s voice, but to be called, as if by name.
And Eli tells this to Samuel. It’s the Lord speaking to you.
Eli, the priest of countless years, tells this young man Samuel, who we are told in verse 7, doesn’t even know God yet. And did not understand the word of God.
And Eli, knowing Samuel, and knowing how innocent and humble Samuel is to all that God might be saying to him. Tells him what to do.
And I wonder whether as Eli was giving this advice to Samuel, whether he was thinking that perhaps he should take some of his own medicine.
And so Samuel, the humble, the diligent, the quiet, goes back to his blankets and lies down.
And the Lord came and stood next to him and said, “Samuel! Samuel!”
The Lord made himself known to Samuel in a profound way. Are we prepared to get that close to God, or rather, to let God get that close to us?
The Lord came and stood next to Samuel.
And Samuel answered, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”
Could we say that?
“Speak Lord, I am listening.”
Or even before this, could we even say that we are listening in expectation of hearing God’s voice.
Bishop Stephen Cottrell, asks the same questions in a wonderful little book called, Do Nothing To Change Your Life. And I want to recommend it to you.
But I also don’t want to recommend any other voices, or inputs to add to the collection that clog up our lives already.
TV, telephones, newspapers, Twitter, the BBC website, long distance phone calls, BBM’s, iPods, iPlayer, Sky TV, or maybe even UCB Christian radio.
I used to have an amazing spiritual breakfast every morning, four chapters of the Bible, and a time of prayer.
And then we had a baby! And that pattern has continued in times and seasons, but the daily spiritual diet has become more sporadic, piece meal, no more morning Bible binges, but snacks of scripture throughout the day.
And in the busy-ness of life, whether you have children or not, the pressures on our time and on our senses mount up.
And the only answer, is to actively, deliberately make space.
And that is hard.
To find silence.
And so as I finish jabbering at you, we are going to pause for a minute.
Before we sing a marvellous hymn, all about listening for that still small voice.
And in this silence, I want to encourage you to offer yourselves to God once more, as Hannah offered Samuel.
and silently say the words that Samuel said, “Here I am.”
And then listen.
ONE MINUTE PAUSE
Father God, be to us the still small voice that whispers in the dark. Be to us the loud crash of cymbals that drown out the noise of the world. Be to us, the physical presence that draws close and calls us each by name. AMEN.