Script 1 Samuel 3:9 So Eli told 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.
As today's verse reveals, God is speaking to Samuel. Samuel is just a boy. Eli is the priest. God should be speaking to him. But God is doing something new and unexpected, so Samuel is the recipient of the word of God. A couple of verses later God will say to Samuel, ' "See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make the ears of everyone who hears about it tingle.' When listening for and to God we might want to expect the unexpected. I would even be so bold as to suggest that we can recognize the voice of God when we are surprised and shocked. If what we hear fits neatly into the way things are and what we already think, it probably isn't God.
In today's story, the shocking and unexpected thing that God is doing is replacing Eli and his sons as the High Priests. The sons enjoy their social status as priests and use that to gain themselves privilege. But they do not serve the people and they are not faithful. Eli has allowed this to happen. So they will all be replaced. Sometimes the word of God calls forth unexpected and unsettling changes. God's word to Moses was a call to leave the comfort of his life as a shepherd in the country to return to Egypt and confront the Pharoah. God's word to Israel through the prophets is unrelenting in its blunt force. The political and religious leaders are adept at worship but fail miserable to create a society which cares for the common good and provides for the most vulnerable. God's word to Mary, that she would carry the son of the Most High, would not have been simply good news. Being a young, unmarried woman meant this word of God would have created some fear and dread and doubt as well.
When listening for God we are learning to listen for a very delicate balance. If we only hear blessing and affirmation, we are only hearing our own wants and desires. In popular Christianity today we hear this in the prosperity gospel which ministers to the wealthy without challenging them to offer their possessions and take up a cross. We hear it in the popular refrain, 'God Bless America,' without pausing to consider if the policies of our nation are pleasing to a God who demands justice for the poor, the welcome of aliens and trust in God alone instead of military might. But we also hear it in public religious figures who are quick to denounce and condemn all those 'others' whether gay, lesbian, transgender, feminist, or liberal Christians as the cause for every trauma and social ill. Subtly we hear it whenever God is angry only and never merciful. This is the balance. If God offers only blessing and approval, that probably isn't God. But neither is is God if what we hear is only angry and vengeful. The voice of God is that subtle line confronting sin, but calling forth redemption and mercy, inviting us with grace to repent and be renewed. When listening to God, we are listening to the new and unexpected, the challenging and seemingly impossible. And when we hear that, we know we are listening to a trustworthy voice. And we listen some more.
Quote - Psalm 51.6:
You desire truth in the inward being;
therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
Prayer – Give us the courage, God always called, to not dismiss your words that are challenging. Call to us with honesty and mercy and guide us to respond with repentance when we must change. Call to us with passion when we must risk a new path. Call to us with urgency when we must speak an uncomfortable and unsettling truth. Continue to teach us how to listen for the new you call forth in and through us.