God Speaks... to us?
I speak to you in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit – Amen
The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread. (1 Sam 3:1b)
This the opening message we get into which we hear God speaking to the boy Samuel
Samuel who would become one of the most influential prophets found in the Old Testament
For the benefit of understanding what is happening in this moment a little contextual details are required
We are first introduced, indirectly to Samuel, via his mother Hannah
Now Hannah was a righteous women and the second, but most favoured, wife of Elkanah
Unfortunately Hannah, although most loved by Elkanah, was barren
And Peninnah jealous of Hannah – teased her mercilessly about her inability to bare children
So the Righteous Hannah went to the temple to pray that God might change her situation
In the intensity of her prayers she was weeping and Eli the Priest thought her drunk by her actions
Hannah’s prayers were for more than her to be rid of her childless status, but that God give her a son – and if God did grant her prayers – she would dedicate him to the Lord – she would give him to the temple
When she explained herself, Eli the Priest sent her away and effectively said that her prayer would be heard and her desire granted.
As promised, she conceived and bore a son
And as promised Hannah raised him until he was weaned and brought him to the temple
It is to this boy, by our standards, and young man by ancient understand, probably about 13 or 14, that we are told that God spoke
Samuel is the special miracle child, born to a thought to be barren mother, in response to prayer
Samuel has all the makings of a special relationship with God
Our story tells us that he is ministering with “the main priest” – Eli
In a time where Eli and his sons were corrupt and ‘did what was right in their own eyes’
And God held Eli responsible for both his and their actions
And we see that this is a time where God’s word was rare - and visions were not widespread
It is into - this unlikely situation that we hear of God directly speaking to one of us
To us – mere mortals God speaks… And God calls out patiently
Today, we also have our Gospel account with what is often understood as “the Call of Nathanial”
– Nathanial one of the lesser known disciples, who starts out challenging the claims of his friend Philip by making racist comment… “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”
Yet Nathaniel experiences the power of God speaking to him
He experiences a personal miracle – a transformation
“When Jesus saw Nathaniel coming toward him, he said of him,
“Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!”
How did Jesus know that? That Nathaniel was an “Israelite without any deceit in him’ - truly an authentic faithful Jew
Notice the question that Nathaniel asked Jesus,
“Where did you get to know me?”
Nathanael doesn’t deny how Jesus has characterized him
He is struck by the claim and asks –how Jesus knew
Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.”
It is a detail that for the casual reader might seem insignificant - but in fact it is the most amazing fact Nathanael could hear
You see a good righteous Jew would have prayed regularly and often times the shade of tree would be a good spot to do so
And this was such a common pattern that for people of the time it was even a euphemism for someone who often sits contemplating wisdom and knowledge
Someone under a fig tree alone would have been synonymous with saying that someone was in prayer
And yet notice how profoundly this changes things for Nathanael
Nathanael is sold, and Jesus’ claim that he ‘knew’ him in that moment affect him immediately
Nathaniel replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”
He has been so swept away in the situation and transformed - that he declares that Jesus is the ‘Son of God’
This is something that, if no true would have been understood as heresy of the highest magnitude
Something in which the ‘law’ would sanction a person to be stoned to death for uttering such a claim
We can only imagine what Nathanael was praying – but it is clear that Jesus’ statement that he was an Israelite in which there is no deceit – profoundly affected him – that Jesus ‘knew’ him in that moment
Do we believe these are true stories?
Do we think that God spoke to a boy sitting watch over the Ark of the Covenant?
Do really believe this child heard voices in the night?
…hearing voices… people look at you funny when you make claims like that?
Do we believe that believe Jesus spoke to Nathanial’s heart and transforms this skeptic by telling him he saw him under a tree
I will start with myself when I say… I do – I believe God spoke to Samuel, both as a boy in the temple and then through-out his life
I believe that Jesus in that moment with Nathanial reached him in a way ‘that blew his socks off’ – if only they had socks in those days
Why? … Why would two stories from thousands of years ago; about an all powerful being calling out repeatedly to a boy in the night, and the story about the call & transformation of one of the first disciples of Jesus be something that is important for me to believe?
– And I would claim - important for everyone to believe
There are several answers to that but they can all be under the two categories:
Who is God – Who are we (don’t worry I won’t tackle that completely in the short time that we have)
Now the easiest answer as to why I believe, is that ‘it is in the Bible’ – A simple faith in the Bible being the word of God and therefore trustworthy for all it contains - and I will explain more as we go
So of primary importance is that God speaking to us matters to – for how we understand God … and how we are in relation with God
Secondly, it is important who God chooses to speak to and why?
And finally I will share with you when God directly speaking to someone…
This last one is the trickiest of them all
How do we deal with those that believe God told them something?
When I was a student in my final placement at a Church while at Seminary – The Bishop was visiting one Sunday, and I was the point person for liturgical details
The organist wanted to know if the Bishop would be saying or singing the part of the Communion prayer
The Bishop said to me “you tell the organist that God came to me in a dream and that I should be saying the opening prayer”
Now the Bishop was well known for his sense of humour and it smoothed out many a difficult situation – but in different settings… “the Holy Spirit told me to do this or say that…” is a tricky thing to deal with
One has to only look at Jonestown or Wacko to know this danger
Why believe God speaks?
To answer this we need to first consider how we understand God – how we are in relation to God
God communicating to us – is, simply, what God does
In the first verses of the Bible and we are told
God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.
God Said …and it was so…
God creates by speaking
From John’s Gospel “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
It is important to believe that God spoke to boy serving in the temple and transformed Nathanial because it is important to believe in God and in God’s way
There is a common myth among unbelievers and also among some Christians alike that God is some “Spy in the Sky”
God is some cosmic watch maker – that created everything, wound it up, set it in motion and then God’s presence left
This has been popularized by a beautiful but erroneous song
“God is watching us… from a distance” – many of us know the Bette Milder version
“Spy in the Sky” – watching over – yet removed at a distance
This is not what we Christians believe - This goes against the very central point of who we are
We are Christians – Christ –ians – we are disciples of Jesus the Christ - Christ is not His last name, but a word for Messiah
Immanuel – God in the midst of us - God came as one of us – was incarnate
This is what Christmas is all about - God is not… “from a distance”
And so God speaking to a boy in the temple makes sense – thousands of years ago or right now
God loves us so much that He comes and speaks with us directly and indirectly
The second reason I believe in both of these stories is because of who God chooses and why?
God chooses a boy and God chooses a racist straight-talking sceptic
Through-out all of scripture God’s ways are not what we would expect and God’s chosen people are not - who we, with our earthly eyes, would choose
God repeatedly surprises us with unlikely people and ways
God chooses the youngest shepherd son of Jesse – David, to be the greatest king ever of Jerusalem
God chooses a farmer who works with trees – Amos… – or Hosea, a priest and husband to a prostitute to be His prophets
God chooses a peasant virgin girl to bear His Son
And also alarmingly His Son is born in a stable – with His first bed, a manger - an animal feeding trough
Yet God employs the work of the census of Caesar Augustus to bring Joseph to his hometown – fulfilling the writings of the prophets
God also chooses great scholars / the magi - to witness and bring the gospel back to Persia
God also uses Moses, once thought to be the son of Pharaoh, King of Egypt – with all the privileges and education he would have had
Or Esther, a Queen
A list goes on and on in the Bible – people with humble backgrounds to Royalty
From societal outcasts like the shepherds to an adopted son of a king
Surprises of who God chooses - and surprises of God ways
This is not so that God will be the “the trickiest-of them all”
But it is, to show a contrast from our worldly/cultural ways - to the truth…
Truth beyond this worldly realm – for whatever will serve God’s purposes best
It is perhaps the still greatest surprise yet to be fully appreciated
That God is providing the offering for everyone - “that has ears to hear”
Finally I believe the stories that God speaks to the boy Samuel and to Nathanial’s heart because of the testimonies of others and because God has both spoken to me and to my heart
A Colleague shared this story of Malaysian man named Suresh that stopped by to visit her church one day a few years ago.
He told her that he had been raised a strict Hindu.
One time when he was fasting and praying, he heard a voice say, “I am the way, the truth and the life.”
He did not know who was speaking and he felt rather strange about the experience.
The Hindu religious leaders told him that the voice was a devil and to ignore it. But he could not shake the experience.
Eventually, he was at a party where he met a priest, with whom he shared the voice saying, “I am the way the truth and the life.”
The priest was able to tell him that the voice was none other than that of Jesus our Lord.
In John 14:6, we have recorded these very words of Jesus: I am the way, the truth and the life.
God the Father led Suresh to know Jesus, through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Suresh became a Christian while his wife and children remained devout Hindus.
Of course Suresh told his wife about Jesus but she did not believe at first.
He told my colleague that he prayed earnestly for her conversion for about 6 months.
Then one day, his wife came to him and said that for the sake of their family and their marriage she would start going to the Christian church.
She would follow the path Jesus laid out and see if it lead to the truth.
Evidently she found that it did, for Suresh told my colleague that his wife is the treasurer in their church and that his teenaged children are also very involved in the church.
Now, Suresh’s story, my own and countless others, through-out history God is speaking directly – personally
But God also speaks in the slow gradual way – in which He did with Suresh’s wife:…
Through Suresh - through the moral values of unity in marriage & family - and through church community that she experienced…
There are so many ways in which God speaks – another example from my own life, can be seen in how I came to come to Farringdon
It was at the time when I was to move on from the role in the church that I had at St. Luke’s
I had been asked by my former Bishop to consider several opportunities
Each didn’t feel like the right fit
Then I was told of a lady who was planning to move to the Brantford area was considering where she might go to church
She had asked others and one place she had been told was Farringdon and was praying about the decision
During her prayer time she kept thinking about our family
She didn’t know us that well – but the feeling was strong – so she let us know us know that she had seen that Farringdon was hiring
I simply sent in a resume to honour her prayer time, not really expecting to leave the Anglican Church
I received a call from Glenn Young, chair of the search committee, four days later
And as prospects within my diocese looked increasingly challenging
Things opened up with increasing ease for Farringdon
God was answering my own prayers and speaking through the prayer time of another
God was speaking by creating the circumstances
– God spoke by the doors that were opened up for me…
As one friend of mine is fond of saying – With God… there are no coincidences
Our responsibility ‘in the relationship’ is to train ourselves to ‘have ears to hear’…
To be spirituality tuned to God’s frequency
We do this by being an active participant in the relationship – … in prayer
And - we do this by opening ourselves up to hear God’s revelation
By reading the divinely inspired words of God’s truth and ways
Found in the Bible
You will recognize God’s ways when you have learned of God’s ways
And lastly we do this by looking at the world, our lives and the lives of others and hearing the innumerable ways in which God is always at work.
We must always remember that God speaks to us because it…is… His… ongoing… way,
That God makes ‘the offer’ for all… and potentially ‘by’ all
That God speaks to us in many ways everyday – all the time, “if we have ears to hear”
And that we can Trust in the testimony of others,
that God does speak “by the means in which we need to hear Him”
To Him, “all hearts are open, all desires are known and from him no secrets are hid.”
He sees our potential and our prejudices, our talents, and our sins; and chooses us …
To communicate to us all… – in the quiet of the temple or even in our noisy scepticism and distractions
God’s voice is never silent …. Amen
 Story from The Reverend Dr. Renee Desjardin