God Speaks... to us?

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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[1].

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


[1] Story from The Reverend Dr. Renee Desjardin

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