1 Samuel 3.1-10
In my previous post we thought about the different ways that God speaks to us – sometimes, like Elijah, we might hear a still small voice, a whisper almost, in our heads. Sometimes God might speak to us through the Bible, or through other literature, or through music and art. Sometimes we hear God speaking to us through significant experiences or special moments in our lives – the birth of a baby, a striking achievement, an inspiring place like a mountain top or a majestic cathedral. Sometimes God speaks to us through other people. We heard earlier how the Prophet Hosea, for instance, heard God speaking to him – and to Israel – through his wife and children. What they said and did inspired him and helped him to realise what God was saying.
The key thing is, of course, that in order to do God’s will we have to be able to discern what God is saying to us. It’s not easy. It wasn’t easy For Samuel, not because he was a mere child but also because recognizing that God is speaking to us and hearing what God is truly saying is never easy. History is littered with people who were certain that God was telling them exactly what to do, but who then went on to make the most terrible mistakes. We must never assume that we have the answers. We must always remain open to different interpretations of what we think we are hearing. We must always test the call and re-evaluate where we have got to in our efforts to turn God’s call into action.
The point about the covenant service is that it is an annual opportunity to stop, look and listen – to take stock of our lives and ask ourselves what God is now asking us to do. We are, in effect, saying, ‘Speak, Lord, your servant is listening!’
Our Gospel reading gives us some particular examples of God speaking to people, and how they then responded to his call. The first is Philip. God calls to him through Jesus, in the classic challenge to ‘Follow me’. This is the challenge to every disciple, to Andrew and Peter, to James and John, to Philip and Nathaniel, and – of course – to you and me. ‘Will you come and follow me if I but call your name?’ That’s the challenge, also, of the covenant service – to follow Jesus into the unknown future, with all its twists and turns, and seek to do his will in everything that happens.
Then God speaks to Nathaniel, but not directly through Jesus. Instead Philip goes to find him and tells him what God wants him to do. If Andrew is the first evangelist, going to tell his brother Peter, ‘We have found the Messiah’, perhaps Philip preaches the first sermon, because he makes three points – ‘we have found the leader described in the Law of Moses, and also foretold by the prophets, and he is Jesus the son of Joseph from Nazareth.’
As we saw at Christmas, to describe Jesus as both Messiah and Son of Joseph tends to invite scepticism. Nathaniel asks, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ So Philip invites him to ‘Come and see.’ And when Nathaniel goes with him to meet Jesus, and discovers that Jesus has already recognised in him the qualities demanded of a disciple, he takes the extra step of faith that is required to say, ‘You are the Son of God.’
The covenant service reminds us that God is constantly calling to us, asking us to follow Jesus and to come and see what he can do to transform our lives. But it also reminds us that we have to respond to that call. We have to take the step of faith that is required to place ourselves entirely in God’s hands and accept Jesus as Lord.
In other words, like Samuel, we are challenged to listen, to hear God calling to us, and then to respond – to become servants of God and followers of Jesus. The challenge is both a personal one, to place our lives and our own destiny at God’s disposal, and a shared one; as a church community we are being challenged to serve God together and to place our future in God’s loving care.
I guess our church stands at a bit of a crossroads. We are thinking at the moment about our mission to the local community and how we might need to change and adapt in order to serve God today in Sandal, Agbrigg and Portobello. We’ll return to that theme in some of our services next month. But we’re also thinking about our role within the new circuit and looking for someone new to come and take up the call to serve God as minister here. So there are different elements to our covenant promise this morning and they are both personal and collective.
All we can do is to echo the words of Eli to Samuel, and say, ‘Speak, Lord; your servant is listening.’