October 17, 2021
1 Samuel 3: 1-21
It has been a rough day … all you want to do is put your feet up and relax. Your partner, however, wants to share their day with you.
They recount the key moments of their day … the conflict at work … the unreasonable boss’s latest idea … some of the gossip that was shared … and a change in dinner plans.
You nod your head and offer the occasional “uh-huh … uh-huh.”
Then, your partner throws you a curve and asks your opinion on what was just shared.
To which you are told, “you’re not listening.”
At that moment, you realize that it’s going to be a long night.
Some research suggests that we only retain about 25%-50% of what we do hear … and we really hope the important stuff is in that 25%-50%.
Listening isn’t passive.
It requires effort and energy to pay attention … and be an effective listener. Being an active listener means that we not only understand snippets of conversation, but understands the entire message being communicated and what is required of us.
It means we need to disengage our personal filters that can snap into place whenever we listen to someone.
These filters are our assumptions, our judgements and our beliefs that fill in the gaps between the parts of the conversation that we do hear … and can alter what we do hear.
Listening … how well we listen … how well we understand what we hear … what we do with what we hear … are all part of today’s passage from 1 Samuel.
Last week, we heard about Moses and the Israelites in the wilderness. Since then, the people have settled into the land that God had promised them. But rather than live in peace, the 12 tribes are in conflict with one another.
Samuel is 12 years old by the time we get to today’s part of the story.
His mother, Hannah, was one of two wives to Elkanah. Hannah, even though she was Elkanah’s favourite, was barren – which makes her situation insecure. She prayed to God for a child and promised that she would dedicate the child’s life to the Lord.
Eli the priest heard Hannah’s prayer and thought she was drunk. Eli let his perception get in the way of hearing and easing her suffering. Still, he told Hannah that if she was blessed with a child, he could remain with the priest.
That’s where we find the Samuel today. He’s asleep in the temple when he hears a voice … he thinks Eli is calling him … only to be told it wasn’t him and to go back to sleep. Samuel hears the voice calling him a second time … and again Eli tells him to go back to sleep.
On the third try, Eli realizes that it’s the Lord who is calling to Samuel.
Eli tells Samuel how to respond to the Lord’s summons and when Samuel acknowledges God’s call … God tells him that his actions “will make both ears of anyone who hears of it tingle.”
God tells Samuel that Eli’s priestly line will end … which is good because his sons used their positions of power for their own gains and Eli didn’t stop their violent acts. They were all about money and sex … not about caring for the people.
It’s interesting that God doesn’t write-off the future because the priestly line’s shortcomings … God looks elsewhere for a better future.
Samuel … someone from outside the places of privilege … would have God with him during the remainder of his days as a prophet … a truth-teller.
Samuel will be instrumental in the calling of David … and in all that flows out of that for years to come. Today, he wasn’t been able to discern his own call … without an older mentor who is experienced in the ways of God’s
Beth Tanner is an Old Testament scholar.
In writing about today’s passage, Tanner reminds readers that … as Samuel’s story shows … God’s call comes when we least expect it and often to those we least expect.
Samuel’s call came when he was sleeping … and God had to call him three times before … with Eli’s help … he knew how to listen and respond with a variation of the words “Here I am.”
Listening is an activity that is necessary for effective discipleship … discerning where the needs are … where God is calling us to be … and how to respond to the needs we recognize.
Besides listening ourselves … besides being present in the lives of others … we are called to mentor others in how to listen … how to make sense of what is heard … and how to respond to the calls in their lives … and in the life of the church. How to hear God’s voice in the places we least expect it … in the times we least expect it.
God calls each of us to a life of serving through our baptism. We are called to love God and to love our neighbors. Figuring out how to best use our gifts in this service can be a life-long journey, and it can be a journey we share with our faith community.
Part of being the church is walking the walk of discernment with each other. Sometimes our friends and family can see things in us that we don’t recognize in ourselves. Like Samuel, we can benefit from a trusted friend or mentor to help us recognize when the call is coming and help us respond.
So … what do you hear?