Second Weekend After Epiphany (B/RCL)
“Speak, Lord, We’re Ready to Listen”
1 Samuel 3:1-10 [11-20]
January 17-18, 2015
Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Manasquan
Is our prayer more apt to be, “Thy will be done” or “Our will be done”?
We often go to prayer with an agenda, don’t we? Sometimes our prayer boils down to, “Lord, this is the way I’d like to see things turn out. Can you help me out?” Basically, our default setting seems to be “send” rather than “receive.”
This weekend’s passage from 1 Samuel may help us recalibrate.
Who remembers the backstory on Samuel, the child who appears in our first lesson?
- His mother was a woman named Hannah. His father was Elkanah.
- In those days a man could have more than 1 wife. Elkanah had 2, Hannah and Peninnah. Penninah had children; Hannah had none.
- This made Hannah very sad. She went to the Lord’s sanctuary at Shiloh and poured her heart out in prayer. She was so emotional the priest Eli thought she was drunk! Eli was embarrassed when Hannah set him straight. He asked the Lord to hear Hannah’s prayer. God did!
- Hannah gave birth to a son whom she named Samuel. When he was weaned, she took him to the sanctuary of the Lord and introduced him to Eli, saying:
“… I am the woman who was standing here in your presence, praying to the LORD. For this child I prayed; and the LORD has granted me the petition that I made to him. Therefore I have lent him to the LORD; as long as he lives, he is given to the LORD.” She left him there for the LORD. (1 Samuel 1:26b-28)
- That probably strikes us as strange… But Hannah was so grateful to the Lord, she made her son a gift to the Lord. He grew up in the sanctuary in Shiloh, raised by the priest Eli.
- Eli had a troubling condition. Scripture says that his “eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see….” (1 Sam. 3:2) There’s a double entendre there. Eli was becoming physically blind, but he was also oblivious to the fact that his sons, who also served as priests, were “scoundrels” (1 Sam. 2:12). They were skimming the top off offerings intended for God. God was not happy with the sons’ behavior or the father’s leniency. The first message he gives Samuel to give Eli is that father and sons are about to “go up the river,” spiritually. Another way of putting it: they’re going to go down for their sins. But that’s a story for another day.
- Samuel became a great prophet. The long version of today’s first lesson ends like this:
As Samuel grew up, the LORD was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was a trustworthy prophet of the LORD. [And that was saying something!] (1 Samuel 3:19-20)
Going back to the issue of being on “send” or “receive” in prayer: it’s not bad to be on “send.” Hannah was certainly making her heart’s desire known to God when she prayed for a child! Hannah’s hope was God’s plan. God answered her prayer in the affirmative.
Scripture encourages, even commands us to be in conversation with God about every little thing. Psalm 20 says:
May he grant your heart’s desire,
And fulfill all your plans…
May the LORD fulfill all your petitions.
(Psalm 20:4, 5c)
Jesus invites us:
“Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.” (Luke 11:9)
There’s an exercise I ask premarital couples to do which gives them practice in assertiveness, asking for what they’d like or need of each other, and in active listening, being on the receiving end. We’re allowed to be assertive with God, clearly laying out our wants and what we believe to be our needs. But we’re called to be active listeners, as well.
Even awakened from deep sleep, little Samuel was being an active listener. He heard his name and assumed his mentor, the priest Eli, had spoken it. (After all, they were the only 2 sleeping in the tent sanctuary of Shiloh.) So Samuel padded off in his Dr. Denton’s, shook sleeping Eli’s shoulder and said, “You rang?” Eli was fuzzy-brained, but knew he hadn’t called the kid, so packs him off to bed again. Same scenario happens a 2nd time. The third time the little boy stumbles in, Eli realizes God is at work, and advises Samuel that the next time he hears his name he should answer, “Speak, I’m your servant, ready to listen.” (That’s The Message paraphrase of 1 Sam. 3:9c.)
In our prayer, are we ready to listen? Therapists, psychologists, addiction counselors all tell us that unless people are ready to listen they are unable to hear. Family and friends might be offering sound, wise, life-giving advice, but it falls on deaf ears when it’s spoken to someone who is not listening, who is unwilling to change course.
What if we started every prayer with the statement, “Speak, Lord, I’m your servant, ready to listen”? Saying something doesn’t necessarily make it so, but what a great reminder that just as we’re invited to be assertive in prayer, we’re also expected to be actively listening.
Do you believe God still speaks to individuals today?
Do you have any examples? From your own or somebody else’s life?
Last week I was talking to a friend who said God told him to introduce 2 people who had something in common and could help each other. He didn’t mean that God sent him an e-mail or slipped a note under his door. God inspired him, gave him eyes to see an invisible connection and gave him a willingness to build a bridge between 2 acquaintances. That’s usually how God gets holy work done: through us. We just need to be active listeners, receptive servants.
Our annual congregational meeting is next week. We tend to spend most of our time discussing the proposed budget and electing new leaders. But what if we spiritually prepare by each one of us praying throughout this coming week, “Speak, Lord, we’re your servants, ready to listen”?
What if we didn’t limit our ministry horizons for this year by only looking backward at what we’ve done before? What if we opened up our horizons by inviting the Holy Spirit to point us forward to what God would have us do for the first time? What if we didn’t shut down God-inspired suggestions by pronouncing that a lack of money or a lack of volunteers would render them impossible or by intoning those dreaded seven last words, “We’ve never done it that way before”? What if we trusted God to provide whatever we need to accomplish the holy task set before us?
When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, let’s consciously hear ourselves saying, “Thy will be done.” As we prepare for our annual meeting, let’s all add this prayer: “Speak, Lord, we’re your servants, ready to listen.” Amen
Pastor Mary Virginia Farnham