A reading from 1 Samuel, chapter 3, beginning at the first verse:
Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.
At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was. Then the Lord called, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’ and he said, ‘Here I am!’ and ran to Eli, and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’ But he said, ‘I did not call; lie down again.’ So he went and lay down. The Lord called again, ‘Samuel!’ Samuel got up and went to Eli, and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’ But he said, ‘I did not call, my son; lie down again.’ Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. The Lord called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’ Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy. Therefore Eli said to Samuel, ‘Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” ’ So Samuel went and lay down in his place.
Now the Lord came and stood there, calling as before, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’ And Samuel said, ‘Speak, for your servant is listening.’ Then the Lord said to Samuel, ‘See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make both ears of anyone who hears of it tingle. On that day I will fulfil against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. For I have told him that I am about to punish his house for ever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them. Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be expiated by sacrifice or offering for ever.’
Samuel lay there until morning; then he opened the doors of the house of the Lord. Samuel was afraid to tell the vision to Eli. But Eli called Samuel and said, ‘Samuel, my son.’ He said, ‘Here I am.’ Eli said, ‘What was it that he told you? Do not hide it from me. May God do so to you and more also, if you hide anything from me of all that he told you.’ So Samuel told him everything and hid nothing from him. Then he said, ‘It is the Lord; let him do what seems good to him.’
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.
This is the word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
The story from the old testament we have just heard is one most quoted when it comes to exploring a sense of calling – a vocation. It features the boy, Samuel, hearing a voice call for him four times. The first three times he hears his name, he thinks its merely the older prophet Eli who calls for him. It’s only the fourth time that he truly listens for and receives his calling from God. In that moment, he receives what we all long for: direction; meaning and gives himself utterly over to it and his life changes. After many years, he’ll go on to be known as the most trustworthy prophet of God in all of Israel.
More and more as we listen to the voices of emergency service works during the pandemic, we might realise that they usually never talk solely in terms of their job. The contract they signed, the amount of money they are paid can’t account for the level of utter sacrifice the give. Frankly, it’s during crisis’ like this that everybody realizes that nurses and other public servants are woefully underpaid for what they offer. No, instead, they usually use that religious language of ‘calling’ to describe why the keep going onto the ward, do their shift, offer their blood sweat and tears, day in and day out. For those of you wondering if a sense of calling and vocation can only be found in the church or is only for the ordained, then listen to the voice of those public servants, hear this story afresh and think again. Samuel’s story speaks to all of us and gives us gentle clues as to how all Christians might come to listen to and know their calling for themselves.
Notice that Samuel’s calling is heard in the temple, where he is already serving before the Ark of God –the place God’s presence was most strongly felt and worshipped. He was serving in the church of his day, offering himself in thanksgiving to God through the many words, gestures and prayers that were prescribed. For those of you wondering how we can do this, now that the church is closed; you can set aside time on Sunday or during the week to watch a video like this, listen and pray along, seeing it as time spent in God’s presence to give thanks. Since the arrival of Jesus, and the coming of the Holy Spirit, God’s presence is no longer restricted to a physical space in a temple, but is available to all of us at home, in prayer, in silence, in personal moments of wonder. Only when we, like Samuel, worship regularly, putting God first and giving him all that we are and have, only then, might we be ready to hear.
But hearing is not always believing. Samuel heard his name three times, and, when he didn’t see any visible person other than Eli – the older prophet – assumed it was him calling. We’re told that this episode was taking place at a time in Israel’s history when God felt very silent. No one, not Eli nor Samuel were expecting that to change. To them, God had seemingly wandered off elsewhere and certainly was not interested in the individual lives and purpose of those worshipping. Samuel was not expecting the call and so he was only listening to the surrounding noise. Thankfully, Eli had a calling in this story too and his calling was to be perceptive and encouraging to this young boy. Eli was the first to recognise what was going on in Samuel’s life was a call to serve, not from Samuel’s imagination or from human circumstances alone, but from God. It often takes another person to recognise our gifts and encourage us along the path towards our calling, as Eli did for Samuel. Don’t be afraid to ask and receive advice about how you can serve from your church community, your Priests, your family and friends. It might be the start of discovering what God has in mind for you.
Take part in worship, listen to encouragement and advice, but always make room for God to speak by being silent. Many of you will know that prayer involves talking and asking, but it’s perhaps more powerful to listen especially when you’re exploring what God might be asking of you, underneath all the noise. This was as true for Samuel then as it is for us now. “Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.'” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.” It’s then, in the silence, that the fourth and final call comes and Samuel finally hears. One of the few advantages of being in lockdown is that our todo lists are less full, there’s more space for reading, reflecting and listening to God. Take advantage of that when you can.
By following each of these steps, over time, hopefully you’ll begin to perceive how your story, your calling, fits into the bigger story of what God is already doing in the world. The words Samuel heard from God when he finally slowed down to listen were: “See, I am about to do something”, not you are going to do this. Calling and vocation is about seeing God at work and finding out how you fit into all of that, it’s not so much about what you are going to do. If it was all up to us, especially as we look around this world tired of political and health crisis’, we’d quickly feel overwhelmed. But when we perceive God at work and we join in, we start to see how God can make a real difference through giving all that we have and all that we are to him.
Let us pray for the world, the church and for all who are in need.
You created the heavens and made humanity in your image, and you call us to be more like you in caring for our neighbour and for the planet. We pray for our governments in Westminster and at Holyrood and our local council. Support and enable them in their vital work to contain the coronavirus, but also in their policymaking on the environment, that this wonderous planet you have created may continue to offer you praise in its seasons and sunrises.
Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.
We pray for the church, which is united by one faith, one baptism and one Lord, even when we cannot meet. Help us to continue to serve others, in prayer, in phone calls, in online meetings, firm in the hope that you are always by our side. Bless Kevin our Bishop as he responds to the needs of this Diocese and enables others to follow your call to ordained and lay ministries.
Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.
We pray for those who are sick or anxious at this time and those who care for them. In a moment of quiet we bring them to mind, recalling their faces and entrusting them to you, one by one, that you might make your love known to them.
With sorrow and hope, we remember your servant, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Glasgow, Phillip Tartaglia, and all who have died recently from Coronavirus, praying that they may know eternal peace with you.
Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.
All of these prayers we offer in the name of your Son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen.