Our Old Testament lesson begins,
“The word of the Lord was rare in those days,
and visions were not widespread.”
But that doesn’t mean God wasn’t speaking.
The Bible tells us that God speaks creation into being.
If God were not speaking his creative word right now,
we wouldn’t be here.
So if “the word of God was rare in those days,”
it means no one was listening.
Maybe they were too busy.
Or maybe they thought God was too far away
to speak to them.
Our lesson tells the story of how a little boy
named Samuel learned to listen to God.
Samuel was the servant of Eli, the blind old priest in Shiloh.
Together they lived in a simple dwelling, little more than a tent,
but the Ark of the Lord was there.
In front of the Ark stood “the lamp of God,”
an olive oil lamp on a gold stand.
It burned all night every night
as a sign of God’s presence.
Samuel slept each night before the Ark
with the lamp of God as his nightlight.
Probably he had already been asleep
and had awakened early.
It was before dawn because the Bible says,
“the lamp of God had not yet gone out.”
So he awakened in that magical mystical pre-dawn darkness
to hear somebody calling his name.
It never occurred to Samuel that God might speak to him.
So he replied to Eli.
And Eli said, “I didn’t call you. Go back to bed.”
Again Samuel heard the voice and replied to Eli.
Again Eli said, “I didn’t say anything. Go back to bed.”
It happened a third time, and this time Eli got it.
He said, “It is the Lord calling you, Samuel.
If he calls again, answer him.”
The next time Samuel heard his name,
he prayed, “Speak Lord for your servant is listening.”
That’s how Samuel became God’s prophet.
The Bible says, from that time on
he let none of the Lord’s words fall to the ground.
Samuel shows us a better way to pray.
It is a good thing to talk to God.
-- a good thing to ask God for help.
Each day, I give God a long to-do list.
I give God a lot of advice on how to run the universe.
That’s fine. I am sure it makes God laugh.
But that can add up to a lot of talking
and not much listening.
Prayer is a conversation for building our relationship with God.
It’s how we get to know God.
But that doesn’t happen if we do all the talking.
Talking to God is only half of it.
The other half is listening.
So how do we listen to God?
One way uses our imagination.
We can use our imagination to hear God saying
what the Bible tells us God is saying all the time.
God called Samuel’s name.
God calls the stars by their names. Psalm 147.
Jesus calls each of us by name. John 10: 3
Jesus is calling your name, every day,
just as he called “Samuel. Samuel.”
So start by hearing in your mind the voice of Jesus
calling your name.
Then answer as Samuel did in a way that invites
Jesus to tell you what he wants to say.
Ask, “Lord what do you want me to know?
Lord what do you want me to do?
Lord, what are you doing in my life?
Lord what do you want for me?”
Then use your imagination to hear God’s answer.
Maybe the answer will really be Jesus speaking to you.
Maybe it will be something you have just made up yourself.
So whatever we hear though prayer, we need to hold lightly.
We need to be humble.
First we listen to God with our God-given imaginations,
then test what we hear.
We ask: does this fit the Scriptures and the teachings of the Church?
Does this further the Church’s mission to reconcile all people
to God and each other in Christ?
Is this true to the gospel message of God’s love for all people?
If the words we have imagined fit with the those things,
then it just may have been Jesus talking.
We may think the word of God must be a long way off.
We may think that only the priests can hear it and tell us what God wants.
But listen to what the Bible says.
“(God’s word) is not in heaven so that you should say
‘Who will go up to heaven for us and get it . . . ?
Neither is it beyond the sea that you should say
‘Who will cross the sea for us and get it. . . .?
No the word is very near to you.
It is in your mouth and in your heart
for you to observe.” Deuteronomy 30
God speaks to you through your own heart and your own mind.
Teachers from St. Ignatius Loyola to C. S. Lewis
have said that God gave us our imagination
as well as our eyes and our ears.
The imagination is the eye of the heart
that can see spiritual truth.
It can also go haywire. It can be crazy.
That’s why we have the Bible and the Church
to keep us straight.
So we don’t need to be afraid to listen to God.
Every day, Jesus calls your name,
hoping you will answer like Samuel,
“Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.”