Summary: Epiphany 2: Does God still speak with us today? How can we tell if what we hear is God’s voice? How do we position ourselves to better hear the Word of God? This message attempts to answer these questions.
Here are three questions that I want to answer in this message: 1) Does God really speak to people? 2) If so, how do we know that it is God Who is talking? And finally, 3) How do we position ourselves to better hear the voice of God? In order to answer these questions, we’re going to look at Samuel and Eli’s experience in the Old Testament Lesson.
When this story occurred, Samuel was about 12 or 13 years of age. He was the servant of the priest Eli, who was by now a very old man. Now both of them had turned in for the night. Young Samuel, the lesson tells us was asleep in the temple, close to where the ark of God was kept. During the night God called out to Samuel. Samuel, thinking that it was Eli who had called him, rushes out to Eli and says, “Here I am. You called me?” The old priest says, “No my boy, I didn’t call you – go back to bed.” So Samuel goes back to bed.
Again God calls out to the boy, and again young Samuel goes to Eli. “Here I am. You called me?” The old priest again says, “No my boy, I didn’t call you – go back to bed.” When this happened the third time, Eli finally realizes that it must be God calling out to the boy Samuel.
Now, I want to ask you a question. Why did it take Eli – the priest – and Samuel the young boy - three times to finally figure out that it was God who was calling? In the case of Samuel, the answer is relatively simple. He hadn’t yet been instructed on how to recognize God’s voice. He was a young boy who was an apprentice – still learning the ropes.
But Eli – the priest – now there is a different story. You see, Eli had allowed himself to wander from God’s grace. Eli had permitted corruption to permeate the ministry that God had charged him to oversee. You see, Eli’s two sons were also priests – but they treated the ministry with utter contempt. These religious leaders didn’t honor God. They robbed God by putting themselves first – they took the best of the offerings up front. They lived immoral and impure lives. They extorted God’s people by threatening to use force to get the best of the offerings.
In short, they were arrogant, self-important bullies. And Eli, their dad, could do nothing to control them. In referring to this situation, the Scriptures say: “Eli’s sons were wicked men; they had no regard for the LORD… This sin of the young men was very great in the LORD’S sight, for they were treating the LORD’S offering with contempt.” (1 Samuel 2:12, 17)
Did you notice the problem mentioned in the very first verse of our lesson? You see, God wasn’t talking to Eli and to Eli’s sons anymore. The verse tells us that prophecy and visions from God had all but stopped. Our very first verse says: “…In those days a prophecy from the Lord was rare; visions were infrequent.” (1 Samuel 3:1) God had just pulled away – removed Himself - from the ministry that Eli and his sons exercised. His voice had become scarce; He didn’t want to be around these guys. Is it any wonder that Eli failed to recognize God’s call. So now, in talking to the boy Samuel, God was demonstrating that the time of repentance for Eli’s sons had long past.
Now I want to tell you, beloved, that God still struggles to talk to people. He still desires to come to us to draw us close. But the very reality is that we remove ourselves from Him. We do this by grieving the Spirit through our own sinfulness. When we do those things that offend God – we can’t hear or understand his voice. We can’t hear or understand his voice when we avoid his temple. We can’t hear God’s voice when we – for whatever excuse that we concoct – fail to worship Him or revere his Word.
We do to ourselves what Eli did – put ourselves in a position to miss God when He is speaking to us. That is one reason that St. Paul writes in our New Testament Lesson: “Everything is permissible for me” - but not everything is beneficial.” (1 Corinthians 6:12) Indeed – anything that separates us from God is not beneficial. And the scary thing is that if we persist in grieving God with a sinful life – He will turn away from us and we will no longer be able to hear Him. God speaks, but we hear only when we are tuned to his voice. That happens only as we live lives empowered by the Holy Spirit.