Readings: 1 Samuel 3:1-10
Interim Director of Mission and Ministry and
Bradwell CMD Adviser
Good – is it two in the morning already? – good morning. I am an old priest, and I just want to sleep in. But SOMETHING IS ALWAYS DISTURBING ME. The temple plumbing, or my plumbing, or a cockerel crowing. Shut up and let me sleep. I’m exhausted and listless and disappointed with my family and my ministry and my country and my life. Let me snore.
Twice already young Samuel has come to wake me up, saying “did you call?” “No I didn’t, go away”. “Did you call?” “No I didn’t, GO AWAY!” And now he’s back for a third time, I can hear his bare feet on the temple corridor coming in my direction, saying once again “did you call me?” He doesn’t even use the Hebrew verb system the way I do, his generation have a slightly different dialect, I can’t be doing with it. Just one thing, though. Samuel may be a child, but he’s reliable. If he says someone’s calling him, someone’s calling him. And it isn’t me. And there’s no one else here. Unless… Unless God’s at it again.
In these days, the word of the Lord is rare – but it hasn’t always been like that. It’s been a long while since God was evident in the land, and I sometimes think God gets more sleep than I do, but God isn’t dead. Maybe God’s starting something new. If God IS starting something new, it makes sense that it would start with the children – not that old believers like me have no role, but our role is mainly to encourage the young and listen to what they’re saying. It’s so easy to be cynical and fail to believe that spring follows winter, so easy to be selfish and neglect the challenge of the young because we prefer the comfort of the old, so easy to be more like consumers than adventurers.
Hello Samuel, come in, it seems like you’re hearing God. Go back to bed, and when you are aware of God again, say “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening”. Samuel, most of us never hear a voice when we are aware of the call of God. But in the silence – just you being you in the presence of God being God – maybe you will be aware of God bringing things to the surface of your mind. Don’t push it, don’t pretend you’re certain when you’re not, but be open to the possibility of a call. When you’ve learnt to be aware of God in the silence of the night, you’ll also start to bring God things you notice in the day time; you’ll say, I don’t know, “God, here’s a thing in Israel that I’ve noticed and that bothers me”, and then you and God will muse about it together, and maybe you’ll find your mind drawn to a certain passage of the Scriptures you’re learning to read, and out of that will come a new certainty of what you should do, and … Sorry, Samuel, I’m making it all too complicated. All you need are seven words “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.” Go back to bed and listen, and Samuel – good luck.
There he goes. But I don’t think I’ll get back to sleep. And it’s not just the plumbing or the waterworks. Deep down, I have a sense of what God is going to do. A man of God came and told me a few months ago. God is going to make some changes around here, and reorganise worship in Israel. And God’s right – I know God’s right – but that didn’t make it easy to hear. Like a lot of older people, I’m happier facing backwards and seeing the good old days than facing forwards and seeing the good but different new ones. I mean, part of me wishes we could go back to the good old days, but the good old days was Samson and he was psychotic, and he died 25 years ago, demolishing a sports stadium as he went, so maybe the good old days weren’t that good either.
In the morning, I’ll have to encourage Samuel to tell me what he’s sensing God saying, even though he’s fond of me and won’t want to tell me the bad news. Samuel will be gentle with me and give me time to get used to it, I need that, but I’ll tell him not to get too attached to the way we do things at the moment. I reckon this whole temple is going to get packed up and moved to Jerusalem, and that will be part of a new golden age for the People of God, though I’ll never see it in my lifetime.
I haven’t been a very good priest, but this much I know: God is the Lord, and I’m not, and in the long term – the very long term – I can trust God to do what’s right, and just encourage the younger generation to do things their way, in their stupid non-archaic Hebrew, with their psalms written by shepherds and travelling singer-songwriters. When I’m dead and gone, everything I did will be lost and forgotten.
Except the love and support I gave to youngsters like Samuel. That will live long after Shiloh. He might even write a book and put this bit in. Good night.