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notre dame montreal

Listening for God

Sermon preached by
The Revd Dr Sam Cappleman
19th January 2003

Over Christmas I counted up the number of telephone lines coming into the house 

Including mobile phones it was 10 and that doesn't include broadband! Some of them are for work and some are mobile numbers but it still seems rather a lot 

One of the problems it can cause is when you get inundated by telesales people 

Because often they'll just go from one line to another and you can have the same pointless conversation multiple times. It's the same old thing, always selling cheaper utilities, insurance, credit cards, double glazing, conservatories; you name it we've probably been offered it.

So I'm never quite sure how to respond when someone calls.

Sometimes I'll listen to what they have to say because I want to listen to the script they are using. If it's good I'll ask which telesales company wrote it, which is a sure way to cause confusion on the other end of the line… 

Or should you be polite and listen while they take up your time and then politely end the conversation? 

Or do you put the phone down after the first few sentences saying as little as possible and saying you've already got whatever they are offering even without knowing or having to listen to what they've got?

One of them said to me they were sorry for taking my time as they started the conversation, to which I replied they were not and put the phone down.

Do you just put the phone straight down without saying anything? Do you leave the phone off the hook while they go away? Just how rude can you be? How do you respond? 

Samuel was a young boy when he was asked to respond.

His mother had given him into the care of Eli the Priest when he was a toddler and now Samuel worked in the Temple with Eli. 

He was by the Ark of the Lord when he heard a voice calling him and assumed it to be Eli the priest. This happened 3 times before Eli realised what was going on and told Samuel that it was God that was calling him and that Samuel should respond.

It's well over 1000 years since the Israelites came into the Promised Land. The Judges had ruled for all that time but Israel was entering a crisis because although they had been able to ward off the Canaanites, the Philistines were a different story. They'd already over run the tribes of Judah, Dan, Ephraim and Benjamin and the very future of Israel hung in the balance. 

They were dark times, characterised by Eli's evil sons and the phrase 'visions were uncommon'. Eli wasn't even aware Hannah was praying when she came to the Temple (inherited family business). 

They don't expect God to speak anymore so why should they speak to God? It's like all the excitement happened so many years ago that it was just a distant memory, almost folk lore. Sometimes it must have seemed like an uphill struggle, even to Eli, especially with his errant sons. 

Given that situation it's surprising that Samuel didn't just metaphorically put the phone down or Eli tell him to ignore the call. But somehow between them they recognised the faint voice of God calling out and responded to it. 

And after that response, it all goes quiet, for 10, 20 30 or more years.

Shiloh, the very centre of religious life is ransacked by the Philistines, the Ark carried off and Eli and his family destroyed. So much for trying to do what God wants… 

But 30 years after the call of Samuel, he emerges again as the prophet who saves the nation of Israel and through whom God establishes His monarchy. 

Even though the times have been tough, Samuel has kept responding, never putting the phone down to God and being open to be used how God want to use him, through adversity and conquest, through victory and triumph. Samuel responds to the call of God 

As we come to the Covenant Service and the Renewal of our Baptism Vows we've probably all had Samuel experiences. 

  • Times when it seems we can hear the voice of God speaking to us in the stillness of the night. 
  • Times when it seems its years since we had any real communication with God, the dreams have gone the visions were long ago. 
  • Times when it seems someone wants to destroy or overcome the nation though war. 
  • Times when it seems the nation wants to destroy itself through falling away from the way of God.
  • Times when we get so many calls on our time and resources we don't know how to respond 

And in our Covenant and Renewal of Baptism Vows service just as Samuel responds to the call of God, so should we, whether it's for the first time or the umpty-first time. 

Samuel had no idea how he would be used by God, but he responded to him. The vast majority of his ministry probably went on almost unnoticed and unrecorded until he emerges to unite and lead the Israelite tribal confederacy. But each year he almost certainly dedicated himself afresh to whatever God wanted him to do. 

And that's the opportunity we have before us today. 

It may be some time since we heard the call of God. We may feel as if the majority of our life and service goes on unnoticed. But like Samuel, God calls us afresh to dedicate ourselves to Him, whatever the future may hold. 

We may not be called to lead a nation; we may not be called to defeat political adversaries. But God does want to use us to extend his Kingdom, just as He used Samuel. 

So the question is, how will we respond - it's a bit like the telesales phone calls. When we're asked for commitment will we put the metaphorical phone down because we've heard and done it all before? 

Will we try to get away with saying and committing to as little as possible? Will we try and ignore the call and the covenant and baptism promises, mumbling a few non committal phrases? 

Or will we wholeheartedly respond in the words of the prayers and commitments and say with our lives 'Speak Lord, for your servant is listening', I am ready to do your will.