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.’
‘We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.’ 46 Nathanael said to him, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’
When we read the Scriptures hearing the voice of God sounds quite easy. You lie on your bed and God speaks to you. Or your brother tells you, we have found the Messiah. But even in these two stores we get a sense that hearing God or recognising God’s presence is not that easy. Samuel assumed it was Eli calling him. Nathaniel wondered if anything good could come form the hick town of Nazareth. Our biases and our lack of experience can get in the way of hearing the voice of God or recognising God’s presence. What other things get in the way? Probably the list is enormous.
I remember once, heading off into town for a meeting and thinking, I should ring before I go. But as I was already a bit late, I just decided to get going. When I go into the city, I was told the meeting had been called off. If I hadn’t been in such a hurry I might have listened more to the inner voice and made the phone call. So perhaps business is another thing that interferes with us hearing God’s voice.
Some people who have suffered abuse at the hands of their own father fid talking about God as father off putting. Others who have been abused by someone in the Church may also struggle to see anything good in the Church. Bad experiences then can also hinder our capacity to hear God speaking to us or to perceive the presence of Jesus. Though when we reflect on the story of Samuel who was sent of at about the age of 4 or 5 to live with the priest in the temple, you might see that as a awful experience. Some children who are sent off to boarding school form a very early age are traumatised by separation form their parents. Yet God’s persistent voice broke through to young Samuel.
On the other hand, we see children that are loved and nurtured by their parents and who learn to pray sitting in the warmth of their parents embrace. For these children coming with this experience are more likely to be open to the presence of God and to hearing God. Our experience, both good and bad can affect our capacity to hear and respond to God.
One of the other things that affects our religious appreciation and our capacity to hear and to love God is our culture. The thing with culture is that we don’t see it even though we are immersed in in every day. We are a bit like fish in the sea. Our culture is all pervasive. However, there are cultures within cultures. We are immersed in the Anglican Culture. It is a Christian culture and we experience within our Australian culture. As we know there are many religious groups in Australia and each of them have their own culture. Each of these religious cultures here in Australia are changed by the over time by the wider Australian culture. That happens whether we like it or not.
In the Waterloo Bay Parish, we ran an Alpha course with the help of a Charismatic minister form the Uniting Church. He became completely convinced that the Anglican Culture hindered our capacity to be open to the Holy Spirit. I strongly suspect he was quite right.
When we look at recent event in the USA we see committed Christians profoundly convinced that God has called them in their political conviction. As such some ardently and even dangerously support the current president Donald Trump. Other committed Christians vehemently oppose Trump. In each case the culture that has nurtured their faith informs their decisions. And each group is capable of finding Biblical verses to back up their strong stance. Their cultural biases are amplified by the algorithms that Google and Facebook etc create. Each time they go online they see more of the same articles that they have clicked on and like. But even before the internet these cultural influences where shaping people and their faith.
So how are we to truly hear God’s word? How are we to hear the voice of Jesus inviting us to follow? Will we even be able to sit up in bed and say, “Yes Lord, your servant is listening”. Or will we able like Phillip and Andrew, to go off and tell our brothers and sisters, our neighbours, we have found the messiah?
What are some of the things we can do to hear the invitation from Jesus? Lets just look at three things: humility, willingness to serve and openness to God’s word.
Jesus said to Nathaniel, ‘Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!’ Now maybe Jesus just meant here is an honest person. But perhaps Nathaniel’s lack of deceit was connected to his deep humility. St Benedict certainly regarded humility as one of the keys to true personal holiness but also to the health and well being of a community. When we are humble, we don’t try to deceive ourselves or anyone else. We have no need to. Humility means we are ready to listen to others to hear their wisdom. One of the reasons Australia has done so well in this pandemic is because our Governments at state and federal level listened to the wisdom from the medical and scientific experts. Nations where leaders are prepared to be humble, prepared to listen, are nations that thrive in times of crisis.
As a Christian community humility helps us to be open to each other’s needs and each other’s insights. As we pay attention to those needs and insights, we are more able to hear God’s voice. The bonus is that we are also then a much happier community, and meetings such as Parish council become happier and more productive. We also become more attractive to those outside the Church. That’s because when we listen to other people’s needs and insight’s they experience it as deep love.
Young Samuel when he heard the voice calling, Samuel, Samuel, immediately jumped up and ran to Eli. His willingness to serve was part of what enabled him to hear God’s voice. His lack of experience certainly hindered to begin with. It is not much good us listening to someone’s needs if we don’t offer to help. Of course, we may not be able to help, but listening well may have been enough for them to see what needs to be done. Genuine service is another way of expressing deep love. The temptation for us individually and as a nation is that we see a problem, we decide on a solution and we rush in with an intervention. If we bring our willingness to serve before God in listening to the person, then the Holy Spirit can speak to us and we are able to achieve real changes collaboratively.
Openness to the word of God and the work of the Holy Spirit is also something we can learn and practice. When we read the Scriptures, it is good to sit with a passage. Pray, inviting the Holy Spirit to open us up to God’s word. With a passage like this one for Samuel, read the first portion thorough a few times. Imagine you are the one lying in the temple of the Lord. Imagine your name being called! Imagine yourself saying speak, Lord, your servant is listening. Nothing much may happen, and you may feel a little silly. But as you practice using imagination with an openness to hear God the Scriptures will come alive in new ways.
Now I could go on to reflect on busyness and on ways of coping with negative cultural influences, our biases and awful experiences that have damaged us. But I suspect if we just focus on humility, service and openness many of the other hindrances to God’s voice will fade away.