A reflection for Sunday 14th January 2024 Epiphany II by the Rev'd Russell Duncan

Speak, Lord for your servant is listening (1 Samuel 3:9)

When did you last hear someone calling you? How did you respond? Think for a moment. Was it something that you imagined or was it real? Was it a voice you recognised or not?  What were the circumstances leading up to it? Did you do anything about it? Often it may be totally unexpected coming at times which are inconvenient or when we are busy doing something else or just disinterested.  

When I was across staying with my mother over Christmas, I noticed that one of her elderly neighbours had come out into her garden. Having not seen her for some time I shouted out “Hello Fiona”. It was rather strange waiting to see if she could hear me and how she would respond.  For a moment I could see her turning her head first in one direction and then the other. Eventually she looked straight ahead; we waived; exchanged some pleasantries and then went on our way. She could quite easily have ignored me or just not made the effort to see who was calling to her.  

In our reading from 1 Samuel we hear about God’s calling of the boy, Samuel.  It is a story that is told in the third person. It is a story of delayed recognition of God’s voice and of Samuel’s submission.  At the time of his calling, Samuel does not receive directions to deliver a message to wayward people or to proclaim the word of the Lord.  Instead the focus of his prophetic calling is to prepare for the transition from Eli’s household to a new priestly family. 

To be called by God is something special.  To be called by God means that God knows our name and everything about us. To be called by God may mean a change of direction or course of action.

What is important in our story is that in the summons to Samuel, God instructs Samuel first to listen.  It is only after being called three times that Samuel is able to respond with those heartfelt words “Speak, for your servant is listening”. It required an old priest suffering from encroaching blindness to interpret the repeated summons as being from God. 

What is also important is that Eli asks Samuel to tell him what he has been told. Despite Samuel being afraid he withholds nothing. Eli acknowledges this by saying “It is the Lord; let him do what seems good to him”. 

But we also have another calling in our gospel reading too. Philip goes and finds his friend Nathanael and tells him that he believes that he has discovered the long-promised Messiah in Jesus, the man from Nazareth. Nathanael is contemptuous. Nathanael’s reaction is to declare that Nazareth was not the  kind of place that anything good was likely to come out of. But Philip was wise. He did not argue. He simply said “Come and see”.  So Nathanael came and saw that Jesus could see into his heart.  What surprises Nathanael is not so much that he had been seen under the fig tree. It was the fact that Jesus had read the thoughts of his inmost heart and satisfied them. Only in John’s gospel is Nathanael mentioned.  In the other three gospels he never appears at all. 

As we have heard about the calling of Samuel and also Nathanael may we too be willing to listen afresh to the call of God on our lives; to hear and to respond  “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening”.