"Like Moses in the countryside seeing a burning bush, we need to just turn aside for a moment, put down whatever we are doing and investigate. For we might also be on hallowed ground"
Read 1 Samuel 3:1-20
The story of God speaking to Samuel, his initial failures to realise what was happening and then his obedience summed up in those famous words, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”
Except that I don’t feel we’ve done justice to the story if we assume it’s all about God speaking to Samuel, because really this is God speaking to Eli….. but though the young Samuel.
Which is slightly different, because if you look at it that way then it poses an interesting question - namely, it’s all very well for God to make that contact with Samuel, but if God wanted to deliver a message to the elderly priest Eli, why didn’t he just do it direct rather than use a middle man (or boy)?
And the answer has to be that this was the only, if unexpected way, that God could get through to Eli.
Eli, a godly man with two rogues as sons, who were making a mockery of the sacrifice system at the Temple by demanding the best cuts of meat even before the carcases had been cooked. God was not impressed, and had told Eli that it must stop. Eli talked to his sons but they just ignored him and he seems to have let them get on with what they were doing, too timid maybe, or scared at what they might do to their old father.
But in doing so, Eli was complicit in the sins of his sons. God’s word to Samuel says that Eli’s family is to be judged because of the sin he already knew about.
I wonder if Eli, like so many of us when faced with difficult situations simply shut his mind to them rather than dealing with them before they got out of hand.
So here we have God speaking through a vision to Samuel, and God speaking through a child to humble the stubborn Eli.
Two ways God speaks in one story – value for money!
I want us to think a little about how God sometimes uses the unexpected to speak to us, or to make his word come alive to us as it did with Eli!
A couple of weeks ago was Epiphany Sunday when we probably thought about the Magi, or Wise Men traveling from Persia to find the one who was to be king of the Jews.
God presumably wanted them there, after all they were to be the only representatives of the Gentiles that we know were present around the time Jesus was born. Did God arrange things so that it was an astronomical event that prompted them to undertake this arduous journey?
Did God speak or get through to them, at least indirectly, through astronomy or even astrology?
It would seem so, because they tell Herod that they have followed this king’s star.
God speaking through the heavens….? But why not!
Psalm 19 says it so well…
The heavens are telling the glory of God;
and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours forth speech,
and night to night declares knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words;
their voice is not heard;
yet their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.
David the writer knew so well that he only had to look up at the night sky and be reminded of God the Creator, the miracle of life and his place within this wonderful universe. We’ve lost that sense of wonder and awe because of our street lighting – you have to go a long way to get complete darkness such as David knew.
God gets through to us at those star-struck times, with unsaid words that speak to our hearts.
The heavens bring God’s Creative Word to life! The Book of Revelation is full of it!
If you want more unconventional ways in which God gets through or speaks to people, then look no further than Moses when he was a shepherd looking after his father-in-law’s flock, not anticipating anything radical by way of change.
It’s a burning bush that grabbed his attention away from the sheep – that was the way God got through to him. Flames that roared but did not destroy the bush. Moses was curious and in doing so discovered hallowed ground.
But it took more than a burning bush (read Exodus chapters 3 and 4.)
My goodness he took some persuading! God must have seriously wanted this man to do his work. It took a burning bush, a wooden stick that turned into a snake and back again, a weird sign involving his hand becoming leprous and then instantly cured, and the promise that he could make water from the Nile turn into blood before Moses could be persuaded to even contemplate going to the Pharaoh and asking him to release God’s people from captivity.
Moses the shepherd, destined to be a leader, to whom God appeared and spoke through a burning bush and assorted miraculous signs.
And Moses still complained that he couldn’t speak for the people because he wasn’t eloquent enough. He wouldn’t even allow God to grant him the gift of the prophetic voice. "O Lord," he implores. "Please send someone else to do it!"
So God gives him his brother Aaron, who was very eloquent, to listen to what God was telling Moses and then translate Moses’ words into a message that the people would respond to – what a complicated arrangement!
God says, “You shall speak to him and put the words in his mouth; and I will be with your mouth and with his mouth, and will teach you what you shall do. 16 He indeed shall speak for you to the people; he shall serve as a mouth for you, and you shall serve as God for him.”(Exodus 4:14-16)
Aaron, the man of words who brought God’s word alive to the people…. via Moses.
And what of Aaron’s sister Miriam, a prophetess in her own right (Exodus 15:20) who was a poet and songwriter who led the women across the Red Sea, tambourine in hand with a song and a dance!
Miriam, who made God’s word come alive to the people through song, as did another, Deborah.
Which of course is also what the psalms do, whether said or sung!
How many millions of people have turned to the psalms in times of trouble and found comfort in psalm 23 for instance – with its wonderful imagery about God the shepherd caring for his flock. It tells us nothing that we cannot find anywhere else in the Bible but it tells it through the voice of a poet, who has carefully composed this wonderful and so well-loved and uplifting poem of adoration.
David, skilful with words, making God’s word come alive through poetry.
So what of today? How does God get through to us today?
Well, of course he speaks to us through Scripture, which Timothy reminds us is "God-breathed" and sometimes gives us a warning, a word of encouragement, or a lesson for life.
He speaks to us through the life and words of Jesus. “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by His Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe” Hebrews 1:1-2, NIV)
He still speaks to us through his Creation and the universe around us, if we will do as David did and open our eyes to see.
Mountaintop experiences are open to all!
He speaks to us through others, in their words and actions, be it a preacher, teacher or friend. We hear something that touches our hearts and souls – God speaks, sometimes through the most unlikely of people.
He speaks to us through music, poetry and art. There are still the Miriams and Deborahs opening our minds to the wonder of God’s love and word through the creative arts and the worship songs and hymns we sing.
He speaks to us through our dreams and visions, as he did with Samuel and others. In The Book of Acts God tells us ‘I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.’
God also speaks to us through His Spirit, through times of prayer, often when our own words seem to fail us as inadequate. (Romans 8:26-27)
But I don’t think we can limit the ways that God can get through to us today. Our lives might be so much busier and filled with so much more background noise than the folk in the Old Testament, but if they are then God will use whatever it takes – and all we have to do is be prepared for that to happen, and not be surprised if it seems unconventional!
Like Moses in the countryside seeing a burning bush, we need to just turn aside for a moment, put down whatever we are doing and investigate. For we might also be on hallowed ground.