Now in those days messages from the Lord were very rare, and visions were quite uncommon. One night Eli, who was almost blind by now, had just gone to bed. The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was sleeping in the Tabernacle near the Ark of God. Suddenly the Lord called out, "Samuel! Samuel!"
"Yes?" Samuel replied. "What is it?" He jumped up and ran to Eli. "Here I am. What do you need?"
"I didn't call you," Eli replied. "Go back to bed." So he did.
Then the Lord called out again, "Samuel!"
Again Samuel jumped up and ran to Eli. "Here I am," he said. "What do you need?"
"I didn't call you, my son," Eli said. "Go on back to bed."
Samuel did not yet know the Lord because he had never had a message from the Lord before. So now the Lord called a third time, and once more Samuel jumped up and ran to Eli. "Here I am," he said. "What do you need?"
Then Eli realized it was the Lord who was calling the boy. So he said to Samuel, "Go and lie down again, and if someone calls again, say, 'Yes, Lord, your servant is listening.' " So Samuel went back to bed.
And the Lord came and called as before, "Samuel! Samuel!"
And Samuel replied, "Yes, your servant is listening." -- 1 Samuel 3:1-10
This is one of the readings for today's lectionary. I've quoted the entire reading, though it is a long one, because there is so much in here that speaks to me.
In this passage we learn that Eli is going blind -- which, in the Bible, is always a metaphor for "lacking in understanding". God speaks to Samuel directly, something that rarely happens. And even though Samuel has been living in the temple, serving the Lord, since he was a toddler, he "did not yet know the Lord because he had never had a message from the Lord before." If you keep reading the passage, you will also learn that God has a difficult message for Samuel to convey to Eli.
This reading, and the Gospel reading for today (John 1:43-51), tell of how God "speaks" to his people. Jesus tells Nathaniel that he will see angels ascending and descending upon him. If we think of all the miracles that Jesus was in the center of, if we imagine ourselves being there with Jesus when, for example, the five loaves and two fish were enough to feed thousands, we might well have wondered whether we were surrounded by invisible angels.
I sometimes wonder if angels guide my life. I say this with some trepidation, because I have never seen an angel, so it is difficult for me to actually believe in them, but it is even more difficult for me to explain why some things happen to me the way they do. I could describe many different, unexplainable, occurances, but the most common occurance that I can't explain is why my thoughts match up so well with the words that come before me. When this first started happening, I thought, "Huh, that's interesting. What a strange coincidence." When it continued to happen with greater and greater frequency, the mathematician in me wondered, "What are the odds of this happening?" The words often come to me in such an odd, unexpected way that I can not help but wonder if there is something supernatural going on. I believe, at the very least, that when this happens, God is trying to tell me something.
I don't think I am particularly special in this regard. I think God speaks to people in many different ways. I happen to read, A LOT, so God most often speaks to me in the books I read. He also speaks to me in the words of a song, or the words of an actor. I know some of you may be shaking your head or rolling your eyes at me. You may think I am delusional -- or not. If you had been in my shoes, however, I know you would understand. Perhaps it simply boils down to whether your eyes are open to God's presence, or not. My eyes have been opened.
The main reason I started this blog was to share the messages that were shouting to be shared. But, lest you think otherwise, I know there is a danger in thinking I always know what God's message is. It would be very easy for me to substitute my own personal understanding for what God is telling me, and say it comes from God. We have all heard of people who do this. And sometimes, though I try not to, I get in the way. So, my best test for whether the message comes from God, is its insistence. When the message is repeated many times, I begin to suspect, like Eli, that God is involved. Now I don't always share all the repetitions. If I did, I fear my postings would get very tiring (for me to write and for you to read). However, I do sometimes feel compelled to share the central message.
So, now I have to describe what happened to me a little while ago. On Jan. 5, my kids and I and grandma were driving back from a ski trip. The drive is five hours long, and to pass the time we were listening to an audio book, Bill O'Reilly's "Killing Lincoln". It is a brutal story, which got more and more brutal as the hours passed. I began to wonder why we were listening to such an awful story. It had started off as an interesting exploration of the last two weeks of Lincoln's life, his comings and goings, his speeches, etc. When it began to delve into the horrific details of the last weeks of the civil war, and into the demented mind of John Wilkes Booth, grandma asked if I still wanted to listen to it. I kept hoping it would get back to the mind of Lincoln. But the mind of Lincoln was like a candlelight next to a bonfire, in this tale.
Before I finally had had enough of it, not wanting to expose myself or my kids (who were playing portable video games, but might also be listening) to more brutality, I began to wonder how such brutality could have been acceptable in a country that claims to be Christian. How could people, such as Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee, go to church on Sunday, and back to war on Monday? How could they have completely and utterly ignored Jesus' words to "love your enemies"? If we believe that being a Christian means to follow Jesus the Christ, then there is no way to rationalize killing someone and be a Christian at the same time. Jesus never sanctioned violence against another person -- in fact, quite the opposite.
Yet we do this as a so-called "Christian" country, all the time. We say that if we do not fight back when we are attacked, we will lose our freedom, our way of life. If fact, we firmly believe that "might" makes "right". Yet didn't Jesus say that "if you live by the sword, you will die by the sword" in his admonishment to Peter?
When we got home that evening, I opened my Bible to the readings for that day. Guess what I read?
But if you are willing to listen, I say, love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. Pray for the happiness of those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn the other cheek. If someone demands your coat, offer your shirt also. Give what you have to anyone who asks you for it, and when things are taken from you, don't try to get them back. Do for others as you would like them to do for you. ... Love your enemies! Do good to them! ... for he [God] is kind to the unthankful and to those who are wicked. You must be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate. (Luke 6:27-36, NLT)
An amazing coincidence, isn't it? I think so. I hope you do, too. And I hope it makes us all think a little more seriously about what being a Christian actually entails. Are we willing to listen?
Dear God, you amaze me continually with your loving, challenging, and mysterious ways. Though I know your love for me is steadfast despite my unworthiness, I hope I may someday be worthy of calling myself a Christian.