Sunday 17 January 2021 – Epiphany 2

“Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening”.

Stained-glass window, St Aldhelm’s Church

Todays’ readings1 Samuel 3:1-20, John 1:43-51

This story in our Old Testament reading today, this story about Samuel, is one of the few places in the Bible in which a named child, takes centre stage. Which is maybe why it is used so much in teaching children about the Bible. Samuel is such an agreeable role model – even though he is just a little child, he is already working hard in the temple, and his faith is so strong that he hears God calling him by name.

It’s such a powerful story, isn’t it? The little child lying asleep, hearing someone calling him and rushing in to the man he works for, thinking he was the one calling for him. And Eli, presumably quite cross at being woken up, sends him away, until eventually he realises that it’s God the child hears. And the child Samuel, obedient to Eli and then obedient to God in what must have been a pretty scary encounter. A very powerful story.

But I’ve got to admit, I find Samuel annoying. He is such a little child – and yet so obedient. He obeys Eli and he obeys God, even though what God asks of him is scary and upsetting.

If I’m honest, part of the reason I find Samuel so annoying is that he reminds me that this is precisely NOT what I did when I realised God was calling me. Simple obedience does not come easily to me. I am argumentative by nature. And sceptical. And I really, really don’t feel like the kind of person that God would call.

Fortunately, there are other people in the Bible who hear God’s call and respond rather differently. Jonah for example – when he heard God calling him to go to Nineveh, he immediately hopped on a boat going in the opposite direction.  Jonah hears the voice of God and runs away! He’s my kind of prophet. That was certainly my instinct when I realised God was calling me.

And then we have the disciples. Now most of the disciples, as we know, drop what they’re doing and follow Jesus as soon as he asks them to. It’s what Philip does in our Gospel reading today. Jesus finds Philip and says “Follow me” and Philip does. He instantly knows that Jesus is the one the prophets have been talking about, and follows him.

So, well done, Philip – like Samuel, you heard the voice of God and were obedient. But in this story I’m actually more interested in Nathaniel. He’s more my kind of person. Because when he hears about Jesus, he gets sarcastic. “Nazareth?” he says. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

Sarcasm seems like a very sensible response to hearing God’s call, to me. It was certainly my response. “Me, a vicar? Yeah, right!”

Why am I telling you this? Because I think it’s important to remember two things. The first is that God is calling you. I can say this with absolute confidence, because God calls everyone. Yes, even me. Yes, even you. It may be that God is calling you to be priest. Or maybe not. But God is definitely calling you to something and you should definitely listen.

But the other thing is that not every call is like the one Samuel heard. Not all calls are that clear. And not everyone understands immediately, like Philip did. Quite often it takes us a long time to understand what God wants of us. And our response to God’s call isn’t always straightforward either – sometimes, like Jonah, we run away from God’s call; sometimes, like Nathaniel, we respond with disbelief.

My friends, God is calling you. God has a plan for each and every one of us and each of us can be part of bringing God’s kingdom closer. So I want you to think about how God is calling you, about what it is that God has in mind for you. Think. And pray. And listen.

And then, like Samuel, respond: “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening”. Amen.

Prayer for this week
Eternal Lord, our beginning and our end: bring us with the whole creation to your glory, hidden through past ages and made known in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Readings for January
24 January, Epiphany 3: Genesis 14:17-20; John 2:1-11
31 January, Candlemas: Malachi 3:1-5; Luke 2:22-40

 For your prayers
Please pray for all in our church community or parish who are sick, suffering or in need.

St Aldhelm’s remains closed for worship and prayer: the PCC agreed last week that we would remain closed as long as this area is in Tier 4, its equivalent or higher.