Listening for God, Listening to God

17 Jan 2021 by Richie Dulin in: Sermons

Welcome to the Church

Hymn: Ye servants of God

Call to worship and welcome

The psalmist (Ps 100) tells us:
Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness;
come before him with joyful songs. Know that the Lord is God.
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.


Whatever our background, wherever we come from, God is calling us to be his people, so let us take time to listen for God, to listen to God, proclaim God’s praise, and to respond to his call.

Prayers of adoration and confession

Let us pray: Lord, creator and sustainer of us all, we gather this morning to worship you, and we do so because you have called us to be your people. We thank you for all the gifts of human life, for the richness of creation, for our fellowship as your people, for the freedom to gather together, for the freedom to worship you, for the time we are able to spend here and elsewhere honouring you. 

Almighty and everlasting God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
sovereign Ruler of all creation: as we call upon your glorious name
we give you praise, we offer you worship, we bow in adoration.
You alone are our hope, you alone are our salvation, you alone are our life.
To you belong all majesty and glory, dominion and power,
always, now and ever, and to the ages of ages. 

[Your Son was] was wounded for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities;
the chastisement he bore made us whole, and with his bruises we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.   (Isaiah 53:5-6) 

And so we join together in confession:

Gracious God,
We turn to you, and admit the wrongs we have done against you and each other.
Through action and inaction.
We have failed to listen to you,
and we have failed to take your Word into our hearts,
We have failed to live our lives as you would have us live.

But we ask you, Lord, to forgive us.
We ask you to open our hearts to your word, and empower us to live lives pleasing to you.

Assurance of forgiveness 

Paul writes that :
God proves his love for us
in that while we still were sinners,
Christ died for us.   (Romans 5:8) 

Jesus said “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (John 10:11) 

Sisters and brothers,  we hear again Christ’s word of grace to us: “Your sins are forgiven”

Thanks be to God.

Prayers of Intercession

Almighty God, your lovingkindness is better than life itself. We will bless you as long as we live.

We bring our prayers to you for the world.

We pray for peace and justice; especially in the Middle East, Afghanistan, Hong Kong, West Papua and in parts of Africa where terrorists are active. We pray for Joe Biden as he is inaugurated as President of the United States. May there be no disturbances at that time.

We remember the people in Indonesia who lost loved ones in the recent plane crash and landslides. May they be comforted.

We pray that the money raised by the Christmas Bowl appeal will be able to help girls in Afghanistan to get a good education; help Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh to live in safety; help the Sri Lankan people returning to their country after taking refuge in India and help Syrian refugees in Jordan.

We pray for the countries where the people are suffering greatly from corona virus. Give wisdom to the leaders and medical experts. Give strength to the healthcare workers and may the roll-out of the vaccine be successful. We pray for comfort for those who have lost loved ones.

We pray for Australia: for those who govern us; for those recovering from earlier and present disasters – Covid -19, bushfires, drought and losing their jobs. We remember the bush chaplains from Frontier Services as they minister to people in remote areas.

We pray for our congregation; for Richie as he ministers with us, for the Church Council, pastoral partners and Mainly Music. We are wondering about the future of our small congregation and we pray for clear guidance for the JNC and the Presbytery.

We pray for those who are ill or having treatment, and for those who are dealing with difficult circumstances.

May those who are in care or shut in know your loving presence: Audrey, Luke, May, Pat, and Sheila.

O God, mercifully grant that your Holy Spirit may direct and rule our hearts in all things through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Bible readings

1 Samuel 3:1-10

Samuel’s Calling and Prophetic Activity

Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.

At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was. 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.” But he said, “I did not call; lie down again.” So he went and lay down. The Lord called again, “Samuel!” Samuel got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call, my son; lie down again.” Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. The Lord called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy. Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.

10 Now the Lord came and stood there, calling as before, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

John 1:43-51

Jesus Calls Philip and Nathanael

43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “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?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47 When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” 48 Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” 49 Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50 Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” 51 And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”

Hymn: I the Lord of sea and sky

Listening for God, Listening to God

1 Samuel 3:1-10 (NRSV)

Before we start looking at this morning’s reading from the book of 1 Samuel, take a moment to contemplate a few questions. How does God communicate with you? How does God communicate with Christians, generally? And does God communicate with different people, in different ways?

For many people the first thing that will spring to mind is that God communicates with people through the scriptures. 

For others it will be the direct experience of God in prayer or meditation. We talk to God, God talks to us.

Others will say that God communicates with us through what we experience – the wonders of creation (the infinite expanse of a starry sky, the beauty of a sunset).

And God might communicate with us through other people, through community. Whether it be words of wisdom form a minister or an elder, the quiet and humble service of the people who prepare morning tea, the compassion of chaplains caring for bushfire victims, or even simply the warm welcome you arrive as a visitor at a church.

You might recognise one or more of these ways as ways in which God has communicated with you. Or your experience might be something a bit different again.

But no matter how God may communicate with us, we shouldn’t downplay the importance, the centrality, of the scriptures, the bible, in how we get to know God -  the scriptures do contain all that is necessary for our salvation, showing us the way to Christ.

And if or when we do have communication from God through prayer or experience, we can test that communication  against the scriptures to see if it really is from God.

God won’t want you to murder. God won’t want you to worship other gods. God won’t want you to exploit the poor or ignore those in need.

But the thing about communication is that it takes two – or at least two, anyway. We need to be open to the communication for it to be effective.

If God is going to communicate with us through the scriptures, then we need to read our bibles – or perhaps hear them read.

If God is going to communicate with us through prayer or meditation, then we need to take time to pray or to meditate.

If God is going to communicate with us through experience, then we need to be open to those experiences – whether it’s going to the lookout or going to church.

Now there are times when God has become very unsubtle in communicating with people – Saul on the road to Damascus, or Moses confronted by a burning bush, or perhaps in the still small voice that spoke to Elijah or the call to Samuel in this morning’s reading.

But even in those examples, in the end, all those people were open to the communication from God.

Contrast that with Pharaoh – Moses came to him with the message from God “Let my people go”. No. The Nile turns to blood. Still no. Frogs. No. Gnats. No. Flies. No. Plague on livestock. No. Boils. No. Hail. No. Locusts. No. Darkness. No. Death of the firstborn. A momentary ‘go’ but then he chose not to listen anyway.

And it’s not simply as individuals that we need to be open to communication from God, but as the church – as the people of God. And we have seen instances historically of churches, drifting away from being open to communication from God – drifting away from being open to God’s word.

Certainly, in Old Testament times, the chosen people had drifted away from being open to God and from following God - time and time again. The people were grateful to God for what God had done for them, but over time they became complacent.  Things would be pretty good for them and they wouldn’t bother listening to God, or thinking about what God wanted them to do.

And it’s during one of these times that we pick up the story of Samuel and Eli.

1 Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread. (3:1).

The word of the Lord was rare. Or more simply, as the Good News Translation puts it: In those days…there were very few messages from the Lord.

It’s clear that God was still speaking, still seeking communication with the people, but the people weren’t listening. They might have heard something, but they weren’t really listening. And besides, what they heard might not have been all that appealing to them, so they might not have had much inclination to listen. They may have heard the message, but they weren’t taking much notice if they did, they might have been hearing, but they weren’t listening, not taking the message seriously.

Sometimes when we are talking to small children, especially when we are telling them to do something they don’t want to do – or stop doing something they want to do - they put their hands over their ears, because they just don’t want to listen. They know they are being spoken to, but they do not want to hear. <I can’t hear you>

And there is an element of that in the situation at the time of Samuel. The people did not want to hear what God was saying. They were very happy with where God had put them, they’d fallen into comfortable religious practices, they were confident that they were God’s chosen people, and they liked the feeling that God was there if they needed him, but they didn’t want to hear what God had to say to them day by day. They probably felt that if they were doing anything wrong, it was only minor things, and not worth fussing about. They wanted to continue as they were, because it was pretty good for them. <I can’t hear you>. 

You get a sense of this if you look at the first two chapters of 1 Samuel, when you can see that Eli’s sons, who were also priests, didn’t honour God at all – see 2:12 “Now the sons of Eli were scoundrels; they had no regard for the Lord”. They treated the offerings of the Lord with contempt, took advantage of their positions and they were sexually promiscuous. 2:22. If anyone was going to say <I can’t hear you> to God – it was them. They didn’t want to hear what God was going to say.

But as well as this, as well as people not listening to God, not being prepared to hear what God had to say, God was speaking to them much less.

Which is a challenge for us to come to grips with, but I think also makes sense. The nation of Israel - the Jewish people were a people who had a covenant relationship with God. They had a relationship with God. And relationships depend upon communication.

So when we read “The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread” in verse one, we can know that things were bad in their relationship with God. If you heard of a married couple who hardly spoke anymore, you’d know things were dire for the couple, wouldn’t you?

And so it’s difficult for God to communicate when his people don’t want to hear. So it was no surprise that the relationship with God had broken down, and the word of God to his people was rare.

But in today’s reading, we see the communication being re-established. And through a boy.

Samuel was young, and he was effectively a trainee priest under Eli. And while Samuel was young, Eli was getting on a bit.

At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room;  the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was.  (3:2-3)

It was early evening, the lamp was still burning, Eli was in his room, and Samuel getting ready to sleep in the temple. I don’t know how comfortable it would have been to sleep in the temple – but I’m guessing not very. And I’m not sure if Samuel sleeping in the temple shows Samuel’s dedication, or Eli’s miserliness or disregard for his comfort. Or possibly a bit of both.

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.” But he said, “I did not call; lie down again.” So he went and lay down. (3:4-5)

I think Christians can get a bit complacent with this story, hearing of God calling “Samuel! Samuel!” to a dozing boy, and him mistaking it for his mentor’s voice. But at a time when messages from God were rare, a direct communication from God is quite astounding.

Samuel didn’t realise it whose the voice was, and neither did Eli.

And so The Lord called again, “Samuel!” Samuel got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call, my son; lie down again.”  (3:6)

Now, you could be forgiven for thinking that this story is a little bit like ‘The boy who cried wolf’, and that Samuel repeatedly disturbing his master (who makes him sleep in the temple) is going to ultimately have a bad outcome for the boy.

But it doesn’t. And in verse 7, we get a bit more detail of Samuel: Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. So while Samuel was an apprentice priest (for want of a better term), he wasn’t a prophet. He couldn’t speak the word of the Lord – which is the job of a prophet, because he didn’t yet know the Lord. But as we read “the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him” – we know that it will be.

And so: The Lord called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.”  (3:8)

And now Eli twigged: Then Eli realised that it was God who was calling the boy.  Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” (3:9) So Samuel went and lay down in his place.

Eli was a priest, he knew such things could happen. And he told Samuel the appropriate response: When God calls, don’t block your ears, don’t run away. But listen. Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.

And then we read in verse 10, Now the Lord came and stood there, calling as before, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

So what do we, as 21st century Christians take from this story? Do we expect God to be speaking to us today? And if God is speaking to us, are we listening? For that matter, do we really want to hear what God is saying to us?

We’re pretty well off, mostly, these days. Pretty comfortable. We might worry a bit about covid restrictions, and declining church attendance and an aging congregation, but really what can we do? As long as we’ve got enough offertory to pay the bills, and as long as we’ve got enough people to fill all the roster slots, it’s okay, isn’t it?

We can get very comfortable. We get comfortable with the regularity and the ritual. It’s easy to get comfortable with the familiar words, and we don’t really listen to them. Responses are automatic. “The Lord be with you” – “And also with you”, “Your sins are forgiven” – “thanks be to God”, “Our father in heaven” – “Hallowed be your name”. We hear them, but do we really listen? Do we understand what they mean? The Lord IS really with us. Our sins ARE really forgiven. We get to claim the creator of all things as OUR father. Those are amazing things.

And as well as becoming complacent with those things, it’s easy to start covering our ears and saying <I can’t hear you> to things we don’t like. I’ve heard it suggested that some people prefer the old translation of the Lord’s prayer, because trespasses don’t sound as bad as sins.

If we’re honest with ourselves, it’s sometimes uncomfortable when God wants to speak to us. We like to stick the familiar words and rituals that give comfort, but we are a covenant people just like the national of Israel was: We have inherited the new covenant that God has put in place through Jesus. So we can have a relationship with God. A relationship that depends on communication. A relationship that is a two-sided conversation. And if we’re not talking to God, and not listening for God and listening to God, then our relationship is in trouble.

But no matter how many times we might block our ears and say <I can’t hear you> to God, God will never say the same thing to us. God has reached out to us once and for all in Jesus, in sending his Son to save us. Despite people that by and large did not want to hear God, God did not let go. God didn’t walk away from his people. God didn’t stop trying to communicate.

It isn’t always easy to hear God’s call. God’s call to Samuel had to be repeated. He heard God’s call but didn’t quite understand it. But he did hear. He was really listening. He was able to continue the conversation. He was able to make it a two sided conversation by responding to God – ‘speak Lord, for your servant is listening’. For all his physical and spiritual immaturity, Samuel was receptive to God and open to the idea that God might want to speak to him.

So, how receptive are we to God’s word today? I wonder how much we really expect God to speak to us. Sometimes we are so grown-up about things that we dismiss the idea that God could really be speaking to us. But we need to be like young Samuel.

Later on, in the verses after the section we had for our Bible reading, we see that: As Samuel grew up, the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was a trustworthy prophet of the Lord. The Lord continued to appear at Shiloh, for the Lord revealed himself to Samuel at Shiloh by the word of the Lord. (3:19-21)

Samuel’s listening to the Lord had an effect: It had an effect for him, and it had an effect for the nation:

The first thing we see is that Samuel grew up. Not only physically, but spiritually; He grew in the knowledge and love of God. He grew in his relationship with God. And it is clear that Samuel’s relationship with God was a two-way conversation that grew and developed too. Samuel became a prophet and was able to give God’s word to the people. So Samuel’s relationship with God grew as a result of his receptiveness to God and his word.

And Samuel’s receptiveness to God also had an effect on the nation. And as his ministry developed, they recognised Samuel as God’s prophet. The Lord appeared regularly to Samuel. No longer was the word of God  a rarity in the nation. No longer was the word of God ignored. But at last, hearing the word of God – and listening to it – was a regular occurrence, and the word of God was once again central to the life of the nation. And the relationship between God and his people was restored.

And so it is with us: if we are receptive to God and his word, there is a result. There is a result in our own lives because as we begin to communicate with God to truly listen and truly respond, we grow. We grow in our relationship with him. We develope spiritually. We become more like Christ. And our spiritual gifts are developed.

We need to build our own relationship with God. We need to pray – and to listen. We need to open the scriptures – and meditate on them. We need to meet together – and talk to and listen to each other.

We live in a world which is in desperate need of God. We live in a world which needs a relationship with God. A world that so often blocks its ears and says <I can’t hear you> to God. The world needs God, and God has reached out to the world in Jesus-  who calls all people to a relationship with him. So as God’s people here, we need to be receptive to his word, and to share that word with the whole world.


Hymn: Speak Lord, I’m listening

Offering and prayer

Wherever we are, and in many ways we bring our offerings to God, and so we pray: 

Almighty God,

All the riches of the earth are yours, all the riches of our lives are yours.

Accept the riches that we offer gladly to you, and we ask you to guide us in their wise and faithful use. May the gifts that we offer here and elsewhere enable ministries that share the hope of your son with all people.

In the name of Jesus Christ our Lord,



As we go out into the world and into the week, let us go out to listen for and listen to God’s word for us, and having heard it, to take it into our hearts and to respond to it, so that each one of us may grow in the knowledge and love of God, and be empowered to proclaim the good news of Jesus wherever we are. And as we go out, know that we go out with the blessing of God Almighty; Father, Son and Holy Spirit.


Hymn: Lord, I come to you

Next Sunday (24 January 2021)
Psalm 62: 5-12, Mark 1:14-20
Theme: ‘Going Fishing’

Lectionary Readings for next Week
Jonah 3:1-5.10
Psalm 62: 5-12
1 Corinthians 7:29-31
Mark 1:14-20