God Still Speaks

Rebecca Sheridan
Sunday, January 14, 2024
1 Samuel 3:1-10

    How does God speak to you?  Are you listening?  Our first reading from Samuel is one of my favorite passages in all of scripture.  Samuel is one of my favorite biblical heroes – I encourage you to check his story out in 1st and 2nd Samuel – he is one of the only people that the Bible truly has nothing bad to say about him – he’s simply a good, faithful pastor and prophet.  I wish we heard more about him more often!  This passage was the Old Testament reading at my ordination, because how I came to be a pastor was similar to Samuel’s experience.  I had people from time to time, from when I was in middle school on up through my college years, tell me I would be a good pastor, and ask me, had I considered going to seminary?  But I thought it was just people talking to me with a somewhat ridiculous idea that I should be a pastor – that THEY thought it would be a good idea.  I only saw these conversations as human ideas and interactions. 
Until one day, I was at my home congregation in Omaha on a school break from college, one of my respected mentors, a lay person, asked me AGAIN if I was thinking about being a pastor, and as I was brushing him off and giving him my usual excuses, he then asked, “Have you ever thought that this might be God talking to you?”  No, no I hadn’t.  God can speak through people.  I knew that in theory, but I didn’t take the possibility that God could be speaking to ME seriously.  Sometimes, like Samuel and Eli, we mix up the voice of God with the voice of humans, and we need someone like Eli to point out that THIS is not an ordinary conversation, that THIS might be a time God is speaking.  That nudging you are feeling is not necessarily just something strange you ate or a bad night’s sleep or whatever other human explanation we can come up with to brush off the idea that God could be wanting to call us, speak to us, work through us.  Other people, like Samuel’s mentor Eli, can help us pay attention to these spiritual moments of inspiration where God calls us.  
    The conversation I had with my mentor in college was life-changing in a few ways.  Most obviously, I shifted my career path from becoming a high school English teacher to attending seminary, where I met my spouse and became a pastor – the rest is history, so to speak.  But the conversation was also life-changing in my spiritual relationship with God beyond my career and identity as a pastor.  I began to notice, like I imagine Samuel did in his time, that sometimes we have holy conversations where God speaks to us through other people.  I began to ask that question, “Could this be God speaking to me?” and to pay attention to the reality that God actually does still speak to us in a variety of ways today.  I try to no longer brush off coincidences, gut feelings, impactful conversations or even dreams without considering these are ways God is calling me still today.  
The United Church of Christ several years ago started a compelling campaign with the slogan, “God is still speaking.”  Our reading from 1 Samuel starts out by noting that “The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.”  It strikes me that this is very much the case in our secular world today.  In our post-enlightenment, highly educated context, it is not rational or socially acceptable to consider that God is still speaking to us today.  In addition, as people of faith, we may be very intentional about daily prayer as talking to God, but we most likely don’t carve out enough time to listen to God.  We bring our requests to God, but forget that sometimes God has requests of us to consider.  
Eli teaches Samuel to listen for God speaking.  Eli teachs US to listen as well.  In our gospel for today, we see another example of how Jesus calls Philip to follow him, and then Philip finds Nathanael and invites him to come and see Jesus.  Jesus calls Philip, and Philip is Christ’s voice calling to Nathanael.  God can and does speak through other people still today.  I am sure many of you have experienced something similar to Samuel’s call or Nathanael’s call, even if it took years to look back and see how God was speaking to you through someone else.  Just as God speaks to people in the Bible, God still speaks to us.  I believe that the word of the Lord is only rare to us as it was for people in Samuel’s day because we are not listening or paying attention in faith that God still speaks.  Sometimes God speaks directly to people, but our scriptures for today reminds us that often God speaks to us through other people, through visions and dreams, through intuition or a gut feeling, through Holy Scripture, and so on.
Philip’s call to Nathanael and Eli’s relationship to Samuel can also inspire us to be God’s voice to someone else.  In addition to listening to how God might be calling us, what if God is asking us to speak to someone else and inspire someone else. It could be as simple as telling someone, like my mentor reminded me, that God still speaks. It could be as simple as Philip’s invitation to Nathanael, “Come and see.”  “Would you like to go to church with me today?”  “Would you like to attend Bible study with me?”  “Would you like to pray with me?”  Perhaps God is calling you to be more like Eli or Philip, and those simple invitations can make a huge difference.  Thanks be to God, God still speaks.  May the Holy Spirit give us the patience and wisdom to listen.  Amen.