Photo by Lawrence OP
The lectionary reading this week is the story of a little boy hearing the voice of God — strange whispers in the night that call him into the leadership that will be his adulthood.
The little boy has no idea at the time, as he lies curled up on the temple floor, what the future holds for him. He has no idea of the legacy he will build, or the legacy from which he has been born.
Faithfulness has born him and faithfulness he will bear.
“Samuel! Samuel!” His name, meaning He who is from God.
But Samuel, just a boy when he hears the whisper of God, doesn’t understand the calling of that voice. Although he sleeps mere feet from the ark of the covenant – that sacred vessel that held God’s presence – he doesn’t yet realize that God is even closer still. God already knows his name, knows his being intimately.
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Three times is enough, so the boy gets up and wakes his teacher. Unable to imagine the greatness for which he is destined, Samuel believes it is only his teacher calling his name, not his God. There must be a reasonable explanation for voices in the night – they must be human, or imagined, but not divine.
His teacher, old and wise, tells him to be still and to open his ears.
So Samuel does. He has the audacity to answer the voice, to answer the call: “Here I am.
Speak, for your servant listens.”
And God says a word that is hard. The first word of God to this brave boy Samuel, He who is from God, is not easy. It will, says the Lord, make the ears of those who hear it tingle.
How can he feel, at that moment, this boy Samuel? Certainly shivers down his spine, certainly trembling in his small bones. He is stepping through a door into a new lifetime, whether he knows it or not. By answering the voice of God – “Here I am!” – he is answering the call to faithful leadership of a lost people.
Is that where greatness is born? In the dark confusion of night, in an unprepared child, in the heat of fear?
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After he has received the fullness of this difficult word, Samuel cannot fall back asleep. He lays there, on the hard ground, until tiny beams of morning light filter into the temple nave.
When it is time to open the doors of the Lord’s house, the still-frightened boy finds his patient teacher waiting on the other side. When he calls the boy’s name, Samuel already knows how to respond; he is already familiar with the answer:
“Here I am.”
And he hides nothing of what God has said, his second act of great courage. The first, of course, being his willingness to believe the whispers of God in the shadows of night.
Samuel’s life – begun by the faithful words of his mother, guided by the wise words of his teacher, and called by the powerful word of his God – moves forward on a path already laid for him. As for his own words, the story tell us, not one fell to the ground. Each one, true and deep, goes out to Israel, to change the course of the future.