Answering the Lord
Text study on 1 Samuel 3:1-10, 1 Corinthians 6:12-20, and John 1:43-51 Lectionary text for Jan. 15, 2012
I have been deeply confused over the concept of hearing the voice of God ever since an incident that happened when I was a little boy.
I grew up next door to my grandparents and ate breakfast with them three or four times a week, which was good because Aunt Mildred lived with them and was a great cook and made especially wonderful biscuits.
It was bad because you could not talk during breakfast because the folks, Grandpa, Grandma and Aunt Mildred, ate while they listened to their favorite program, "The Moody’s Obituary Column of the Air."
It started with somber, funeral organ music, then a deep, basso profundo voice would intone:
"John Doe of 334 Mockingbird Lane passed away last evening at Northern Surry Hospital. His is survived by… He was employed by… He was a member of… Funeral to be held at…, conducted by the Rev… Memorials may be sent to… etc." for five to 10 names, all read with great dignity by that deep voice.
I was about 5 or 6 years old at the time and concluded that the voice on the radio was the voice of God.
Who else would know all those things about a person, all those details?
And the church we attended at the time put a lot of stress on the second coming, the rapture, "He will come like a thief in the night" and stuff like that.
They talked a lot about whether you'd be ready to go when the "man upstairs" decided it was your turn to face the final judgment.
So, I decided the voice on the radio was God sending out a message: "These are the ones I took last night. Are you ready to meet your maker?"
One day, my daddy dropped me off at Elmer’s Barber Shop to get a haircut while he ran over to town to get a truckload of fertilizer.
I had just learned to read a bit and was very happily looking through the Boys Life magazines when I got scared out of my skin.
The man in the chair opened his mouth and out came that oh so familiar voice:
"Elmer, could you take a little more off around the ears?"
Oh, my God. Yes, my God was there, right there with me in that barber shop.
Oh no! My time had come! He had come to take me home. It was time for me to face the final judgment.
And of one thing I was never more certain; I was not ready to go. So I hid in the bathroom until he left, cowering in the dark under the sink.
So, this whole audible voice of God in the night thing is a little unsettling for me.
I have never heard another voice that I thought to be the voice of God, and yet I believe God has called me into the Christian life, that God has called me into ordained ministry, that God has called me to various congregations, that God has called me into my present position, and that God has many more calls left for me before my call to stand before the judgment seat.
The words of 1 Samuel 3:8 have been very helpful to me in all these calls: "Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy."
God lives in community. Perhaps God only lives in community. I don't know.
But I do know that I need community to live in God. I need the encouragement, correction and opportunity to love others and to let them love me.
I especially need them to help me hear the voice of God, to perceive with me that God is calling me.
In the Gospel lesson Jesus calls Philip, and Philip "passes on" the call to Nathanael, inviting him to come and see this Jesus of Nazareth and the community that he has called together.
We sometimes talk about Jesus going about preaching and teaching as if he were mostly doing this all alone with a group of silly disciples, fishermen, tax collector groupies around for comic or foil purposes.
We often fail to see that Jesus came out of his wilderness experience realizing his deep need for community in the life he had been called to live out in the world. His first act was to gather such a community of love, support and companionship.
Just as Jesus needed community, so do we.
We have a tendency to want to go it alone; to fly solo. Too often our religion has a "me and Jesus" feel to it. If we have no one to talk to, to pray with, to listen to about the activity of God in the world and in our lives, we might not hear or understand God’s call to us, and we could get confused about who’s calling and end up hiding from the wrong voice.
In the community of believers
God’s call to us today comes to us in community and calls us to community, to the community of Christ, the people of God.
Most of us will never hear a voice calling our name in the middle of the night, but God has called each of us.
The call comes to us like it came to Nathanael. Someone has been our Philip, seeking us out and inviting us to come and see, to come and be a part of those who seek to follow Jesus.
And all of us are called to be a Philip for someone else. We are called to seek out and find those people who are trying to go it alone and invite them to join us in the company of Jesus.
It’s really not all that hard; just ask someone to come and see the thing that made all the difference in your life. God will do the rest.
• Does God ever have to try repeatedly to get your attention?
• Who is present to help you listen for the voice of God?
Delmer Chilton is an assistant to the bishop of the Southeastern Synod of the ELCA, with responsibility for eastern and central Tennessee, northern Alabama and northern Georgia. Ordained in 1977, he has served parishes in North Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee.
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