“Never Place a Period
Where God Has Placed a Comma”
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. 2At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; 3the 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. 4Then the Lord called, “Samuel! Samuel!” and he said, “Here I am!” 5and 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. 6The 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.” 7Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. 8The 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. 9Therefore 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. 10Now the Lord came and stood there, calling as before, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” (I Samuel 3:1-10, NRSV)
While in college, I served two summers as the recreation coordinator at Camp Pinnacle, a Christian camp for young girls. There was one particular game that the girls loved to play called, “Hog Call”. It is one of those games that children love and teachers hate. But, nevertheless, it was a camp favorite.
The girls would choose a partner and then select a compound word for their twosome. For example, one pair might choose “lipstick” or another pair might chose “hairbrush”. And then there were the truly creative compound words based on pop culture that grew seemingly crazier with each week of campers. Justin Timberlake. Britney Spears. Each girl decided which part of the word or name she would represent for the pair. The girls would separate from one end of the gym to the other and place a blindfold over their eyes. At the signal, each pair would call out their part of the compound word, in attempt to locate their partner. Imagine 50 girls in a concrete gym all yelling their word to top of their lungs! Despite my ringing ears, it was indeed a fun activity to observe in action.
Following the activity, we engaged in a time of discussion and debriefing. We discussed each element of the game and made correlations to our Christian faith and practice. The most common observation was that perhaps our relation to God is much like our relation to our partner in the game. Amidst the many distractions in our lives, we strive to listen for God’s voice as it leads, encourages and challenges us. Perhaps we have a great deal to learn from the observations of 9-year-olds as we seek to do the same in our own spiritual lives.
Our historical faith story is lavished with accounts of the ordinary individual hearing God’s call to participate in extraordinary life events. Most accounts in our faith narrative depict a Holy dance of call and response between the Creator and the called one. In our Holy text, we observe God speaking a commission, a task or a challenge. Following there is typically an internal struggle of questioning, doubt and self-examination. Our story this morning unfolds quite differently as a young boy embraces his creator’s call with great audacity.
Samuel’s life is a continuation of his mother’s vow to give him fully to work of God. We remember the story of Hannah standing in the temple pleading with God to bless her womb with a child. Eventually, Hannah is able to conceive and gives birth to Samuel. Through her miracle, Hannah promises to hold up her end of the bargain. Hannah brings young Samuel to the house of the Lord to begin his lifetime of Holy service.
Recorded in 1 Samuel 1:27-28, Hannah proclaims,
“For this child I prayed; and the Lord has granted me the petition that I made. Therefore I have lent him to the Lord; as long as he lives, he is given to the Lord.”
Samuel is around age 12 when he first hears the call of God. At this age a Jewish boy becomes a son of the law and is regarded as personally responsible for his obedience to the law. Samuel’s call happens in the midst of a peaceful night’s rest. Both Samuel and Eli sleep in the temple of the Lord. Samuel is sleeping near the Ark of the Covenant, where God’s spirit was believed to be housed. The lamp beside the ark is filled with just enough oil to keep it glowing during the night. Common belief is that Samuel’s encounter with God happens just before dawn.
In the text it appears that Samuel’s awareness and senses are heightened as he hears what he believes to be Eli’s voice calling. Hearing his name, he immediately goes to Eli stating, “Here I am, for you called me!”. Eli responds saying, “I did not call you; go back and lie down.” Moments later, Samuel hears yet a second call, “Samuel! Samuel!” Again, Samuel runs hastily to Eli proclaiming that he called his name. In the same manor as previously, Eli denies his claims and instructs Samuel to go back to bed. Three times Samuel hears his name called. And three times he scurries to Eli, believing it to be him who beckons. On Samuel’s third time into Eli’s room, there is a change in Eli’s response to Samuel. Perhaps it was Eli’s deep spiritual maturity or years of Holy encounters that prompts him as he advises Samuel.
I can imagine Eli’s countenance as the bright-eyed boy enters a third time. Perhaps Eli smiles with a deep sigh of nostalgia, as if remembering the first time he heard and felt God calling his name. He instructs Eli saying, “Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.’”
We are not given an account of Samuel’s thoughts or his response to Eli. However, in obedience to Eli, Samuel retreats to his room, only to hear the voice once more. Prepared and aware, Samuel responds immediately saying, “Speak, for your servant is listening!”
The story of Samuel’s call prompts us to ask in this space and time, does God still speak to us today? How do we hear the voice of God’s Spirit in 2018?
I believe God speaks to us regularly. I wonder, though, are we listening? Perhaps God’s voice does not resonate in the sense we understand revealed in Samuel’s story. It usually isn’t a booming voice resembling that of Charlton Heston or James Earl Jones as often depicted in films. Although not audible are we still listening for a gentle nudge, an inward desire, or a revelatory thought? Are we still listening through the voices of those who know us best? Are we listening as news unfolds before us of a world in great need? Are we still listening in the quiet moments of solitude as we offer up the truest part of ourselves? Are we still listening?
Spiritual writer Sue Monk Kidd explains God’s presence or voice in her book When the Heart Waits. She says,
“The soul craves experiences that offer it the rich depths of God. Silence, solitude, holy leisure, simplicity, prayer, journaling, the Eucharist, rituals that touch the space of mystery, symbols and images, the Bible, laughter, delight in the Divine Presence, deep encounters with creation, and the merciful coming together of human hearts. All these feed the soul producing energy for living the transformed life.” 
Eleven years ago I had the opportunity to take a group of our teenagers to the United Church of Christ denominational synod gathering in Hartford, CT. There was an energy that filled the air as the UCC celebrated 50 years of service. We heard stories of UCC members who had heard God’s call generation after generation to reform unjust structures in our world. We heard from Nobel Peace Prize winners who, rooted in their heritage of faith, accomplished unthinkable feats. We surveyed video footage from the early Civil Rights Movement and how many were called to stand up for injustice and peace. As we reflected on the past, we knew without hesitation, that God continues to speak to us even today. We were reminded that God is in fact; still speaking.
Several years ago the UCC adopted a new campaign and tagline conveying its bold message to the world. The complete tag line states, “Never place a period where God has placed a comma. God is Still Speaking.” The new logo for the theme is a comma. As in a nicely written sentence, the illustration of the comma reminds us that there is more to be said, more to understand, more to fathom, more to hear, more to do. All over the world, UCC churches are claiming their churches as “Still Speaking” congregations. They are committing to live out their lives of faith, embracing the reality that God is still actively calling and speaking to us.
I am proud of our faith family as we have proven time and again that we believe God has more to say to us today. I am proud of our church as we are making strides in justice and peace in our world. Through many of our new programs and outreach initiatives, we are proclaiming, “we believe God is still speaking, guiding and leading us today.’ As a community of faith, God continues to speak both corporately and individually to each of us. In what ways might God be calling us to use our gifts and talents to educate or help others? In what ways might The Congregational Church continue to serve as a light in this community? The possibilities are endless.
In the next few weeks, we will journey together through Advent – a time of arrival and new beginnings. As we hear once again the age old stories of those who heard God’s voice for the coming of Christ, might we too strive to listen more closely for Holy whispers? Might we listen to God’s gentle nudges, as we seek to extend love, light and peace to a world in need. As we leave this place might we fine tune our listening skills amidst the many distractions around us. May we find within our moments, opportunities for our dance with God in call and response, in saying with great faith; “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening!” Amen.
We worship you as the one who meets our needs, who grants our daily bread, who restores our humanity.
We worship you as your people, in a world where wealth is mixed with poverty; where we have all we need, but don’t know how to share. Where want, and hunger and thirst and humiliation are hidden from those with the power to offer challenge and bring change.
So, open our eyes. Not only that we learn heartbreaking facts about the world. But open the eyes of our heart, that we may feel our place in this world, as your people. Where there is need, teach us to learn where our wealth lies, and help us to give. Where there is injustice, teach us to learn the causes, and help us to fight. Where there is brokenness, teach us to learn of our own brokenness, and help us to bring wholeness.
We pray for the condition of our world this morning. We pray that where there is violence, we would find a peaceful solution. We pray that where there is hunger and thirst, we would find resources to quench and to satisfy. We pray for those separated from family and loved ones on this day. Bless those O God, that they might sense your peace. Help us realize and sense our connectedness as humanity.
We pray for our church family.
Direct our hearts and minds during this time. Inspire us to new levels of faith. Draw us closer to you. In the name of Christ we pray, Amen.
~ from the Baptist Union of Great Britain website.
 The Interpreters Bible: A Commentary. George B. Caird and John C. Schroeder, ed. Abingdon Press; Nashville. P. 892-893
 Kidd, Sue Monk. When the Heart Waits; p.199.