Hearing the Call

January 14, 2024
1 Samuel 3:1-20; John 1:43-51

Two stories, from our faith tradition, where people are “called.”

– Samuel hears a mysterious voice in the night.

– The disciples see a man, Jesus.

These are two different ways to experience a call or hear the voice of God. And God being the undefinable I AM, that God is, there must also be other ways that God’s voice is heard and understood.

Samuel hears the voice calling in the night and responds only after some prodding from his mentor, Eli. The problem is that the voice has a message that Samuel would rather not share with Eli. Who wants to tell the person who raised them, who they respect, that God is going to take them down? Do messages like that really come from God? Samuel was afraid to tell Eli. Eli has to press pretty hard to get Samuel to even share what he heard. Eli says, Samuel, come here. What did God say to you? Don’t hide it from me. May YHWH curse you if you conceal from me one word of what you were told.”

Under threat, Samuel tells Eli what he heard God say: “I am going to fulfill all the dreadful things that I told Eli I would do against his family – from the beginning to the end. You are to tell Eli that I condemn his family forever because he knew of the blasphemies of his sons against God which he ignored. Therefore, I swear to the house of Eli, neither sacrifice nor offering will ever expiate the guilt of the House of Eli.”

 That is quite a message for young Samuel to deliver to his mentor. Samuel is still learning what it means to serve in the temple; he still needs guidance. What will this encounter with God do to their relationship? Does Samuel wonder if he will get kicked out of the temple by Eli? Will he lose his housing? Will Eli and Samuel ever interact or relate in the same way again?

This is the first instance of Samuel speaking as a prophet, speaking hard things to powerful people. Does Samuel feel empowered by the voice or is he just scared? As he gets older, Samuel will continue to receive hard messages from God that he is to speak, not just to one person but to all the people. He will correct the people because they are worshipping false idols and straying from their roots in this One God religion.

The voice in the night reveals things to Samuel that Eli already knows. The voice reveals that God already sent a messenger, one that Eli could see, to tell him that his sons are bad news, that they are cheating and stealing from the priests and more. The messenger told Eli that his sons would both die, on the same day.

Even though Eli knows about his sons’ wicked actions, from the messenger, and from rumors he has heard, Eli seems to actually hear it and take it seriously when it comes through Samuel. Does Samuel’s youth and innocence have anything to do with why Eli can hear him? Or is it the repetition that helps Eli hear the message?

I wonder if older people can sometimes hear God more clearly through younger people? Certainly the adults in this congregation have appreciated watching the children act out scriptures during advent and lent. Sometimes younger minds understand things or tell stories in ways that allow older bodies to grasp new meaning. What empowerment do young people experience when they are heard? Is this God speaking? Are we listening?


John’s gospel describes another way of calling: a man walking down the road, being present to people. Andrew, and his brother Simon, switch their allegiance from John the Baptist to Jesus when John points them toward Jesus as he passes by. Then Jesus meets Andrew and Simon’s neighbor, Philip. Neighbor calls to neighbor and soon Philip invites Nathanael to be a follower. Is God working in this way, these different voices calling to each other?

Nathanael is a tough one, he is not easily impressed. He grumbles or maybe curses, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip doesn’t quote scripture or try to win an argument to convince Nathanael. He just invites Nathanael to “Come and see.” And even as Nathanael sees Jesus, Nathanael experiences being seen by Jesus. Jesus makes this strange comment to Nathanael, “I saw you under the fig tree.” It might sound like Jesus is calling out Nathanael for being lazy. But in biblical shorthand, the fig tree is a symbol for Israel. Nathanael is not lazy, he is a true Israelite. His name means “gift of God.” Jesus sees Nathanael’s potential and possibilities and invites him to be part of the group.

I wonder if it still works this way. “Come and see.” A long explanation, a theological treatise, doesn’t always do it. We live in bodies after all. How are our senses, our experiences, part of the call of God? Can God speak in such a human way? If we respond, do we feel “seen?” Do we find a new place, a new community in which to belong?

It is one thing to wonder how God speaks. It is another to receive that word and then respond – or not. Both Eli and Samuel are a bit reluctant to respond to what they heard. It’s so harsh, this message from God.

Nathanael gets a kind and loving welcome from Jesus. He declares that Jesus is “the son of God.” Does this understanding stick?  Nathanael’s name does not appear in the other three gospels, and he isn’t mentioned again in John until the very end. Nathanael is still hanging out with Andrew and Simon Peter. They go out at night to fish, after the state execution of Jesus. In the morning, they all see Jesus, including Nathanael, alive on the shore. Jesus is still showing them how to “Come and see.”

I have been pondering these stories of call in relation to Mennonite Action and I feel like old Eli in this story. If I felt like Elizabeth in December (in the Elizabeth and Mary story) I surely feel like Eli in this story. Not that I have wicked sons! Though they do have wicked cool beards.

No, I feel like old Eli because it took me a while to respond. I heard about the horrors in Gaza and I heard about Mennonite Action. But I was skeptical, I had questions. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to get involved. Then I followed the recommendation in John, “Come and See.”

What I saw and experienced made me want to join this community and see what we could do together. And yet…A few folks from the DC group were painting signs on a Friday night in December, and one of the painters said, “If there is an opportunity to risk arrest, I am going to do it.” And I thought, “Uhm, not me.”

But friends, the voice keeps calling, the voices keep calling. The voices of people in Gaza that are now silent, the voices of long time peacemakers, the voices of young adults who have experienced hospitality from Palestinians, the voices of Mennonites across the US and Canada. And I also hear voices that caution against unexamined support by Mennonites for Palestinians without understanding the history of Mennonites and our anti-semitism. I keep listening.


As Anabaptists, as Mennonites, we listen not just as individuals, but as communities. Perhaps that is one reason why Mennonite Action has been so powerful, because people are listening and discerning together. I have been listening with this community and with the Mennonite Action community, and my mind and body have been changed. On Tuesday, along with at least 70 other Mennonite Action folks, I will risk arrest to support a ceasefire in Gaza.

I know that my participation is a small act, even inconsequential, in the larger scheme of things. But it is one way I can respond to the call of God, listen to the voices of those who suffer. In the end, I will be changed more than the world order will shift. And yet there is something powerful about joining with a community to call for peace, to take a small risk to suffer along with those who suffer greatly.

The Mennonite Action leadership team also acts in community – with other faith groups. We can hear The Holy through Jewish and Muslim groups who are also calling and acting for peace in Gaza. And we must acknowledge the reality that people on all sides of this conflict claim God, claim the holy is with them. We must keep listening.

When we listen to the voice of the holy in the night, when we take the risk to come and see, we may experience change. Our understandings may change, our behaviors may change, our faith my change. We may meet new people and create new communities. Come and see.