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Watch 2022-2023 online sermons » Robert Barron » Robert Barron - God Is Speaking, But Are We Ready to Listen?

Robert Barron - God Is Speaking, But Are We Ready to Listen?

Robert Barron - God Is Speaking, But Are We Ready to Listen?
TOPICS: God's Voice

Peace be with you. Friends, we've moved now through the Advent and Christmas season and with the whole Church around the world, we return to Ordinary Time. And what I want to do is pick up my sermonizing on the Old Testament text. And we have a wonderful one now for this resumption of Ordinary Time from the first book of Samuel, having to do with the call of the prophet Samuel, and Eli his mentor helping him discern the voice of God. Now, we know that story as a charming, even sentimental story. And it is that. But it's much more than that. And to see it, we have to get a somewhat wider perspective, know some of the background. I might suggest we start with Samuel's mother Hannah, a pivotal figure by the way in the Old Testament. Hannah is married to Elkanah, but she's childless. And year after year she goes up to the temple in Shiloh, that's before there was a temple in Jerusalem. And there she prays, pouring out her heart before God, begging for a child.

Well, one year she's praying, and her lips are moving as she prays. And Eli, who is the high priest of Shiloh, sees her, and demonstrating zero pastoral sensitivity, says to her, "Why are you drunk so early in the morning"? She says, "No, no, no. I'm not drunk. I'm pouring out my heart before the Lord". We get a sense of Eli as not exactly a prize figure in the spiritual order. Well, the Lord hears eventually the prayer of Hannah, and she gives birth to this boy child, Samuel. And the name "Samu-el" in Hebrew has the sense of having been heard by God. This was the prayer of her heart that she'd have this child. And then of course in that beautiful and mysterious passage in 1 Samuel, we hear that once Samuel was weaned, so he's still a very young child, Hannah returns him to the temple, gives him to Eli to be raised in the temple precincts.

What God had given to her, she gave back to God. Beautiful exemplification of what I've called the loop of grace. What God gives, then we give back, and the divine life increases in us. And it's very interesting everybody: because of Hannah's gift, the story of salvation moves forward. Samuel emerges as this great figure in the history of salvation only because his mother gave him back to the Lord. Well, so he's being raised by Eli. And as this story opens today, Samuel is a kid. I'm guessing he's twelve or thirteen years old. And we hear that he's sleeping in the temple of the Lord where the ark of God was. Sleeping in the Bible is not a positive image generally. "Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light".

As Christ is praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, his three most intimate Apostles are asleep. Sleep is a symbol of lack of spiritual attention. We hear in this story, too, that revelations of God were rare. What was it at this time? A kind of spiritual torpor, you might say. Israel, in some ways embodied by Eli, this figure who is not very spiritually alert, not able to hear the voice of the Lord. Something else. Eli has two sons. So Samuel is a kind of spiritual son of Eli, but he has two biological sons, Hophni and Phinehas. They're both losers. They're both priests like their father, but they're corrupt, both financially and sexually corrupt. Abusing the people they're meant to serve. So as the story opens here, and Samuel is asleep, Eli, who is this kind of compromised figure, the voice of the Lord is not being heard. It's a time, if you want, of secularism and corruption.

Now, I'm using our term secularism just to show the link to our time. I think a lot of people today in our culture have a hard time hearing the voice of God. Revelations of God are rare. Now, mind you, not because God is uninterested in disclosing his presence, but rather because we've grown so deaf to his voice; we've forgotten how to hear. And could it be, too, that the very moral corruption, because Eli's sons are corrupt, and he's told about it, but he does nothing, he doesn't address the problem, could it be that their own moral corruption is a reason why they're not clearly hearing the voice of God? So I'd like you, as this story begins, to see it as in some ways a distant mirror. It's a bit like our own time of secularism; frankly, corruption in the Church, yes, on the part of priests and high priests. That should sound a little bit familiar. And Samuel asleep in the temple. So, inattentive.

But then the Lord speaks. "Samuel". "Here I am". But he's convinced that Eli called him. So he runs to his master and wakes him up. "No, no, no. I didn't call you. Go back to sleep". The second time the Lord calls to Samuel. "Here I am". But he thinks it's Eli, and he runs again. And, "No, no, no. I didn't call you. Go back to sleep". A third time, and he runs to Eli. Is it hard to hear the voice of God? Yeah, it is. Now, why? Well, we hear all kinds of voices, don't we? Think of the voices of our family, voices of our friends, the voices of the popular culture, the voices of the high culture, all kinds of people telling us what to believe, what to do, where to go. Well, God is not one voice among many. God's is a hidden, it's a mysterious voice, the voice of the unconditioned Creator of all things. And so, yes, it is hard to discern, even in the best conditions, the voice of God. So we shouldn't be too puzzled by the fact that it took three attempts for the Lord to get through to Samuel. Because on the third attempt, Eli finally figures it out. The Lord is calling him.

You know, a beautiful thing here, too, everybody: the importance of spiritual direction. Now, as I say, Eli is no great prize. He's not. But he's a spiritual father to Samuel. And Samuel goes to him for direction to understand this voice. I wonder how many of us are not hearing the word of God or the voice of God clearly because we don't have an elder figure. We don't have a spiritual master to guide us in the spiritual life. Well, finally, Eli figures it out, and Samuel understands. "Speak, LORD, ... your servant is listening". Now, that's where our story ends. And that's regrettable, because most people, if they know this story, know it liturgically from this text. And it's beautiful. He's asleep, he hears the voice, it gets clarified finally, and then, "LORD, speak". But keep reading now in the Scripture.

When you find this passage in 1 Samuel, keep reading beyond what we have in the liturgy. And what you'll find is what God says to Samuel, and it'll curl your toes. I mean, it's not a pleasant message he has. What does he tell him? He tells him that disaster is going to be visited upon Israel. He predicts the death of Eli, of Hophni, and Phinehas. And Samuel does indeed tell Eli this terrible message. And then it comes true. The Philistines and Israelites fall into battle. Israel is obliterated. The ark of the covenant, the great sign of God's presence among his people, is taken, is stolen. Hophni and Phinehas, the corrupt priests, they're killed in battle. When the news comes back to Eli, he falls over dead. Yes indeed, this disaster was visited upon Israel. That's the message that was given to Samuel.

Now, here's what I want you to think about everybody. So a time when it's hard to hear the voice of God. Revelations are rare. People don't hear. A time when high priests and priests are corrupt, financially, sexually abusive. The high priests not responding to the complaints of the people. Disaster visited upon Israel. Does any of that sound familiar? I think, again, it's a distant mirror, isn't it, for our own time. We have a hard time hearing God's voice. And the Church has been passing through, and we all know it, a period of corruption. And the last twenty years, twenty-five years, has disaster been visited upon our Church? Absolutely. As ancient Israel suffered, ark of the covenant stolen, disaster for the people, so the Church has been passing through a time of terrible chastisement. Okay. Okay. Does the Bible shed light on our own time?

Now, as my great spiritual master, Michel Corbin, taught me many years ago, if you read the Bible, Old Testament or New, and you were left feeling desolate after the reading, you have ipso facto misread it. So is this kind of a bleak message? Yeah, it is. It is kind of a bleak, difficult message. But see, what's the good news everybody? That in the midst of all of this, God is raising up Samuel. A time when his voice isn't heard, yes. A time of corruption, yes. A time when disaster is visited upon Israel, yes. But, but, in the midst of it, this child born of Hannah, who presented him to the temple, this child comes of age and becomes the great prophet Samuel, who anoints Saul as king, who anoints David as king, who presides over the spiritual revival of the nation. Even in the midst of the disaster, God is about his work of salvation. That is why he calls to Samuel.

Now, here's the thing. Is God still about the work of chastising Israel? Yeah. Look at what's happened to the church the last twenty-five years. Does God still pronounce a word of judgment on corruption? You bet. But is God even now raising up Samuels, raising up great prophetic figures, great teachers, great saints who will carry forward the life and the work of the Church? Yes. Yes. Believe it. Trust it. And look even now, everybody, look around in the life of the Church. Where are they? Who are they? Who are those who, in the midst of a lot of secularism and corruption, nevertheless are hearing the voice of God? God never gives up on Israel. God never gives up on the Church. He continues to raise up Samuels. Find them in our time. And God bless you.
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