‘Old Eli, did you CALL me? Loud and clear and plain? Oh, Eli, I just heard a voice shouting out my NAME.’
Author of the bestselling Lion Storyteller Bible, Bob Hartman’s retelling of classic Bible stories in rhyme was an instant hit with the children of Hempsted School. Published in 2019, we have used the Rhyming Bible in Collective Worship (assemblies), Open the Book, Messy Church, Family Services and Christenings too. This week, we will be sharing Hartman’s re-telling of the story of the call of Samuel in our ‘Praying at Home’ service when we hope to be joined by some of our Messy Church families as we commission Rachel Laughton as our new Children and Families Worker. So if you want to hear the rhyming version, Zoom in for 1115! Otherwise, just stick with the familiar account of the story printed above, as together we reflect on God’s call on our lives both as individuals and as a parish.
Let’s just recap the story with the help of the Rhyming Bible. It’s the 11th century BC. Eli is a priest of the Temple and Samuel is a boy who helps him. Together they are serving God. One night, Samuel is asleep when he hears a voice call his name. Frightened he jumps out of bed and rushes to Eli: ‘Old Eli, did you CALL me? Loud and clear and plain? Oh, Eli, I just heard a voice shouting out my NAME.’ ‘It wasn’t me my boy, ‘Eli replies,’ ‘Now hurry off to bed.’ But Samuel hears the voice a second and then a third time. He hops in and out of bed until Eli gets really annoyed. Only then the penny drops: ‘Eli sat and listened. His head began to nod. ‘The voice you heard my boy. I think belongs to….God! So if he calls again, don’t worry and don’t fear. Just answer him and say, ‘Speak, Lord, your servant hears.’’
With some help and discernment from Eli, Samuel not only recognises the call of God but responds to that call. They take a bit of time to work it out, but once the call is clear Samuel responds. In faithfulness and trust, he goes on to play a key role in the story of God and God’s people as a priest, judge, prophet and military leader too.
So much for Samuel – or indeed any other figure in the bible who responds to God’s call. To be honest, I don’t think it is ever quite as straightforward as so often the bible would have us believe. We can all take some comfort from Samuel’s confusion! Yet what is clear is that we can only respond to God if we make the time to listen. We can attune our ears to God in and through prayer, meditation, worship and silence. We can also listen for the voice of God in and through the clamour of daily living. Even in the challenges of lockdown, we are invited to listen to God’s call on our lives. In all the anxiety, we are asked to reflect on God’s word.
Hear again the message of the prophet Isaiah: ‘Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mind. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God.’ (Isaiah 43:1a-3a)
The God who know us and loves us, is the same God who walks with us all the days of our lives, through the valley of the shadow of death and on into eternity. In all that we juggle in the provisionality of the current moment: fear, loneliness, uncertainty, home schooling, redundancy, financial struggles, illness, bereavement and death, we can take both comfort and courage from the fact that God is calling our name. It may be that our task is to pray. It may be that our task is to volunteer to help a neighbour or a friend. It may be that our calling, our vocation (from the Latin ‘vocare’ which means ‘to call’) is to serve on the front line. As we listen again to God, we offer both as individuals and as a worshipping community our God given gifts and talents in service of the community and the Church.
This weekend, we commission Rachel Laughton as Hempsted Children and Families Worker. Employed by the PCC and working in partnership with Hempsted School, Rachel’s appointment is two-fold: to support children and families across the Hempsted community and to share activities and opportunities for them to grow in faith. Following her own discernment and the discernment of the interview panel, Rachel has accepted God’s call to take on this role and we look forward to working with her. But remember – Samuel didn’t go it alone; he needed Eli to help him. So it is that Rachel will be working with all of us, in particular the parish and school pastoral care teams and the Messy Church team too.
Please keep Rachel and the work she focuses on in your prayers. Please also pray for our parish as we continue to contribute to the deanery consultation into the future shape of the Church of England in Gloucester. Who is God calling us to be as a community of faith in service of Hempsted and the city centre? What are the particular roles of the three churches of our parish both now and in the future?
Let us pray that we would all continue to listen to God, the God who knows us by name and who calls us to new and often surprising adventures in God’s world.
Rev Canon Nikki Arthy, Rector