I grew up in a home that had been in my family for three generations. As such, there was a lot of ‘stuff’ around that had been there a long time. One of my favorite things as a child was an old Zenith console radio from around 1941 that Julie and I kept because it was so beautiful and unique. It’s a radio that has three main bands: an AM band, a short-wave band, and an emergency band that displays police, amateur radio, and other emergency frequencies of the day. The short-wave band could get countries overseas and it had the Geneva, Switzerland time station on as well. I spent time as a youngster listening to these different frequencies and playing with this old radio. Having it at home has brought back many memories for me of the time I spent trying to find just the right frequency that would get me overseas stations (Even though I couldn’t understand many of them!), and some of the emergency bands here in the US. I can picture my grandparents sitting beside this radio during WWII hoping for the latest news on the war and the whereabouts of the 71st Division that my dad was fighting with.
By moving the dial very carefully I could find a blip on the dial and tune it in to a station in a faraway country, or I could hone in on a police conversation somewhere in the US.
Finding the right frequency on the radio dial can be a lot like finding the right frequency when talking with another person. How often have you been trying to explain something or tell someone something and the two of you totally miss each other’s point?
The story of Samuel and Eli is a good example. Samuel, you may remember, was presented to God by his mother Hannah at a young age to be a servant of God. Hannah felt Samuel was God’s blessing on her and her husband and so she gave him back to the Lord in this way. So Samuel was brought up living with the priest Eli in the temple. The word of the Lord was rare in those days, the text tells us, because Eli’s sons were evil. They were guilty of blaspheming God by taking advantage of their position as priests over the people. God was angry and removed His blessing from Eli’s family.
One night Samuel was lying in bed and he heard someone calling him. He got up and went to Eli, thinking Eli had called him. (I suppose there weren’t too many other options for Samuel as they lived in part of the temple.) Eli dismissed Samuel and told him to go back to bed. But again Samuel heard a voice calling him. Again he went to Eli who, once again sent him back to bed. A third time Samuel heard a voice calling: he got up and went to Eli. I wonder if by this time Samuel was wondering if he was having a bad dream, or maybe old Eli was thinking young Samuel had fallen and hit his head. Something wasn’t clicking with someone, in that story. Gradually Eli came to realize that Samuel wasn’t delusional, but that maybe God was trying to speak to the boy. It was worth a try anyway. God hadn’t been heard from in a long while, so if it was God, the news might not be good news, but it needed to be heard. Samuel went back to his room to wait for the voice again. This time he was ready and said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” Samuel learned how to respond to God—to get on God’s wavelength, or radio frequency—and God then spoke to Samuel. The young boy became a great prophet—a mighty voice for the LORD to the people.
It is vitally important as we visit with others to be on the same frequency. Too often we misinterpret what is said when we think we have understood, but we have only put our impressions of what the other person was saying into their response. We think we know what the person is getting at, but we may be way off the mark as far as what they truly meant. I have found myself getting into conversations with someone and both of us are jockeying to get ourselves heard and our positions stated. We start interrupting and talking faster to try to get our point across. Neither person is truly listening, we are only hearing what we think they are saying, not listening to the full story or taking time to ask clarifying questions. Soon the conversation needs to be stopped and we need to think about what we are trying to accomplish.
Often times a third party can intervene in such a situation and say, “Hey, wait. You’re not listening to each other. You’re both agreeing, you’re just not listening enough to realize it.”
Sometimes I think Jesus intervenes in my life and says, “Hey, wait a minute. You’re not listening to me!” It is easy to forget to listen to Jesus, to search for His guidance and leading, and try to figure things out on our own. How many times does Jesus call us and we miss the boat because we are not on the right frequency?! As I look back on certain things in my life I can see that I wasn’t listening to Jesus as much as I should. Has that ever happened to you? If you’re honest with yourself, you’ll realize that you missed an opportunity to respond to Jesus.
The Epiphany Season is all about the ways that Jesus is revealed to us as the Son of God. Today we see how Jesus is able to connect with Phillip, Andrew, Peter, and Nathanael, in such a way as to call them to be disciples. Jesus was easily able to get on their wave length and they realized that this person was special—so special that they called Him the Son of GOD! They weren’t always dialed up on the same frequency, but that was not Jesus’ fault. The disciples were human and often interjected their own ideas into what Jesus was trying to teach or accomplish with them. Then Jesus had to remind them to focus on what He was doing and the ways they were serving God.
Ernest Campbell, former preaching minister at Riverside Church in New York City, tells the story of the startup of color television in Germany. The initial response was frustration at not being able to pick up the color signals. Intense investigations led to the discovery that many did not know that they had to but color sets to pick up the new advance in televised entertainment.
In some sense, we who follow Jesus may have to redirect and reorient our lives in order to understand what Jesus is doing if we are to get beyond our ‘black and white’ thinking. We may have to do as Samuel did when he was confused about the voices he was hearing. We may have to say, “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.” In so doing we prepare ourselves to hear fully what Jesus is calling us to do and how He is attempting to use us as disciples serving others in His name.
Our country is at a crossroads that is deeply troubling. We need to make the effort to understand one another and work to find consensus. We can’t continue to think our way is the only way. There needs to be compromise or we will self-destruct. We need to listen to Jesus through the Holy Spirit to guide our ways. We need to pray for reconciliation and peace between all the factions that have arisen.
Jesus calls us to serve and to love others in His name. He reveals Himself in this world through us. We are the eyes and arms of Christ to others, bringing His love and forgiveness and acceptance to a world in need. A calling this important means that we need to listen both to Jesus and to one another to discern what Jesus desires of us. It is a high calling and a great joy to share His love and tell His story.