Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
1. When I was in high school, I hated writing papers. But the absolute bane of my existence in high school was not just writing papers, it was writing research papers. From what I understand, research papers are the kinds of papers where you were supposed to do a bunch of research, and then write your paper based on what you learned? Yeah, that’s not how I wrote research papers. I almost never did the research and then wrote the paper. That took too much time. I always wrote the paper and then did the research.
It was much more efficient. Besides, after I had written the paper, it was always quite easy to find a couple of sources that backed up the position I had just argued and throw them into the paper. And why was it so easy to do that? Well, because when you’ve already decided what you’re looking for, finding it isn’t hard. You can laugh at the ridiculousness of my high school self (which I probably deserve!), but that doesn’t take away from the fact that when you’ve already decided what you’re looking for, you’re going to find it.
2. But the opposite is also true, isn’t it? If you don’t know what you’re looking for, it’s nearly impossible to find it. Samuel can tell us all about this, can’t he? You remember his famous story where he’s not looking for the Lord’s voice, so he doesn’t find it. Samuel was a young boy who lived with the priest Eli and served at the Lord’s House in Shiloh. Samuel was, in effect, a full-time altar boy. Our text tells us that the priest Eli was getting old. He was in probably in his 80’s or 90’s and was losing his eyesight, so you can imagine how helpful it would have been for him to have a personal assistant around to help with the everyday tasks of upkeep in the Lord’s house. So, there was Samuel…just laying in bed. It was probably sometime in the middle of the night or the early hours of the morning when he heard a voice. It seemed to be calling him. So, he got up and went to Eli thinking that Eli must have needed something. But Eli woke up a bit confused. “I didn’t call you. Just go back to bed!” Any parent who’s been woken up in the middle of the night by their kid can understand Eli’s reaction here. So, a bit confused, Samuel goes back to bed. A little while later, he heard something again, “Samuel!” So, Samuel shot out of bed. The last time he heard the voice it must not have been anything, but this was unmistakable. So, Samuel hurried to Eli’s bed. But Eli, who was just confused and sleepy as before, sent him back to bed. As Samuel was laying in bed, probably trying to fall back asleep, he heard that unmistakable voice again. You have to imagine that Samuel was a bit slower in getting out of bed this time. He knew he had to, but he must have been wondering if this was some cruel trick. “You called me, Eli?” Eli sat up, but there was a pause for what probably seemed like an eternity before Eli spoke: “It wasn’t me who called you……it was the LORD.” So, Eli instructed Samuel to go back to bed, but the next time he heard that voice, he was to respond, “Speak, LORD, for your servant hears.” And that’s exactly what happened. Knowing what he was looking and listening for, Samuel found and discerned the Lord’s voice. Now, our reading continues, but I want to pause here and reflect for a moment on what we learn from Samuel in this story. See, this story of Samuel teaches us is that you need to be looking for God’s action in our world in order to truly find it.
3. Now, we need to be careful with how we apply this principle to ourselves today because the Lord tends to work differently in our time than he did back then. The Lord doesn’t usually make it a habit anymore of speaking audibly to his people in the same way that he did for Samuel. But that doesn’t mean the Lord doesn’t speak or act today—he does! The question is, can we see it? Can we find evidence of the Lord working in our world today? Well, when you’re looking for it, you’re probably going to find it. Think about our current pandemic situation. Some look for our Lord there. Is this pandemic meant to teach us something? Is the Lord condemning our nation or world by this pandemic because of our faithlessness? Is good news on the vaccine front the Lord blessing us? Or think more personally for a second. What is the Lord trying to teach me through these times? Is he punishing me for something I’ve done? What about my loved one who got COVID-19…is the Lord angry with them? Or, what about our political situation. Can we find the Lord there? Did the Lord allow the recent violence in our nation’s capital because he’s angry with us? Or was he using that violence as an act of judgement on our nation’s leaders? …Look, these are all questions that we ask. Where is God in this particular situation? Maybe you haven’t asked this question of these situations in particular, but we all ask these sorts of questions at one time or another in our lives. And let me be clear: Asking where God is in a particular situation is a worth-while thing to do so long as you know where to look for the answer. Because when you go looking for answers in the wrong place, you’re bound to find an answer, just not a good answer.
4. As Christians, we look for God in the situations of our life, but where do we look for him? That’s the important question to answer. As much as I love the Old Testament, you’re never going to find the complete answer to this question there. You can search all over Samuel’s story, but you’ll never find the answer of where we ought to look for God. But the very first verse of our Gospel Reading gives us the answer to this question: The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me” (John 1:43). So, where do we look for God? We look for God in Jesus because it’s in Jesus that he has found us first. We see this developed further as the Gospel Reading continues with Nathanael (who was also known as Bartholomew). He was a skeptic, but when Philip convinced him to come to Jesus, Jesus said to him, Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you (John 1:48). Jesus knew Nathanael because he found him first. See, we might look for God in the grand things of this world—where is God in the pandemic? Where is God in our nation’s politics? But we don’t find God in an international pandemic. We don’t find God in our nation’s politics. We find God in Jesus because in Jesus he has already found us. That’s what it means to be a Christian. We don’t go looking for God in the things of this world because we can only truly find God through the cross of Jesus. In Jesus, God has given himself for us on that cross. In Jesus God has revealed himself to us. So, when life is difficult, when life gets messy because we’ve sinned or because someone has sinned against us, we don’t look for God in those messes. We look for God in Jesus, in his Word, and in his Sacrament. It’s there that our Lord promises to meet us. And it’s when we look to Christ’s Word & Sacraments that we find what we’ve been looking for all along: the hope, the comfort, and the peace of God that passes all understanding.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.