Narrative Sermon: An Unfamiliar Voice

Sometimes, we do not understand what we hear. Cindy, the kids, and I were driving down the road one Sunday morning on our way to church in our mini-van when Cindy said, “dear.” I promptly responded to my beloved, “yes?” She again said, “dear,” but this time, I noticed something odd about my wife. She not only said the word… this time she was also pointing! I thought that was strange. A second later, I met the deer up close and personal! I kept hearing “D-E-A-R,” but Cindy was saying, “D-E-E-R”!

Her address of endearment was really a warning of an approaching tan, furry creature. It was running as fast as it could go, directly in front of our moving vehicle. I heard one thing, but Cindy meant another thing! We may hear God’s voice, but not understand who is speaking until we run into it at 45 mph. Why would we NOT understand God’s voice?

Hannah’s son, Samuel, did not understand God’s voice speaking to him. After all, God’s word was rare and visions seldom happened anymore (1). As Samuel lay on his mat, waiting for sleep’s arrival, before the Lord’s presence, he hears someone call his name, “Samuel!” But why would it be the LORD because he doesn’t speak that way anymore… OR does he?

Samuel hears a voice that calls his name, “Samuel” (4). He quickly gets up and runs to see what Eli needs (4-5). Who else could it be, other than Eli? The aged priest is blind, and when he needs something, he calls to Samuel for help (2). Nothing unusual about this scenario, it happens regularly, yet this time is different. Samuel finds a surprise waiting for him. Eli says that he did not call him and tells him to go back and lie down (5).

That’s strange! Samuel thinks. Maybe, I just imagined it! I was sort of dozing off… Again, Samuel hears Eli call to him, and he goes to him (6-7). Eli plainly tells him, “My son, I did not call; go back and lie down” (7). Samuel thinks, “OK, so now I know I was awake and heard him call me! Eli must be losing it! Maybe his mind is going with his sight!

IT HAPPENS AGAIN (8)!!! UGHHH! This time… Samuel does not run to Eli… with each hesitating step, he walks to Eli. Unsure of his words, he says, “Here I am; you called me” (8)???… He says in more of a questioning tone than a statement. Samuel thinks: What is this? Is it some kind of test? Why does he keep calling me and denying it? The frustration begins to build for the both of them.

Eli thinks: Has this kid gone crazy? He’s hearing voices? What’s going on? Then, it finally dawns on Eli what may be happening. Eli tells Samuel, “Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, ‘Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening’” (9). Still, why did Eli not recognize what was going on before now? Surely, the priest would understand the voice of God calling. Samuel’s adopted father and mentor slowly began to recognize what was going on…

Samuel served with Eli in the temple (1), but he did not yet know the LORD (7). This is kind of a puzzling statement. How could he not know the LORD? He was a pastor-in-training! Isn’t that a prerequisite for the calling and vocation to pastoral ministry? Don’t you check on that before you allow someone to serve?

Samuel was just a child. Really, it was his mother who experienced Samuel’s calling, not Samuel (1 Samuel 1). Samuel was born, weaned from his mother, and taken to live at the temple to fulfill her vow! He was living out of his mother’s experience of God instead of his own. Can we always live out of our parents’ faith without ever really having our own?

Can we know about God without ever really knowing God? I remember one time when my family and I moved to a new city and visited a church. Before moving there, a friend had told me about this church because he knew the pastor there, Ron Rowe, who was an alumnus of the same school that we were. Not only was he an alumnus, but he had done a wonderful job turning around this church. He thought that we may have a connection.

So, we visited on a Sunday night. After the service, we were chatting with various people, and I met this casually dressed man in the congregation and talked with him for a few minutes. He was just attending the service like we were. Frankly, I didn’t catch his name, but found out that he had attended Toccoa Falls College as well! I thought, “Wow! What a coincidence! There are several TFC grads here!”

We left, and on the way home, I commented to Cindy that it was nice to meet the man that I had spoke with, but I really had wanted to meet the pastor there. She looked surprised and said, “Who do you think that you were talking with after the service?” WHOOPS! She had caught his name! Because I had not met him before; he had no part in the service; he was dressed way down; he didn’t look like the pastor! BUT, he was the pastor there! He was on a sabbatical! I did not recognize him because I did not know him. I knew about him, but I had never met him.

Samuel was in a similar situation. Just as my relationship to Pastor Ron Rowe had been mediated through someone else, Samuel’s relationship to God, up until this time, had been mediated by others. His mother, who loved God and him, had made a vow to God concerning him (1 Samuel 1). She fulfilled the vow by giving him to God’s permanent service at the temple.

His relationship to God was also mediated by Eli. Eli, who became his adoptive father and guardian, served with him in the temple. Up until this time, Samuel’s relationship with God had been indirect, so when God spoke directly to him, he did not recognize his voice.

Samuel can be thankful for those godly influences in his life. Hopefully, we have all had a godly parent and/or mentor that helped us in our relationship to God. It was not that Samuel could not have a relationship with God, or had rejected a personal relationship with God for himself, but up to this point, he just did not need to have it because others did it for him, but as he becomes an adult, he comes to know God for himself.

We must grow up! While the Gospel often provides us with spiritual mothers and fathers, there comes a time when we must hear and respond to God’s Word, Jesus Christ. If we don’t recognize God’s voice speaking to us, it may be because we have never personally met him. Others have mediated our relationship to God for us, but now, it is time for us to have our own relationship with God through knowing Jesus Christ.

It’s not that we could not have a relationship to God or have rejected him, but we’ve grown up. Parents provide instruction and guidance in our relationship to God, but there comes a time when we choose to follow God for ourselves. We enter a personal relationship with him. He speaks to us directly.

Eli instructs Samuel what to say, “Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening” (9). Samuel does it. God speaks directly to Samuel. Have you heard God’s call? Have you responded to it? What is God speaking to you?

Unfortunately, it is not a pleasant message for the house of Eli (10-14), and Samuel tries to avoid telling his guardian the message (15-16), but Eli, his beloved mentor, made him share God’s message with him (17-18). As difficult as it is, Eli accepts God’s message from Samuel.

While Eli’s house would fall (1 Sam. 4), Samuel came to know God in his own life for himself, and God raised up Samuel as a prophet, recognized by Israel (19-4:1). For those that are spiritual parents to us and to those whom we can be spiritual parents for, may God by his grace use us all to influence and impact others for the sake of the Gospel. Amen.


THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible: New International Version.

Lowry, Eugene. The Homiletical Plot: the Sermon as Narrative Art Form (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001).

Lowry, Eugene. Website:

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