Maybe you saw this news story floating around this week: A young man was trapped inside his own body for 12 years. Martin Pistorius, a kid growing up in the late 1980s fell into a mysterious coma as a teenager. He would not wake up, and so his family waited and waited. And eventually his doctors gave up, sent him home, told his family to keep him comfortable until the end.
Yet the end didn’t come. Still, he could move, he wouldn’t communicate. Everyone—his doctors, his parents, his siblings—thought that he was brain-dead, that there was nothing going on up here.
But actually, there was a lot going on inside his head. Martin’s thoughts were completely lucid, totally together—he could hear and see everything that was going on, he just couldn’t communicate with anyone. He remained that way for over a decade and as you can imagine, sometimes that took him to a very dark place.
In the height of despair, begging for relief that was nowhere in sight, his own mother told him that she hoped that he would die. Not knowing, of course, that Martin could hear and understand everything she was saying.
He had no way of talking back. The only conversations he could have were with his own thoughts, the voice inside his own head.
Now, I think it’s safe to say that we aren’t in the same predicament as Martin. But I know that we all have felt paralyzed a time or two by fear or anxiety or despair. And it can sometimes seem that we are alone, unable to communicate, cut off—and all have for comfort are our own thoughts. But, every now and then, a voice seems to come from somewhere else, calling us back into our selves. And what happens when that call comes from God’s?
That is the case in our first reading today. The boy Samuel, not too much older than Martin when he fell into his coma, is lying in the temple and hears a voice calling his name. “Samuel, Samuel.” Now, he thinks it’s his mentor, Eli. I mean, after all, when we hear a voice calling our name, most of us don’t immediately assume it’s the Lord’s.
“Here I am, Eli…you rang?” says Samuel.
“What? No, I didn’t. Go back to bed!” replies Eli.
Yet the voice persists. “Samuel, Samuel.” Three times until Samuel figures it out—our at least was willing to give it a try. “Yes Lord? It’s me Samuel!”
You know, I wish sometimes that God would just call me loud and clear like he did with Samuel. I mean, how often do we feel trapped in our own bubble, lost up here, listening to no one but our own echo?
Wouldn’t it be nice if for once, God would just say: “Cuttino, Cuttino, here’s what you ‘ve got to do about this…”
And yet, sometimes even God doesn’t quite speak so clearly—at least not at first. Take our Gospel lesson: Jesus is gathering his disciples. He calls out to Phillip, “Follow me,” he says. Clear enough. And Phillip goes to Nathaniel—“You’ve got to see this guy. He’s from Nazareth. I mean, I don’t know…there’s something about him. You should follow along.”
But Nathaniel is suspicious. “Nazareth? Nazareth? What good can come out of Nazareth?
Bear in mind here that Jesus hasn’t done much to impress them yet. His first miracles, his first signs, are still to come. All Phillip and Nathaniel have to go on is Jesus’ word, Jesus’ presence, his promise. There’s something about him…
That’s what faith is all about after all. Very rarely does God speak so directly to us, at least like Samuel hear it. We’re lucky if that ever happens. But faith allows us to follow God, even if we’re not so certain, even if we’ve got no proof, even if it’s just a feeling. There’s something about him, we say. It’s the tingle in the ear that Samuel gets.
But oftentimes, it’s just a solitary voice that we hear—whether it’s ours or God’s. There are so many competing voices in our world, so much that fills our ears and our heads. The voice that tells us money and wealth is the path to happiness. The voice that tells us that power and violence is the only way to change things. And there’s the one that Paul warns against today: The voice that tells us that all things are lawful—everything is on the table. There’s no reason to hold back.
With all these voices, how can we tell which one is the right one? How can we hear Jesus over the buzzing of the crowd? And there are a lot of people out there that sound like Jesus—or at least the kind of savior we’d like to hear from. How do we know the difference?
Nathaniel was thinking very much the same think. Here is Phillip, begging him to drop everything and wander around with this weird guy from some backwater village. Messiah’s are a dime a dozen in first-century Judea—what’s just one more?
But Phillip says simply, “Come and see.” Come and behold. Come and experience. Just see for yourself.
And it was that moment when Nathaniel saw Jesus that he knew. He didn’t even say a word to Jesus and he knew. “Rabbi, you are the Son of God.”
I think, sometimes, in life, we simply have to go with what we hear echoing in our hearts. No thinking, no studying, no worrying. What do we hear in our conscience? What do we see in our souls?
God is there, in all of that. In that small voice that whispers in the night, like Samuel. In the teacher, watching us—getting to know us before we even know him, like Nathaniel. God knows us and we know God, even in those dark moments, even when we feel trapped and alone, unable to move or speak. The voice of God, the call of God is within us. Guiding us from the void of death into a life of such abundance that we can scarcely imagine it right now.
All of us has experienced that call a one time or another, it’s what brought you here on this day.
So what is that voice for you today? How is God speaking to you, in that way that only you can discern? What is God calling you to do?
Our ears are tingling. And we answer God, “Speak, for your servants are listening.”