1 Samuel 3:1-10, Romans 1:16-17, Luke 19:1-10
What I learn from detective Harry Bosch
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. -Amen
We live in a time when people are often shouting, yelling and insisting on something. A considerable number of so called “You Tubers” compete daily for the number of views they can get for their video shows on the net.
In the same way, a great number of people are twittering and twittering every day so that they can obtain as many followers as they can. People naturally think that videos which have been viewed thousands of times are worth watching, and opinions that have been followed by thousands of people are worth listening to. Indeed, when some video or twitter becomes very popular, it even gets on the news. As a consequence, the competition of shouting and insisting escalates even more.
Living in such a time, people seem hardly to be interested in listening to small voices, or opinions that are not followed by mass media. People begin to believe that the voices deserving to be heard are those getting the most praise. They might also start believing that listening is basically in a passive action, just a supporting role, not in a leading role.
Does listening to the small voices around us mean little? Is listening to others a passive thing?
Every now and then I hear asylum seekers complain that representatives of the authorities don’t show any interest in listening to their stories. Sometimes these civil servants exhibit the attitude that they meet with asylum seekers just because it is their obligation to do so, one of the items on their “must do list”. Do the stories of the asylum seekers not deserve attention? Or is listening to others itself unmerited? We need to question this assumption.
To be fair, I would like to point out that in some fields, there are still people who understand the importance of listening and make an effort to listen carefully. I love reading books by Michael Connery, a contemporary American author. And among his works, I love the Harry Bosch series most. They are detective novels, and the protagonist is a detective on the LAPD.
Harry once belonged to the section that investigates unsolved murder cases, “cold cases”, and there he tries to solve murders that happened 15- 20 years ago. And his mission is “to listen to the voices of the victims”. Therefore, detective Harry Bosch reviews all the evidence and reports in the case file one by one very carefully, and finally solves the case.
Of course, this is fiction. And the novels are really exciting and fun. The attitude of Harry, how he tries to listen to the voices of the victims who died long time ago, is almost religious. Honestly, I leaned many things for my pastoral work from this fictional character, detective Harry Bosch. His way of trying to listen to a small voice is the thing that every pastor should practice as well, in my opinion.
I think this phrase “to listen to the voice of the victim” is often heard in crime novels or detective movies. And there, “listening” is not at all a passive attitude or a supporting role. Listening to the voice of the victim, or finding the voice, is the leading role and it requires an active attitude, a very active attitude.
Listening has a direct meaning for the detectives, and a strong meaning at that. The detectives know it with their bodies and souls that listening is the key to the truth.
Now we turn ourselves to the Bible.
Our God is the God who addresses us. Our God is the God who calls us by our names. Our God is the God who seeks us. When Adam and Eve hid themselves after they ate the apple against God’s command, God sought them: “Where are you?”(Gen. 3:9)
When Elijah escaped into a cave among the mountains, God asked him quietly: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”(1 King.:19:13)
Today’s text from the Old Testament relates how God addresses Samuel. “The Lord came and stood there, calling as at the other times, ‘Samuel! Samuel!‘” (1 Sam. 3:10)
This is one of the distinguishing features of our God, that appears throughout the whole Bible. God is not just an abstract and philosophical being, but is a personal existence, and cares about us. That is God our Father.
This nature is also apparent in Jesus. In today’s Gospel, Jesus is approaches Zacchaeus and addresses him: Jesus “looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.’” (Lk. 19:5)
Another characteristic of Jesus also becomes clear. It is that Jesus actively addresses those who are considered sinners, just like Zacchaeus is.
So, what do we learn from those Bible texts? We learn that the call of God is not at all some supernatural incident that could never really happen to us. It can happen to us, too. Actually, it is happening to us, to me and to you. It is more than it “can happen” to us. It is really happening to all of us, in our lives.
But we do not hear the voice of God very well, maybe. As the episode of Samuel in today’s text shows, it is sometimes not so easy to notice that God our Father is addressing us, or to catch his voice reaching to us. Samuel could answer God’s call only by the fourth try, and with the help of priest Eli, his master.
Then how can we avoid missing the call of God? What should we do in order to receive his voice? I think there are some guidelines that may apply generally to all of us who wish to listen to God’s word.
First of all, we need to be aware of that God calls to us, to recognize that he really addresses us in our lives. Uncertainty about this fact makes it more difficult to catch the voice of God.
Secondly, we need always to pay attention, so that we notice when God calls to us. God our Father can speak aloud from heaven if he wants to do, just like when Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist. People heard the voice from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”(Lk. 3:22)
But it is also quite possible that God speaks in a low voice, almost like whispering. The prophet Elijah heard “a gentle whisper” in his cave, and it was God. (1 King. 19:12) We need to distinguish the voice from God from the noise around us.
Thirdly, we need to understand that God has various ways of sending us his message. The Holy Bible is a solid source through which he gives us his message, but it’s not the only way he addresses us. God might use a dream to reach us. He might speak through the splendor of nature, giving us a vision as his message for the future. But I would like to place special emphasis on the possibility that God addresses us through other people, through other human persons in our society.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that the person who carries the message from God is an angel or a Godly person. It doesn’t matter who the person is. The Holy Spirit of our God can work through any of us and let us carry his message. So, every single time we meet our brothers and sisters in the church, we may find a message from God.
The other day, I was listening to a testimonial talk by a Christian lady here in this church. She spoke among other things about “the time to step one more step forward”. And those words resonated in my mind. I thought it meant a lot in my life right now. I took it as a message from God to me personally, and it became my New Year’s resolution: to step one more step forward. I am really thankful to the lady who brought the message for me.
Finally, it is important for us to understand that there is always a danger that we might mistake what is not from God as if it comes from God. A message from God is not necessarily the same as what we want to hear.
We should remember that a message from God is always in accord with Jesus’ life and his teachings. This is a very simple, practical norm when we need to distinguish whether something comes from God or from somewhere else.
We live in a part of Western Europe in the present age, and one of the aspects of living in this time and place is that certain people shout loudly, yelling harshly; often claiming that there is no God, or the church is no longer needed by the majority of society.
We might mistake such chaotic noise for God our Father being silent, accepting whatever these people shout. But that is not true. God does address us, but likely in a gentle voice. Then we need to concentrate on trying to catch his voice, trying to receive his message properly.
The former bishop of Iceland, the Right Reverend Sigurbjörn Einarsson, preached the following, fifty years ago: “Who can hear a voice when everybody else is talking? Who will listen to a quiet man in tumult and roaring. (…) You hear that one voice that offers you help, though all others talk about something else. You hear the voice that expresses love, even though it is whispered while all the drums are rumbling.” (Sannleikans megin? 1968)
God seems to prefer to speak in a gentle voice, and each of us makes an effort to distinguish it through the noise. Maybe because it is a better way to build up a mutual trust between us. Perhaps seeking the voice of our Lord Jesus should be a part of our everyday lives.
But even should we be plunged into disturbing noise, cacophony – if we only wish to hear, and try to focus – then we will surely hear the voice of God. We can count on it, since our God is not only a God who tries to reach us: more than that, our God is the God who listens to us carefully.
The Grace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. –Amen.