Sermon at Saint Matthias’ on Sunday, 18th January 2009
“In those days the word of the LORD was rare; there were not many visions. ” 1 Samuel 3:1
Once every three years, we read the story of God speaking to Samuel and once every three years it gives me a chance to think about what it might be like to have a direct conversation with God and to look out “The Little World of Don Camillo” by Giovanni Guareschi.
It is one of my favourite books of all time. It is translated from Italian and first appeared in a weekly column in Candido, an Italian newspaper, in the late 1940s, Don Camillo is the parish priest of a little Italian village in the years after World War II and is in continual conflict with Peppone, the Communist mayor of the village. The stories are filled with humour, but the thing I most like about the stories is the conversations Don Camillo has with God.
Don Camillo will go into the church to pray and will tell God all about what has happened and God answers him. In the Don Camillo books and in the television and radio dramatisations of the stories there are wonderful conversations between the priest and the Lord.
Three years ago, I quoted from the story Don Camillo where has been given money for a church bell, but decides it would be better spent on a summer camp for the children of the village. He has a huge quarrel about this and in the evening tells the Lord all about it. For this morning, I found words that Don Camillo had with the Lord about the church being struck by lightning.
At midnight the storm died down, but at three o’clock in the morning it came back more fiercely than before, and an unearthly noise awakened Don Camillo. He had never heard a crash so loud and so close, and when he reached the window and looked out he was left gaping. The spire of the church tower had been struck by lightning, and cleft with jagged rents. It was just as simple as all that, but to Don Camillo it was so incredible that he rushed to tell the Lord about it.
“Lord,” he said in a voice shaky with emotion, “the church spire has been struck by lightning.”
“I understand, Don Camillo,” the Lord answered calmly.
“Buildings are often struck that way in the course of a storm.”
“But this was the church!” Don Camillo insisted.
“I heard you, Don Camillo.”
Don Camillo looked up at the crucified Christ and threw out his arms in dismay.
“Why did it have to happen?” he asked bitterly.
“A church spire has been struck by lightning in the course of a storm,” said the Lord. “Does God have to justify Himself for this in your sight? A short time ago you thanked Him for sending a storm that damaged your neighbour, and now you reproach Him because the same storm has damaged you.”
“It hasn’t damaged me,” said Don Camillo. “It has damaged the house of God.”
“The house of God is infinite and eternal. Even if every planet in the universe were to be reduced to dust, the house of God would still stand. A church spire has been struck by lightning; that is all anyone is entitled to think or say. The lightning had to strike somewhere.”
Don Camillo was talking to the Lord, but during the conversation the thought of the mutilated tower was uppermost in his mind.
“Surely that particular stroke could have stayed away,” he said.
And the Lord took pity on his sorrow and continued to reason gently with him:
I love the Don Camillo stories; there are times when I would disagree with Don Camillo and times when I would disagree with the words that Giovanni Guareschi puts into the mouth of the Lord, but there is a great sense of the spiritual in the stories.
Wouldn’t we all love to hear the voice of the Lord as Don Camillo hears it?
In in our times the voice of the Lord is hard to hear. We can understand the words from the first book of Samuel, “In those days the word of the LORD was rare; there were not many visions. ”
Perhaps the problem is that we don’t listen. Samuel didn’t expect to hear the Lord speaking– he thinks it must be Eli who is calling him; he doesn’t expect to hear the voice of God.
Only when Samuel is prepared to hear God does the Lord speak. Only when Samuel says, ‘speak to me Lord, because I’m prepared to listen to what you’re saying to me’, does the Lord speak.
Perhaps the problem is not that God no longer speaks, but that we no longer listen. Even in the life of the church, how often do we ever sit down and be silent and wait to hear what God might be saying to us? We’re always watching the clock, waiting to get things over so we can get on and do whatever else is next on our list for the day.
We don’t have time for listening and hearing in church, our services are filled with activity and sound and when we try to have occasions for quietness and contemplation, as we do regularly on Sunday evenings; well, being honest, hardly anyone comes. Maybe we do make time in our own private daily lives to be still and to listen, I don’t know.
Sometimes I think that God might be shouting to us at the top of his voice, “Will you sit down and shut up for a minute?” An I worry that we wouldn’t hear him if he was.
We read that story from Samuel and we think that our own times are similar, visions are rare and the voice of God is hard to hear, but maybe it is our own fault. In the week ahead let’s try taking ten minutes at some point, and sitting down and turning everything off and saying like Samuel, ‘speak Lord, your servant is listening’.
Who knows what we might hear?