Bible Text: 1 Samuel 3:1-10, John 1:43-51 | Preacher: Rev. Jenn Geddes

I enjoy listening to a program on CBC radio called, Under the Influence, it exposes some of the secrets in advertising and is hosted by Terry O’Reilly, a advertizing guru. On one such episode I heard about Nudge Marketing. Nudge Marketing is when an organization uses small nudges to gently steer people toward making more positive decisions in their lives. Nudges are often small and invisible to the untrained ear or eye. Often resembling whispers. Here is an example. In Britain, the government tried to encourage homeowners to insulate their attics to save energy costs and prevent heat loss. They worked on creating all kinds of campaigns that gave compelling economic reasons why the public should insulate their attics including monetary incentives and subsidies. However, nothing seemed to be working. There was a great lack of interest and the government couldn’t figure out why. When they researched a little further they stumbled upon the reason for the resistance. The British people simply did not want to clear out all the junk in their attics. The attic being the predominant place for storage. Perhaps it was embarrassing, perhaps it was too difficult, but mostly it was because the mere thought of having to clear out their attics was enough for people to forgo the energy and economic savings of insulation. Once the government figured out this problem they teamed up with a home improvement company and offered an attic cleaning service. The amount of people who insulated their attics doubled. The attic cleaning offer was the nudge people needed to get to a bigger issue. This nudge marketing worked so well that the British government soon began to experiment with other nudges. For example, they discovered that people who were behind in paying their taxes responded to handwritten notes far better than computer-generated ones. Prime Minister David Cameron saw how great the effects of these nudges were that he set up an official “nudge unit”, making Britain the first country to adopt nudging as part of their strategy but they certainly weren’t the last.
Learning about nudge marketing made me think about how we often refer to the nudges of the Holy Spirit. That sometimes we experience nudges that make us do something a little out of routine but ultimately have a positive effect. Or perhaps a nudge reminds us that we should check in on a friend, pray for someone in need, or follow up with a comment. We sometimes call those nudges the prompting of the Holy Spirit from within. I’m not suggesting that the Holy Spirit or God are using dirty marketing tricks but rather are truly using nudge marketing in the best way possible, truly nudging people toward making a positive decision in their lives. When we think about the various ways in which God calls us we realize that nudging is one such way. But how often are we open to these nudges? And how often do we ignore them or mistake them for something else or even, like Samuel, someone else?
The passage from 1st Samuel was the first one to direct me down the path of Spirit nudges. Samuel is a young man, perhaps a teen, and he is living in the temple with an elderly priest, Eli. In the middle of the night Samuel receives these nudges, a voice, calling out his name. There are two very interesting sentences in this passage. The first, “The word of the Lord was rare or precious and visions were not frequent.” This is the only time such a phrase comes up in the entire Bible. The Hebrew word for rare is typically reserved for items like precious gems, something that is extremely valuable due to pure lack of supply. For the first time in memorable history the word of the Lord is in short supply. It does not explain why all of a sudden God’s voice and visions are no longer abundant it just simply states that they are. Perhaps it is because people had started to tune out the Spirit’s nudges. If not during the time of Samuel than it reflects the time now. Certainly we could claim that like Samuel’s time “The word of the Lord is rare or precious and visions are not frequent.” But it is not because God has stopped communicating but rather that we have stopped listening.
The second interesting phrase is that it says that “Samuel did not yet know the Lord” which is why for the first three times that Samuel heard the nudges he mistook it for the voice of Eli. I do find it a little strange that Samuel has been living in the temple for most of his childhood and yet he still doesn’t know the Lord. If I was the one in charge of the Sunday, rather Sabbath School, I would be a little concerned and definitely reviewing the curriculum. However, God called out to Samuel despite Samuel not knowing the Lord and God did not give up but rather the voice continued to call until Samuel was ready to answer. Despite the chances that most of the time we miss the nudges of the Spirit, the Spirit continues to nudge and call us. Despite the chances that we may not know or understand the Spirit in the fullest sense, the Spirit continues to nudge and call us.
Thankfully we also have the examples of the disciples to teach us about these nudges and sometimes a nudge comes not from our inner being but from others. When Philip meets Jesus he is ready to follow, straightaway, no nudge required. Then he goes to tell Nathaniel and says, “We have found the one promised in the Old Testament.” Nathaniel needs a little more nudging. After all, nothing good seems to come out of Nazareth, let alone a prophet or even the Messiah. But Philip responds, just come and see for yourself! This is important as well. Philip didn’t feel the need to try and analyze or even answer Nathaniel’s scepticism. He didn’t need to “prove” anything. Philip could have given Nathaniel some of his own thoughts on the matter. Instead he just simply says, come and see. Come and experience it for yourself. Sometimes when we try to express to people why they should come to church we feel we have to prove something but perhaps we should just say, “Come and see for yourself!” Sure Nathaniel continues to be sceptical until he truly experiences a meeting with Jesus, and talk about a nudge that brings about a positive change. Nathaniel is so impressed that he calls Jesus the Son of God and King of Israel. Philip used another marketing tool, word of mouth. In fact, we know that ‘word of mouth’ is one of the best ways to advertise but it is also the way in which Jesus managed to meet the needs of the most people. Jesus did not send out emails, Facebook updates or tweets, just simply travelled the countryside and by word of mouth the people came. Philip was not the only one to say, “Come and see for yourself!”
Samuel and the disciples are not unwilling to hear God, but they still struggle with discerning how God is revealing God’s self. Who are you in these stories of nudges? Are you Samuel, who can hear the nudges but doesn’t quite understand? Are you Nathaniel, who needs physical evidence and someone to nudge him along? Are you Philip who doesn’t need any nudging at all but rather nudges other people? I suspect we are each one at different times. Nevertheless, we must remain open to the Spirit’s nudges so that we can experience God in Christ in the fullest way and as followers of Jesus it isn’t our job to try to prove anything but rather invite people to “Come and See. And experience it for themselves!” Be open to the Spirit’s nudges in your life and be ready to nudge others. Amen