1 Samuel 3:1-20
3Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread. 2At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; 3the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was. 4Then the Lord called, “Samuel! Samuel!” and he said, “Here I am!” 5and ran to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call; lie down again.” So he went and lay down. 6The Lord called again, “Samuel!” Samuel got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call, my son; lie down again.” 7Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. 8The Lord called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy. 9Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place. 10Now the Lord came and stood there, calling as before, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”
11Then the Lord said to Samuel, “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make both ears of anyone who hears of it tingle. 12On that day I will fulfill against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. 13For I have told him that I am about to punish his house forever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them. 14Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be expiated by sacrifice or offering forever.” 15Samuel lay there until morning; then he opened the doors of the house of the Lord. Samuel was afraid to tell the vision to Eli. 16But Eli called Samuel and said, “Samuel, my son.” He said, “Here I am.” 17Eli said, “What was it that he told you? Do not hide it from me. May God do so to you and more also, if you hide anything from me of all that he told you.” 18So Samuel told him everything and hid nothing from him. Then he said, “It is the Lord; let him do what seems good to him.”
19As Samuel grew up, the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. 20And all Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was a trustworthy prophet of the Lord.
The Call 1 Sam:1-20, Pentecost 2, June 3, 2018
Last night we attended Mission to Many’s Awareness Event in Strome, and we had the pleasure of hearing three young ladies in their late teens, and early twenties speak of their faith, and their call to serve in international mission. It was heart-warming to say the least. Besides these three who spoke, there were a number of other young people within the mission who were serving at this event, and who will be, and have served on previous missions, and serve in their local church. We at Golden Valley are blessed to have some of these young people in our midst. At times when news seems so dark, and the future of humanity and the church seems bleak, there are moments when God breaks through, and that future seems more hopeful.
In our Old Testament reading today we hear of another call story. For those who were at church last Sunday you may still be shaking from the call of the prophet Isaiah, with its dragon-like heavenly beings carrying hot coals from the altar to anoint the lips of the trembling prophet. Today’s call account again contains elements of the supernatural, but the mood is nothing like that of last week.
For those unfamiliar with the backstory of Samuel, he was the son of Elkanah and Hannah. In the chapters preceding today’s text we read of Hannah’s bareness, and how she pleaded with God through the priest Eli for a child, and how God answered her prayer in the conception and birth of Samuel. In response to God’s favor, Hannah dedicates her son Samuel back to the Lord to serve in the Tabernacle. There are denominations that use this same language in a public ceremony where they dedicate their children to the Lord and His service. In our service of Baptism, we do something similar as we commit to raising our children in the Christian faith among God’s faithful people, acknowledging that God has created them, and now calls them into His family and His service. I would hope that the prayer and desire of all Christian parents is for their children to know and serve the living God.
Our account picks up with the young Samuel “ministering before the Lord under Eli”. The Holy Spirit records that “In those days the word of the Lord was rare, and there were not many visions”. As with so many other verses in the Bible, I wish the Spirit would have said more about this and explained why this was so. We do know that the book of Samuel follows closely on the heels of the book of Judges, and that book ends with the sobering phrase, “In those days, there was no King in Israel, and everyone did what was right in their own eyes”. Perhaps one of the reasons why the word of the Lord had become rare in those days, is because everyone was busy “doing their own thing”, and no one was really listening to or for God anymore? I sometimes wonder if we are living in similar times today?
Whatever the case, that reality was about to change. The LORD calls to the boy Samuel as he lay /slept? in the Tabernacle. He calls his name, but the Bible records quite matter-of-factly that since the boy Samuel did not know the LORD, he assumed the voice to be coming from the judge/priest, Eli. Three times the LORD calls before Eli realized that something out of the ordinary was happening. It becomes obvious that not only does Samuel not know the voice of the LORD, the priest Eli doesn’t know it much better. This is a sobering text for all who are called to serve the LORD in such capacities. In our day, we have God’s revealed word that comes to us through the pages of Holy Scripture as revealed by the Holy Spirit. There are few excuses for pastor’s and priests not to be reasonably familiar with God’s word today.
When Eli does finally realize that it is the LORD who is speaking, he gives the boy Samuel wise counsel, as He instructs him to reply, “speak LORD, for your servant is listening”. He does as Eli instructs, and the LORD does in fact begin to speak. Some lectionary readings end at this point, and the story has a “happy ending”. Others go on to give the actual content of God’s revelation, and the story is not such a happy
one. Although Eli seems to be mentoring young Samuel in the ways of the LORD, the same cannot be said about his two sons Hophni and Phinehas. The Scripture record these sons of Eli and being both sexually immoral and profane, caring nothing for the holy things of God. Although priests, they misused and sullied their office. Although their father Eli loved them, he had lost influence in their lives, and as such they were now “out of control”. God’s revelation to young Samuel, is that the household of Eli is about to be judged, for as we read in the book of Galatians 6:7, “do not be deceived, God is not mocked”.
Although the call of Samuel is not meant to be prescriptive as to how God calls people in all times and places, the descriptive components may be helpful in understanding the way God has worked in the past, and may be working in our day, and in our lives. Here’s what we discover about God’s call:
1.It is God who calls, by God’s own sovereign will- When we look at this, and other call accounts in the Bible, one thing that becomes quite apparent is that God’s call is not based on human qualifications or human standards. There is a truism that I hear on Christian radio occasionally, “God does not call the qualified, but rather qualifies the called”. Samuel did not know the voice of the LORD when he was called, but that didn’t seem to matter. Moses wasn’t much of a public speaker (and was also a murder), but that didn’t seem to matter, Jeremiah was simply too young, but that didn’t matter, and the Apostle Paul was hostile to the person Jesus, and the gospel he would later be called to proclaim, but that didn’t seem to matter either. God calls whom God wishes. That’s God’s prerogative.
2.There is a general and specific call(s) for all- Although today we focus primarily on the call of Samuel, each of the characters in today’s story had callings on their lives. Eli was called to be a judge/priest in Israel. His sons were called to be priests. Samuel’s mother was called to be a mother, etc, etc. As baptized Christians, we are all called to be sons and daughters of the living God. Within that primary call, we have separate callings (or what Luther would refer to as “vocations”) in which we are to serve. I am called to be a husband, a father, a grandfather, a pastor, etc, etc. You may be called to be a mother, a housewife, a teacher, or a farmer. Each of us are called to serve God and our neighbor in light of that calling. One is not above or below another. All callings are deserving of respect and of our best efforts.
3.We don’t always succeed in our callings…but God gives grace- Any serious read of Scripture will indicate that not all fulfill God’s calling and purposes in their lives. Eli and his two sons are examples of this in today’s text. Judas Iscariot would be another example that comes immediately to mind. Even the mighty Apostle Paul near the end of his life doesn’t take his calling for granted in praying, “not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.” There is however, God’s prevailing grace that calls three times to young Samuel, and three times to Peter after his denial of Jesus. The position of the called is not one of perfection, but rather utter dependence, and daily repentance.
4.It’s not all on you- As stated earlier, along with the call comes the grace necessary to fulfill our calling. St Paul articulated this well in his letter to the Philippians, “”I am confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” Phil 1:6, and again in his last will and testament in his second letter to Timothy,” because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day.” 2 Tim 1:12
Last night I was heartened to hear the testimony of the callings of three our young people in our community. This gives me hope for the future of our church, and our world. At the same time I was reminded of my own calling(s), and pray that I will be faithful in those callings until the end. May all of us join with Samuel in responding back to our LORD, “Speak LORD, your servant is