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Sermon based on 1 Samuel 3:1-20
If we were to think back to the people who have made the most difference in the way we live our lives chances are the list may not include many actors, musicians, or even politicians. It would however include names like Thomas Edison, inventor of the light bulb, Henry Ford, inventor of the automobile, and Jonas Salk, who discovered the first vaccine against polio. For some of our younger generations in our congregation I suspect the name Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft or Steve Jobs, founder of Apple will be some people mentioned who have made our lives different.
An example of visionaries from the Bible would include the prophets of the Old Testament who received a word from God and proclaimed it to the people. In the New Testament, Paul was certainly a visionary as he envisioned a church that included both Jews and Gentiles. This morning’s scripture passage is one of my favorites from the Old Testament, as it tells the story of Samuel’s call into the ministry. I have come to appreciate that one of the themes that stretches throughout the entire Old Testament is the story of the Israelite people and their struggle to maintain their covenant with God. God selected the Israelites to be his chosen people, not that they might enjoy the status of the most favored nation, but that they might become the vehicle through which other nations would come to know and experience God. The Old Testament is the story of their righteousness, their waywardness, their joy, and their pain in living out this covenant.
Our passage from 1 Samuel picks up during a time of great unrest. The Israelites have been freed from Egyptian slavery, Moses had died, Joshua has led them into the Promised Land, and he also has passed away. Following Joshua’s death, the Israelites begin to disobey God. In their disobedience, they are taken as slaves by one of the neighboring people. They cry out to God, who rises up a judge to free them. They follow God, until that judge dies. They would fall back into their wicked ways and be conquered by another people, cry out to God, and God would again free them by rising up another judge. This was the pattern of their existence, as we are introduced to young Samuel. Israel was a loose federation of tribes, facing threats from the militarily superior Philistines. Not only are they facing military threats, but also corruption in the house of Eli, the chief priest. Eli himself was considered to be a person of integrity, but he had two sons who had no regard for God. God becomes concerned about what will happen when Eli dies and his sons are left to lead Israel.
They have very little interest in listening for God’s voice, and they have even less interest in expressing God’s vision to the people they will one day lead. The first verse of scripture from this passage summarizes the situation when it says, “The word of the Lord was rare in those days.” Young Samuel is the son of Hannah. Hannah went several years without a child, prayed that God might bless her with a son, and she promised that if given a son that she might give him back in service to God. Scripture says that at an early age Samuel continued to grow both in stature and in favor with the Lord and with the people. (1 Samuel 2:26) He comes to live and learn from Eli. This is why we find him sleeping on the floor of the temple when God begins speaking to him. At first, Samuel has no clue what’s going on. Three times he hears his name called; and three times he presents himself to Eli. The third time, Eli understands that it is God calling Samuel. He instructs him to go lie down, and if called upon again, he is to answer and present himself as God’s servant.
God calls again and Samuel answers and listens. God tells Samuel that he is about to punish Eli’s house forever, because of the behavior of his sons and Eli’s inability to control them. No sacrifice or offering will ever make it right. Their punishment is forever. Samuel listens, takes it all in, and lies there until morning afraid to tell Eli what God has said. Eli insists that Samuel tell him everything. Can you imagine being in Samuel’s shoes? Scholars suggest that Samuel was still a youth when he has to tell his mentor, a father like figure and the chief priest, that God is going to punish his household. Samuel keeps his promise to God, and tells Eli of God’s judgment.
Through Samuel, we learn that God’s vision and God’s calling come to those with obedient and open hearts. God’s call doesn’t always come when we’re expecting it. Samuel certainly wasn’t expecting this call from God, and he certainly didn’t relish telling Eli what was going to happen to his family. Many times the most exciting possibilities are presented to us during difficult times. Too often, we allow those difficulties to overwhelm us and it interferes with our ability to hear God and seek His direction. The key is in our ability to tune in, listen, and obey as Samuel did. Answering God’s call will require an open heart. In this openness it may bring about some type of transformation or change. A spiritual transformation had to take place for Samuel in order for him to become a messenger of God. Remember, our scripture opened by saying that God’s word was rare, but Samuel was now going to become a messenger of God’s Word in what would soon become a period of radical transformation in Israel.
As Samuel grew older he prepared himself and responded to the challenge of being God’s messenger. Like Samuel, we must be open to God’s vision and God’s calling in our lives. While our calling may not be on the scale of how Samuel transformed Israel, we must be obedient and open our hearts to His call in our lives. Many times we assign a calling only to those who enter full-time ordained ministry, but in many respects a calling applies to everyone. Hopefully your vocation is a calling, and I hope the activities you are involved in here are a calling. Our challenge as a community of faith is how do we respond to God’s call. Like Samuel we should be attentive. Once he understood that it was God calling him and not Eli, he stopped and listened. As the years passed, Samuel exercised the functions of his judicial office, being the friend and counselor of the people in all matters of private and public interest. He was a great statesman as well as a reformer, and all regarded him with respect as one of the prophets of the Lord.
Samuel never faced any challenge alone either because God was always by his side as He will be with us. Samuel served a much larger role in biblical history than we often give him credit for. Scholars have called him the last great judge and first of the prophets of the Old Testament. Samuel bridged the gap as the last Israelite judge before Saul became their first king. Samuel brought stability to Israel as he paved the way for Saul, who eventually relinquished his power to David. The Old Testament prepares the way for the coming of Jesus.
Today’s lectionary passage from the gospel of John speaks about Jesus calling some of his first disciples. It is through the life and witness of Jesus Christ that we know God calls us to a greater task for Jesus reminds through the Great Commission of the following:
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 28:19)
As we think of the Holy Spirit I’m reminder of the story of a young boy flying a kite on the coast. The kite was so high that it had disappeared into the clouds. A person came by and asked, “Why are you holding on to that string?” The boy said, “I’ve got a kite up there.” The person looked up and said, “I don’t see it.” The boy replied, “Well, I know it’s there because I can feel the tug.”
In a similar way, maybe we are feeling the tug of the Holy Spirit in our life. If we feel God is calling us into greater service, together let us be open to hearing God’s call in our lives and respond as young Samuel did. Let us be open and be obedient and God will show us not only His vision but also our calling in life.
The Rev. Dr. David A. Marcus, Jr.
January 14, 2018 sermon