God Calls Samuel

HOPE Point @Wesley Memorial UMC
October 15, 2017

1 Samuel 3: 1-21 (CEB)
Now the boy Samuel was serving the Lord under Eli. The Lord’s word was rare at that time, and visions weren’t widely known. 2One day Eli, whose eyes had grown so weak he was unable to see, was lying down in his room. 3God’s lamp hadn’t gone out yet, and Samuel was lying down in the Lord’s temple, where God’s chest was.
4The Lord called to Samuel. “I’m here,” he said.
5Samuel hurried to Eli and said, “I’m here. You called me?”
“I didn’t call you,” Eli replied. “Go lie down.” So he did.
6Again the Lord called Samuel, so Samuel got up, went to Eli, and said, “I’m here. You called me?”
“I didn’t call, my son,” Eli replied. “Go and lie down.”
(7Now Samuel didn’t yet know the Lord, and the Lord’s word hadn’t yet been revealed to him.)
8A third time the Lord called Samuel. He got up, went to Eli, and said, “I’m here. You called me?”
Then Eli realized that it was the Lord who was calling the boy. 9So Eli said to Samuel, “Go and lie down. If he calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord. Your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down where he’d been.
10Then the Lord came and stood there, calling just as before, “Samuel, Samuel!”
Samuel said, “Speak. Your servant is listening.”
11The Lord said to Samuel, “I am about to do something in Israel that will make the ears of all who hear it tingle! 12On that day, I will bring to pass against Eli everything I said about his household—every last bit of it! 13I told him that I would punish his family forever because of the wrongdoing he knew about—how his sons were cursing God, but he wouldn’t stop them. 14Because of that I swore about Eli’s household that his family’s wrongdoing will never be reconciled by sacrifice or by offering.”
15Samuel lay there until morning, then opened the doors of the Lord’s house. Samuel was afraid to tell the vision to Eli.16But Eli called Samuel, saying: “Samuel, my son!”
“I’m here,” Samuel said.
17“What did he say to you?” Eli asked. “Don’t hide anything from me. May God deal harshly with you and worse still if you hide from me a single word from everything he said to you.” 18So Samuel told him everything and hid nothing from him.
“He is the Lord, ” Eli said. “He will do as he pleases.”
19So Samuel grew up, and the Lord was with him, not allowing any of his words to fail. 20All Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was trustworthy as the Lord’s prophet. 21The Lord continued to appear at Shiloh because the Lord revealed himself to Samuel at Shiloh through the Lord’s own word.

“The Lord’s word was rare at that time, and visions weren’t widely known.” These words were written thousands of years ago, and yet, it seems as if they could’ve been written yesterday. There’s chaos and fear all around us right now. People are not talking much about messages or visions from God, and if they did, we would probably call them crazy! In the meantime, it seems like the world is in total chaos with injustice and fear and destruction running loose. We are desperate to hear God’s voice more prominently, to see signs of God’s work, to know that, indeed, the “kingdom of heaven is at hand.” But instead, most of the time, it seems as if the full realization of God’s kingdom here on earth is moving farther and farther away.

On the surface, the story of Samuel’s call seems so benign. I still remember the coloring sheet from children’s Sunday School when I first heard this story. I don’t really know why this story in particular sticks out from my early Sunday School days, but it does; maybe because I was a young child like Samuel, I felt like I could really relate. In any case, here is this boy, living and working in the Temple of the Lord. He is there because his once barren mother, Hannah, had promised God that if God would give her a son, she would dedicate him to the Lord. So, soon after Samuel was born, that is exactly what Hannah did, and Samuel grows up in the Temple to learn the priestly role. Where we pick up this morning, Samuel is sleeping one night when he is awakened by a voice calling out his name. This happens again and again, and each time, Samuel does what any of us would do. He goes to the only other person in the Temple, the priest Eli, to find out why the man is calling him. But the thing is, Eli is not the one calling Samuel. Eventually, though, Eli discerns that it is God calling the young boy, and so Eli instructs Samuel on how to respond.

Again, this seems like such a benign story. But the thing is, it’s not, and the key to understanding that is right in the beginning, “The Lord’s word was rare at that time, and visions weren’t widely known.” At the time God called Samuel, religious corruption was rampant, there was spiritual desolation, and political danger, and social upheaval. It all sounds so familiar; they must’ve been experiencing some of the same fears and frustrations that we experience today. And it wasn’t even like the inner workings of the Temple, God’s own house, were exempt. The trouble ran right to Eli’s doorstep. His sons were corrupt, and their actions were a shame to the priestly order. This is the setting for Samuel’s call story. This is not some nice, easy story about an innocent boy being called to serve God, his life laid out neatly before his eyes. This is about God dealing with the problems in the world; shaking things up, making things new, working to create the world God has always intended. Samuel is called to be a truth-teller in a world that is not always willing to hear the truth. And his work begins right there in the Temple, with his mentor, Eli. The very next day, Eli calls Samuel to him and tells him to report what God has said. The first message Samuel has to deliver is that Eli’s priestly line will be destroyed because of the flagrant disobedience of his sons…and Samuel has to give that message directly to Eli.

Over the next four weeks, as we continue our look at the whole of the Biblical story, we are going to spend some time exploring God’s call—God’s call of Samuel and David, God’s call of the people to worship, and God’s call of Elijah. There are several things I hope we will see and learn in the coming weeks as we think about God’s call; like the fact that God calls everyone, and that God’s call comes in different ways. What I want us to consider today, though, is how God’s call is sometimes difficult. For those of us who have considered Samuel’s call story in the past, I don’t know that we really gave much thought to what God is demanding of Samuel.

It’s so easy for us to celebrate encounters with God as an end unto themselves. Especially when God essentially calls us out of a deep sleep, or a dark time, and awakens us to God’s being and presence in the world. Such encounters with God are awe-inspiring and uplifting. We often call them “mountain-top” experiences and we think of them as raising us to a new level of spiritual awareness. We feel closer to God and desire to change our lives to reflect more fully the person God has created us to be. The problem, though, is that we can get so caught up in the “high” of the moment that we forget to consider what the God we encounter demands of us. Samuel was called by God to deliver a harsh message of judgment. But the thing was, that message of judgment was necessary if there was to be a hopeful new beginning for Israel in this trying time. Far beyond a simple childlike faith experience, Samuel’s call is to a prophetic task. It is a high calling, but it is both necessary and difficult. God’s call brings with it spiritual challenges and social transformations. It was true for Samuel and it is true for us as well. We are challenged not only to discern God’s voice in our time and in our lives, but also to listen to what it asks of us. We are called to become the channel for God’s prophetic word in our own time; a time when people are no less hungry for God’s word.

So what is the message God is calling us to deliver? Indeed, God calls us in different ways at different places and different times to do different things. We can be called to professional ministry, but we can also be called to minister through social work, or art, or teaching, or practicing medicine. Still, in this story of the call of Samuel, I think we can see one of the main messages that God wants all of us to be a part of delivering to the world. God calls Samuel to tell Eli that God will “bring to pass against Eli everything [he] said about [Eli’s] household.” God tells Samuel that he is going to do this because of all the wrongdoing of Eli’s family, not the least of which was Eli’s sons cursing God. Eli was a priest of God. In that day, priesthood ran in the family, so to speak. So Eli’s sons were set to “inherit” his post and one day become priests themselves. Needless to say, God isn’t too keen on the idea of a bunch of wayward individuals trying to guide the Israelites in their covenant faithfulness to God. So God announces his plan to shake things up, to change things, to transform the world, beginning in God’s own temple.

God’s house, God’s temple, has changed a lot in the thousands of years since Samuel was called, but what hasn’t changed is that it is through God’s house, God’s church, that people encounter the living God. As the priesthood descended into corruption, the risk was that the Temple could become like a museum, rather than the home of the living God. That risk still exists today. As the church descends into in-fighting, or institutional survival mode, or selfishness, we risk losing touch with the living God; we risk becoming a museum that honors what “used to be,” and we miss the opportunity to be a place and a people that enables others to encounter the living God in meaningful and transformational ways. God wants us, the church, God’s people, to be a living embodiment of God’s presence in the world!

Do you see what God is doing as he calls Samuel? Do you understand what God’s call means in our lives? Each of us is claimed by God in our baptism. Each of us is gifted by God to serve as part of Christ’s body in a special and specific way. Each of us is called by God to use those gifts to help others encounter the living Lord. Sometimes, that means God will awaken us to tough realities that need to be challenged so that God can make changes, so that God can bring his Kingdom to bear in this world. We may be called to go places we don’t necessarily want to go, or do things we don’t necessarily want to do, or say things we don’t necessarily want to say. We might be called to challenge the status quo and announce the beginning of something new.

Wherever God may be calling us to go, whatever God may be calling us to do, I know this much for certain—our world is hungry for God’s word, our world is starving for an encounter with the living God. We can either sit here and admire and reflect on all that has been or we can heed God’s call and take God’s message out into the world. One night as Samuel slept, he was awakened to God’s transformative work in the world, and he boldly shared God’s message in the world. In a world that needs God as much as ever, our call is no less dramatic. The question for us is, will we go?

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