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The Second Sunday after The Epiphany
January 15, 2012
The Old Testamant: I Samuel 3:1-20
Sermon: "Here I am"
The Reverend Dr. Richard (Rick) Miles
The Old Testament:
Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the LORD under Eli. The word of the LORD was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.
At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; the 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. Then the LORD called, "Samuel! Samuel!" and he said, "Here I am!" and 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. The 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." Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD, and the word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him. The 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. Therefore 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.
Now the LORD came and stood there, calling as before, "Samuel! Samuel!" And Samuel said, "Speak, for your servant is listening." [Then 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. On that day I will fulfill against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. For 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. Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli's house shall not be expiated by sacrifice or offering forever."
Samuel lay there until morning; then he opened the doors of the house of the LORD. Samuel was afraid to tell the vision to Eli. But Eli called Samuel and said, "Samuel, my son." He said, "Here I am." Eli 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." So Samuel told him everything and hid nothing from him. Then he said, "It is the LORD; let him do what seems good to him."
As Samuel grew up, the LORD was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was a trustworthy prophet of the LORD.]
I Samuel 3:1-20
Here I am
I Samuel 3:1-20
Preachers are often accused of preaching from some passages of Scripture a lot more than from others. We’re accused of that probably because it’s true. Which passages get hit a lot will vary from one preacher to the next. That’s because we each have our favorites; passages that speak to us with particular meaning. One such passage, for me, is one that just happens to show up on the lectionary readings for this Sunday: I Samuel, chapter three.
This passage holds some insights for us about listening for, and responding to, God; three insights, in fact, which could revolutionize our relationships with God, and deepen the meaning of our lives. So, let’s examine this passage this morning, and let’s start with the most obvious insight it is telling us:
This is it: GOD DOES SPEAK. Do you remember the story? Samuel was just a young boy when he went to live in the temple with the old high priest Eli. Samuel’s mother, Hannah, had dedicated her son to God’s service. Samuel had all the energy and enthusiasm of a child. Eli, by contrast, was even older in spirit than he was in age, and his insight even more than his eyesight had grown dim. Eli’s sons were next in line to be the high priests, but they lacked even Eli’s weak desire for God. In fact, they were outright frauds. “The word of the Lord was rare in those days,” we are told. A big part of the problem was that there was simply no one bothering to hear that Word.
Samuel’s sleeping quarters were in the sanctuary; right next to the great Ark of the Covenant was kept. One night as Eli and his sons are sleeping some distance away, God calls to young Samuel, “Samuel! Samuel!” Samuel is afraid. He is all alone, and suddenly he hears this strange voice. He is startled.
He thinks that it must be Eli. Eli must need something. Who else would be calling him? Samuel gets out of bed and races to Eli’s bedside, “Here I am,” the boy says, “for you called.” Eli was sound asleep. He clearly doesn’t like being awakened like this. “I didn’t call,” he says brusquely to Samuel, “lie down again.” Confused, Samuel goes back to bed.
As he falls asleep, he again hears the voice calling; “Samuel.” Again he races to Eli’s side. Again Eli sends him back to bed. Then it happens a third time. Samuel rushes to Eli’s side. We are informed now that Samuel “did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.” Who was calling him in the night? Samuel had not a clue.
Bob Lessnau was raised in a Christian home. By the time he was sixteen, though, Bob had given up trying to please God. As a normal adolescent, he figured he was always offending God with one sin or another. Since grace was not well taught in his home or in his church, there seemed to be no point in suffering with his faith any further. Bob decided to put religion behind him. He went off to school, moved away and got married, without much further thought on the matter.
One day Bob was working away from home in Wyandotte, Michigan. He stopped off to eat lunch at a Restaurant there. He sat at the counter. As Bob was eating his lunch he felt a tap on his shoulder. He turned around to see a rather scholarly-looking man. He didn’t know who this man was, but the stranger looked at Bob and said, “I want to see you in church.”
Bob was dumbfounded and even a little embarrassed. He thought to himself, “Why is this nut case picking on me?” He figured the man was soliciting for his own church, so Bob informed him that he didn’t live in Wyandotte. “I didn’t say which church,” the man replied. “I just said I want to see you in church.” Bob swiveled away for just a few seconds, to mull over this strange comment. When he turned back the man was gone. Bob looked all over the restaurant but couldn’t find the man anywhere.
Upon returning home Bob told his wife what had happened. They decided that if God wanted them in church so much that He would go to all the trouble of sending a message, they ought to give it some thought. Soon Bob and his wife found and joined a church, where for the first time, he says, he was able to hear of the all-forgiving grace and acceptance of a loving God in Jesus Christ.
God DOES speak. That’s the first insight our passage has for us this morning. Here’s the second: TOO OFTEN, WE AREN’T LISTENING. It took old Eli three times before he realized that it was God who was calling Samuel. You would think that the high priest, who had devoted his life to God’s service, would realize sooner than that who is on the line. To Eli’s credit, though, he does finally clue in. He tells Samuel that if he hears the voice again to reply, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”
Why would God be calling Samuel? Samuel was just a young boy, somewhere between seven and ten. Notice that God calls to people of all ages; we are never too young or too old for the living God. Samuel returns to bed.
God does speak. So, what prevents us from hearing? Most often it is that we don’t want to hear what God has to say. We make a decision, and only then call upon God to bless it. “Lord I’ve made up my mind on how to handle this one. You don’t need to bother yourself to give me any advice. I’ve taken care of it all by myself. Just bless what I’m going to do.” How often we pray prayers like that! “Lord, I’ve worked it all out, now you do your part and make it all work.” We become unwilling to accept a different solution, we become unreceptive to a different perspective, even if that different perspective is God’s message. We demand, instead, that God do it our way. Maybe, just maybe, if you really feel that God has dropped the ball in your life, it just might actually be because you never let God into the game.
The main reason we miss God’s call is that we’ve been too busy controlling our lives by ourselves. One thing I have learned; when I am most controlling my life, is exactly when my life is most out of control. God speaks. Too often, though, we simply haven’t been listening. This brings us to the third insight from this ancient, but well-loved story.
“HERE I AM” IS THE BEST RESPONSE. Samuel is called one more time that night. This time when God calls, young Samuel pops up saying, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” One reason we might be reluctant to hear God’s call is the change God might require of us. That night in the Temple, God spoke to young Samuel and gave him some disturbing news. Eli was on his way out, and God had had enough of Eli’s sons. Samuel would one day take Eli’s place. Samuel probably didn’t want to hear this, but God assured Samuel that he would be with him. When God calls us, a change of plans may be in store for us too.
I remember the night of my call to ordained ministry. I was working as a student teacher in the Fresno City School District. Things were well planned out, and had been for some time. The future was unfolding as expected, but something wasn’t quite right. Deep inside was a gnawing sense of emptiness. It gnawed, because I had always believed that if you are doing what the Lord wants, there will at least be a sense of fulfillment in it. I had no such sense. Please understand, coming from generations of school teachers, as well as ministers and priests, as I do, I attest that being a school teacher is among the most honorable and noblest and fulfilling of callings anyone can aspire to. There is no such thing, in my opinion, as an overpaid teacher. You may disagree with that, but you won’t get much support from me. Working with the kids felt right, and teaching itself felt right. The problem wasn’t the profession, the problem was me. I wasn’t where the Lord wanted me. Dreading what this might mean, I finally plucked up some courage and asked, “Ok Lord, if not school teaching, then what?” The answer came so instantly, softly yet clearly, that I could not debate what I had heard. It would take time to affirm it; but there it was. It was to be the ordained ministry.
You might find this next part strange, looking back on it from current perspective, but I was not happy with this answer. This was the last thing I wanted. “Here I am Lord,” I said, “except for that!” Not that I didn’t respect the ministry too; just the opposite. Frankly, I didn’t think I could even begin to measure up. For six months after that first call the Lord and I had a running battle. I would raise an objection; some reason why the Lord shouldn’t want me, and then the Lord would answer the objection in one way or another, usually adding the assurance that he would be with me to help with whatever I was troubled by.
Finally, having run out of excuses, still desperately trying not to respond to the call, my pastor called on me one day. “Rick,” he said, “The Lord wants your decision.” “What decision?” I asked. I was stalling, I knew, but how my pastor knew was beyond me. I had told no one about this, as they might turn out to be on the Lord’s side too. I didn’t want the Lord to have that avenue to speak to me about this. “You know the one, Rick” he said. “What are you going to do? The Lord wants to know, now.” What was I to do? I had put this off every way I knew how. Now, the Lord had gone to the trouble of speaking directly to my pastor and sending him to confront me. After several moments of desperate silence, I at last said, in effect, “Here I am, even this.” In retrospect I can hardly believe that the response was so hard to give. The Lord has kept every promise, even in the difficult times he has been there, and so has the fulfillment.
Everything happened just as God told Samuel it would. In the closing verse of chapter three we discover that “All Israel…knew that Samuel was a trustworthy prophet of the Lord.”
God speaks to you and me in many ways. Most often God speaks through the Spirit of his Word coming through the pages of the Bible. Very often God speaks through the good advice of Christian friends. At times God will speak through a sudden insight that comes after prayerful meditation. In rare moments God’s directive will come so clearly as to almost be audible. The point is, however it comes, God speaks; have no doubt about it. The challenge is to listen, and to respond. When you hear God’s call to you, respond as young Samuel did, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” “Here I am!”