1 Samuel 3:1-21
(sermon note: 10-17 sermon note)
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 fulfil 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. The Lord continued to appear at Shiloh, for the Lord revealed himself to Samuel at Shiloh by the word of the Lord.
This morning’s reading reminds me of the one about a time when the phone rang at the local police station. “Hello? I’m calling to report my neighbor, Craig. He is hiding marijuana inside his firewood!” “Oh, well, thank you very much for the call, sir,” responded the dispatcher. The next day, policemen descended on the neighbor’s house. They immediately searched the shed where the firewood was kept. Using axes, they busted open every piece of wood, but found no marijuana. They swore at the neighbor’s and left. The phone rang at the neighbor’s house. “Hey, Craig, did the police come?” “Yep.” “Did they chop your firewood?” “Sure did, Eric. Thanks!” “Great, now it’s your turn to call. I need my garden plowed.”
I guess some calls can serve dual purposes after all. Need an extra hand around the house? Cleverly call your local police department! Of course, I’m not really encouraging you to waste their time with your chores but the thought of it is kind of funny. No, Eric’s call to the police department is similar to God’s call in our reading in that both have ulterior motives. God called upon the young boy, Samuel, to deliver a message of woe to his master, Eli. God could have easily spoken to Eli directly but instead chose to call on Samuel. So why? Well, to answer that question we have to consider the larger narrative for these two characters. Recall that Samuel was the only child miraculously born to Hannah, an otherwise infertile woman. In prayer, she had asked God for a child and promised to give him to serve in the church if God answered her prayer. God did answer her prayer and Hannah did keep her promise. Samuel was dedicated to the church under the direct supervision of the chief priest, Eli. Now Eli’s own two sons were a disgrace and lived shameful lives. For whatever reason, Eli was incapable of reigning in his own sons. God was so angry with them that He sent an angel to tell Eli He was going to kill both the disgraceful sons on the same day and raise up a better chief priest to replace him. And this all happened right before this encounter between Samuel and God. Eli knew full well the judgment that awaited him! So the words that God spoke to Samuel were not new words to Eli! They were difficult words but not new words which gets us back to the ulterior motives of God calling on Samuel instead of Eli. God repeatedly waking Samuel up to carry the message to Eli was a means of anointment. Samuel was the one who would replace Eli as chief priest and God began communicating with Samuel directly as a form of passing the torch.
Of course, we can find little comfort in knowing God has ulterior motives for what He says or does. We know our ways are not God’s ways and thank God our ways are not his ways! He is far more just and fair and forgiving and loving than we could ever be. He holds much more in balance and harmony than we could ever imagine holding. Heck, I have a hard enough time holding a family together let alone all of civilization! Of course our God has ulterior motives…He has much more to hold together! We mustn’t be disheartened by his ulterior motives but instead trust that whatever his motives are, they are for our benefit. God has our backs, God loves us! God wants nothing but the best for us! God is motivated by nothing more than his love for us! We ought not be afraid of what motivates him and his work in our lives. We ought to trust that his work is a work of love. We ought to gladly welcome his work in our lives.
Our reading for today is less about revealing God’s ulterior motives as it is about revealing Samuel’s response to God’s work in his life. So far since we started up the new program year 6 weeks ago, we’ve reflected on several key figures in the early church. They’ve all had encounters with God that drastically changed their lives. Abraham answered God’s call to sacrifice his son, Isaac, as an offering to God. Jacob heeded God’s call in a dream to lead his people. Moses obeyed God’s call from a burning bush to free his people from slavery and feed them in their wilderness freedom. God called on yet another unlikely character, this time a young teenage boy, Samuel. It helped that He didn’t have to call very far or very extraordinarily, what with Samuel already in his holy temple! Though an unlikely character to be chosen by God, Samuel’s response was a likely response…perhaps an expected response. Samuel responded the same way as Abraham and Moses and Jacob before him: with great courage. Samuel was afraid to tell Eli what God had told him. And rightly so! Eli was his boss! Imagine telling your boss that God is going to punish his/her house forever! Sheesh, talk about a loaded message! No, thank you! It helped that Eli threatened Samuel if he didn’t tell him the message but still a difficult task to be performed.
But isn’t that so like God?! He rarely, if ever, tasks us with easy things to do. He assumes we’ll get them done without a personal encounter. No, it’s for the difficult tasks that we can expect a special encounter with God. God knows our frailties and weaknesses. God knows what we can fulfill and what we can’t. And God chooses the right person for the right job each and every time. Recall the words of Paul in his second letter to Timothy, “for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.” (1:7) God gives us a spirit of courage to compensate for our weaknesses and frailties. God gives us the strength and courage to perform his difficult tasks. David sang in his 31st psalm, “be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord.” (vs. 24) Don’t think you have what it takes? Simply pray and wait for the Lord. He’ll come…He always does…and He’ll bring strength and courage the likes of which you can’t even imagine! Proverbs says, “trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” (3:5-6) And isn’t that what we’re all hoping to achieve in life, a straight path? Well, sometimes the path can get obstacles that require great strength and courage to overcome. And it’s okay, God is with you. Put your trust in him and He will deliver you!
Abraham, Jacob, Moses, and Samuel all placed their faith and trust in God and He gave them great courage and strength to perform difficult tasks. God isn’t sadistic, He doesn’t want us to suffer just for the sake of suffering. God wants us to grow though. I’ll always remember what the farmers told me once about how crops need a good, strong heat to maximize their yield. We, too, need occasional strong heat to maximize our yield too. We need the occasional difficult task to help us grow in our trust in him. Let us be grateful for the difficult tasks. Let us rejoice that our God not only gives them to us but also gives us the strength and courage to perform them. Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.