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. The Lord continued to appear at Shiloh, for the Lord revealed himself to Samuel at Shiloh by the word of the Lord. 1 Samuel 3:1-21 (NRSV)
Grace and peace to you from God--our Creator, our Redeemer, and our Renewer. Amen.
As we begin today’s story--the calling of Samuel--we have fast forwarded in history from our lesson last week. There’s been some serious time travel across the books of Exodus, Joshua and Judges.
When we last gathered together, we were following the exodus of Israel out of slavery in Egypt into wandering in the desert. After freeing Israel, God reconstructed them in the Sinai wilderness. It was here that God entered into covenant with Israel--that they would be God’s own special people. Under this agreement, God promised to be their God if they would follow the Instruction given to Moses--the law that Moses had received from God on Mount Sinai. Israel was a people governed directly by God through Moses, who acted as mediator. They were a people blessed by God. Blessed so that they could be a blessing to others.
After a generation of moving through the wilderness, they reached the land promised to them by God. The land of Canaan. It is here, at the point of entry into this Promised Land, that Moses dies. It is here that Joshua steps in as Moses’ successor, as the new leader of and mediator for Israel. Throughout the book of Joshua, we learn of Israel’s entry and settlement in Canaan. The story ends with yet another renewal of the covenant between God and Israel. It also ends with Joshua’s death.
The book of Judges, in picking up the story of Israel--of God’s people--deals with two questions. How will Israel now conduct its affairs as the people of God who are settled in their God-given home? And, how will Israel be governed now that there is no Moses or Joshua to exercise leadership?
It is not long in Canaan, before it all begins to fall apart. Before people go astray. That they are conquered by a nearby nation. Then, they cry out, as we have so often heard them do before. And, God, faithful always, responds.
In response, God sends in a prophet-judge, who assists in bringing God’s people back to faith. Back into covenant with God. This pattern repeats itself over and over and over again through the book of Judges. Judge after judge. Othniel, Ehud, Shamgar, Deborah, Barak, Jael. Then, finally, Samuel.
Which is where we begin today.
As our lesson opens in 1st Samuel, chapter 3, Samuel is a young child, serving the priest, Eli, in the tabernacle at Shiloh, the tabernacle that had been established at Shiloh by Joshua. During the period of the judges, Shiloh has become the center of religious life for Israel.
The tabernacle housed the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark was essentially a chest that contained various things. The tablets of the Law and the staff of Aaron, brother of Moses, among other things. It was kind of like a portable power center for Israel. It signified God’s presence, even an intensification of God’s presence for Israel. It was the most treasured object that Israel had--a sign of the presence of God.
It was here, at the tabernacle, that Eli was the priest. His two sons were also ordained, as well. In the earlier chapters of 1st Samuel, we have learned that Eli’s sons have not been faithful. They’re kind of stereotypical PK’s--pastor’s kids. In fact, Eli’s two sons have become corrupt. They are stealing from the offering plate. As called and ordained priests, they are sinning directly against God, by stealing from the treasury. The opening verse of our lesson today reads that the Lord’s word was rare at that time and visions weren’t widely known. One can only wonder whether it was the conduct of the clergy that was obscuring the ability of God’s own people to hear or to experience the living Word of God. That the institution was getting in the way of hearing God.
And, so, God plans to do a new thing.
This new thing is Samuel. It is into the midst of this corrupt institution that Samuel enters in. Samuel, a young child, given up in service to God by Hannah, his mother. This child, Hannah’s first fruit offering back to the Lord, serves Eli, the temple priest.
In the early verses of our story, Samel is obediently resting beside the Ark. As he sleeps, he hears his name called. “Samuel! Samuel!”
“Here I am!” Samuel replies. Heneni, in Hebrew. We’re heard this response before haven’t we? Abraham. Jacob. All of them responding to God’s call with the words, “Here I am.” Heneni.
But, Samuel is young. He has never before experienced the word of the Lord. He thinks that it is Eli who is calling him. And, at this point, Eli, himself, doesn’t even recognize that it is God who is calling Samuel--Eli, so disconnected from God, fails to realize at first that it is God who is calling Samuel.
This happens two more times. Finally, the third time, it dawns on Eli who is calling Samuel. And, so, Eli instructs Samuel how to respond.
So, the fourth time, when God calls Samuel, he knows how to respond and he does. God, then, speaks to Samuel and calls him to become truth-teller to Eli. To confront Eli with the truth of the patterns that are abusive within his own family and all those whom they touch.
You see, God is not content to let things be. God is unwilling to allow patterns of corruption and abuse to remain concealed and to be perpetuated from generation to generation. This is one of God’s primary purposes for enlisting Samuel as judge and prophet. To be truth-teller.
It is also God’s purpose for Samuel to lead God’s people through the coming crisis, the coming threat of the neighboring Philistines--a military crisis through which the priestly house of Eli will be punished and the Ark of the Covenant eventually lost.
Samuel will be the last of the judges. He will guide Israel through crisis, will bring them back to repentance, and will bring about, through God’s power, their deliverance and the return of the Ark of the Covenant.
God calls Samuel. And God equips Samuel to do God’s work.
In the same way God calls each of us. And God equips each of us to do God’s work. Each of us has a calling. In fact, each of us has multiple callings, multiple vocations. Vocations that are both paid and unpaid. Worker. Neighbor. Sibling. Child. Parent. Grandparent.
Luther wrote extensively on the topic of vocation. It is at the heart of our Lutheran tradition. About how each of us has been freed from the guilt and shame of our own brokenness through the saving power of Christ on the cross. And about how, then, each of us is freed to live into our baptisms and to live out our baptismal callings, in our personal lives and in the life of our community, here and out there.
How are we living into our callings? How are we living more fully into who God intends us to be so that, as we are blessed, we might be a blessing to others?
On this day when we are, in particular, lifting up the calling--the vocation--of farmers, I’m reminded of my own father, who was a farmer. A rancher-farmer. On our ranch in north central South Dakota, we raised sheep and cattle. We averaged 1,000 head of sheep and 400 head of cattle. We raised 1,200 acres of alfalfa as feed.
Now, my father could have been content to live comfortably on the income provided from our ranch. Yet, he understood that it wasn’t simply about his comfort. He understood that through his vocation as farmer he was to serve God and to bless others with the blessings God had bestowed on him.
It was not unusual for my father to be daily helping out our neighbors. To give the elderly couple living north of us several orphaned lambs that they could raise and sell to supplement their fixed income. Or to help out a neighboring farmer in a harvest. Or, even, to give rides in the middle of the night to the Native Americans who were walking the 60 miles between reservations and, who often stopped at our farm along the way, to ask if they might sleep overnight in our barn.
My father was not a perfect person. He sometimes had a temper that could get out of control. On occasion, he could get himself into trouble, particularly with my mother. But, I think he understood that, in his vocation as farmer, he was called upon to share the blessings God had given him. To live out the forgiveness and grace he had received as a gift from God through Christ in his own life by serving others.
Do you hear God calling you? Do you hear God calling you to be the blessing God has called you to be? In whatever vocations you have? To live more fully into your baptismal covenant as a child of God? Are you listening?
And, then, are you responding? And, how are you responding? As farmer? As son? As daughter? As grandparent? As parent? Perhaps it is as simple as sitting down with your child or your grandchild and simply listening to them for fifteen minutes. Listening, without telling them what they have done wrong or what they should or shouldn’t do. Just being present with them, hearing them. And being the blessing for them that God intends us to be.
How will you live out your call today? And tomorrow? And into the future? God has called and equipped each of us. May we be as faithful with our call as young Samuel. May we be a blessing to others as richly as God has blessed us. Amen.
Preached October 14, 2017 at Grace & Glory Lutheran Church, Goshen, KY.
19th Sunday after Pentecost
Readings: 1 Samuel 3:1-21, John 20:21-23.