1 Samuel 3:1-11, 15-20 (NRSV)
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.
2 At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room;3the 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.4Then the Lord called, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’* and he said, ‘Here I am!’5and 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.6The 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.’7Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.8The 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.9Therefore 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.
10 Now the Lord came and stood there, calling as before, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’ And Samuel said, ‘Speak, for your servant is listening.’11Then 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.
15 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.16But Eli called Samuel and said, ‘Samuel, my son.’ He said, ‘Here I am.’17Eli 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.’18So Samuel told him everything and hid nothing from him. Then he said, ‘It is the Lord; let him do what seems good to him.’
19 As Samuel grew up, the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground.20And all Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was a trustworthy prophet of the Lord.
Sermon Queen Anne Christian Church
January 15, 2012
The experts have many wonderful insights about this particular story of Samuel, how he represents new life in a troubled community and a trustworthy and faithful servant of God. They say he and Eli model how we, as followers of God, should receive God’s message: to speak it out, never hide the word, and accept that Gods plan is good.
But as I read this scripture over and over again, something else kept tugging at my heart.
Now, I respect the theological wisdom of the scholars, but, I am going to go with what lies on my heart and maybe at the same time you and I will get to know each other just a little better. This small part of the bigger story is about God calling to Samuel and confiding in him, not sending him out, actually God does not tell him to do anything, … God just wanted to talk.
That I think is a significant moment in history, God needed someone God could trust to tell of the plans for Israel. And little Samuel was in the perfect place, can’t you just picture him: asleep next to the Ark of the Covenant, with his small arm cradling his head, safe in the presence of God. What a sweet, sweet image. Yet Samuel will not stay that small innocent child for long and God knows it. So God calls Samuel and begins to get to know the person who will become God’s priest, and the kingmaker of Israel.
Now I am not, nor will I ever be, in the same league as Samuel and probably you all would say the same thing, but God does wants to get to know us. That means God wants to know everyone from the littlest ones, to the teenagers, and all the way up to us adults, all of us. Sometimes God calls do not to give us a task to do, but to tell us God loves us. And, sometimes God calls us home, to rest our weary spirits in the arms of the Divine Creator.
But this story also reminds me of the times, when like Samuel, I heard God’s voice and didn’t understand, when I ignored the call or when I simply said go away and don’t bother me. Haven’t we all done that at some time or other?
Sometimes it’s because we are busy with our lives, sometimes it’s because we just don’t want to hear, and sometimes it’s because we don’t understand that it’s God calling.
God had to call Samuel three times before Eli was awake enough to understand what was happening and help Samuel respond to God. And, like Samuel we often need another person to help us interpret what God is trying to do tell us. I now recognize there have been many people in my life who have spoken words that helped me recognize God’s voice, especially in times when I seemed to have the hardest time hearing anything. I can’t speak for anyone else; I can’t tell anyone else’s story of their call.
But, I can tell you a very small part of my greater story I know it’s not exactly like Samuels but then I’m not Samuel. Your story when you tell it won’t be like mine or Samuel’s and that’s the beauty of the world of stories every story is different, every story adds a new pixel to the great web page of life. So if you will allow me I would honestly like to tell just a small part of my story of how God called me.
It all began eight years ago when I had a gut feeling (i.e. God knocking on my heart), I needed to follow a path towards a more spiritual life and to share that experience with others. I actually followed that call and received training and a certification as a Labyrinth Facilitator. I discovered I loved leading labyrinth worship services, walks and retreats, it provided me with a way of sharing my love for the Divine, God, and Creator in all of Gods manifestations.
But, every time I held one someone would say I needed to go and receive further training, I however, kept saying “nooooo, this is enough, I’m have a good time, and I don’t need anything else, besides I’m too old and not smart enough to go back to school.”
Ah, but then I was about to turn 60 and I decided to hold a special transformative service on the labyrinth instead of a birthday party. So in the year I spent planning the service I did a lot of thinking, and I thought, and I thought. I talked to God. I spent time on our back deck watching the ships travel up and down the sound, I listened to friends, and family and finally said “OK, I will give this graduate school thing a try.” I would pursue a degree in the Masters of Arts in Transformative Spirituality (called MATS), which I thought would be useful in my growing labyrinth ministry. I wasn’t going to do anything fancy, just expand my own understanding and knowledge base.
God though was still calling and I still didn’t understand.
Five years ago when I began attending Seattle University I was excited to be learning all kinds of things, new ways to read scripture, learning philosophy, and biblical history, but those darn pesky instructors refused to acknowledge I was only in the MATS program. Every time I talked with one of them they’d ask “you’re in the MDiv program aren’t you,” and when I’d say no “I’m MATS,” they’d say “wrong program.” I kept telling God I didn’t want to be ordained, I was too old, I wanted to do other things, John and I wanted to do other things, didn’t matter, the questions kept coming.
Finally after 2 years of questions, I spoke with my advisor and she told me to really sit down and be still, to listen with my heart instead of my mind. Essentially she gave me the advice Eli gave to Samuel “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.” Well the rest is history; John and I, together, are off on this madcap journey that we have no idea where it’s leading us. And just as Samuel was told by Eli that he needed to tell all and not hide anything, I am learning to do the same. I am also learning to accept that God’s plans are good even if I don’t know what they are. So I guess I’m a little like Samuel as I continue to grow up.
It took a whole lot of people holding the phone and saying “God Calling” before I understood that I needed to sit down and listen, not chatter, not ask for help, not even offer prayers, JUST LISTEN to what was being spoken in my heart, and just like Samuel I’ve spent a few sleepless nights wondering what John or Laurie might think.
Now there is one lesson I’ve learned in the last five years and that is …
“God does not have a retirement plan.”
In case you hadn’t noticed Noah was 600 years old when he built the ark, Sara gave birth to Isaac in her 80’s or 90’s and when Abraham was 100, and Elizabeth was past her childbearing years when John was born, I’m just glad God only wants me ordained.
So, God can call anytime and anyone, God might have called Samuel and David as children but obviously God picks anyone who fits the bill. This story of Samuel is only one part of a larger story and my story is only part of my larger story in fact, both stories are part of the same story of God’s relationship with us humans and all of the of today’s stories will continue far into the future, just with new characters and new adventures and you are all part of that story.
You too have stories to tell of your calls by God, many I’m sure are more exciting than mine or Samuels. Some will be to a call to pastoral ministry, other calls will be to other roles God wants you to play; teacher, salesman, airplane engineer, mother, housewife, lawyer, writer, so many roles, so many opportunities to be a trustworthy servant and partner with God. God called Samuel as a child, and maybe he does represent new life for a troubled community, I happen to think our young people are nicely filling the role of new life in our community.
But Samuel doesn’t really serve God until he is older and wiser, so, my thought is that God wants us to be more than just children, yes we always will be children to our parents, but God also wants us to grow up and be co-partners, co-creators of a our lives, communities, world, and universe and we can’t do that until we learn to listen when God speaks.
When God called Samuel he didn’t tell him to do anything, except listen, to sit and hear God’s voice. How can we be trustworthy prophets, healers, advocates if we don’t HEAR the voice of God? Once we hear that voice we are given the choice of working with or turning our backs on God, that’s called free will.
But, in the last nearly 65 years I’ve learned God is very, very, persistent and doesn’t give up on anyone. If you are needed to work with God, God will call back, day after day after day. If the line is busy God will call again, if you don’t answer God will call again, and if you can’t understand the language God speaks God gets you an interpreter.
Where are you being called, is your line busy, are you home to answer the phone. Are you so busy texting you don’t bother to pick up on God’s message, or do you need an interpreter, well don’t worry, God will figure it out and you may choose one way or other. However I pray you will respond with life rather than death and so I offer this final prayer to share with you.
Lord, you call to me, “(I invite each of you to please speak your name)!” May my answer be, “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.” Amen
Ruth Jewell, ©January 15, 2012