June 27, 2021 – “The Call of Samuel”
I’m so pleased to welcome you to worship with us here at West Tulsa UMC and for those who are taking part online. We gather as a community of faith every Sunday at 11:00 am to celebrate our amazing God and to lift our voices in praise and thanksgiving for what He has done, and is doing, in our lives. We hope that you will find this community one of great welcome to all, that you will join us in our great desire to serve, and to reach out to our brothers and sisters in the love of Jesus Christ.
Today we’re going to be looking at God’s call to Samuel. Kids especially love this passage because they can relate to Samuel as a young boy. Kids also love repetition, and they love the part about God calling Samuel over and over again and Samuel thinking it’s Eli each time. But this is a great passage for adults too. There’s much we can learn from this passage about hearing from God.
You might remember the commercials where the Verizon guy with the glasses and the short black hair walks around checking the strength of the signal on his cell phone. He keeps asking the question, “Can you hear me now? Good!” Obviously, the point of the commercial was to emphasize how good Verizon’s signal strength is when it comes to cell phones.
Well, here’s a question for you. How good is your signal strength when it comes to hearing from God? Do you have an open line of communication with God? Or are there dead spots? If you were to rate your communication with God, how many bars would you give it? Two bars? Three bars? Four bars? None? If God was trying to get through to you, would he be able to say, “Can you hear me now? Good!”
This passage in 1 Samuel marks the transition from a time when Israel was not hearing from God to a time when God’s word came freely to all of Israel. And that difference came about through God’s call of Samuel as a prophet. So, we’ll look at this passage together, and see what we can learn about hearing from God, especially as we look at Samuel and Eli’s place in the story.
Let’s pray: Insistent God, by night and day you summon your slumbering people, so stir us with your voice and enlighten our lives with your grace that we give ourselves fully to Christ’s call to mission and ministry. Amen.
The Calling of Samuel 1 Samuel 3:1-10
Theme: Samuel is caught off guard by the voice of God, but Eli helps him understand.
Key Verses: Then Eli perceived 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.” (1 Samuel 3:8a-10)
I had a revelation after years of watching parents asking their children, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I finally realized they weren’t interested in the answer of their children, they were looking for suggestions for themselves to consider!
Here’s a fact about life: things change. Am I right? As I was at graduation ceremonies this year, and I listened to the plans of the students and their hopes and aspirations. I thought back to when I was in their shoes and I thought of that infamous line, if you want to make God laugh…tell Him your plans. Now I recognize that saying things change, doesn’t really count as a profound statement to most of us here today. But it does represent a significant shift in our thinking that is only gained by living for a while. How did we come to the knowledge that things change? We watch. We listen. We see the plans we have for ourselves undergo a transformation. God steps in. Sometimes the transformation is after a long period of adjustment. Sometimes, it’s almost instantaneous. You know that other old saying, when God closes a door, he opens a window? I used to wonder how God has time for anything since he’s so busy closing doors and opening windows in our lives!
What are you going to do with your life? That’s one of the toughest questions we must ask ourselves and answer. The time when we try to figure “it” out, whatever “it” is. Well, it took me several iterations to get to where I am today. After dropping out of high school, I joined the Air Force at seventeen with my mother’s permission. I spent eleven years in the Air Force as a Master Sergeant with dreams of doing even bigger things than refueling airplanes mid-air. (I realize now I was mostly insane in these dreams, but God has a plan!)
You see, while I was in the service, I vigorously pursued my education, earning first a GED, and then going on to be awarded a bachelor’s degree in occupational education and a master’s degree in human resources development, specializing in adult education. I was going to set the world of education on fire! So, for the next several years, I developed computer and web- based training programs used by Fortune 500 companies to train their employees. I worked with subject matter experts on everything from how to make potato chips at Frito-Lay to how to fly the tilt-rotor CV-22 for the US Air Force Special Operations Pilots. I did well in this, going from being an instructional designer to eventually becoming the operations director of a company with offices across the US, to owning my own development company. But God has a plan!
When 9/11 happened, the market for corporate training virtually disappeared. But that was alright with me, because by the time, God had been whispering in my ear. I felt the need to really learn more about Jesus, so I enrolled in online seminary classes. Little did I suspect at the time, but God was leading me into the ministry as a vocation. As modeled in the Verizon Wireless commercial, God was asking me, “Can you hear me now?” Oh yes Lord! Loud and clear! So, in October of 2002, I joined the ministry as a student pastor, working in a two-point charge during the weekends while attending seminary full-time at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. My ministry had begun.
Have you ever heard that little voice inside your head calling you to change your life’s direction or to take the next big step in life? Sometimes it takes a while for us to be ready to hear God’s calling on our lives. How do you know if that voice you hear is God and not a sign of an impending nervous breakdown? Our reading from Samuel today is going to give us some insight into how Samuel came to understand this process of discernment.
For me, God’s call was gradual, but when I spoke to my pastor at the time about what I was feeling, he confirmed that he thought I was being called into ministry and he helped me understand God’s calling on my life. Sometimes we need a friend, or a mentor, or a pastor, to help us hear that calling.
Today, we’re starting a new sermon series I’m calling God at Work. In the next six-weeks, we’ll be walking through 1 and 2 Samuel to see God’s radical grace at work in unexpected ways. The stories of Samuel’s call, David’s unlikely anointing as king, his victory over Goliath; these are just some of the stories that show us the unexpected ways God is actively working among His people. It’s a challenge to us today to remember that God still works among us—calling us, responding to us, seeing us, leading us, saving us, and uniting us.
That’s what happens to Samuel too. God had been audibly calling out for Samuel, but Samuel didn’t recognize what was going on until the older priest Eli caught on and told Samuel it was the voice of God.
You see, at first, Samuel thought the voice he was hearing was Eli’s. Eli had been Samuel’s trusted mentor for several years, so Samuel would likely feel like it was Eli who most clearly represented God. But of course, we all know, Eli isn’t the voice of God. Nor am I. Like Eli, I’m a person who has studied and listened to God’s voice and the calling of the Holy Spirit. But neither Eli nor I think we replace God’s voice. But even though it took a while for Eli to make the connection, it was Eli who finally helps Samuel understand that the voice he was hearing was the voice of God.
So, Eli gives Samuel some basic instruction in listening to the voice he was hearing. Samuel was to offer himself and all his attention, and then let God do the talking. Maybe this was a form of prayer Samuel just hadn’t yet learned. He was unsure.
“Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.” Eli told Samuel to respond. Something I notice though is that Samuel was already listening and responding – to Eli. Samuel was attentive to those around him, eagerly responding to Eli’s call. Had he not been, both he and Eli would have missed what God was doing in their lives.
Now, I have to admit that the “call of Samuel” in today’s reading really has little to do with pastoral ministry or congregations. Though Samuel was already being apprenticed by Eli to become a priest, in this story, God was calling Samuel to do something else entirely. In this case, God wasn’t even asking for a long-term commitment.
What did God want? God wanted Samuel to listen, and then to speak a challenging word of warning to his mentor. Responding to this first call from God opened Samuel to hearing God calling again many more times in his life and relaying what he heard to others. After years of hearing and responding to God’s callings, Samuel became known as a trustworthy prophet. What would happen if we all did that?
There’s a story of a pastor who answered a knock on the door at the parsonage one morning and found the church treasurer holding a check and scratching her head.
“We’ve got ourselves a little problem here, preacher,” the treasurer said. “I’ve got a check here for five thousand dollars.”
The pastor said, “Well, those are the kind of problems we need around here!”
“You don’t understand,” the treasurer said. “Look at who the check is made out to.” The pastor took the check and read the top line that read, “Pay to the order of God…”
The treasurer asked, “Who’s going to endorse that check?” And the pastor replied
“You are. Would you want word to get around that this church received an offering intended for God and we didn’t know what to do with it?”
The awesome responsibility of representing God rests squarely upon our individual and the church’s collective shoulders. And responding to God’s call, whether we experience it comes as a blinding epiphany or a nudging through something we’ve heard or read, a response. God calls each of us; individually and collectively. Whether it is to our life’s vocation or to a new thing God has for us to do, God calls.
Sometimes, however, God’s voice can be hard to discern among the noise of our modern world. It seems like we’re constantly being barraged by messages and the world seems so much noisier than in times past. But the noises that keep us from hearing God’s voice aren’t only from the outside world. Sometimes that noise comes from within. We hear the words, but we harden our hearts to our beliefs or to our interpretation to the point that we block any message that doesn’t square with it. We seem to live in little echo chambers. Have you ever thought you might be wrong? I do every time I get up to preach. I know there are other voices
and I try to be faithful, and I acknowledge I can be wrong. Even Samuel had to acknowledge he was wrong when he kept thinking it was Eli who was calling him. Those words often haunt me…but what if you’re wrong?
The good news is that there are Elis to each of our Samuels. They’re out there listening with us and helping us to hear. Eli counseled Samuel to be still and simply listen. When Samuel was still and listened, God’s voice was able to penetrate his being and created a new prophet. But this only happens when we become centered on being; not doing. See we’re not human doings, are we? We’re human beings. By just allowing ourselves to be, rather than non-stop doing, we can listen for God’s call. We can discern, individually and collectively, the ways God is moving in our midst. Because make no mistake. The Spirit of God is an active force in our world today.
Christ calls us so many times and in so many ways. But there’s one way in which he, at one time, called each of us. That’s when we declared our faith and became members of Christ’s church. We said that we were willing to serve him with our prayers, presence, gifts, services, and witness. When we did that, we became those disciples of Jesus Christ, as we say in the United Methodist Church, for the transformation of the world.
You see, if there’s one thing that our faith believes in, it’s that God isn’t going to let things remain as they are. Sin and evil won’t be allowed to shape our world forever. The kingdom of God, coming in its fullness, changes everything. But now, even before that, God calls us to alter our attitudes and passions. There’s a reason that accepting Christ is called “conversion”; to convert means “to change.”
Even though, in times like these, it may appear that the Word of God is rare in our midst, make no mistake. God isn’t silent. God is constantly speaking, constantly creating, constantly calling. And one night, when you’re minding your own business, watching TV, reading a book, or surfing the web; or maybe you’ll be like me, and one Sunday when you’re in church, just going through the motions, there’s a voice. You hear your name, you recognize the voice, and you realize that change is coming. And when it does, your world will never be the same again.
Now, if you don’t want to risk change, church might not be a place you want to hang around too much. And you sure don’t want your children hanging out at church, because if they do, someday THEY might just hear the voice of the Lord. Then what will you do? Will you try to discourage them and offer to get them some psychiatric help? Or will you tell them, as Eli eventually told Samuel, “The next time you hear that voice, you answer back, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening’.”?
A while back, Bishop Will Willimon, while he was still Dean of the Chapel at Duke University, got a call from an upset parent, a VERY upset parent. “I hold you personally responsible for this.” the man said.
“Me?” he asked.
The father was hot! He was upset because his daughter, who had been bound for graduate school, had just informed him that she was going to “throw it all away” and go do mission work in Haiti. “Isn’t that absurd!” shouted the father. “A BS degree in mechanical engineering from Duke University and she’s going to dig ditches in Haiti.”
Will Willimon thought for a moment and then replied, “Well, I doubt that she’s received much training in the Engineering Department here for that kind of work, but she’s probably a fast learner and will probably get the hang of ditch-digging in a few months.”
“Look,” said the father, “this is no laughing matter. You are completely irresponsible to have encouraged her to do this. I hold you personally responsible,” he said.
As the conversation went on and on, Willimon pointed out that the well-meaning but obviously unprepared parents were the ones who had started this ball rolling. THEY were the ones who had her baptized. They were the ones who read Bible stories to her. They were the ones who took her to Sunday School and let her hang out with the youth group at church.
Will said, “You’re the one who introduced her to Jesus, not me.”
“But all we ever wanted her to be was a Methodist,” said the father, meekly. Hmm.
Dr. Willimon later wrote, “Some of you have heard my theory of church design: I think the reason why we pad our pews, and bolt the furniture down to the floor, print up the service in a bulletin, and carefully, deliberately plod through the prescribed acts of worship is due to an inner fear. We tie everything down, we make church so predictable, so settled and fixed because, in our collective memories, we remember these stories…of ordinary people who’ve heard their names called. We know that the temple, and even this little church right here can be a risky, dangerous place, what with the living God roaming in our midst.”
God’s calling us today. Are we listening? And perhaps just as importantly, are we going to return God’s call or simply let it go to voicemail?
In the name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Let us prayer: Father God, you speak in unexpected places, and with unexpected voices. And we aren’t always sure how to listen. We aren’t always sure to whom we should listen. We aren’t always sure if we’re really hearing you. Be blunt with us Lord, please. Be clear. Give us the challenge of loving you, of loving the other, of loving ourselves. And help us to live it out! Because you are God who loves us all, even when we don’t know where to turn. In Jesus’ name we ask it, remembering the prayer he taught his disciples, saying:
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name; thy kingdom come; thy will be done on
earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses as we
forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen.
The Lord Calls Samuel
3 The boy Samuel ministered before the Lord under Eli. In those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions.
2 One night Eli, whose eyes were becoming so weak that he could barely see, was lying down in his usual place. 3 The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the house of the Lord, where the ark of God was. 4 Then the Lord called Samuel.
Samuel answered, “Here I am.” 5 And he ran to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”
But Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.” So he went and lay down.
6 Again the Lord called, “Samuel!” And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”
“My son,” Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.”
7 Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord: The word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.
8 A third time the Lord called, “Samuel!” And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”
Then Eli realized that the Lord was calling the boy. 9 So Eli told Samuel, “Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.
10 The Lord came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!”
Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”