A Sermon preached by the
Rev. Randle R. (Rick) Mixon
First Baptist Church, Palo Alto, CA
Sunday, January 14, 2018
Text: 1 Samuel 3:1-11
1Now the boy Samuel was ministering to God under Eli. The word of God was rare in those days; visions were not widespread. 2At 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 God, where the ark of the Holy One was. 4Then God 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.6God 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 God, and the word of God had not yet been revealed to him. 8God 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 God was calling the boy. 9Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down; and if the Voice calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Holy One, for your servant is listening.’” So, Samuel went and lay down in his place. 10Now God came and stood there, calling as before, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”
11Then God said to Samuel, “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make both ears of anyone who hears of it tingle.”
“Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.” Martin Luther King, Jr.
“Hush, hush…somebody’s calling my name. Oh, my Lord…oh, my Lord, what shall I do?” Who knows if the young Samuel sang some version of this song on that night so long ago when he heard somebody calling his name. Let’s say he was about twelve years old, living in the temple at Shiloh with the old priest, Eli. Who else could be calling his name in the early hours of the morning? “Samuel. Samuel.”
Let’s set the scene a little. Remember Hannah was barren until she made a deal with God that if God would give her a child, she would dedicate the child to God’s service? That child was Samuel. Now we find him attending the High Priest, Eli. Though, not of the priestly tribe of Levi, Samuel is certainly in some way being trained to serve God. But, the text says, he is young enough that he “did not yet know God, and the word of God had not yet been revealed to him.” I suppose some children are preternaturally wise. They are born with a special connection to the Holy that does not reflect their age. Apparently, Samuel was not one of those. Like most of us, Samuel was growing into his understanding of God and of the work before him. Roger Nam writes that, while it is true that “The Lord was with Samuel…somehow, this divine appointment did not at all diminish the totality of the human experience. In 1 Samuel 3, Samuel undergoes eagerness, confusion, maturity, growth, realization, knowledge, panic, and affirmation” (Roger Nam, Commentary on 1 Samuel 3:1-10, (11-20), January 18, 2015, workingpreacher.org).
Think back to the time when you were an early teen. No matter how eager a learner you might have been, I’ll bet you know more now than you did then. And that is especially true of our growth in faith and service. Like Samuel, we may have known something about God, but did we know God, had the Word of God been revealed to us? Truth be told, how well do we know God now, how deeply have we immersed ourselves in the Living Word of God? The season we just celebrated, in which the Word becomes flesh and dwells among us, full of grace and truth, may be another significant way God calls us, if we have ears to hear and eyes to see. Once more the heavenly voice asks, “Can you hear me now? Did you get the Word this time?”
“Samuel. Samuel.” “Hush, somebody’s calling my name. Oh Lord, what shall I do? If it’s not Eli, who can it be? But it must be Eli. There’s no one else here this time of night.” Three times the ritual is repeated – the call in early dawn; the boy padding into Eli’s chamber, “Here I am, for you called me;” the old priest’s response, “I did not call, my son; lie down again.” Maybe it’s no coincidence that the text says that “the lamp of God had not yet gone out in the temple,” for, in spite of his failing vision, the light finally dawns on Eli. He perceives that is God who is calling the boy. “Go, lie down; and if the Voice calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Holy One, for your servant is listening.’”
Now, it may important for us to understand the graciousness of Eli’s action here. To understand better the context, you need to know that Eli is under God’s judgment. He has not been an exceptional High Priest and his own sons have grossly and willfully violated the laws of God. In truth, God is about to wipe out the house of Eli and replace him with Samuel. Eli is aware of this, aware of his failures and the failure of his sons. He could refuse to share his insight with Samuel. He could make it really difficult for the boy. But in a kind of final gesture of grace and courage, he acts against his own self-interest to fulfill God’s purposes for Samuel and for the people of Israel. The case is closed for him and his family. In an act of self-giving love, he guides the boy into the future God has for him. “Can you hear God now, Samuel? Oh, how I hope you will indeed hear again the call and will respond, ‘Speak, Holy One, for your servant is listening.’”
My heart goes out to old Eli for the way he rises to the occasion, for his one last grand offering of faithfulness. He can’t make everything right, can’t redeem the past, but he can do this one thing and he does it well. Sure enough, that’s just how it plays out. God calls a fourth time and Samuel responds, ‘Speak, Holy One, for your servant is listening.’” “Can you hear me now, Samuel? I have something to tell you. See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make both ears of anyone who hears of it tingle.”
Well, there’s a word for the lad! What do you do with that proclamation? On the one hand, it sounds kind of exciting; on the other, it’s not exactly clear what God has in mind, which is pretty terrifying. We stop the reading here because it gives us the freedom to wonder what it is that God has mind. In fact, in the text God goes on to tell Samuel how he’s going to destroy the house of Eli for its wickedness and how he’s counting on Samuel to bring about a new day in Israel. That morning, Eli asks Samuel to share with him what God has told the boy. Samuel resists, but Eli insists, even though he must have been fearful of what he would hear. Finally, Samuel complies and tells all with fear and trembling. Eli responds, no doubt with resignation and a heavy heart, “It is the Holy One; let God do what seems good to God” (1 Samuel 3:18). Heavy stuff, as well, for a young boy. There may even be a moment when he wishes that he still didn’t know God or hadn’t heard God’s Word. But that’s not an option for this boy dedicated to God and God’s service.
So, what do we do with this ancient word? If we put ourselves in Samuel’s place, can we hear God calling us, calling us by name? Will we be still long enough, will we listen deeply enough, will we open our ears and hearts wide enough to hear the inevitable voice calling each of us to involvement in the building up of God’s Beloved Community? “Hush, hush…somebody’s calling your name. Oh, Lord, what will you do?” If you listen, will you hear? If you hear, will you respond? If you respond, what will you be called on to do?
Interestingly enough, Beth Tanner writes, “Most people who speak of their call do not describe a major disruption in their lives. There are few Damascus Road experiences. Instead,” she continues, “they speak of a quiet, slow awakening to something, be that a life of a particular office in the church, an injustice that needs to be addressed, or a task that needs attention. Like Samuel, they often tell of a period of uncertainty about exactly what and why God is calling them. In addition,” she notes, “Samuel needed Eli to help him understand his call. It often takes others in our lives to aid us in understanding the call that God places before us. Part of our community of faith is to aid each other to see and live out our individual callings from God” (Beth Tanner, “Commentary on 1 Samuel 3:1-21, October 13, 2013,” working preacher.org).
Then, if God calls and we do hear and we listen for the Word, what Word might come to us and how might it challenge us? It’s probably too cheap a trick to change verse eleven so it reads, “See, I am about to do something in the United States of America that will make both ears of anyone who hears of it tingle.” But there is something in me that wants to do that, to risk hearing God’s judgment on our country today, for surely some word of condemnation is due. This week our leadership has sunk to a depth I never imagined I would see in my lifetime. There must be a word from the Holy One that is relevant for the mess in which we find ourselves. There must be consequences for the words and deeds that drag us daily into the mire. Something needs to make our ears tingle. “Can you hear God now, the God who calls us to knowledge and fulfillment of the sacred Word?”
From one perspective, Callie Plunket-Brewton writes, “There are many voices competing for our attention and [we might argue] how many of us can say that we really know God well enough to recognize a word as being from God or someone else?” Still, she responds, “There is one thing we can know…The overwhelming witness of the prophets is that God has no tolerance for those who prey on the weak, who abuse their power, or who eat their fill while others are hungry. Perhaps the difficulty of this message is how easily it can apply to us. Are we in the position,” she asks, “of Eli or, worse, his sons, eating our fill and denying both God and our neighbors their share?” (Callie Plunket-Brewton, “Commentary on 1 Samuel 3:1-10, (11-21), January 15, 2012,” workingpreacher.org).
Hush, hush. Somebody’s calling my name. Somebody’s calling your name. “Can you hear me now? Can you see my Beloved Community glimmering on the horizon? Will you come and follow me if I but call your name?” May it be so. Amen.