2nd Sunday after the Epiphany
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
1 Samuel 3:1-10 Sermon
January 15, 2006
Hymns (from The Service Book and Hymnal):
538 "Lord Speak To Me That I May Speak"
130 "Holy Spirit Truth Divine"
326 "I Love To Tell The Story"
478 "He Leadeth Me, O Blessed Thought"
GOD IS SPEAKING, BUT WHO IS LISTENING?
TEXT (vs. 9-10): “Therefore Eli said to Samuel, ‘Go lie down; and if [the Lord] calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak Lord, for thy servant hears.’’ So Samuel went and lay down in his place. And the Lord came and stood forth, calling as at other times, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’ And Samuel said, ‘Speak, for thy servant hears.’”
Have you ever known of anyone that has made the claim that God has spoken to them? You know, right out of the blue, God actually speaking to them like I’m speaking to you?
I guess that I’ve heard many TV preachers and evangelists rant and rave about how God has told them this and that, and how God wants them to do something, and how God wants his congregation to…you guessed it, to give more money.
One of the biggest names I can think of in this area is a man by the name of Oral Roberts. He was born in 1918, and has been in some type of ministry virtually all of his life. He has this 300 foot “prayer tower” built, where he can go, and he claims that God talks to him there. He reported once that he saw a 900 foot Jesus appear to him, and that his followers needed to send him money to continue to build the “City of Faith Medical and Research Center,” a hospital in Tulsa that would bring together prayer and medical science. It was built, and became one of the tallest hospitals in the world. I guess that 900 foot Jesus must have been confused however, since the hospital was in operation only eight years.
And then in 1987, he said that God told him that if his followers didn’t send him eight million dollars by a certain date, that God was going to take him from this earth—he was going to die. I sort of wished that he wouldn’t have gotten the money to see exactly what would have happened; unfortunately the money came in at just the last minute, and so Oral Roberts seemingly was spared from what he had described as certain death. Hmmm….what does that sound like to you?
Ah yes, the list is lengthy of the people that have had God talk to them. There’s former evangelist Jim Bakker, televangelist and former U. S. Presidential candidate Pat Robertson just to name a few; plus any number of people who occupy pulpits and come over TV and radio all over the world. And do you know what links them all together? They want God to speak directly to them, and they expect it. And then when God is reported to have spoken to them, guess what? God always seems to say exactly what they want him to say. These people with their private revelations never have revelations that contradict what they want. In short, they always control what they want God to say to them.
In our text for this morning, we have another instance of God speaking directly to someone. God speaks to Samuel. But unlike the people such as Oral Roberts of today, God comes to Samuel simply and quite unexpectedly. And Samuel’s response was, “Speak for your servant is listening.” There was no 900 foot Jesus, no threats of death, and no begging for money; just God coming to the boy Samuel. And so on the basis of our text for today, I’d like you to keep in mind that God is indeed speaking, but who’s listening?
As we begin our text for today, there are quite a few interesting things that surround this account of God speaking to Samuel. And so, let’s lay a little groundwork and put this all into its proper perspective.
The time is thought to be somewhere around 1771 BC. There was a man by the name of Elkanah, who was an Ephraimite. Elkanah had two wives, Peninnah and Hannah. Peninnah was able to have children, but Hannah had none. And because of this, Peninnah used to torment Hannah no end, just because she couldn’t have children. Naturally this was very upsetting to Hannah, so she cried and cried and wouldn’t eat properly. Even though her husband Elkanah tried to comfort her, Hannah was still troubled.
Well, every year they went to the tabernacle at Shiloh. Eli was the high priest; and his two sons, Hophni and Phineas were also priests there. One year, Hannah was praying to the Lord, pouring out her misery. She promised that if he would grant her a son, that he would be given over to the service of the Lord for his entire life, and that his hair would never be cut.
Of course the Lord heard Hannah, and she did have a son. That son was Samuel. So as soon as Samuel was weaned (probably not more than a couple years old), he was taken to the tabernacle and given to Eli. She subsequently had an additional three boys and two girls, so the Lord had indeed blessed Hannah.
So now we find this aging priest with this little infant. How he got along with raising him we don’t know, but we do know that God indeed had some marvelous things in store for him.
Normally, one of Eli’s sons would have taken over their father’s office of High Priest when he died; however Eli’s two sons were probably the biggest scoundrels you could imagine. They defiled the people’s offerings in the tabernacle, plus they had sex with the women who served in the tabernacle. Eli warned them of their behaviour, but they wouldn’t listen to him. They just continued to do what was wrong. But even with this, Eli still favored his sons more than he did the Lord. And so a judgment was pronounced upon Eli and his sons.
Samuel however was a righteous lad, and grew in favor with the Lord and men. He learned and he served the Lord under Eli quite well. And so begins our text for today.
History records this incident of God speaking to Samuel happening when Samuel was 12 years old. And here’s where we can put all this together.
Our text says that Eli was almost blind. It is also recorded that Eli was morbidly obese, so he was an exceptionally fat man. He was so fat in fact, that he wound up dying by simply falling off a chair which caused him to break his neck.
Now imagine a 12 year old boy, having to be the nursemaid and servant to an old, fat, blind man. Can you picture it? That job in itself would be grounds for serious complaints from any of us, let alone a 12 year old boy. But Samuel did it; and what’s more, he did it dutifully, obediently, and even joyfully. Where were Eli’s sons now?
Our text for today also indicates that Samuel was prepared. He was prepared to hear the call of his master Eli when he called. And so when God called Samuel, he immediately ran to his master’s side to serve him. This happened three times, and Samuel was always attentive; this was no dream.
The third time that this happened, Eli caught on, and told Samuel that it must be the Lord who has been calling. Eli told Samuel that he should respond to the Lord’s call in the same way that he had been responding to him, and simply say, “Speak Lord; (literally “Speak Jehovah”) for your servant is listening. Samuel was still a bit reluctant to believe that this was indeed God, and the fourth time he heard the call, he simply responded, “Speak for your servant is listening.” He didn’t address the voice as Jehovah, the one true God. But he found out soon enough that the one who had been summoning him was indeed God himself. Samuel had indeed found favor with God, when Eli and his sons had only brought a curse upon themselves. Samuel, in his life of servanthood and dedication, was in fact the chosen one of God, and the one to whom God decided to speak.
So, does God continue to speak to us in the same way he did to Samuel? Our answer to this can be found in Hebrews 1, 1-2: “In the past, God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe.”
In the days of Samuel, our text tells us that the word of the Lord was rare. It didn’t happen much, and it was valued highly when it did come. And so when God spoke to Samuel, he was immediately anointed as a prophet of God.
But now, we have the Word of God right before us. And it is though this Word that God speaks to us. He doesn’t come to us as a 900 foot Jesus, nor do we need to ascend to any “prayer tower.” We aren’t to go searching out some sort of a “charismatic experience” to find the voice of God, for that voice speaks to us loud and clear through the words of Scripture, the timeless word of an ageless and eternal God.
So God indeed speaks to us, all the time. He’s speaking to all of us, loud and clear! God is speaking…but who’s listening? Just how seriously do we take the responsibility of being one of God’s people?
Isn’t it so easy sometimes to look at the Word of God and use it to condemn others, while completely ignoring the parts that condemn us? Isn’t it so easy to say what everybody else should be doing in the name of Christ, and be content to do nothing ourselves? How often do we try to read God’s Word to find a loophole for sin, instead of repentance and forgiveness? Speak O Lord, thy servant heareth…huh! The Lord is speaking all right, but so often we tell him that we can’t be bothered with listening. And on those odd times that we do listen, we’re inclined to answer that we really can’t be bothered following. Yes when we say, “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening,” just how serious are we about REALLY listening and following?
This whole account of Samuel gives a good parallel between the righteous and the unrighteous. The sons of Eli didn’t listen nor were they even interested in doing so. They just kind of went through the motions of the faith, and were intent on defiling it. So they did not find favor with God in any way; instead they brought condemnation upon themselves.
But Samuel was blessed, and he did find favor with God. And how did he do this? It began with subjection. His mother Hannah gave him to the service of the Lord, and from the time he was an infant, he was under subjection to Eli, and ultimately subject to God himself. Samuel was dedicated to be a servant of God, and he lived his life accordingly. And indeed he found favor with God.
Our blessings begin with obedience and subjection as well. For all we need to do is to look at the life of Jesus Christ to know the meaning of it. Christ’s life was that of obedience—perfect obedience. Indeed he found favor with God, and did not disobey once. Certainly that’s a claim that we cannot make ourselves. And then we can look at the life of Christ and see subjection. Even though his obedience was perfect, Christ subjected himself to our punishment by his death on the cross. Samuel’s obedience and subjection can’t even begin to compare with what Christ accomplished on this earth.
Far too often we delude ourselves into thinking that we have the righteousness of Samuel, but in reality we’re much more like the sons of Eli; in fact sometimes much worse. But praise be to God, we can have a righteousness that far surpasses even that of Samuel; we have the righteousness of Christ himself. For that obedience and subjection that Christ endured wasn’t for himself, but rather it was for us.
This is a righteousness that we can only grasp through faith. Simply believe it! When we are subject to the Word of God, and we don’t try to skirt around those sections that are uncomfortable or unsettling to us, we can only see ourselves for the rebellious and unrighteous people that we are. But when we look again, we see God’s love and forgiveness. We see that no matter how good or bad we think we are, we are sinners lumped together in the same boat. We know that God loves and forgives us just the same, no matter how big the sin. And faith is the key to Christ’s righteousness. Work as we might, we can never attain that which is ours by faith alone. Indeed, when we believe in Jesus Christ as our Saviour, then we have found favor in the sight of God.
Speak Lord, for your servant is listening. And that must describe our role as Christians. We are God’s servants. We are to gladly and readily hear the Lord speaking, and gladly do that which he asks us to do. God is speaking, but who is listening? How seriously can we look to God and say, “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening?”
Listening is the first step; however the listening must always be proceeded by following. How serious we are about listening will always show up in how well we follow.
How seriously do we take the work of the church? How seriously do we take our position in the church? How much importance do we place on our involvement? What kind of priority does the church hold for us?
Far too often, we find ourselves placing so many other meaningless priorities ahead of the Lord’s work. When something else comes along, then the church is the first to go. Somebody else will do it. I don’t have time. I can’t. I won’t. I’m too busy with this or that job, but not too busy to sit in front of the TV. I need my sleep on Sunday mornings, unless someone asks me to go hunting or fishing or golfing. I’m too poor to contribute to the work of the church, but not too poor to buy my usual quantity of scratch-it tickets or pull tabs. How serious are we about following? How serious are we about serving?
Samuel found great reward in his life of service. Certainly we may not be called upon to play nursemaid to an old, fat, and blind man. But Samuel did his job well, and so should we. Whatever task we do for the Lord, we need to approach it with a sincere dedication and love for the Lord, and not just go through the motions like the sons of Eli did. Our love for the Lord, who in his love redeemed us and saved us, will show up in our dedication to his work. “Speak Lord for your servant is listening”—ready and willing to do a good job.
So does God speak to us today? You bet he does. We don’t have to rely on a voice out of the blue, or see 900 foot Jesuses, or be hit with a bolt of lightning. In fact, if we were to compile all of these so-called revelations, we would probably have to carry them around in a semi truck; and furthermore we would have the biggest bunch of theological mish-mash you’d ever see.
And for those who claim direct revelation, they will have to reckon with the words of Revelation 22, 18-19: “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.”
Yes, God speaks to us, loud and clear through the words of Scripture. As Luther says, “The Holy Ghost has called me through the Gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, sanctified and kept me in the one true faith…” Therefore, we always need to be listening to the voice of God speaking, not adding or subtracting; but hearing, studying, and being fed from the Word of God. We are to be subject to the Word, living our faith, working actively in God’s kingdom, and saying with Samuel, “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.”