2 Epiphany Proper B2                    
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
1 Samuel 3:1-20 Sermon                                          
January 15, 2012

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Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal):
281 "The Saviour Calls, Let Every Ear"
296 "Speak, O Lord, Thy Servant Heareth"
400 "Take My Life And Let It Be"
47 "Saviour Again To Thy Dear Name We Raise"


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.’” 

            There's a question people have asked me over the years, and I would imagine that some of you might also be wondering about it.  The question is, "How did God call you to become a pastor?" 

            My immediate answer is something to the effect that God worked through the calling body, namely the congregation, and extended a call to me to serve as their pastor.  That's the short and most direct answer.

            Usually however, people are more interested in what it was that led me down the path to study for the ministry and why my life went in that direction.  Did the sky open up and a voice thunder from heaven telling me what to do?  Did God come and visit me in a dream?  Were there signs and omens in the stars?  What was it that happened in my personal life that brought about this outcome?

            I think that people are expecting me to relate some type of fantastic scenario like the Apostle Paul experienced on the road to Damascus when Jesus called him to be an Apostle, or like the Prophet Isaiah experienced with the six winged Seraph.  Or maybe they're thinking along the lines of something more subtle, like the encounter that Jesus had with Nathaniel in our Gospel lesson for today.

            But nothing like that happened, not to me anyway.  When we look at Scripture, 1 Timothy chapter 3, verse 1 is a good place to start.  Paul, in writing to Timothy says:  "The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer [or pastor], he desires a noble task."   

            Personal conviction is involved.  The desire to serve the Lord as a vocation is not something to be considered lightly.  Then there are the personal qualifications listed in the verses following, which include:  "...sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money."  That's not everything listed there, but you get the idea.  And if you think for one minute that any pastor is able to maintain any those qualifications perfectly, then you are in for a surprise.  Pastors are sinful humans like anybody; and lists like this one serve to keep us humble, and continually going to Jesus for forgiveness.

            That's just the initial qualifications.  Then comes the schooling.  Now Paul writes in his second letter to Timothy, chapter 2, verse 15 these words: "Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth."  

            Just having a desire and the prerequisite qualifications aren't enough.  Pastors need to be trained.  And I can tell you from first-hand experience that many who embark on this educational road never finish.  And there can be a multitude of reasons for this.  I think that in many cases, the Lord has his ways of weeding people out along the way. 

            But once a person has met all of the educational qualifications, then he is thoroughly examined by the seminary faculty to see that everything is in order.  Once this happens, then he is eligible for a call. 

            It doesn't sound all that impressive, does it?  But I can tell you that even though there isn't a divine call during this process of preparation, the Lord certainly has his hand in it.  The Lord blesses those who go down the path of preparing for a life in his service. 

            I'm going to leave this for the time being, as we look at our Old Testament lesson for today.  This is the account of God calling Samuel into his service.  It's interesting to see the way God did things in those days in comparison to the way he works today.

            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 two or three 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 with children.

            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 behavior, 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 servant hood 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.  That was Samuel's call into God's service.

            So where does this leave us today?  The Apostle Paul, in speaking to the elders of the Ephesian congregation says in Acts chapter 20, verse 28:            "28 Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood."  This is the work of the Holy Spirit.  So when a congregation calls a pastor, it is the Holy Spirit working through that congregation whereby all this happens.  God actively has his hand working in the entire process.

            There are several things people misunderstand in the whole process.  First is the pastor who says, "I feel God has called me."   And where do these feelings come from?  Did God talk to you and tell you this?  Even though Eli told Samuel God was calling him, Samuel was still a bit dubious about it until he knew for sure it was God's voice he was hearing.  We're still sinful human beings.  So we need to be continually reminded to seek God where he can be found, namely in his Word.  We can trust God's Word; we can't trust our own feelings and emotions.

            Secondly, there is the danger where a congregation looks at itself as an employer and the pastor as an employee, no more than "paid help."  I've seen many congregations that go about the calling process with this attitude.  When that happens, then things are reduced to more of a popularity contest.  People will seek a pastor that will give them what they want, instead of what God knows they need.  Pastors become an expendable commodity, instead of the person God the Holy Spirit has given to them as an overseer.

            Again Paul writes in 2 Timothy chapter 4, verses 1-5 some important words to the pastor:  "I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. 5 As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry."  Pastors who are self-righteous and arrogant need to take these words to heart.

            And to the congregation who calls a pastor, God gives these words of instruction in Hebrews chapter 13, verses 7 and 17: "Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. 17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you."  Congregations that have the reputation for chewing up and spitting out pastors like bubble gum need to take these words to heart.

            God calls his workers for a reason.  He does this because he loves us and cares for us.  Both pastors and congregations have solemn obligations, which God has given for our own good.  Through the Gospel, he calls us, gathers us, enlightens us, and sanctifies us.  He gives us the gift of faith, and we gather together around Word and sacrament.  It's here where we have a relationship with Jesus, and not just some religion where we go through the motions.  God speaks to us through his Word.

            God is calling us, because we're sinners in desperate need of what he has to offer.  Congregations and pastors are both affected by sin.  We need the forgiveness Jesus gives to us freely, by grace alone, through faith alone.  We need a strong relationship with our Saviour.

            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 Jesus, who in his love redeemed us and saved us, will show up in our dedication to his work.

            So irrespective of our particular position, we need to always have the attitude of Samuel who faithfully answered God's call by saying, "Speak Lord, for your servant is listening."