January 18 2015 Sermon
I Samuel 3:1-10
1 Samuel 3:1 aNow the boy Samuel was ministering to the LORD in the presence of Eli. bAnd the word of the LORD was rare in those days; there was no frequent vision. 2 At that time Eli, awhose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his own place. 3 aThe lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down bin the temple of the LORD, where the ark of God was. 4 Then the LORD called Samuel, and he said, “Here I am!” 5 and 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. 6 And the LORD called again, “Samuel!” and Samuel arose 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.” 7 Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD, and the word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him. 8 And the LORD called Samuel again the third time. And he arose and went to Eli and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli perceived that the LORD was calling the boy. 9 Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down, and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, LORD, for your servant hears.'” So Samuel went and lay down in his place. 10 And the LORD came and stood, calling as at other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant hears.”
Four hundred years after Moses led God’s people to the Promised Land, the Lord called Samuel to anoint Saul king and then David. Samuel was God’s power behind their thrones. Already with his birth, we learn that Samuel was a gift straight from God. When he was only age 3, his grateful mother, Hannah, gave Samuel back to God. He grew up with the Lord’s priest Eli, serving at the Lord’s tabernacle.
The boy Samuel, now twelve or so, helps Eli, about eighty and nearly blind. And what a surprise! By name, Samuel clearly hears the Lord calling to him. Would you not love to hear the Lord’s own voice personally calling to you?
This Samuel story stands as a touching tale of trust. Samuel shows himself to be the obedient son that Eli’s own sons were not. His bond with Eli is based not on family line but on shared faith, shared service to the Lord.
But today we hear God’s clear call to Samuel. By name, no less, he calls: “Samuel! Samuel!” I want to hear God’s call so loud and clear. Don’t you?
In years past, people spoke of their life’s work as their “calling.” Today, some use the Latin-rooted term “vocation.” Your “calling,” your “vocation,” reveals your life’s purpose. It gives you definite direction. Yes, God does call to us! Listen! Do you hear? Where will God call to us? How will he call? What will he call us to do?
Where will the Lord call to us? Wherever he pleases! He could call to us in some place crowded with unbelievers. Abraham, father of all the faithful, was with the moon worshipers in Syria. Or God could call to us in some deserted wasteland. Moses was alone shepherding his flock at desolate Mount Sinai when God called him. In today’s Gospel, Nathanael had been under the fig tree when he came to hear the Lord’s voice. The Lord will call to us wherever, whenever he knows best.
But we can expect much more. Where has the Lord promised to call to us? Same as for Samuel, the Lord has promised to call to us right here in his holy house.
The text says, “Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord in the presence of Eli” (v 1a). Samuel was right there at God’s tabernacle, the Lord’s worship home. “And the word of the Lord was rare in those days; there was no frequent vision” (v 1b). Did God have nothing to say? Or was he opening the ears of a new servant?
“At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his own place” (v 2). The lamp of God had not yet gone out” (vv 2b–3a). Against the darkness, the Lord always continues shining!
“Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was” (v 3b). See this! Where will the Lord call to you? God speaks to us from his house.
Late, late that night, as Samuel sleeps, the calling wakes him. “Here I am,” he answers. He runs to Eli. “You called.” “I did not call you. Go back to bed.” So Samuel goes back, lies down.
Again comes the call. “Samuel.” Again he gets up and dashes to his mentor. “Here I am. You called me.” Again the old man pries open his dim eyes. But he’s not cranky at the boy. “I did not call, my son. Back to bed.” “Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him” (v 7). Samuel had been learning Moses’ Scripture. But until now, he had not personally experienced God’s direct calling.
“Samuel,” comes the call the third time. The lad rises and goes to Eli. “Here I am. You did call me.”
At last it dawns on the high priest. Who was this calling for Samuel? Samuel has been sleeping in the courtyard, by the Lord’s tabernacle tent. Could the voice be coming from the very ark of God? The throne of the Lord! Into that gold-plated box, four hundred years before, Moses had placed the twin stone tablets of the Ten Commandments. Every year since, on the one Day of Atonement, the lone high priest had poured over the ark the warm blood of the sacrificed lamb. Just so, God’s mercy covers his justice.
Where has God promised to speak to us? Where but in his holy house? “Where two or three are gathered” in his name (Mt 18:20), there God has promised to call to his faithful people.
Eli tells the boy, “Go, lie down, Samuel. And when next he calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant hears.’?”
What a prayer for you and me today! Lord, you have gathered us here in your name. Open our ears to hear you speaking, to listen to your words calling to us. Speak, Lord, for your servant hears.
So Samuel goes back to lie down. At the Lord’s worship home, he restfully waits for the Lord’s word.
How will the Lord call to us here? To Abraham he called in some vision (Gen 15:1). To Moses he called from the strange burning bush. To Nathanael he came as the stranger from nowhere Nazareth.
But we can count on much more than that. How has he promised to call? Same as for Samuel, the Lord has promised to call to us in his own person!
The fourth time, Samuel did not simply hear the Lord’s voice. It says, “The Lord came and stood” there calling, “Samuel! Samuel!” (v 10a). The almighty Lord, he who had promised to be present with his people invisibly. He, who hovered enthroned above the ark of the covenant. For Samuel, he wraps himself in some human form. He “stands there” to call the boy!
Has not God promised to do even more for you! Not just for the moment, so that you might hear his call. God’s Word actually “became flesh and dwelt among us.” “The Word was made flesh. He tabernacled, he tented, among us!” (cf. Jn 1:14).
This same Jesus—he who showed himself to Samuel, who was born our Brother, who called Nathanael. He who promises to be here where two or three gather in his name. For us, he will come, stand here with us.
And Jesus’ standing with us is every bit as real as he was with Samuel that night. Truth is, we today understand far more clearly why he stood with Samuel—and with us. The Lord didn’t come to Samuel because he was any less sinful than Eli. He came because the sins of Eli and Samuel have been taken away. Christ Jesus came to stand in for us under the punishment of all sin. That was the cross.
So now we await the last call!
Can’t you wait? You don’t have to! Already today, in this house, he’s promised to speak to us. How? By his Book. By his Word proclaimed even from this pulpit. His Word here is for all.
You want him to call you by name? Already today, in this house, he’s promised to name you. How? By his water. He calls, I baptize you. By the power of my name, Father, Son, Holy Spirit.”
But you want him to be here for you today? Already this day, in this house, he has promised. By his bread, his wine, he calls! “This is my body, this my blood, for you!”
If you don’t hear the Lord’s call to you, it’s not as if he’s gone mute. His voice is an open Book! If you don’t hear the Lord’s call to you, you have gone deaf to his Word.
That’s why you keep coming to worship. That’s why you set aside time for private devotions, Portals of Prayer, and family devotions. That’s why you gather together for Bible study and to speak of your faith with friends. You live to hear God’s call to you, the living voice of Jesus!
Ours is a surprising God. Who could guess where and how he promises to call to us? In his house, in his person, he calls us! Ours is a surprising God. Who could believe for what purpose he’s called us?
What will he call you to do? Well, whatever he wants! Abraham, at age 75, God called to move to the other side of his world, and at age 99, to father new nations. Moses, the fugitive murderer after forty years, still hiding from Egypt, God called to go straight back to Egypt to lead his enslaved people free. Nathanael, awed at his first sight of Jesus, Jesus called to see and believe still more. Whoever you are, however long or foul our history, God will call you to do whatever he knows is best.
But you can expect much more than that! Same as for Samuel. What will the Lord call you to do? God calls you to speak for him.
The Lord called Samuel to speak a hard word. “Eli, your sons, disobedient all these years and deaf to the Lord’s word—they will be cut off as priests. Your family’s service to the Lord is finished.” The only Good News was that the Lord—no matter how blocked his priests’ ears, no matter how faithless his people’s hearts—the Lord will break through anew to make his Word known.
Sometimes, the Lord does call you to speak a hard word. You do your friends no favor when you leave them wallowing in sin’s quicksand. But even when you must shout warnings, the Lord calls you to throw to them his lifeline, Jesus’ death for their forgiveness. His Word rescues. His Word gives life.
The Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that today’s average American before age 50 has worked more than eleven jobs. Count also your other important callings—your roles at home, at play, and at church. In every area of your lives, God calls you to serve others in that vocation. You get to love and serve with his strength, just as he loves and serves you. He has placed you in the world just where he needs you.
What has the Lord called you to do? St. Peter says, “You are God’s chosen people, the King’s priests, the nation he makes holy, his own treasure, so that you may tell others about the marvelous deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Pet 2:9, paraphrase).
Like Samuel the first and second and third time, maybe you did not recognize that the Lord was calling to you. Yet he does call. He calls to us gathered here in his home. He calls through his living Word. He calls us to sing his praises everywhere.
Like Samuel, will we answer with humble, heartfelt faith? “Speak, Lord, for your servant hears!” Amen.