“SAMUEL?” “SAMUEL!” I Samuel 3:1:21 January 8, 2012 Listen! Someone is calling – Samuel? Samuel! It was nighttime in the temple. Darkness covered the land. The world outside was asleep. The voice was calling a young boy – the temple helper who lived in the temple and served as assistant to the priest. The boy didn’t recognize who was calling him - thought maybe it was the old priest, Eli. But, no, Eli said, it wasn’t him. Go back to sleep. The boy lays back down but the voice is persistent. It pierces the night. Samuel? Samuel!!. Again Samuel rushes to Eli, the priest, and again the priest says go back to sleep. And again the voice – and again Samuel goes to Eli. And we, who are reading this story from the book of I Samuel think, “well, what’s wrong with you guys. After three times, can’t you figure this out?” But the text tells us “be patient”. The voice of God was rare in those days. There was no frequent vision. Even Eli, the priest himself, has begun to lose his vision. He can’t see. His sons, the natural heirs of the priesthood, are no help. In Chapter 2, the text tells us they are worthless men. They can’t see at all and Eli, the priest, is losing his vision. All of Israel is dark. It is night. The voice of God is rare. But the text says “the lamp of God had not yet gone out.”. And in that dim light, Eli finally perceives that this voice could be………. And so he says, “Samuel, if you hear the voice again answer “speak, Lord.” A fourth time the voice……Samuel? Samuel! And Samuel, the little altar boy serving as helper in the temple in the middle of a dark, dark Israel night, answers. This is a dark time in Israel. The text gives us some clues as to why this is. If we were to back up to Chapter 2, the section right before the call of Samuel, we find there a description of Eli, the priest’s, two sons. Now, these sons are supposed to be the future priests, the keepers of the temple, and the judges for the land. They are needed to be the Voice of God for the people – wise and compassionate. But, something has gone wrong. a). First, the text tells us, these two sons are greedy. When people would bring their animals to the temple for annual sacrifice, instead of waiting until after the sacrifice and taking the customary priest’s portion, these two would take the best portions of meat before it was even sacrificed. b). Second the text says these two slept with the women who serve at the gates of the temple and when their father, Eli, tries to warn them against this, “they would not listen to the voice of their father”. c.). Third, the text tells us these two sons are worthless because they had no regard for the Lord. These are dark times and it is dark because of -Greed Disregard for the wisdom of the elders And disregard for the Lord. “The force of God is rare in these kind of times”,
the text tells us.
It is a dark night outside. But inside, the lamp of God is still lit. It has not gone out, and a voice is calling – calling Samuel - calling – maybe us? And with the voice a warning: Be careful that you do not let greed get in the way of being able to hear the sound of this voice.
Several years ago I had the opportunity to hear Jim Wallis speak at Pastor’s Convocation at Duke University. Jim Wallis is the founder of the Sojourners Community in Washington, DC – a group of Christians who work together to minister and serve in some of the poorest, most drug-infested and crime-controlled neighborhoods in Washington. He is a remarkable Christian leader and his vision of biblical justice has changed many lives. Anyway, Jim Wallis began his address that day by giving us preachers a little quiz: One question – multiple choice – choose the correct answer: Jesus had the most to say about: A. Homosexuality B. The importance of democracy across the world C. Family values D. The danger of wealth and riches. Now, based on what Christians these days are spending our time talking about, one would assume the correct answer is A, B, or C. But that would be wrong. Because despite what we have been spending all our time talking about: A. Jesus never mentions homosexuality B. As for democracy, the only thing Jesus ever says about government of any kind is “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s”. C. Family values – Jesus says “let the children come unto me”, but He also says “let the dead bury the dead” when one of the disciples wants to wait before coming with Jesus until after he has buried his father. D. But D – the danger of wealth and riches, the topic about which we American Christians are remarkably silent – Jesus has more to say about this than any other single topic in all four gospels! • • • • • • •
the rich young ruler the parable of the talents the parable of the rich fool with big barns the parable of Lazarus and the right man the widow’s mite “no one can serve two masters….” “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth but where your treasure is there your heart will be also.”
Jesus says to us over and over again: Beware of greed – Beware of your love of money. • it can come between you and God. • It can keep you from hearing the call of God in the night “Give it away – get rid of this temptation! And come, follow me.” It is dark in Israel. Many can’t see – but the light of God has not yet gone out. And someone is calling: Samuel! Samuel!
Samuel: Beware of Greed. And next, be careful that you heed the wisdom of your elders so you will recognize the voice of God in your midst. We don’t much like to listen to advice – you and I. We are much more into doing things our own way – being strong and independent – sort of the whole “self-made man” thing. In our heart of hearts, we really don’t think we have anything to learn from anyone else. Our whole culture exonerates youth. We try to look young as long as possible. Our advertisements, TV shows, model only young people. We have little regard for the wisdom that comes with age – for the voice of experience. We are too busy trying to hide our gray hair to think maybe gray hair is a sign of honor – of value. But our text plainly states today that Hophnt and Phineas – the corrupt sons of Eli, the old priest, were in serious trouble because they would not listen to their father. They had no regard for the wisdom of their elders. And because they would not listen, they could not hear God. They could not hear the voice of God in their midst. You know, part of the blessing of living in a church community is the experience we have of watching and learning from each other. We are open with each other. We pray for each other – and because we do, we know a lot about each other – and we can learn a lot by watching each other. We know which decisions move a brother or a sister into a more mature Christian life, and which decisions, sometimes, set us back. So we have the perfect opportunity to listen and watch and learn the lessons that take us closer to God. Years ago my ethics professor put it this way: “Let’s suppose you want to learn a new skill – a new trade. You want to learn how to brick a patio or a walkway and you want it to look nice. Now basically, you have two choices. You can go buy a book on bricklaying and fumble around trying to get started, or you can go find someone who already knows how, and is good at it – and learn from them. Which is the better choice? Reading about it or finding a role model and becoming their apprentice? I believe we will find the book can take us only so far in our new skill. But working side-by-side with a master will teach us what we want to know. And it’s the same thing in our Christian lives – learning from the wisdom of our elders means looking around for someone or several someones who have achieved the spiritual maturity we want for ourselves and trying to live like they live. • •
It’s arrogance to think we can figure out everything for ourselves and do not need the example of others. It’s arrogant and a huge waste of time to have to learn all of life’s lessons from our own mistakes.”
Listen to the wisdom of your elders, the text says. No matter how young or how old you are, listen to the ones who have traveled the way before you. And in so doing, you will hear the voice of God. It is dark in Israel. It is dark, but someone is calling – a voice in the night. Beware of greed, Samuel. Beware of greed – listen and respect the wisdom of your elders. -4-
Listen and take care. And third, you regard the Lord your God, with honor and respect. Do not underestimate the power of Yahweh, the God of the Covenant. Do not fail to understand the powerful voice of persuasion and change that is His. Do not fail to take God seriously as the power and might of all things – of all creation. You know the Church is really often guilty of false advertising and someone should call us out on it. We Christians spend a lot of time and energy trying to convince people that church is a nice and comfortable place to be. “Come worship with us – the friendly church in the friendly part of town” “Come worship with us – we have a clean nursery – plenty of parking, padded pews and Starbucks Coffee.” “Come worship with us – our preacher tells good stories and is easy to listen to.” “Come worship with us – the food at our covered dish suppers is out of this world.” But, tell me something. Despite all this effort to convince people that church is a nice, fun place to be, is that really true? Should we really be telling people that church is an easy, comfortable, nice place to be or should we – in regard for the Lord – in our genuine listening for the voice of God – should we have signs at the doors that say “Enter at Your Own Risk” – disclaimers in our bulletins that say “Not responsible for any action on the part of God”. Because when God calls out into the night: It isn’t nice! It isn’t comfortable! God calls people to changed lives – lives different from the way most people live in the land right outside our door. It’s dark out there – the word of God is rare – but in here the lamp is still lit and God is persistently calling Samuel! Samuel! Annie Dillard writes: If we were really honest with people about church – we’d say “yeah, come on in here, but bring your crash helmet. Ushers should issue life preservers instead of bulletins – a blinking sign over the church door should say ‘Caution – God is at Work’.” Look out! Because if you come in here: • you might be changed. • You might leave different than you were when you came • You might be challenged – stirred up • You might find yourself volunteering at the food pantry instead o going to the club • You might find yourself changing jobs • You might find yourself giving away your money instead of storing it up • You might find yourself realigning the priorities of your whole life – talking and living a whole different way. Look out Samuel! Inside this place, God is calling and in our regard for the Lord, when we listen, we will be changed. We will not be the same as when we first walked in that door. We will be challenged, shook-up, inspired, and made uncomfortable.
Did you notice in our text this morning that after the Lord spoke to Samuel, Samuel went back to his bed and lay down, but he didn’t go back to sleep? He lay there until morning.
I don’t guess he could go back to sleep with all that calling going on – And we can’t either.
Our lives are different because we entered the waters of baptism and came out a member of the Body of Christ. Our lives are different and we are awake. We are aware that God is calling us to be different from the greedy, selfish, and self-centered darkness of the world around us. It is dark in Israel, but the Lamp of God has not gone out and there is a voice, calling – Samuel! Samuel!. But listen! Isn’t that the sound of someone calling your name? Amen