1 Samuel 3:1-10
Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.
2 At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; 3 the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was. 4 Then the Lord called, “Samuel! Samuel!”[a] 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 The Lord 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.” 7 Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. 8 The Lord 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 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 is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.
10 Now the Lord came and stood there, calling as before, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”
My first church was in Platteville, Colorado, just north of the Denver area. I was in my third year at Seminary, and I was appointed as a student pastor. A big piece of their identity had been that of mentoring beginning pastors. They were a patient congregation as I sought to find my footing as a pastor. They took me under their collective wing and put up with stumbling. At the time, computers were not a common item in anyone’s office, much less a pastor’s office. All my sermons were typed on an old typewriter. I still have the notebook in which I filed my sermons. I have about two years of sermons in it. When I look back into it now days, I am reminded of how far I’ve come. There were some pretty thin sermons in the early days. Platteville was a lot like Eli in my early ministry.
Let’s talk about Eli for a moment. He was a “priest of the Lord in Shiloh.” IN chapter one, Eli intersected Hannah (who would be Samuel’s mother) while she was praying for a son. Eli misunderstood at first, thinking she was drunk. Her tears and silent prayer were so passionate that her lips were moving as she prayed, but no words came out. When he confronted her to send her away, Eli learned of her deep grief at being without child. It was then that Eli blessed Hannah with, “May the God of Israel give you what you have asked of him.” Indeed God did answer the prayer! Later Hannah brings her son Samuel and dedicates him to the Lord. By the way, Hannah went on to have three sons and two daughters after Samuel. Eli was a mentor to him. In a note that will become important later in 1 Samuel, Eli’s sons were also priests, but they were “despicable” in their work. They took advantage of their positions and cheated people out of the best for themselves. Eli knew the abuses his sons were perpetrating. He spoke to them, but did not insist that they straighten up.
In our passage this morning, verse 7 reveals that Samuel didn’t know the Lord as yet. Then we have this amazing story unfold. The call comes in the night to Samuel and he assumes is Eli calling. This happened three times. On the third time, Eli recognizes it is the Lord who is calling to Samuel. Eli helps Samuel listen by sending him back to bed with what to say if the call came again. In verse 10, the Lord indeed calls again to Samuel and he responds with, “Speak. For your servant is listening.” What God tells him includes some hard news for Eli. But Samuel also becomes a vessel for God. Eli wouldn’t have known that God was doing a new thing, that God’s judgment was coming for Eli and his family tree had not Samuel listened to the Lord.
My sermon title this morning is indicative of the two directions of the sermon: Listening and being listened to.
Listening: There are so many things that God wants to say, and we need to sharpen our listening skills. Through individual and group Bible study we are invited to listen to God. Our approach to the Word needs to be, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” We come with an open heart and mind to experience what the text will say to us. We are poised to hear the word and then act upon it. I am reminded of Psalm 19:14, and this is a consistent prayer for me. “May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and Redeemer.” But also, and maybe even more important, is our listening in community. Eli and Samuel were in community with each other and the others who would serve or come to the temple. As a priest, Eli would both listen and be listened to. So, who are your trusted voices in community? Who are the ones you can confide in and listen to? There is amazing benefit of the collective wisdom of the gathered body of believers. Whether it is the formally gathered church, or the church out in the community throughout the week, we can be a Spirit-filled community. We can, in so many ways, be mentored by our fellow Christians. I love it in Bible Study when someone says something in response to the text, and it triggers another thought in someone else who adds that thought to the discussion. It is in listening in community that great growth can occur in our spiritual lives. Who are some of those people for you?
Seminary was four years long for me, the last two being only part time as I was serving the Platteville church at the time. Of all the professors I had, Dr. Harvey Potthoff is the one I remember most. Whether he was a stellar professor or not, he was a mentor in caring and compassion. Even years later when I would see him out and about in the Conference, he would remember my name and inquire as to how I was doing. He was one of the great examples I have always sought to emulate.
Now I want to take us to the other part of the title, “Listened to”. I wish I knew more about my parent’s faith journey. What were the turning points in their journey? What were some of the times they saw God working overtime in their lives? I know the faith was alive and vital in them by the results I saw in their lives. Their attention and commitment to God and church in daily life was a major factor in my calling into ministry. The way they raised us three kids and mentored us in the faith was powerful.
Samuel is described by the end of this chapter as “trustworthy as the Lord’s prophet.” That came in no small part via Eli’s mentoring influence. Eli’s story and commitment blessed and led Samuel. Samuel’s story and relationship with God blessed and led others. You have a story to tell.
I’m blessed because I get to share my story frequently. You have all heard of my beginnings in Young Life. God became real to me through those High School and College experiences. The mentoring I received in our church choir has made a lasting impact on who I am. I began singing in the choir at age fourteen and have never stopped. You have heard my call to ministry on a Christmas Eve in 1975. What is interesting to me is that my mother had been “listening” to my life. She had seen me in youth ministry in our church. She had seen my passion for music. When I told her some weeks after my call into ministry, she immediately said, “I wondered when you were going to decide to do that.” She already knew I needed to head that direction. You already know a lot about my faith journey.
So, what about you? Where did faith begin for you? How did it develop? What are the turning points you would identify? I really want to hear your stories! I would encourage you to do something as simple as a timeline of your faith journey. What are your early recollections of faith – yours and the faith of those important around you? Can you identify any benchmarks along the way – places where you made decisions based on your faith that may have changed the direction of your life? What have been the challenges in your life, and how did faith influence how you answered those challenges? Are there triumphs in life that you’d attribute to the faith living inside of you? These are just a few questions to get you started. Become more aware of your story so you can tell others. I anticipate hearing snippets of your stories over the coming weeks.
You see, as we are listened to, we are becoming a voice for God. God can use our story to help others. My next question is, “Who have you mentored in the faith?” Who might be listening to you now? Tell your story. Share your journey.
Chuck Swindoll wrote a little ditty some time ago that speaks to your story. It was titled, How Important Are You. “How Important are you? More than you think. A rooster minus a hen equals no baby chicks. Kellogg minus a farmer equals no corn flakes. If the nail factory closes what good is the hammer factory? Paderewski’s genius wouldn’t have amounted to much if the piano tuner hadn’t shown up. A cracker maker will do better if there’s a cheese maker. The most skilled surgeon needs the ambulance driver who delivers the patient. Just and Rogers needed Hammerstein you need someone, and someone needs you.”
Just like Eli and Samuel, your life has ripples of influence. The more we listen to the stories of others the more we learn. The more we share our stories the more others will be blessed.
Pastor Ross Kershaw