2nd sermon in the "The Way of the Heart" Series - 1 Samuel 3
When the Word of the Lord is rare, things get dangerous. When the Word of the Lord is rare, our hearts run wild and we can find ourselves on the wrong side of the sermon sometimes. On the wrong side of his Word. I think of the end of the book of Judges which precedes 1 Samuel and it says – Everyone did what was right in their own eyes. That’s dangerous. You and I left to our devices deciding what is right based on the whim of the day. Based on our personal opinion. Based on whether or not we like somebody. Whether they are likeable. Whether what we see serves our own desires or not. Without the Word of God, a God who speaks, who does not hide but tells you what he thinks of you, I worry that what I will do is allow whatever I feel to rule rather than to have God rule and work in me based on his work rather than my own.
The Way of the Heart, our series for the summer as we travel the road of the semi-continuous lectionary and look into the lives of Samuel, Saul, David and Solomon, we are approached by people who live often as we do. Who find themselves moving in a direction in which the Word of God is rare, so our hearts can do what they want. Our passions, our wants and desires, rather than having the Word of God speak, the Spirit coming upon us and doing what needs to be done, we allow whim and fancy to carry us. We allow other voices to be heard. Voices that speak to us from a society that often can be devoid of the Word altogether. Devoid of God, devoid of Christ. God hiding, as Luther said. Hiding from us in things he doesn’t want to be found in because he is a speaking God. A God who speaks so much that his Word can put on flesh and dwell amongst us as Jesus.
Last week we had God’s word coming to Hannah and bringing her peace of heart as she struggles with infertility, shame and anger. God speaking to her and then giving to her a son who would be given back to God to be a preacher. Here in 1 Samuel we see this preacher receive his call.
I love this first verse that tells us that the word of God was rare and prophecy uncommon. A time where God had been silenced. You see it in the chapter before, in 1 Samuel 2, where Eli’s sons, Hophni and Phinehas (cool names btw), are desecrating their calling. Set aside as priests to serve God, they used their positions for their own gain, and it says they had no regard for the Lord. Taking advantage of the women who served at the entrance to the Tabernacle. People bringing their offerings to God and the priests before anything was offered would demand of the people the choicest cuts, not allowing what was dedicated to God to be dedicated completely. Bringing the people a God without mercy. A God who tells us in the Scriptures that he is one full of lovingkindess and forgiveness, and the people bring their offerings, things that were set aside as signs of the forgiveness God offered to them for their sin and these men treated the people with contempt. Treated God with contempt. The Word of the Lord being rare. This Word that is supposed to speak grace and mercy, not the glory of human power.
I wonder if in our worship we do that? Making our offerings contemptable because we may think deep down that God doesn’t deserve that. Or we step into this place, or open our Bibles, or sit in prayer, and all we want is what we want. Wanting church to look a certain way or sound a certain way. Wanting the pastor to do a certain thing, or preach a different way. Wanting our whole supernatural religious experience to be something familiar rather than different. Something set apart. Faith, religion, spirituality being an entrance and way of life living in a place unlike this place. Worship being the doorway to heaven for us even for a moment. Is that us? Do we so often want to craft our worship of God in our own image rather than begging of God to speak? To tell me what he thinks of me? To forgive me of my sin?
That is God’s way. He speaks, and it says that a time was given for these men to repent. Repentance not being a feeling but a return to God. A turning away from ourselves and turning towards the Lord. They were given that time, but now that Samuel, the foster son of Eli is sleeping in the Tabernacle, tradition says he was coming of age, 12 or 13, becoming a man, and God speaks again. God spoke before in a way through a prophet to Eli to warn him in chapter 2 about his sons and what God was going to do, and now the Lord speaks again, but this time to Samuel, to call him.
I love this story. It’s such a human story. As a parent I know there have been so many times when you are in bed asleep and you get awakened because your child heard something. Or it’s Saturday morning and the kids are up at 6am because the sun is out. No. Go back to bed. You’re not allowed up until I get up.
Here I am; you called me.
I didn’t call you. Go back to bed.
The Word of the Lord being so rare that even Eli can’t see that God has spoken to this young man. Calling him to preach. To prophesy. To lead. So rare that the trained priest is oblivious to God’s voice.
Finally, after such an annoyance, Eli gets it. Or he just wants to sleep, one or the other.
Go back. Lay down. If you hear the voice again, say “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.” And he does. God speaks and gives to Samuel his first sermon. A sermon of God saying what it is he is about to do. That the Ark of the Covenant will be taken in battle. Eli’s sons will die. Eli dies as well. And it says no amount of sacrifice or offering will take away their sin. Because why would God permit that which they despised to do its work? They despised the offering of the people so no offering for them. Hearts being cold. Their ways being that of themselves rather than of God. A horrid picture of God’s silence, but God also giving us what we want, a world without him.
God speaks and Samuel then sleeps, awakes and goes about his day. Eli finds him and says, Speak. Eli so thirsting for the Word that he begs Samuel, no matter what it is, to speak to him. And he does. Samuel tells him all about what God is going to do and Eli gives his response - “He is the Lord. Let him do what he thinks is good.” What a response. God has been silent for a time and now tells you something. Something not so good. Yet you say in essence – Not my will but yours be done. Does that sound familiar? Christ in the garden. Begging for the cup to pass from him. Begging for the cross to not happen and yet – Not my will but yours be done. The God of mercy making his mercy known even in the bad because that may be what it takes. A Merciful God here speaking of judgement to those who despise him in order to end the strife of the Word being silent because he found his preacher, but later God speaking through a cross and empty tomb where his very Word, the Word that calls to Samuel here in chapter 3 dies a death to kill our sin and death. To crucify our hearts that we might not be Phinehas and Hophni.
The danger for you, and for me, is that God’s Word is not convenient. It is not for the church-goers. It is not for the educated or the powerful. It is for itself actually. Doing its work to speak and bring salvation. Here it says that, even though Samuel was under the care of Eli and Hophni and Phinehas, he did not know the Lord. Imagine that. Day after day spent in the tabernacle before the Ark of the Covenant. Seeing the rituals happen and the offerings made. Sitting at the feet of his teachers and he did not know the Lord. Tradition says it had been 10 years since he was brought to Shiloh. Ten years. What was Eli doing? And yet, Samuel did not know the Lord but it did not stop the Word. The Word came, it called, it conquered. It brought mercy to Eli because he now had to rely on his student for the sermon. To hear from God. It came with mercy because the drought of the Word ended so that hearts might be penetrated. That the way of the heart might be found in the Lord, eventually in Christ.
The danger is that you sitting here may have God speaking to you now. Calling you in this to be a Samuel and to not let the Word go silent. To not become Eli. Calling you to see these foster children of yours, brothers and sisters in Christ who join us on Sundays, who come to VBS, who come to Release Time, who will come to our one Wednesday night a month in the fall and need preachers. Need teachers. Need people who care enough for the littlest among us, who have had the Word come to them and inspire them. To put them to death and raising them in new life in Christ. As Paul says this morning, the Word entering you, your darkness and becoming light within you. Light to be shared. You being that jar of clay with the treasure inside needing to be broken that all might see and know the Lord. To carry the wounds of Christ in your flesh to tell of the wonderful things he has done for you to the coming generations. This Jesus who was God’s Word in the beginning before time began, and destined to be born of a woman, born under the law, born in a sinful world in order to love and save sinners. You. Me. Each child.
Is that you today? It doesn’t take a degree. It doesn’t take special teaching. It takes the Word doing its work in you that you might speak to the people. To speak that others may know what God has done for them. Sharing with the younger generations, not that they might know the church, or come here, but that they might know the Lord. And be known by him. To know what he thinks of them. To hunger and thirst for his Word. Or even that you might know what he thinks of you. Because we can’t know those things unless they are spoken to us. Told to us. Otherwise our hearts go wild and do whatever they think best in their own eyes.
Let that not be. I have prayed and continue to pray for each of you. That God’s Word would grow in you a longing to share this passion for Christ with others here. To teach the stories. To sing the songs. To not let the Word become rare. If not you. The Word will find someone else. But may our prayer be – Not my will but yours be done, O Lord. Thanks be to God. Amen.