1 Samuel 3:1-10
If you haven't come to this realization yet, the Gospel lesson each Sunday is what sets the agenda for the day. The other two lessons are meant to support the Gospel lesson—sometimes they do this better than others—but the Gospel is the driving force behind the Worship theme.
This week the Old Testament lesson really does fit well with the Gospel lesson. In both of them we have God calling someone to follow him. In the Gospel we have the calling of the disciples, Philip and Nathanael, and in the Old Testament lesson we have the calling of Samuel (we will bring in the Epistle lesson by way of application).
I've always enjoyed this story of Samuel as a boy in the temple. I can remember my mother reading it to me as a child. I can remember hearing it in Sunday School. And I distinctly remember reading the entire People’s Bible commentary on Samuel at some point during college, and it struck me how interesting and attention-grabbing the events of Israel are at his time-period in history. In the two books of Samuel, we get much of our information about the life of King David. And since it is written in the form of narrative, the reading is quite compelling.
But Samuel came before David. Samuel was the last of the judges. Before Israel had Kings, they were governed by men and a woman (Deborah) referred to as judges. God was their King, and the judges were to administer his kingship (his rule) in Israel. Some were mighty warriors and godly. Others not so godly. Samuel was a godly one. Samuel was a prophet as well as a judge.
The temptation for me is to go into a lengthy history lesson about all that Samuel did, but that is not the point of his text, nor is it really the focus of a sermon. Today's sermon is all about God calling Samuel to follow him. It is about Jesus calling the disciples to follow him. And of course, the application for us is that God has also graciously called you and me to follow him.
For now, though, I want us to focus our thoughts on the boy Samuel, the key Word there being "boy”. If you are familiar with the story of Samuel, you will know that Samuel is one of the miracle children in the Bible. Like Sarah, the wife of Abraham, Samuel’s mother Hannah was also sterile, and, oh how she prayed to the Lord that he would bless her with a child! She even made a vow to God. She said, "If you give me a child, I will give him back to you for a life of service. After he is old enough, I will dedicate him to you, Lord, as a servant in your temple. He will serve you all the days of his life." And that is why, in chapter 3 of 1 Samuel we are introduced to Samuel as a boy. He is sleeping in one of the dormitories inside the temple.
“The boy Samuel ministered before the Lord under Eli. In those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions 2 One night Eli, whose eyes were becoming so weak that he could barely see, was lying down in his usual place. 3 The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the house of the Lord, where the ark of God was. 4 Then the Lord called Samuel. Samuel answered, “Here I am.” 5 And he ran to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me” (vv. 1-4). That is a pretty good way to answer God's call.
Now if we were reading this for the first time (and it may be for you that this is the first time), then realize that up until now in the narration we know nothing else about Samuel’s future fame and accomplishments. Few people in the Bible were as obedient to God as Samuel. What's my point? Samuel was attentive to God's Word, and therefore, God was able to use him mightily. In the same way that the disciples were attentive to God's word and think of how God used them!
What about you? What can God do with you?
Well, I don't know the exact answer to that question, but what I do know is that anything he does do with you (as far as usefulness in his kingdom) is inseparably connected to your attentiveness to his word. For that is what is going on here: Samuel is attentive to the word of God.
You see, Eli, the high priest at that time, he also was called by God, but he wasn't all that attentive to the God’s word. Nor was the general populace of Israel in Samuel’s day, which is why God basically quit speaking to them. Nobody was paying attention anyways.
Eli's sons, Hophni and Phineas—they were even less attentive to God’s word than their father, Eli. (Hmm. Where do you think they got it from?) Chapter 2 and verse 12 informs us that “Eli’s sons were scoundrels; they had no regard for the Lord. They would repeatedly sin when it came to the Holy Offering, so that “This sin of the young men was very great in the Lord’s sight, for they were treating the Lord’s offering with contempt” (v. 17).
Hophni and Phineas knew what God's word said regarding the sacrifices at the temple. They were priests, after all, sons of Eli, the High Priest. But their attitude towards God’s word was all wrong. They didn't see it as an authority in their lives, which means they didn’t respect it. When God spoke, they did not listen. And so, God ended up taking their lives away from them as a result.
Again, what is my point? Well, to our main question, "What can God do with you?", it kind of depends: How attentive are you to his Word and call in your life? For God only uses the tool of his word to deal with human beings on earth. It is how God has always worked, i.e., via his word. Nor is it any different today. Even when God sent his Son Jesus to planet Earth, he still interacted with humanity by means
of his word, for Jesus is the Word of God incarnate.
For example, above all, Jesus spoke to the people. And what did God do with those people? Well, first he saved those who listened, and then with those who kept listening—who continued to be attentive to his words—God used them in mighty ways.
Here is a point of application we do well to understand: One's attitude towards the word of God either renders him or her useful or useless in God’s kingdom. Elis sons? They had a terrible attitude towards God’s word—God couldn't use them, for he will not use dirty instruments. Right? The instruments a surgeon uses must be sterile. They must be clean for their intended purpose. It’s what the Apostle Paul is getting at in 2 Timothy 2:20-21. “20 In a large house there are articles not only of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay; some are for special purposes and some for common use. 21 Those who cleanse themselves from the latter will be instruments for special purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work.”
Is this not what Paul is speaking about in our Epistle lesson (1 Corinthians 6) when he says, “18 Flee from sexual immorality … 19 Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?” (vv. 18, 19)?
Hophni and Phineas were dirty instruments, and so God discarded them. Eli, himself, only half-heartedly followed God, and so even though God did use him, he couldn't use him that much. But Samuel? How attentive was he to God’s word and call in his life? Well, God called him three times. Each time he answered, "Here I am." Until at last Eli, the priest, realized what was going on and told him, "The next time the LORD calls you, this how you are to answer, "Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening” (v. 9)
Oh, I like those words! Samuel lies down. The word of the LORD comes to him a fourth time. He is attentive to it. His entire demeanor is humble before it. The end of v. 9 and v. 10: “So Samuel went and lay down in his place. 10 The Lord came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!”
Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”
Now, John 1:43, “The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, “Follow me.” What can God do with you if you follow him? I mean, truly follow him?
For he has already called you—you realize that. You say, “I’ve never heard the voice of God.” Well, no. He doesn’t whisper in your ear, but he does continue to speak in the Bible. This is a living word, not a dead word. We worship a living God, not a dead God. And he calls you—yes you!—to follow him. Will you?
You say, “Well, how do I know in what capacity to follow him?” By the Call. You see, first of all, he has called you to be his child. He has called you to faith. In the waters of your baptism he said, “You are my son. You are my daughter. Because of Jesus, with you I am well pleased.” So, he has already called you to himself. That is the first call. That is the most important call.
But he has also called you to various stations in life, and he has called you to these particular stations in order to serve him. In order to follow him! Samuel happened to be called to serve in the temple. Not every Christian is called to serve publicly in God’s house. Samuel’s mother wasn’t called to do that, but she was called to be Samuel’s mother, and boy, did she do a good job of it!
The disciples were called to literally follow Jesus during his 3-year public ministry period on earth. Then they were called to go out to the rest of the world and preach the Good News publicly. But the woman Lydia of Thyatira—the first recorded convert to Christianity in Europe—she wasn’t called to go preach God’s word publicly. But she opened up her house for Paul, and her house became the church there. She supported Paul’s ministry with her offerings—her own money! An unbeliever says, “Why would someone ever do something like that?” Because she was attentive to God’s word. And it moved her heart. And she followed God’s prompting.
What can God do with you? The exciting part is that I don’t know. But I know that if you listen—really listen—to God’s word in the Bible, the sky is the limit for you and for this congregation. That is how congregations grow—when there comes upon them a holy attentiveness to God’s word. Amen.