God calls Samuel: ‘Here I am!’
Listen! God is Calling!
Fall 2021 Narrative Lectionary
1 Samuel 3:1-21
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I am a sucker for videos on Facebook. I get mesmerized and drawn in by cake decorating. All the sudden I realize I’ve spend 10 minutes or more of my day watching flowers appear from the ends of piping bags and beauty crafted from butter and sugar. The thing is the algorithms learn what you like and they give you more of it. Lately, I watched a video of a young girl, maybe 7 or 8 years old, playing a stringed instrument with gusto, backed by an orchestra. Thus my newsfeed has flooded with videos of talented children playing complicated musical pieces in front of large audiences long before we think they are old enough to manage the skill and the pressure of it.
But as much as we want to think of this story as a child protégée – Samuel so ready to respond to God’s call. A young man serving the Lord, even though he doesn’t know God yet. There is a mind bending clash here. This is more of a hard calling toward communal truths.
How many of us have heard sermons on Samuel’s calling and have held up our hands and sung with heartfelt commitment “here I am, Lord. Is it I Lord. I have heard you calling in the night…”. I know I have done that!
I’ve also learned - careful what you say “yes” to, God may take that “yes” seriously!
This is a story of deep listening, communal discernment and then speaking through trembling lips the words that will make our leaders and communities ears tingle. Words not for the individual direction but for the communal good. Its not an individualistic call of where am I going with my life – but God giving words that will not fall aside or to the ground. Words that we are scared to speak but that we know come from the deeper heart of something far beyond us.
Many of us have a stilted relationship with the Old Testament. We like some of the stories but it is also mixed in with a bunch of law and guts and gore and we don’t think we agree with it. So we dip in for the parts of the story we like. Cut it off when it gets to the verse that might complicate things. The gift of the narrative lectionary is that we get to put this in the context of the larger story and its also the challenge of not cutting it off when we like the ending, but reading the whole chapter. So often I have heard this story up to verse 10. We like the back and forth of Samuel jumping up at the sound of his name being called and finally recognizing that he needs to stay and listen to the voice of God. What God says to Samuel after God calls to him is not something life affirming, even though it does set Samuel on a vocational path. It is a message of punishment for those not respecting God and there is not a way out, sacrifices, confession and changed ways wont work here.
What God actually says gets difficult. There will be punishment and Eli, Samuel’s mentor, can’t make it better.
“Reluctantly, Samuel confirms what God already told Eli (in the earlier chapters of 1st Samuel). God would punish Eli, ending his family line, because Eli did not put a stop to his sons’ abuse of power. They raped the women who came to worship and seized the sacrifices people made there.” ( https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/narrative-lectionary/god-calls-samuel/commentary-on-1-samuel-31-21-3)
Throughout the Old Testament we zoom in and out. We hear the stories of individuals and then we zoom out and hear of the treatment of a people, their movements, their wars, their struggles and their decisions.
I listen to many commentators as we pick up this story from where we left off last week,
(slide The history of Israel)
“The wilderness lessons are over, and the people have settled into the land God promised Abraham. After Joshua, the Israelites are led by a series of judges who rise up in difficult times. As the book of Judges comes to an end, tribal wars threaten to tear the people apart. The promised land is not easy and without conflict.” (https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/narrative-lectionary/call-of-samuel/commentary-on-1-samuel-31-21-2)
“Samuel lives in a precarious time when “the word of the LORD was rare” (verse 1). This is a continuation of the problem at the end of book of Judges where “all the people did what was right in their own eyes” (Judges 21:25). Indeed, 1 Samuel 2 speaks of how Eli’s own sons did what was right in their own eyes in their work as priests (1 Samuel 2:11-17). The times are as dark as the night that falls at the beginning of the story.”
“The nation was falling apart. The system of judgeships had failed miserably. With all of the chaos, how could the community possibly continue? Would it die before it began? Would the promise God made to Abraham go unfulfilled? Who would God send to begin to deal with this mess? Samuel, Israel’s last judge and first prophet since Moses, is God’s answer.
(Slide Bible Time line)
Samuel was born at a pivotal point in Israel’s history. He represents Israel’s transition from a loose system of judges to a unified monarchy. The writer introduces the reader to Samuel by first introducing his mother, Hannah. Hannah’s story is the perfect segue for this transition because her story is diametrically opposed to stories of abuse and sexual objectification of women in Judges.
Since the Bible seldom tells women’s stories, it is noteworthy that 1 Samuel opens with Hannah’s story. With two chapters (1 Samuel 1:1– 2:10) devoted to her story, even before the narrator explains it, the reader instinctively knows that she and her son are significant characters in Israel’s story.”
Samuel doesn’t know who God is yet, but we do.
This is the same God who still gave Sarah a baby even after she laughed at God’s messenger.
The same God who had a conversation with Moses when Moses pushed back on his calling.
The same God who got angry at the People of Israel when they complained in the desert that they were hungry after they were miraculously freed from slavery.
Maybe we really are made in God’s image – complex, intense, emotional, compassionate and seeking out relationship even when that is not straight forward and holds disappointment.
This is a God who is a truth teller, calling folks to follow even through their fear, even as they get to know this voice and this character of who God is.
“Like Samuel, Isaiah, and Jeremiah, God’s call often involves working to change human systems that are broken, and this can lead down difficult paths.” (https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/narrative-lectionary/call-of-samuel/commentary-on-1-samuel-31-21-2)
(Slide Bible Time line down) (Blank screen)
We are transitioning with the People of Israel into a difficult part of their history. A coming towards and then a falling away from God. Maybe this isn’t that unfamiliar to us and is also part of our story today. What are the misuses of power and the corruption that we need to confront? How is what we hold as important shifting and our leadership may need to shift with it? How do we keep listening deeply?
How do we honor young and old? Honor youthful energy and responsiveness like Samuel’s, and the discernment from years of a life like Eli’s. How do we make space to hear and hear again until we discern who and what is calling. Even if our eyes are dim, can we clarify our hearing so we recognize the voice of God saying our name or the name of a person we are walking with.
Just as Samuel’s calling and message were for Eli and the people of Israel. Eli’s discernment, that it was God’s voice and his insistence for Samuel to speak the directions aloud, helped Samuel step into his role as prophet and claim his voice in passing on the word of God. Callings aren’t just for us and we might not notice them without the work of the community. This is hard to hear because in our individualistic society we are focused on our selves. And we don’t want to speak hard words to another. If we are a good person we don’t judge, right??
Yet the prophetic voice of Samuel was for the community. Samuel was willing to be the vessels of God’s voice to the world. Willing to speak the hard and uncomfortable truth that had to be voiced.
(Slide of Malala)
I see those today who speak up for a better world for all. Malala, fighting for the rights of girls in Pakistan and for freedom of education.
(Slide of Greta)
Greta Thunberg, whose climate activism draws attention to the dangerous trajectory we are on in our relationship to the earth. And others who are lesser known but no less important.
(Slide of the three)
Autumn Peltier, a Canadian first nations water activist who started to speak out for clean water at age 8. Mari Copeny, who has the nickname Little Miss Flint. Mari spoke up about the intersection of state negligence and environmental racism that we still see playing out in places like Flint, Michigan. And Xiye Bastida, an indigenous young woman from Mexico who moved to New York City. Xiye saw droughts and floods in her hometown and now raises her voice for climate justice. Calling us all to care for the earth that we are part of just as it is part of us.
“The Lord was with Samuel as he grew up, and (God) let none of Samuel’s
words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba recognized that
Samuel was a trust-worthy prophet of the Lord.” V 19-20
God is still calling trustworthy truth-tellers into our midst.
“God’s call comes when we least expect it and often to those we least expect. God is always the God of surprises. We as the church need to be like Eli, encouraging all to hear the voice that calls them forth into all that they were created to be. At the same time, we help each other to tell the truth even when the truth is hard to hear.” (https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/narrative-lectionary/call-of-samuel/commentary-on-1-samuel-31-21-2)
Can we see and can we hear? May we embrace even God’s uncomfortable callings and speak out for a better world for all.
— Moriah Hurst, October 17, 2021
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