Sunday, January 14, 2024
The Second Sunday after the Epiphany

Samuel Remembers

The Rev. Mark D. Wilkinson, Rector
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
Katy Tx 77450

1 Samuel 3
The Call of Samuel

Well good morning everyone. I see you have come to visit with the old prophet Samuel. Looking for me to tell you something important or maybe what the future will hold? Well forget it, I’m not in the fortune telling business although many people get confused about that. I am a prophet, I speak what God tells me even when people don’t like it and that is the problem. In fact this has been the problem from the beginning.

How well I remember that night long, long ago. I was a boy, well really almost a young man working in the temple with Eli the old prophet. Did you know that his name meant “my god.” When I first started to learn from him I really did think he almost was God. I’ve always lived with him. When I was very young my mother Hannah gave me to the temple as she had promised God she would do. She was getting old and did not have any children so she kept coming to the temple to pray that God would open her womb, give her a son. Eli thought she was crazy or drunk and told her to go away. Then she told him that she was praying to God for a son and would give him to the temple if her prayers were answered. Eli told her that it would happen as she asked. And it did. I was born and named Samuel which means “God has heard”. Not just me, but my other 5 brothers and sisters. She kept her promise and there I was growing up in the temple.

Eli had two sons who were also priests but I quickly learned that there wasn’t anything spiritual about these two. It grieved Eli that they took from the food offered on the altar and lay with women in the temple. I wondered how God could let this happen.  However it didn’t seem like God was talking to Eli or anybody else at the time. Visions, messages all seemed to be very rare. Personally I was worried that maybe things were so bad that God was angry. Then came the night that changed my life forever.

I was sleeping in the temple at my accustomed place near the ark of the Lord. Sometime in the middle of the night I heard a quiet voice call, “Samuel, Samuel.” I woke up, looked around and didn’t see anybody so I got up off of my mat and ran to where Eli was sleeping. I told him, “Here I am.” He rubbed the sleep out of his eyes and squinted at me, (he was almost blind) and said, “I didn’t call you go back to bed.” So I went back and got back down on my mat and quickly fell asleep. Again I heard my name being called, “Samuel, Samuel.” Again I got up and ran to Eli and said, “Here I am.” Looking a little more cross with me this time he again said, “I didn’t call you go back to bed.” So I did.

A third time I heard the voice and I again ran to Eli even more puzzled than before. This time Eli sat up and I saw a brief glimmer in those old eyes and he said, “Samuel it is the Lord who is calling to you. I want you to go back and if he calls you again say, ‘Speak for your servant is listening’.” So I went back to bed and sure enough the voice called to me a fourth time. I said, “Speak for your servant is listening.” Then the Lord told me how angry he was with Eli and especially his sons and that he was going to destroy them because they had not listened to his commands. I can tell you that I didn’t sleep the rest of the night. I was terrified to tell Eli what I had heard.

Eli came to me early in the morning and asked what had God said. I really didn’t want to tell him. I did love the old man and I knew this would be painful for him. I mean he had tried to get his sons to behave they just ignored the old man. But he threatened me with whatever was going to happen would happen to me as well so I told him.

When I told him he just hung his head and said it is the Lord, let him do what seems right. He didn’t yell at me even though I had just given him terrible news.

I continued at the temple and God spoke to me every so often. I gained a reputation as being a reliable and good prophet even if what I said didn’t please everybody.

You see the problem is that so often when people want to find out if what they are doing is in accord with God’s will they only want to hear that it is. Nobody wants to be told no this is against the will of God or don’t do this or that. The worst one for me was when the people came to me and said they didn’t want prophets they wanted a king just like the other tribes. God told me that this would not be good for them, but they kept badgering me about it. Finally God said, “Fine I’ll give them a king, but they will regret it.”

So I anointed Saul to be the first King and I assume you all know that this didn’t work out very well. So God told me he was going to try again and that I was to anoint David as King even though Saul was still alive. I really didn’t want to do that for I was terrified of what Saul would do to me. I will have to see if David works out any better. I’m not sure, I’m getting to be an old man myself and I may not see the end of David’s reign.

Talking to God is often uncomfortable and challenging. People want certainty, but wisdom is being willing to live with the question that we want to take to God. We keep pressing for certainty and control, but if we push that to the background and allow God to speak to us, really speak to us and trust God then we can begin to let God back into control and be amazed at what God will do. I can tell after a long life as a prophet very few people are really willing to do this. Most people seem to pray to God and give him a list of demands rather than ask for guidance. Fewer will then act on the guidance the nudges that God will give.

When I was young I believed that God wasn’t speaking to Eli and his sons. Now I believe God was speaking to them, but I think Eli had become as deaf to God’s voice as he was blind to what was happening.  Honestly I think the last time he had a message from God was that night God first spoke to me. I had never heard God before, but he realized in one last moment of insight that God was calling me. He knew that his time was done and it was time for me to take up the work. Little did I know what would result from my saying to God, “Speak for your servant is listening.”

So my friends you really don’t need me to speak to God for you. Anyone can speak to God. What I learned early on is that when you speak to God you have to remember that it is a two-way conversation. Remember the first words I spoke to God were, “Speak for your servant is listening.” You need to spend as much time listening as you do talking. That is the most important lesson that old Eli taught. We are all God’s servants and God wants us to listen.