1 Samuel 3:1-10 – Sermon – I’m Listening, Lord

1 Samuel 3:1-10
I’m Listening, Lord
01-15-12

One of the last books I read was Jim Collins and Jerry Porras’ Built to Last.  This was an in-depth look at visionary companies that have been able to survive countless decades.  They have weathered many turns in the market, many out lasting the Great Depression, changes in society and their own leadership.  They looked a companies like Johnson and Johnson, Merck, 3M, IBM, Walmart and GE.  They asked questions like why they lasted so long when other companies who were in similar markets, similar times and similar products didn’t.  It was interesting and one of the things that were most interesting was when the shift in power came.

One of the places companies got into trouble was when it came time for a transition in the CEO position.  Some companies were built around the CEOs personality and when that CEO died so did the company.  Other companies were able to keep moving forward because they had a succession plan in place and grew their CEOs from the inside of the company instead of the outside.  This let the company continue to do what it was built to do.  It was able to keep the core values of the company while they went through the transition of power.

This is nothing new.  When leadership was transferred from one person to another person in the Old Testament many had to be taught what to do before they took over.  Sons learned from the Fathers before their fathers passed away and gave their power to them.  Here in 1 Samuel we learn of Eli teaching and rearing up Samuel to know the way of God.  This story is a great one because it demonstrates how the power transfer process was happening.  Before we get there though let’s refresh or maybe introduce they two key players in this story.

First off we have the mentor, the teacher, the master, Eli.  Eli was second to last Judge in Israel’s history.  A Judge was a person that God appointed to watch over the Israelite nation.  They would help hold the nation accountable to God’s will carry out justice when necessary.  You can read about them in the book of Judges, which if Quinton Tarantino was going to direct a book of the Bible it would be the book of Judges.  There are some gruesome stories in that book.  But as we get to 1 Samuel you can start to see a change in the nation of Israel.  They are hungry for some different type of leadership, instead of Judges they are starting to think they want a king.

Eli was the high priest of Shiloh and had two sons who lived into every horrible stereotype of “Judges Kids” you can think of.  They would go into the temple and take the best cuts of meat from the sacrifices that were being offered.  They slept with women who were working in the temple.  One section describes Eli’s sons as scoundrels.  Their names were Hophni (Haff-nai) and Phinehas (yes, like Phinehas and Ferb).  As they wreaked havoc in and around the temple throughout the years Eli did nothing to stop them.  Because of this God got mad and told Eli that his sons would die on the same day and that he was going to call up a new priest to help his people that would not be a part of his family.

God decides that a young boy named Samuel will do perfectly in this role.  When we read about Eli and Samuel they are just starting off in their training together.  They are sleeping in the Temple, which is where Samuel would be doing most of his training as he learned what the ins and outs of being a priest would be.  But he was young and inexperienced so he had a lot to learn and Eli turned out to be a good teacher.  After this story Samuel goes on to be the last judge of the Israelites, a priest and then Israel’s first prophet.  Samuel is also known as the kingmaker.  He crowns Israel’s first king, Saul and then anoints the second one too, David.  But today we get the start of his path, the beginning of the journey which starts in the quiet of the night.

It is funny what happens in the silence of the soul.  When we are quiet and when we are not expecting much sometimes God moves the most.  John Wesley kept a very detailed journal.  On May 24, 1738 he wrote these words, “In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”  He didn’t really want to go to Aldersgate that night and all he was doing was listening to Martin Luther’s preface to the book of Romans, talk about boring.  But in that listening he left the tingle of God’s in his life.  After that he was on fire for God and his ministry went full steam ahead.  

Since we are celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday tomorrow his calling into ministry was a little like Samuel’s as well.  King wrote in one of his papers about his calling and states that it was a response to an ‘inner urge’ which called him to serve humanity.  It wasn’t a 2×4 smacking him across the forehead that told him to become a minister and to then stand up to the injustices of a segregated and racist America.  Instead it was a quiet voice that called his name.

My calling story is similar.  Truthfully I envy those who have a cool calling story.  One where they found themselves on the roadside of some cornfield and a light from heaven came down and told them to go into ministry.  Or like Saul’s conversion when Jesus comes in a bright light, blinds him, knocks him off his horse and then he believes.  No, like so many throughout history and our Bible, God called me in the quiet of the soul.

I tell you what, there are a couple of places that get really creepy at night that seem warm and inviting during the day, churches and schools.  Walk the hallways, alone, at night, of either a school or church and things start to feel a little different.  Noises get amplified and shadows look like they move.  I am sure as Samuel slept there on the floor near the ark of God probably felt a little uneasy.  Then all of a sudden he hears his name being called out.  The only other person in the whole temple was Eli so Samuel runs to him.  Eli tells him it wasn’t him and to go back to sleep.  This happens again and on the third time Eli in his vast experience and wisdom understands what is happening.  

When there is a transition of power, a time of succession there needs to be a time for the younger leader to learn from the older leader.  Any Kung Fu movie has a student and a master.  There needs to be a time for ‘grasshopper’ to learn the ways and then make them his own.  John Wesley used to tell his new preachers to preach only his sermons until they gained enough experience and wisdom to start to preach their own.  A blacksmith doesn’t just post a sign outside of his shop and pronounce himself a blacksmith simply because he has the tools.  No they usually had and may still have to, go through being an apprentice first.  Being an apprentice teachings the student, the inexperienced one, what to do by using the wisdom and experience of someone who has been doing it for a long time.

The ordination process within the United Methodist Church is an extremely long process and takes about a decade to go through if you go strait though.  When you start the process you are given a mentor.  That mentor walks through some material with you and asks you questions about your calling, your passions in ministry, and sees if this is something that you really should be doing.  Then there are yearly meetings with District Boards and then finally two grueling meetings with conference boards before you are approved to be ordained.  It is a LONG vetting process but the point is to verify, check, encourage, and help name that you are called by God to be an ordained minister in the United Methodist Church.

For a Jewish boy wanting to become a Rabbi there is a similar situation.  The boy studies the Torah, starting when he is very young, and then goes to be a student of a rabbi.  After years and years of learning from this Rabbi, about when the student is thirty years old, he can leave his rabbi and become one himself.  Samuel was in the beginning of that process.  The scripture says, “Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD: The word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him.” (verse 7)  He didn’t know how to listen for God’s voice and what to do when he heard it.  It was because of Eli that he grew to understand how and what to do.

This is why it is so important to have multi-generational churches.  If a church has only one or two generations then it is doomed to die because it will stay like it is until it is no more.  But those churches with multi-generations, three, four and even five, they will flourish because they have the wisdom of the elders mixed with the excitement and energy of the young.  Both are needed yet both don’t seem to understand each other at times.

In every time generations hate each other.  The older ones don’t understand why the younger ones do what they do and the younger ones don’t understand why the older ones do what they do.  But when they can come together great things can be accomplished.  Their has to be mutual respect for each other.  Eli was old, he was going blind, and he knew God was going to take his power and authority away.  He could have done nothing and been a lame duck judge but instead he took Samuel under his wing and guided him in the right direction.  Samuel could have dismissed Eli.  I am sure many people talked about this person who was a high priest but failed as a father.  Samuel could have simply waited for Eli to die and then do whatever he wanted but he didn’t.  He soaked up as much wisdom and guidance as he could before that happened.

We, in the modern world, can relate to where Eli and Samuel were in that time.  It says “In those days the word of the LORD was rare; there were not many visions.”  We don’t live in a world where God shows up in pillars of smoke and fire.  We don’t see waters parted or people walking on it.  But that doesn’t mean the Lord isn’t at work.  Remember it is in the silence that God can move our souls.

We are sleepy sometimes.  I look out in the congregation while I am preaching and I find people being just like Eli and Samuel, asleep in the middle of Church.  But there are others who are spiritually asleep and who would love nothing more than to hear the call of the Lord in their lives.  There are others of you out there who have heard God’s calling.  So you went to another country to see what he was doing.  You started a ministry to help those in need.  You volunteer your time helping children learn to read.  You have heard God calling.  You are the Elis of our congregation.  There are those who wish they could be like you but they don’t know how.  They want to learn to hear God calling but they just don’t know how.  When we can learn from each other.  When we can stop looking at the other generation as out of touch or misguided we can move forward and into the life that God calls us to.  

May we stop every once in a while and listen.  May we share our wisdom with others so they can start or be encouraged on their own journey.  May we open our ears and our hearts to see if God is calling us to do something more, to be something more.

And all God’s people said…Amen.
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