The story of Samuel and Eli began years earlier when the priest spoke with a woman who had been praying in that same sanctuary. The woman was Hannah and her prayer was that she and her husband would have soon have a child. In due time, her prayer was answered.
Hannah gave birth to a son and named him Samuel, which means, “I have asked him of the Lord.”
Time passed, Samuel did the things that babies do. He took his first step. He said his first word. He ate his first solid food. And when he had been completely weaned from his mother’s milk, Hannah took him back to the place where she had prayed, and dedicated him to a life of service in God’s house.
That’s how it came to pass that “Samuel was ministering to the LORD…[in days when] the word of the LORD was rare…[and] visions were not widespread.”
The story of Samuel’s calling, the subject of this morning’s Old Testament lesson, reads like a biblical version of a comedic farce. There’s humor here because the audience is already in on a secret than none of the players know.
We know that it’s not Eli’s voice that Samuel keeps hearing. And so, each time Samuel stumbles out of bed and down the hall to find Eli our anticipation builds.
When will Samuel discover the true identity of the One calling his name?
That time, of course, came when Samuel, with a little guidance from Eli, responded to the voice in a different way.
“Now the LORD came and stood there, calling as before, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” Then the LORD said to Samuel, “See I am about to do something in Israel that will make both ears of anyone who hears of it tingle.”That’s a great line isn’t it? It’s one of my favorites in the whole Scripture. God was about to do something new, something shocking, something that would stir the pot, and breathe new life into the people’s situation, but what could it be?
A prophet—God would make Samuel a prophet. Not in the sense of a crystal ball toting fortune teller, but as a God inspired truth teller, one who could be trusted to receive and deliver God’s word to God’s people.
The child for whom Hannah had prayed would become a prophet of God- that was the big news.
By sunrise, then, neither Samuel nor Israel would ever be the same again.
Samuel’s life bore witness to God’s ear tingling goodness, and it all began with a call in the night and a faithful response, “Here I am.”
Although Samuel’s calling was specific to the needs of God’s people in that time and in that place—it’s important for us to remember that he was neither the first nor the last person to hear God’s call.
Abraham heard it and left the life that he and his family knew in pursuit of God’s promise. Moses heard it, too, and returned to the place where he was a wanted man in order to bring an end to the peoples’ slavery.
The prophets heard God’s call, so did Mary and the disciples. And as the church blossomed in the days after Jesus’ death and resurrection, the call continued to be heard by those whom we remember by name as saints and by those whose name time forgot, yet who bore witness to God’s steadfast love nevertheless.
With these examples in mind, what we find in the scripture and in our own history and experience is an image of God whose words can pierce the mind numbing clatter and commotion of our daily lives with the Good News that each of us not only has a calling, a purpose, a mission from God, but that we’ve also been blessed with the gifts, the talents, and the abilities to make that calling our reality.
It’s the image of God roaming the streets and courtyards of our lives declaring Good News to all who will hear.
Today the Good News invites us to consider just what God’s calling in our lives might be.
How is God reaching out to us?
What is it that God wants us to hear and understand?
What would God have us to do?
What blessings await us if we’ll only stop running and say, “Ok, here I am.”
One of my mentors in the early years of my ministry was fond of saying, “There’s nothing quite like seeing someone who is the right person, for the right job, in the right place, at the right time.” If you’ve ever felt that way about your own circumstances, or benefited from it in the life of another, you know just how true this is. There’s something beautiful, something holy, that happens when one’s talents and passions are the perfect match for the skills and experiences that are most needed in that moment?
I would say that this divine synergy is also at the heart of our experience of the Good News of Jesus Christ, an experience not limited to a few chosen elite, but available to all of God’s people.
If Christ is alive in you then the Spirit within you is not leading you to live a life in vain, endlessly chasing after ephemeral and fading things, for in Christ it is God’s pleasure that you would be fulfilled, that you would excel, that you would find that the blessings within your grasp are the exact tools that you need in order to fulfill your calling, a calling as unique as you are yet always consistent with God’s greatest commandment, love others as God loves you.
If you want to discover your calling, then, look within yourself, then look at the world around you. If you want to discover your calling, find the place where your God given talents, gifts, interests, and passions intersect with the needs of your neighbors.
Look within. Then look out. Amazing things can happen.
Discovering and fulfilling one’s calling is a holy endeavor, one with which people of faith have wrestled throughout the ages. It’s a struggle that brings us to this place today, wondering, as we do, how we can live an authentic life of faith.
I know that tomorrow is MLK Day, but it’s a passage from his namesake, the 16th century church Reformer Martin Luther that enlightens us this morning.
To use a rough example: If you are a craftsman you will find the Bible placed in your workshop, in your hands, in your heart; it teaches and preaches how you ought to treat your neighbor. Only look at your tools, your needle, your thimble, your beer barrel, your articles of trade, your scales, your measures, and you will find this saying written on them. You will not be able to look anywhere it does not strike your eyes. None of the things with which you deal daily are too trifling to tell your this incessanlty, if you are but willing to hear it; and there is no lack of such preaching, for you have as many preachers as there are transactions, commodities, tools, and other implements in your house and estate; and they shout this to your face: “My dear, use me toward your neighbor as you would want him to act toward you with that which is his. (Luther, The Sermon on the Mount, 1532)Look to your tools, the building blocks of your life, if you want to discover your calling and ask what is it that is crying out to be employed in the service of love.
It's in your hands. The sermon is in your hands. The Good News is in your hands because we are the Body of Christ and yours are the hands of Jesus.
“Here I am.” Samuel’s reply to the One who called out to him echoes through the ages. It speaks to us still of his willingness and desire to be where God wanted him to be doing what God wanted him to do. It stands before us, then, as a powerful example of faithfulness, of the kind of faith about which Jesus spoke, the kind of faith he offers to all who believe, the faith that can do so much more than move mountains, a faith that can move you and me, can move us from brokenness to wholeness, from futility to fulfillment, from isolation to community- a faith that can move us closer to one another and closer to God so that we may after all, “be one with Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to all the world.”
Thanks be to God for faith like this, and for this Good News. Amen.