The Second Sunday After Epiphany
Scripture Reading 1 Samuel 3:1-10
Samuel’s Calling and Prophetic Activity
3 Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.
2 At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; 3 the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was. 4 Then the Lord called, “Samuel! Samuel!”[a] and he said, “Here I am!” 5 and ran to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call; lie down again.” So he went and lay down. 6 The Lord called again, “Samuel!” Samuel got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call, my son; lie down again.” 7 Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. 8 The Lord called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy. 9 Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.
10 Now the Lord came and stood there, calling as before, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”
- 1 Samuel 3:4 Q Ms Gk See 3.10: MT the Lord called Samuel
How did you end up in the job that you are currently working at, or one that you formally worked at or retired from? Dr. John Krumboltz of Stanford University spent most of his life researching that exact question.
Dr. Krumboltz said that most people just follow the path of least resistance. A part-time summer job becomes permanent. Family or friends push us into doing something just to get by that turns out to be disturbingly long-term. When it comes to career decisions, Dr. Krumboltz said, “for many people it’s a decision they never knew they made—it was made by default.”
That certainly applied to Samuel, whose mother Hannah had his career path picked out before he was born.
Hannah was married to Elkanah, who had two wives. Hannah was his favorite, but hadn’t had children. Hannah went to the sanctuary at Shiloh and begged God for a child. It was there, while she was praying, that Hannah met the old priest Eli.
Eli was less than comforting. Seeing Hannah’s lips moving without her saying anything, he accused her of being drunk. Once he discovered what Hannah was really doing, though, Eli told her that God would answer her prayer.
Hannah promised in return that, if God did, she would dedicate her firstborn son to God’s service. When that son, Samuel, was born, Hannah gave him to Eli to serve at the sanctuary in Shiloh. Samuel’s bed, it turns out, was by the ark of God. Barbara Brown Taylor described what that meant.
At night [Samuel] lay down by the ark of God, the legendary throne of the invisible king Yahweh that Israel carried into battle at the head of her armies. It was reputed to contain all the sacred relics of the nation’s past: a container of manna, Aaron’s budded rod, the tablets of the covenant. Sleeping next to it had to be like sleeping in a graveyard, or under a volcano.
This volcano erupted in a most peculiar way. “Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord,” I Samuel says, “where the ark of God was. Then the Lord called, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’”
Samuel snapped awake. He looked around the sanctuary, dimly lit by the flickering flame of a single lamp. Samuel saw nothing. Thinking old Eli had cried out for help, Samuel went to him and said, “Here I am! You called me!”
This happens two more times. With 20/20 insight, blind Eli finally tells Samuel that, when next he hears the voice, he should answer, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” Samuel did, and from that moment on, his life was forever changed.
God speaks to us, as God spoke to Samuel, in ways that keep us from living our lives by default, as Dr. Krumboltz put it.
Later in his academic career, Dr. Krumboltz came up with what he called the “happenstance theory.” He said that the unexpected things we face in life are too important for us to ignore. We should instead, Dr. Krumboltz said, deal with them in a positive way. His hints for doing so also speak to the life of faith.
First, he said, we should have “curiosity to explore learning opportunities.” If Samuel had rolled over and gone back to sleep, if he hadn’t been curious about what was going on, Israel would have lost one of its greatest prophets.
How often do you and I take the easiest path because following our curiosity or exploring life’s possibilities could lead us down unfamiliar paths we’d rather not walk?
Next, Dr. Krumboltz says, we should have “persistence to deal with obstacles.” Those obstacles started for Samuel the second he listened to God’s voice. His first prophetic act was to tell his old mentor and father figure Eli that he and his sons were doomed.
Eli’s sons abused their positions as priests, keeping for themselves sacrifices intended for God. Eli warned them to stop, but they stubbornly continued their greedy ways. Samuel said that because of his sons’ sinfulness and his failure to stop them, God would wipe Eli and his priestly line from the face of the earth.
Maybe our obstacles won’t be quite as challenging as a young boy telling his father figure he’s going to die. Oftentimes, though, persistence isn’t just an option, but a necessity.
We’ve found out about that since March of last year, haven’t we? It’s goes deeper than that, though. We all of us have dealt with serious illness, the loss of a loved one, or with other circumstances that shook who we are as a person and challenged what we believed. Whether we have the courage, the persistence, and the depth of faith to continue trying to be the people God wants us to be determines the future course of our life.
Next, Dr. Krumboltz says, we need “flexibility to address a variety of circumstances and events.” That kind of flexibility came in handy for Samuel when he anointed Saul’s successor.
Samuel thought that the tallest and strongest of Jesse’s sons just had to be the new king. “No,” God said. “Don’t judge by how he looks or by how tall he is. I’ve rejected him. Mortals look on the outward appearance. The Lord looks on the heart.”
God told Samuel to choose David, the youngest and least likely of Jesse’s sons, to be the new king. God wrote flexibility into the job description of faith.
Finally, Dr. Krumboltz said, we need “optimism to maximize benefits from unplanned events.” When Saul disobeyed God and fell into madness, Samuel needed an optimism born of faith to believe that God would find a new leader for Israel.
Nothing can frustrate the plans and purposes of God. If, as Samuel did, we believe that, it gives us a peace and a hope we won’t find anywhere else. As Jesus said in John 14, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I don’t give to you as the world gives. Don’t let your hearts be troubled, and don’t let them be afraid.”
We can follow the path of least resistance in faith as well as in life. Or we can choose, as Samuel did, a curious, persistent, flexible, and optimistic faith, one that strains forward to what God promises is yet to be.
Samuel’s call came during a turbulent and troubled time, as does ours. Is God calling you to start something new, to take your walk of faith in a different direction?
You’ll never know if you don’t take the first step. There will be discouragers, opponents, and distractions trying to stop you. There will be those so tied to the past that they’ve closed themselves off to God’s future.
Still, we have to try. We have no choice but to answer that voice ringing out of the darkness, as Samuel did, by saying, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”