2nd Sunday after Epiphany
Grace, mercy, and peace be yours in great abundance from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ: Quite a while ago there was a certain young man who was a student at a local university. He was often troubled by the many things he was learning and his conscience often bothered him. One day he was in the midst of his studies in the school library when he came across a bible. He opened it up and selectively paged through some of the many pages. It just so happened that he fell upon the bible account before us today: 1 Samuel 3. He read about Samuel with quite a bit of interest. Apparently he thought, “Boy, it sure would be nice to be like Samuel, to actually hear God’s voice, hear God speaking to me!” This same young man would go on in his life and do some extraordinary things, so much so that he has been consistently considered to be one of the most influential people in the last millennium. That young man was Martin Luther. And by God’s grace one of his greatest achievements was rediscovering the truth that had been hidden for centuries, the truth that indeed God does speak to us today as He did to Samuel so long ago, today He continues to speak to us on the pages of God’s Word, the Bible.
In Samuel’s day we’re told the Word of the Lord was rare. It seems for about 300 years during the period in Israel’s history while they were ruled by people called judges there were only 2 prophets from God that we know about. In Martin Luther’s day the Word was also quite rare. One of the greatest judgments on certain people is that when they don’t appreciate His Word He takes His Gospel from them. That doesn’t surprise us. We saw last week how king Herod and the religious officials in Jerusalem heard the Magi’s testimony, saw the prophecy of where the Christ was to be born, but they didn’t appreciate the message, so only the Magi got see their Savior, their salvation! The same is true today. Let us plead with our Father in heaven that the Word doesn’t become rare in our midst!
The answer to this is to keep listening to our Lord’s call, His speaking to us, His voice, to keep saying in our thoughts, words, and actions: Speak Lord, your servant is listening. As Samuel did. When we find Samuel in our text this morning we’re not sure how old he is, but some have supposed that he is about 12 years old, which would be a good estimate. If you remember a bit about Samuel’s background, he was the son of a lady named Hannah. Hannah had been barren and prayed to the Lord that if he would give her a son she would give him over to the Lord for service in God’s house. In mercy the Lord granted her request and she brought Samuel up in the training and instruction of the Lord and taught him to honor, respect, and obey. This was quite opposite to Eli, the priest, whose sons grew up and were very wicked, doing evil things in God’s eyes and God would end up putting them to death. So Samuel as a young boy stayed at the temple day and night serving. He probably did things like open the doors of the temple to let worshippers in, replenish the oil in lamps, mainly probably custodial duties. Well part of his job was helping out Eli the priest, who was getting quite old and couldn’t see well anymore.
One night as Samuel was in his bed sleeping and it was probably very early in the morning since the “lamp of God had not yet gone out,” Samuel heard someone call, “Samuel, Samuel!” Samuel dutifully jumped out of bed and ran to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.” Now, I’m a parent and have young children and yet often when I try calling one of them in broad daylight, in the middle of the day, when they are wide awake, it may take several times before one of them slowly and sluggishly comes. But Samuel was different. Three times he was called and he came running to Eli to see what he wanted and Eli kept telling him, “I did not call; go back and lie down.” Now we are told that “Samuel did not yet know the LORD: The word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him.” It would be naïve for us to think that this means Samuel had no idea who the Lord was. He had been brought up by a God-fearing mother, Hannah, and it would be naïve to presume he had no idea what the purpose of the temple was where he worked day and night. Rather, the Lord had never spoken directly to Samuel and Samuel did not recognize the Lord’s voice and that’s why he kept thinking it was Eli who was calling him.
Finally, the third time Samuel went to Eli and Eli finally realized what was going on here. He “realized that the LORD was calling the boy.” So Eli correctly instructed Samuel, “Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, ‘Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.’” There is nothing better in all of life that Eli could have directed someone than to say those words. So Samuel went back and lay down as before. And then the Lord Himself came and called to Samuel the fourth time saying, “Samuel! Samuel! Then Samuel said, ‘Speak, for your servant is listening.” Samuel would go on and be a great prophet leading Israel through the transition from judges to kings. Yet what made Samuel great was not so much that he could speak to people, but that he would listen. Listen to the Lord speaking to him.
Samuel listened to God’s voice and answered His call. Yet, what didn’t Samuel know? He didn’t know what the Lord would require of him or what his future held. He didn’t know the ins and the outs of how his ministry would go or where the Lord’s directions would lead him. What would his future hold? The message God immediately gives him here is about how the Lord will bring devastating judgment on Eli’s family because of their wickedness and Eli’s refusal to do anything about it. Samuel would also be called on to lead Israel and this wasn’t a very bright time in Israel’s history. In fact God has told us what this period was like and in many ways it sounds very similar to the world we live in today: “Everyone did as he saw fit” (Judges 21:25). Many Israelites also followed false gods and idols and were in constant threat of invasion and attacks by a foreign nation. But notice Samuel’s response to God’s call: “Speak, for your servant is listening.”
In the Gospel the disciples didn’t know what following Jesus fully meant either. They didn’t know what the future held. They didn’t know the cost of the journey. They’d pretty much leave behind their previous way of life. They would learn things and think about things that they never would have had to before. They would end up running in fear and abandoning Jesus. They would end up hiding behind locked doors in fear. They would almost all meet a most gruesome death, martyred for daring to believe in Jesus and telling others about him as well. And yet when Jesus called them they followed, all they had was His call, His Word, His promise.
God has called us to faith too. Enlightened us with His Gospel message. Yet, we don’t know what’s in store for us either. Like Samuel we respond to God’s word and will for us by saying, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” And yet no matter our best intentions we still struggle to follow God’s voice to us and do what he wants us to do.
God says, “Wives submit to your husbands in everything” and to husbands “love your wives as Christ loved the church.” Really? But “Listen Lord, how can I possibly submit to my husband when he never shows that he loves me!” “Listen Lord, how can I love my wife when she never agrees with me!” No, “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.” God says, “Honor those in authority over you.” Including our parents, the government, including even those signs on the road that tell us the speed limit. But, “Listen Lord, those are minor laws, no one will notice, why should I obey them if they aren’t doing what I want them to be doing?” No, “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.” God says the most important treasure you can possibly give your children is to spend time with them and train them up in the way of the Lord. But, “Listen Lord, I might lose work time! I might get paid less! I won’t get to spend so much time with my hobby!” No, “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.” God says, “Avoid those who do not teach the full truths of God’s word, don’t join with churches who mix a little poison in with milk of God’s Word.” But, “Listen Lord, we may be called ‘unloving’ or ‘divisive’ or ‘arrogant.’” No, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” How often are we not all guilty of presuming to know more about how to run this universe, what would be best for our lives, what God should be doing than God does. How much don’t we say, “Listen Lord, your servant is speaking?” “Listen Lord, I could sure use more money in the bank account, a better job, a new car, more obedient children, a more understanding spouse, etc, etc.” And then when God doesn’t seem to be listening to our constant calls, perhaps we are led to doubt and wonder, “Is He really with me, does He care about me, how far away God must be from me!”
Where is God? Sometimes it may seem as if God’s so far away, that we’re on our own to fend for ourselves. How can we know God is near to us, personally? Well, the very fact that you believe God’s Word, listen to His call to you through His Word, is ample evidence that God is actually very near to you. He sent and continues to send the Holy Spirit to work on your heart through the hearing and reading of God’s chosen instrument, His Word. And the Holy Spirit has built His temple inside of you. God has called you by the Gospel, enlightened you with His gifts, sanctified and kept you in the true faith. The very fact that you believe in Jesus that He has washed away all your sins with His blood on the cross and has given you heaven freely, the very fact that you believe that is shows how near God is to you and how dear you are to Him. The fact that you believe in Jesus as your Savior is because God has spoken to you, told you about it, called you, worked on your heart…and He did all of that through His Word. And with His voice, His Word He has created in you a willingness to say, “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.” He has given you the ability to follow him and do what He tells you in His Word. He has created inside of you a willingness to listen to His Word above all, no matter what, no matter the cost.
And so as a child, a parent, an employer, an employee, a husband, a wife, in the way you use your body, in your attitude about hearing God’s Word, in the way you approach the unknown future, in how you bear your crosses in life, as you face trials and temptations, as you hear your Savior call you by name, don’t respond with, “Listen Lord, your servant is speaking,” but rather respond as God has enabled you, “I don’t know what’s coming in my life or what you will require of me or what it will cost me, but whatever it is, ‘Speak, Lord, your servant is listening,’ I want to listen to you speak to me in your Word and I want to follow you, no matter what.” Amen.