First United Methodist Church
Saturday, August 17, 2019
Devils Lake, North Dakota
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This Week's Sermon

August 4, 2019

1 Samuel 3:1-21, Luke 10:38-42


Writer Charles Swindoll once found himself with too many commitments in too few days. He got nervous and tense about it. “I was snapping at my wife and our children, choking down my food at mealtimes, and feeling irritated at those unexpected interruptions through the day,” he recalled in his book Stress Fractures. “Before long, things around our home started reflecting the patter of my hurry-up style. It was becoming unbearable.

I distinctly remember after supper one evening, the words of our younger daughter, Colleen. She wanted to tell me something important that had happened to her at school that day. She began hurriedly, ‘Daddy, I wanna tell you somethin’ and I'll tell you really fast.' “Suddenly realizing her frustration, I answered, ‘Honey, you can tell me -- and you don't have to tell me really fast. Say it slowly.” “I'll never forget her answer: ‘Then listen slowly.’”[1]

Her words point to a problem that has long existed in the world of faith. It’s the problem of spiritual laziness, a laxity of attention to God. It’s a big problem today, but in the history of Israel it was a national epidemic at times. Following the period of the patriarchs, after the leadership of Moses and Joshua had ended, the people fell into willful sin and abandoned the teachings of God. During the time of the judges, it was said that everyone did what was right in his own eyes. You can imagine how far that got them.

It was then that a woman named Hannah changed the course of Israel’s history and Judeo-Christian religion as well. She went to the tabernacle and prayed; prayed specifically for a son. Her promise to God was that if He would grant her a son, she would dedicate him to God for service. A very strong and solemn promise, but one which she honored and in so doing created a servant of God.

Samuel was the name of the boy who from a young age went to live and work in the tabernacle under the supervision of Eli the priest. Eli’s own two sons were despicable and most offensive to God. Scripture calls them worthless men who did not know the Lord. The problem was they were also priests serving in the tabernacle. They would take advantage of the women who came to give their offering, and they would keep the sacrificial meat for themselves.

What an embarrassment they must have been to Eli. What a blot on his family name and position.   You can imagine he must have pleaded with them to confess their sins and make restitution to God and serve Him honorably. You might imagine that, but Eli was much more passive. He did speak to them, asking why they did such things and warning them that no one could intercede for them because of their sin against God. They did not listen, however, for one primary reason. It was the will of the Lord to put them to death.

So now the story has become even more interesting. These two were an affront to God and to the priestly role. God wanted them dead. Surely God could have struck them dead and the tabernacle would have had new priests, and all would be well. To be fair, God did send a messenger to warn Eli about the punishment that was coming. He reminded him that his family had been chosen for the priesthood, but because Eli tolerated the sins of his sons, that right had been taken away. Never again would anyone in Eli’s family serve the Lord in that way.  

The sons would die on the same day, and even the tabernacle would suffer because of them. Then God would raise up His own priest who would do what was in God’s heart and mind and would serve forever. This is the situation into which the young Samuel was called by God. 

The opening words of chapter 3 tell us very clearly that the word of the Lord was rare in those days. Why would God send people to speak for Him when no one was listening? But that was about to change. God would send a boy to do a man’s job. Samuel was given by his mother to serve in the tabernacle, but his role would be as a prophet. You know what the most important skill is for a prophet? Listening to God. You can’t prophesy if you can’t hear God’s voice.

So, here’s how it happened. Eli was sleeping in his quarters; Samuel was sleeping in his quarters. Eli was said to be nearly blind. It seems he was also deaf to what God had to say. Samuel’s ears were working fine. He heard his name called, but he assumed it was Eli, so he went to him and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” 

Eli said no, he had not called, and told Samuel to go back to sleep. Twice more this scenario was repeated, and on the third time Eli became aware it was God calling Samuel, so he instructed him to go back to his room, lie down, and if the call came again he should answer, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

At least someone in that place was listening to God. Samuel did as he was told. This time the Lord came and stood in that place, and called to him, “Samuel, Samuel.” He responded, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” What is remarkable is not that Samuel mistook God’s voice for Eli’s, but that Samuel did not know the Lord and God’s word had never been revealed to him.  Unlike the sons of Eli who should have known the Lord, Samuel was unschooled in the ways of the Lord.

And yet, he was the obedient one. God needed that kind of attention for the message He had, which Samuel was going to have to deliver to Eli. It was a word of judgment and Samuel was hesitant and afraid to deliver the message, but Eli knew what was coming. The truth hurts, but Samuel was able to tell it and Eli was able to accept it. Samuel became at that moment a true servant of God, delivering the death warrant for Eli’s sons. 

At the heart of the message was God’s promise that sacrifice or offering would never atone for the sins of Eli’s household. This points back to the book of Numbers regarding intentional versus unintentional sin. Each had varying punishments, but those who sinned willingly and intentionally against God were to be cut off from their community with no chance for redemption.

Make no mistake, God will be heard. If the sinners themselves won’t listen, and those who know the sinners best won’t listen and won’t act and so make themselves guilty by association, then God will have a way to be heard. When a nation supports sinfulness, God will speak a word of judgment. 

The word for hear in the Old Testament translates to listen and obey. It is used 1100 times, a strong reminder of the connection between hearing and obeying. Ignoring God is the same as disobedience. Hearing requires a heart open to the possibility of serving God.

Are you listening?   Are you listening to God like you listen to your kids, your spouse, your boss, to the news? God requires our full attention, not so that He can speak, but so that we can listen. Jesus said quite frequently when He was teaching, “If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.” Why would He need to repeat that phrase so often? Because listening to God is an enabled trait. We must be willing to obey. Hearing is not enough.

We can see from the exchange between Mary and Martha and Jesus there is a priority in God’s relationship with us, but it might be different than how we would prioritize. Martha wanted to serve Jesus by literally serving Him with food and hospitality, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Mary wanted to serve Him as a disciple, learning and listening. It’s not a strike against her that she wasn’t in the kitchen.

Jesus knew that if we aren’t listening to Him, we tend to become distracted and overwhelmed by the tasks of life that take our thoughts away from serving Him. I don’t know if you struggle with this distraction or not. Maybe you make your own distractions, so you don’t hear God as clearly. You’re not alone rest assured.

How we sometimes communicate with the people in our lives does not necessarily reflect how God tries to speak to us. Think about the way you try to keep in touch with your family at times. Does God do to us what we do to our own kids or grandkids, going back into the room to see what’s happening? “Just checking on you,” we say, bringing not much proof of trust to the situation.

Or how we might panic when someone doesn’t respond to a text or email, and we assume something has happened to them? Maybe it’s just me. The prophet Amos talked about a time of famine, not a famine of bread or a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord. People would wander from sea to sea, running around, seeking the word of the Lord, but they shall not find it.

Imagine not being able to hear the voice of God anymore. No answered prayer. No prompting of the conscience. No confirmation of the Spirit. Left to our own devices, we would no doubt become a nation of people who did what was right in our own eyes. By nation, I mean not only the United States, but the greater nation of God’s people known as Christians.

There’s more than one way to hear God speaking; through the concerns expressed by others, stories in the news that call for a response, urgent messages on social media about missing children or teens. If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.  

There are many conflicting voices today in our multimedia culture, vying for our attention to God. Some claim to speak for God, but their prejudice and hatred would seem to disprove that association. Our young people are statistically becoming less interested in the faith because of the off track, conflicted version of Christianity in the world today.

Samuel was called by God to speak truth and judgment to people. It was said of him that none of his words fell to the ground. In other words, every prophecy he spoke was fulfilled. His words went out to all of Israel. There was no one could not hear his message, who could ignore God’s voice.

You may assume that only those who serve as ministers are called by God. Some people assume that we have some kind of special connection or a direct line to God, that we have ways of communicating no one else possesses. We may be set apart for a particular kind of service, but everyone is called by God. 

All of us have ears to hear if we are willing to place ourselves in God’s hands and let Him work on our stubborn hearts, our stiff necks, and make us into willing participants in our own faith.

Paul said that faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. Listen for yourselves as you come to the table of Christ’s sacrifice for you. Hear what God speaks on your behalf. Servant, are you listening?