By the Rev. Lee Woofenden
Bridgewater, Massachusetts, February 1, 1998
1 Samuel 3 The Lord
The boy Samuel ministered
before the Lord under Eli. In those days the word of the Lord was rare; there
were not many visions.
One night Eli, whose eyes
were becoming so weak that he could barely see, was lying down in his usual
place. 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. Then the Lord called Samuel.Samuel
answered, "Here I am." And he ran to Eli and said, "Here I am;
you called me."
But Eli said, "I did
not call; go back and lie down." So he went and lay down.
Again the Lord called,
"Samuel!" And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, "Here I am;
you called me."
"My son," Eli
said, "I did not call; go back and lie down."
Now Samuel did not yet
know the Lord. The word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.
The Lord called Samuel a
third time, and Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, "Here I am; you
Then Eli realized that the
Lord was calling the boy. So Eli told Samuel, "Go and lie down, and if he
calls you, say, 'Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.'" So Samuel
went and lay down in his place.
The Lord came and stood
there, calling as at the other times, "Samuel! Samuel!" Then Samuel
said, "Speak, for your servant is listening."
And the Lord said to
Samuel: "See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make the ears
of everyone who hears of it tingle. At that time I will carry out against Eli
everything I spoke against his family--from beginning to end. For I told him
that I would judge his family for ever because of the sin he knew about; his
sons made themselves contemptible, and he failed to restrain them. Therefore, I
swore to the house of Eli, 'The guilt of Eli's house will never be atoned for by
sacrifice or offering.'"
Samuel lay down until
morning and then opened the doors of the house of the Lord. He was afraid to
tell Eli the vision, but Eli called him and said, "Samuel, my son."
"Here I am."
"What was it he said
to you?" Eli asked. "Do not hide it from me. May God deal with you, be
it ever so severely, if you hide from me anything he told you." So Samuel
told him everything, hiding nothing from him. Then Eli said, "He is the
Lord; let him do what is good in his eyes."
The Lord was with Samuel
as he grew up, and he let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel
from Dan to Beersheba recognized that Samuel was attested as a prophet of the
Lord. The Lord continued to appear at Shiloh, and there he revealed himself to
Samuel through his word. And Samuel's word came to all Israel.
John 1:43-51 Jesus
calls Philip and Nathanael
The next day Jesus decided
to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, "Follow me."
Philip, like Andrew and
Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida. Philip found Nathanael and told him,
"We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the
prophets also wrote--Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph."
anything good come from there?" Nathanael asked.
"Come and see,"
When Jesus saw Nathanael
approaching, he said of him, "Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is
"How do you know
me?" Nathanael asked.
Jesus answered, "I
saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you."
Then Nathanael declared,
"Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel."
Jesus said, "You
believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater
things than that." He then added, "I tell you the truth, you will see
heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of
Apocalypse Revealed #87 Hearing
means listening and obeying
both understanding and obeying, since we pay attention to someone so that we can
understand them and do what they say. It is clear from everyday language that
"hearing" means both understanding and obeying, since we talk about
"hearing" someone and we also talk about "listening to"
someone. When we say we "hear" someone, it means that we understand
them; but we say that we are "listening to" them when we do what they
The Lord came and stood
there, calling as at the other times, "Samuel! Samuel!" Then Samuel
said, "Speak, for your servant is listening." (1 Samuel 3:10)
Sometimes it takes a few
tries to get through to a person.
I must admit that I have
often been one of the people that requires several attempts. Heidi (my daughter)
reminded me of this the other day when she came into my study with a small
bundle of those personalized pencils that were a regular Christmas present for
the kids in the Woofenden family. Some of the pencils, of course, said "Lee
Woofenden." But others were stamped, in those neat, gold-embossed letters,
with one of my family's favorite nicknames for me as I was growing up: "Phineas
It was a well-deserved
nickname. While eating dinner with my family, it was not unusual for me to
suddenly catch a phrase that piqued my curiosity, and ask what that was
all about--only to find that it had been the subject of conversation for the
last ten minutes. More than once I was brought to the here and now by a voice
piercing through to my consciousness from some vast distance, saying "Earth
to Lee! Earth to Lee! Come in, please!"
So I have a certain
appreciation for the story about the Lord calling Samuel when Samuel was a young
boy. I know the feeling of suddenly hearing a voice and wondering where that
came from. Samuel--who lived at the Temple in Shiloh under the direction of the
high priest Eli--thought that it was Eli who was calling to him. Three times he
went to Eli to find out why he had called. Only on the third time did Eli
realize that it was the Lord who was calling to Samuel. In effect, the Lord was
calling, "God to Samuel! God to Samuel! Come in, please!"
Samuel did tune in to the
message that God was trying to get through over the vast distance between the
perfection of God and the low, corrupted state of human society in Samuel's day.
The words of the Lord were rare in those days. There were not many visions. Why
were the words of the Lord rare, and visions scarce? Few people were listening
for those words, or watching for those visions. Even Eli's own sons (who were,
ironically, named Hophni and Phinehas), one of whom was supposed to succeed him
as high priest, were corrupt, and abused their positions as priests of the Lord.
This was the cause for the message of doom on the house of Eli that was the
Lord's first communication through Samuel.
Samuel was not corrupt. He
was a dutiful boy, devoted to the tasks of the Lord's house. Yet even with
Samuel, it took the Lord three tries to get through. I suspect we can all relate
to this. Most of us aren't awful, corrupt people like Hophni and Phinehas. For
the most part, we're ordinary, decent folk. We do our job. We try not to step on
people's toes too much. We lend a hand here and there when we see the need.
Yet even though we mostly are
ordinary, decent folk, as with Samuel it sometimes takes the Lord several tries
to get through to us. We have our set patterns, our ways of doing things, our
habits of long standing. We go about our business, and if something comes along
that doesn't fit into our regular pattern, we are likely to pass right on by
without noticing it. Or maybe we'll stumble into it and say, "Oof! What was
that?" and hurry on our way. It often takes several go-rounds in the school
of hard knocks before a message from God finally gets through our thick skulls!
All too often, listening
for messages from the Lord is not part of our regular pattern. And if it isn't,
then tuning our ears to hear what the Lord has to say may take some practice.
This is only natural. Every skill requires practice, and listening for the
Lord's call is a skill that can be developed.
Fortunately, we have some
help in developing that skill. Most of us are not fortunate enough to hear the
living voice of the Lord calling to us as Samuel did. Still, the Lord is not
silent. For the Lord has given us his Word--the Bible--as a living voice that
can speak to us if we tune ourselves in to the spirit of its message.
This is symbolized in
today's story. In the Bible, prophets and priests represent the Word of the
Lord, and spiritual teaching and guidance that we get from God's Word. Samuel
did not immediately recognize that it was the Lord speaking to him. He had to go
to Eli three times in order to find where that voice was coming from, and to get
instruction as to how to respond so the Lord could give him the message. In the
same way, when our conscience speaks to us about something we are involved in,
or when we get some sudden intuition and don't know where it came from, we may
need to return several times to the Bible, or to church or Sunday School, or
simply to meditation and prayer with God, in order to understand the meaning of
these "voices" that are trying to get through to us--trying to get
through with a message that is vitally important for us to hear.
The messages the Lord is
trying to get through to us may not be a matter of physical life and death as
they turned out to be with Eli's family. But the Lord's messages are always
matters of spiritual life and death. And sometimes those messages are
gloomier than we want to hear. Samuel did not want to tell Eli what the
Lord had said to him. He knew how upsetting it would be for Eli. We, also,
prefer not to let the Lord's messages upset our lives. But even though Eli had
not been able to control his sons, as for himself, he was attentive and obedient
to the Lord. It is to his credit that after insisting on hearing what the Lord
had said to Samuel, Eli did not get angry or hold it against Samuel; he simply
accepted the Lord's message, and the Lord's right to deliver such a message.
Would we be able to accept
a message from God as readily as Eli did, even if it meant the end of our life
as we know it, and the beginning of a whole different kind of life? Are we
willing to accept the message that the Lord gives us every day--that we need to
stop engaging in this or that wrong way of feeling, thinking, or acting? Are we
willing to let these messages come through, and take the action--make the
change--that the Lord is asking of us?
Even if we are
ordinary, decent folk, each one of us has rough edges in our personality that
need to be smoothed out. Each one of us has places where we don't do what we
know is right--or don't stop doing what we know is wrong. Each one of us
has stubborn bad habits that we have not yet tackled. Each one of us has ways
that we unthinkingly hurt the people we come in contact with. Each one of us
needs to tune in to the messages that the Lord is trying to get through to us
Our reading for today
shows us how we can do this.
First of all, when Samuel
heard the voice, he didn't simply ignore it. This is the first step! The voice
of the Lord is not rare because the Lord doesn't try to speak to us; it is rare
because most people, most of the time, aren't listening for it! So the very
first step in listening for the Lord's call is, simply, to listen for it.
When we hear our conscience speaking, we may not be able to act on what it is
saying right away. But if we can simply hear what that voice of God within us is
saying, and not push it out of our minds, we have taken the first step in
listening to the Lord's call.
Next, we need to start
taking some sort of action. Samuel did not know that it was the Lord calling. In
the same way, we may not know whether this prompting inside us is genuine or
not. We may need to learn more about it. Why would the Lord tell me this? Is
there really anything wrong with the way I'm doing things right now? If so, how
can I go about changing it? What steps do I need to take to make a change . . .
and make the change stick? As with Samuel, it may take several tries to
"kick the habit" that the Lord is calling us to give up, or to take
the new step in our emotional or interpersonal lives that the Lord is urging us
toward. But as long as we are taking some steps to learn more about the
issue that the Lord is presenting to us, we are on our way to hearing and
obeying the Lord's call.
Finally, when we have
fully tuned in to what the Lord is telling us, and have grasped the whole
message--no matter how difficult it may be for us--we need to respond to it in
the way Eli did: without anger or blame, but with a simple acceptance that yes,
this is the Lord speaking; the Lord's message applies to me, and I must abide by
As the story continues
beyond what we read this morning, Eli's family line does come to an end, and the
spirit of the Lord passes over to Samuel, who leads the Israelites into the next
phase of their national and spiritual life. Just so, in order to truly listen to
and act upon the Lord's call, we must be ready to allow the old, flawed self
that the Lord is speaking against to fade away and die, so that a new, stronger,
more spiritual self can take its place.
We must be willing to let
our old habits die--as hard in coming as that death may be. We must be willing
to let our old, faulty and hurtful ways of relating to others fade away to
nothing, so that a new, more respectful and considerate self can arise in us.
Yes, listening to the
Lord's call involves the full range of meaning in that vital word, "to
listen." To truly listen, we must progress from hearing and
understanding what the Lord is telling us, right through to putting that message
into practice in our lives. Amen.
Painting entitled "Silhouettes" is ©Tom
and used with his permission by Moon And Back Graphics to construct this set
Music is Memories
© 1999 Bruce DeBoer