In The Beginning
1 Samuel 3:1-10, (11-20) 3:1 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. 3:2 At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; 3:3 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. 3:4 Then the LORD called, “Samuel! Samuel!” and he said, “Here I am!” 3:5 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. 3:6 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.” 3:7 Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD, and the word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him. 3:8 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. 3:9 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. 3:10 Now the LORD came and stood there, calling as before, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” 3:11 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. 3:12 On that day I will fulfill against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. 3:13 For I have told him that I am about to punish his house forever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them. 2
3:14 Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be expiated by sacrifice or offering forever.” 3:15 Samuel lay there until morning; then he opened the doors of the house of the LORD. Samuel was afraid to tell the vision to Eli. 3:16 But Eli called Samuel and said, “Samuel, my son.” He said, “Here I am.” 3:17 Eli said, “What was it that he told you? Do not hide it from me. May God do so to you and more also, if you hide anything from me of all that he told you.” 3:18 So Samuel told him everything and hid nothing from him. Then he said, “It is the LORD; let him do what seems good to him.” 3:19 As Samuel grew up, the LORD was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. 3:20 And all Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was a trustworthy prophet of the LORD.
- Today we are at the start of a new and exciting week. We are embarking on the ritual that happens every four years when we transition into a new presidential term. It’s all at once a time of endings and beginnings.
- The air waves are full of proclamations of this being unprecedented times. There is extreme political unrest with threats from within and outside the nation, social dislocation, and even religious corruption.
- But what if I told you, there’s nothing new under the sun. We need only look to today’s scripture passage to see God speak into a similar situation in the days when Israel was ruled by Judges. This is the story of God’s call to Samuel, the last Judge of Israel.
- Background: Samuel is the son his mother had prayed for in front of Eli, the high priest at the time—a descendent of the Aaron, the first High Priest whose lineage God had originally promised would be God’s ministers forever. This plan gets upset because Eli’s biological sons have totally sinned by disrespecting the offerings AND by sleeping with women who were serving in the tabernacle. While not a biological son, Samuel, promised to be given to God by his mother Hannah upon his birth, has been raised by Eli in the tabernacle. These were very difficult times—the word of the Lord was rare (not clear if it was because God wasn’t speaking or if people weren’t listening); the leader’s sons were corrupt; the Philistines were becoming a political threat; and the people were succumbing to the temptation to be like their neighbors by increasing their call for a King.
- This is the context within which the young Samuel receives his call. The circumstances are difficult, but then so is his message. But sometimes a message has to be hard if there is going to be a clean break for something new, something different to emerge.
- This passage highlights how God is present in the endings and the beginnings of our human experience. Because of the blatant disobedience of Eli’s sons and his own lack of leadership, the priestly line as it had been known is coming to an end.
- Like the song says, trouble don’t last always. Neither do corrupt institutions or oppressive and abusive policies or practices. In God’s timing, right will prevail. Those who honor God will be upheld and those who oppose him will be opposed by him. In the judgment Samuel relayed to Eli, he let him know that God would not allow the evil in his household to last.
- Eli hears and faithfully accepts this pronouncement of punishment. Though he was not completely responsible for what his sons were doing, his silence or rebuke of them only later in life made him vested in what they were doing and therefore he too would pay a price.
- Throughout history and even to this day, the church or those claiming to represent Christ, as well as others in positions of political and cultural influence have found themselves aligned with corrupt institutions and practices that are not aligned with God’s will. They may not be totally responsible for creating these situations but their silence or delayed response to them makes them complicit in the results.
- Like Eli, we then may be challenged to accept the pain that comes as a result of our complicity and silence. May we also be like Eli in his willingness to “let God do what is good.”
- Walter Brueggeman said,” There is a chance for newness, and that chance is rooted in Hannah’s piety, in Israel’s daring doxology, in Eli’s yielding, in Samuel’s availability, in God’s resolve to do a new thing.” The kind of thing that will make the ears of all who hear tingle!
- The chapter begins with God’s word rarely spoken and ends with his word regularly shared through Samuel. It begins with corruption and fading leadership and ends with a sense of hope and vibrancy.
- This week begins for us with a similar cloud of corruption and fading leadership and will end with a sense of hope and vibrancy.
- Where have we been complicit—allowing evil to attempt to coexist with the good?
- Do we identify with Eli—aging, body may not do what it used to, but having wisdom to be shared with others younger in the faith than you? Or Samuel, young, gifted and called… just learning what God’s voice sounds like and finding that you are given a hard message to share?
- May we have the courage to continue to carry the torch that Martin Luther King did- advocating for justice and God’s kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. He was young, gifted and called at the time he challenged the nation to confront the evil of racism and oppression in all its forms.
- We remember King’s vision of the beloved community and insistence that “Peace is not just the absence of tension, but is the presence of justice.”
- Adam Russell Taylor in an article entitled Accountability Is A Prerequisite For Healing in Sojourners publication notes: Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) and the nine other Republicans who joined her described their vote to impeach as a vote of “conscience.” Invoking that word made me think of Martin Luther King Jr.’s wisdom:
- Cowardice asks the question, ‘Is it safe?’ Expediency asks the question, ‘Is it politic?’ Vanity asks the question, ‘Is it popular?’ But, conscience asks the question, ‘Is it right?’ And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but one must take it because one’s conscience tells one that it is right.
- Regardless of the number of our days, we are always the right age to do and say the right thing—the thing God has called us to. Amen.