1 Samuel 3:1-21
15 October 2017 St. Andrew’s Military Chapel
Has anyone heard God speak directly to them? While it hasn’t happened to your beloved chaplain, he is fully aware that sometimes people do hear God speak directly and distinctly to them. I do know that if God were to speak to me I probably would not believe that I was hearing God, that the voice was the one in my mind or that I overheard someone’s nearby conversation.
Because someone hasn’t heard from God doesn’t mean they aren’t worthy or loved by God. Much like the beginning of this passage, God isn’t appearing to us in overt and obvious ways. Again, this doesn’t mean that God has left us to fend for ourselves all alone without communication or guidance. Just that God is working in our world through different means.
I’m also not so sure how God appearing in the sky or simultaneously on every mobile device on earth would be received. There would probably be a mix of fear that the end was near, that it was the greatest hoax ever devised, that an alien race was near and poised to destroy the earth, name whatever your fantasy scenario.
We have become people who expect and demand proof, so when we don’t see God face to face we can doubt the possibility of God in the world. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, for you need faith to doubt. Faith leads to questions that introduce doubt, doubt leads to exploring and strengthening faith. The cycle continues.
God seems distant in the world. The religious establishment is battered and bruised through scandals of all kinds, especially those dealing with sex, money, and substances. People’s trust and high view of religion and those who practice religions are on the decline. Religion is viewed as a hindrance to society rather than a help. Those who are religious begin to quietly ponder if God has abandoned us because of what is going on in the world.
Sound familiar? That is exactly what was going on in Israel during the time of Samuel’s call to the priesthood.
Sometimes, modern culture tends to think that our situation and the state of the world is a new development that has never been experienced in history. Today’s passage demonstrates that history does have a tendency to repeat itself.
Eli was an ageing priest whose sons had completely defamed the name of Eli and the priestly office he held. So much so that God has already told Eli he would be the last priest from his family. Israel was asking for a king, yet again so they could be like their neighbors and have a better standing in the world. The religious judges and priests hadn’t worked, in fact they were getting in the way of Israel becoming the power it was destined to become. People were unsure of God’s power in the world because God wasn’t physically there in a column of smoke or fire anymore.
Just like with Israel, God is still very much present and at work in the world today, just in a different way.
It’s of note that Samuel’s call is different than the call of Moses and most other call stories we will hear in Scripture. In this case, Samuel does hear God clearly speaking to him, yet he is still young enough in the faith that he doesn’t full understand or recognize what is happening. He didn’t even know enough to ask the right questions. He just assumed that Samuel was calling for him. At least Samuel knew enough to go and ask Eli if he called.
Samuel’s call is also one to speak a word not against Israel, but against one individual, Eli. God tells Samuel that Eli’s days as a priest are over and that Samuel is the next priest for Israel. He will now be God’s voice and representative to God’s people. Samuel was reluctant at first, but did tell Eli. In a bit of shock, Eli took the news in a good spirit and honored both God and Samuel by continuing to teach and mentor Samuel towards his priestly office.
This passage beautifully demonstrates how intergenerational ministry should occur in the world. The youth and open ears of Samuel provided a conduit for God to do some amazing work in the world and to introduce something that would make everyone’s ears tingle. The elder Eli listened to what Samuel was hearing and through his wisdom knew it was God speaking and working in the world and Eli gave Samuel the time and mentorship to help God work in the world through Samuel.
God speaks in a variety of ways so we need a variety of mentors and experienced brothers and sisters in Christ to help us discern God’s voice in the cacophony of noise that surrounds us each day. Those of the older and wiser persuasion need to listen for God’s call on the younger believers through their actions and words. Conversely, the younger members need to take their ideas and inspiration to those who’ve been around a while to hear their suggestions and ways to enact God’s work in the world, because those with experience will help us avoid the pitfalls and frustration endured by many before us.
Along with the dual nature of intergenerational ministry spurring our ideas to completion, let’s also look at the interesting turn of phrase used in this passage, “I am about to do something in Israel that will make both ears of anyone who hears of it tingle.”
What a powerful way to let the world know something amazing is about to occur. If someone were to tell you today that they had something that would make your ears tingle, what kind of news would you expect? Perhaps it would be juicy gossip. Maybe there is some bad news on the way for which they want to prepare you. Much like the character Saru in the new Star Trek Discovery series, where his body physically reacts to fearful situations, in our world today we tend to assume that when our ears tingle it signifies something bad is on the way.
There is nothing bad with ears that tingle in fear. In fact, that is a great defense mechanism that can save us from much trouble and harm. However, we cannot ever let fear be the only way in which our body reacts, or our ears tingle, to upcoming events and news. We also need to allow our ears to tingle with hope that good news is coming.
Hope in the world and people is a diminishing art and skill in the world. Not every situation or every action is something to fear and cause stress. Granted, there are plenty of situations where fear is warranted. I’m not saying that we should ignore the tingle of fear, rather that we should allow our souls to recognize both fear and hope in the world around us and act out of a healthy balance between the two.
I must make a confession to you all. I am one who tends to assume any tingle of my ears is one due to hope while ignoring the dangers of the world or the actions of others. If you doubt me self-assessment, feel free to ask my lovely wife and she will regale you with tales of my leaning too far towards a posture of hope. So, I need to work on not subduing my fear response as much as I do. I think we all need to get to a healthy balance. Not exactly 50-50 but maybe 70% hope and 30% fear.
This takes us back to the need to do what Samuel did in this passage. He was listening with both ears and wasn’t sure so took his concern to someone with more experience for advice and guidance. Something I know I could do more often in my own life. Even when God told him something that was fearful for Samuel in having to speak against his mentor, Eli gave him the strength and courage to do what God had instructed. Eli gave him the safe space he needed to be the priest God had intended.
As a church we are called to be that safe space where people can discern the right balance of fear and hope. A place where we can help others navigate the rapids of life with experienced guides. A place where our fears and hopes can be laid bare so that we can go forward with confidence and trust not just in each other but in God. Then we will know that even when the word of the Lord is rare, God is still speaking.
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