Sermon for Sunday January 22nd, 2012
When God Calls by Justin Lamison
1 Samuel 3:1-3:20
“When God Calls”
1 Samuel 2:1-20 (NIV 2011 ed.)
I read this story online and wanted to use it to introduce today's sermon.
It seems that late one evening the pastor of the “Almighty God Tabernacle” placed a call to his wife from his office at the church.
Even though he let it ring several times, there was no answer and the answering machine did not pick up the call.
He rushed home to insure that his wife was safe, which she was.
When he asked her why she had not answered his call, she said that the phone never rang.
A few days later the pastor received a call at his office from a man who wanted to know who had called him.
It suddenly dawned on the pastor that when he had tried to call his wife, he had mistakenly dialed this man’s number.
The pastor began to apologize for his mistake, but the man interrupted him.
He wanted to tell the pastor a remarkable story: On the night of the call he was contemplating suicide. He asked God to show him some sign if He really existed. It was then that his phone rang and when he looked at his caller ID, he was stunned to see the words “ALMIGHTY GOD,” — the first two words in the church’s name. God had answered the prayer of a disturbed soul by a miss dial!
Whether the story is true or merely a legend, it points out to me that God is able to take my most feeble efforts and use them for His purposes. (source: http://snegidhi.com/ctg/jokes/god_calling.html)
Whether this story is true or not doesn't take away from the underlying principle that it teaches: God does call on us but the question is, am I listening? Through today's text from the Hebrew Scriptures in the story of the call of Samuel, we see that God is always calling, but his voice is only ever heard by those who are listening. And yet, even in listening, we may hear, but do we truly recognize the call of God when we hear it or do we mistake it for something else?
Let us turn in our Bibles to 1 Samuel 3:1-20 and hear from the ancient Scriptures, the writing of the Spirit. [Read Passage]
Let us pray...
Almighty God, maker and sustainer of mankind and ruler over the heaven's and earth, may you speak through your word to us today to give us encouragement, wisdom, and a sure word from God. May we hear the voice of your Holy Spirit speaking through your unworthy servant and through your word to accomplish what you have decreed to happen today. It is in your gracious and loving name that we ask it. Amen.
Sermon-in-a-sentence: When God calls, it is always in the moments of greatest need, it is only accepted by those who are willing to listen, it is given so that it may be passed on.
1. When God Calls It is Always in the Moments of Greatest Need (vv 1-3)
The context of this narrative is during the latter period of the Judges. The books of Samuel mark the transition from the period of the Judges to the monarchy beginning with Saul and David. This was one of the darkest periods for the nation of Israel.
If you remember from reading the book of Judges, the period was marked by one word: sin. The people did whatever seemed good to them with no regard to God and his covenant. The philosophy of the day was much like our culture today, “If it feels good, do it.” The result of their pleasure seeking mentality was captivity.
God had allowed Israel to be taken captive by their neighbors in order to show them how much they really needed him. Only they didn't learn the lesson very well. As soon as they set foot on their own soil again and the enemy was defeated, they would go back to their old ways, only to be captured again.
The calling of Samuel in this vicious cycle of sin, captivity, and deliverance, sin, captivity, and deliverance is one of hope and the refusal of God to give up on fallen humanity. From an outsider's perspective, Israel is beyond hope. There seems to be no cure for their relentless desire to sin and break covenant loyalty with God. Yet the Father, in his stubborn love, calls Samuel to be the first of the great prophets in the history of Israel to bring his people back into intimate, holy relationship with God.
This is just so like God. It is never in the moments when we want him most that he shows up or in the places we most expect him to come. He only ever comes in those moments when we need him to show up and in the most unlikely of places.
That reminds me of Jesus in the book of St. John, chapter 5. He had gone up to one of the great festivals of Jerusalem, but rather than go up to the Temple or to the synagogue, he goes into the Sheep Gate near the pool of Bethesda among the blind, the lame, and the paralytics. How like Jesus that was.
He didn't spend his days with the people who would have wanted his company for the sake of his fame or the pleasure of his company. He spent his days with the lost sheep of Israel, the people who confessed their need of him, the people who were dependent on him. These are the poor in spirit that God is always quick to attend their every need and care.
Our Father is the one who leads and guides in that still small voice that always attends the need of his faithful children. He doesn't spoil us with all the things we want, but only they things that we need. He teaches us the meaning of faithfulness in his absence and distance as much as in his nearness to us. How can we learn to walk if he is always guiding us by the hand? We must learn to do things apart from him as well as with him if we are ever able to learn endurance, faith, and perseverance. But even though he may seem distant, he is never far.
There is an illustration I like that fits in nicely here.
A little boy was eagerly looking forward to the birthday party of a friend who lived only a few blocks away. When the day finally arrived, a blizzard made the sidewalks and roads nearly impassable. The lad's father, sensing the danger, hesitated to let his son go. The youngster reacted tearfully. "But Dad," he pleaded, "all the other kids will be there. Their parents are letting them go." The father thought for a moment, then replied softly, "All right, you may go." Surprised but overjoyed, the boy bundled up and plunged into the raging storm. The driving snow made visibility almost impossible, and it took him more than half an hour to trudge the short distance to the party. As he rang the doorbell, he turned briefly to look out into the storm. His eye caught the shadow of a retreating figure. It was his father. He had followed his son's every step to make sure he arrived safely. (www.sermonillustrations.com)
How like God. Even though we don't see him, he is always near when we need him most.
2. When God Calls It is Only Recognized By Those Who Are Listening (vv 4-10)
An interesting observation we can make is the call itself. Three times the Lord calls to Samuel by name and three times he goes to Eli saying, “Here I am; you called.” The writer makes clear that the reader understands that “Samuel did not yet know the Lord; The Word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.”
The word “know” in the Hebrew mind can mean merely to know something as we might say that I know my neighbor or I know the score of last night's baseball game. But, it also carries the idea of intimacy as in “Abraham knew his wife Sarah.” It is also used in the covenant relationship language of the Hebrew Scriptures in phrases “Israel knew the Lord.” Again, it is a relational term signifying intimacy.
The point that the writer is making is that though Samuel had “known” the Lord in a personal way, he failed to recognize the voice of the Lord when he called. The voice of the Lord was most definitely heard by Samuel, but he needed someone who was more experienced to reveal to him that it was the Lord himself talking to Samuel.
After the third time that Samuel came to Eli, he understood it to be God speaking to him. This is the reason discipleship is so important. Often, young Christians are oblivious to how God works and how God speaks and it takes the discerning voice of maturity to teach and educate those who are inexperienced to discern the voice and movements of God for themselves.
But Eli directed Samuel in what he was to do next. Samuel then, armed with this new awareness, was ready to hear from the Lord. It took that realization, that recognition of the Lord to hear what God had to say to him. God's voice must be recognized for what it is in order for him to make clear what he has to say.
This is an important lesson for all of us who follow the teachings of Jesus Christ and the whole witness of the Scriptures concerning him to understand. Even though we may hear what God has to say, are we really listening? Are we really seeking to hear what God has to say?
It is very likely that God had been speaking for some time, yet no one had the ears to hear what God was saying. Eli and his sons had since long ago stopped their ears from hearing God speak. Sinful living will make us spiritually deaf to any message that the Lord has for us.
I often wonder how often God is speaking today and yet because of the noise we surround ourselves with we cannot hear him. How often do our ipods, iphones, cd players, and surround sound televisions drown out the voice of the living God? How often do our automobiles, airplanes, shopping malls, grocery stores, and cell phone conversations keep our attention when God's subtle whisper goes unnoticed?
Two of the spiritual disciplines that Jesus made a steady practice of were solitude and prayer. He often went alone to a mountain to pray to get away from the madness and the noise of his itinerant preaching. He needed the silence of the wilderness to have intimate communion with his Father that he couldn't get in the crowded marketplace or the multitudes surrounding him around the sea of Galilee.
I was at a youth program at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania when I was 18 years old and there was one thing that made an impact on me. The IUP students were doing skits and dramas to teach biblical principles to the youth that attended.
Towards the end of the program, a girl who had been questioning the existence of God had finally gotten away from all the noise of friends and parties and college life and sat alone in the middle of the stage. It got real quiet and they dimmed the lights, all but the one directly above her.
I don't recall everything she said, but the substance of her closing words were, “I wonder if God is talking to us. I wonder if we turned down the radio, turned off the television and just listened. Would we hear God speak? Would we hear the voice of God?”
Just like her, I wonder. What if we were to silence the noise and cut off the distractions? Would we hear the small still voice of God speaking to us his words of love and guidance?
3. When God Calls It is Only So That His Message Will Be Passed On (vv 11-20)
The message that the Lord gave to Samuel could not have probably been any more difficult for him to have heard. God had pronounced a severe judgment against the man who had been like a father to him for the majority of his life. The man who gave him shelter, food, guidance, and love. The man who taught him everything he knew. This was the man who the Lord had pronounced judgment. Samuel was the one who was to tell him.
We can see in the story how unwilling Samuel was to tell Eli the Lord's message. He probably thought, “I will just stay away from Eli for as long as I can and maybe he'll forget that the Lord had spoken to me.” He began the day with the usual routine. He woke up and went to open the door to the tabernacle as his duties required.
But Eli caught him at some point and told him to tell him what the Lord had said. Apparently Samuel was reluctant and so Eli said, “May whatever judgments the Lord has pronounced be on you or more if you don't tell me what he said to you.” It was a hard lesson for Samuel to learn but there is a subtle truth under it all.
When God speaks to us, he doesn't desire for us to keep it a secret. God wanted Eli's judgment to be pronounced. Eli and his family had blasphemed the holy God and his punishment was coming. The reason for God's revealing this news to Samuel was so that there would be room for repentance. There would be a space of some twenty or thirty years between the time of the message and the time of the event itself.
But Samuel had to face the tough stuff. The message was given to Samuel in order to be given to Eli. Eli was past the point of spiritual deafness and needed to hear from others who could hear the voice of God in order to hear the Lord's condemnation.
The same is true for you and I. The world is full of people who's sinfulness keeps them deaf to God's message of coming judgment. Fallen men and women cannot hear from God themselves and need you and I to reveal the truth of God's word. God has set a time for judgment. But God has also provided the remedy in Jesus Christ. Through the shed blood of Jesus, they can be forgiven and given the Holy Spirit of God who will seal them for eternity, to share in the inheritance of all the saints with eternal life.
We are often loath to proclaim God's messages of wrath, hell, and judgment, but they are God's words of mercy in order that a sinful world will repent. It takes a desire to serve God faithfully to share this message and God will prove himself faithful to his word forgiving every sin and giving the gift of life to all who come to him willingly in repentance and confession.
You may note that after Samuel had gotten past this first tough assignment the writer says that “The Lord was with Samuel as he grew up, and he let none of Samuel's words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba recognized that Samuel was attested as a prophet of the Lord.” Samuel grew in grace and fame because he was faithful to proclaim God's message no matter how hard it would be. Because of his faithfulness and obedience of God, he became Israel's first great prophet and would anoint two kings in his life and cause a great revival among God's people.
When God calls, it is always in the moments of greatest need. God never leaves us nor forsakes us and even in those moments that it seems that he is absent, he is always there watching over us, ready to help when we need him most. When God calls, it is only recognized by those who are listening. One of my favorite practices is one of silence. I don't often have the benefit of silence with three children, two jobs, and my continuing schooling, so I had to improvise. Whenever I get into my truck to go somewhere, I turn off the radio. Sometimes I just listen for God to speak. Other times I just speak my heart to God. But either way, it is a time I have really treasured the past few months that I have done so. We need to get in the habit of making room for God anywhere we can to just listen, truly listen for his still small whisper. It is there if we make ourselves available. And lastly, whenever God calls, it is only so that his message will be passed on. God wants to be heard and sometimes he wants you to carry his message.