Readings from Scripture (CEB) 1 Samuel 3
Now the boy Samuel was serving the Lord under Eli. The Lord’s word was rare at that time, and visions weren’t widely known. 2 One day Eli, whose eyes had grown so weak he was unable to see, was lying down in his room. 3 God’s lamp hadn’t gone out yet, and Samuel was lying down in the Lord’s temple, where God’s chestwas. 4 The Lord called to Samuel. “I’m here,” he said. 5 Samuel hurried to Eli and said, “I’m here. You called me?” “I didn’t call you,” Eli replied. “Go lie down.” So he did.
6 Again the Lord called Samuel, so Samuel got up, went to Eli, and said, “I’m here. You called me?”
“I didn’t call, my son,” Eli replied. “Go and lie down.”
(7 Now Samuel didn’t yet know the Lord, and the Lord’s word hadn’t yet been revealed to him.)
8 A third time the Lord called Samuel. He got up, went to Eli, and said, “I’m here. You called me?”
Then Eli realized that it was the Lord who was calling the boy. 9 So Eli said to Samuel, “Go and lie down. If God calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord. Your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down where he’d been. 10 Then the Lord came and stood there, calling just as before, “Samuel, Samuel!” Samuel said, “Speak. Your servant is listening.” 11 The Lord said to Samuel, “I am about to do something in Israel that will make the ears of all who hear it tingle!
1 Now the boy Samuel was serving the Lord under Eli. The Lord’s word was rare at that time, and visions weren’t widely known.
It’s tough to hear God’s word on days when it has to compete for our attention. When we can’t shut off the incessant critic in our brains, when worries tax our anxious systems, it’s difficult to hear anything or see anything other than the ever mounting list of demands on self and spirit. We shut down. We close our eyes yet we cannot rest. God may be calling, but we don’t have the strength to answer. God may be trying to get us to open our eyes, but we cannot see any hope.
2 One day Eli, whose eyes had grown so weak he was unable to see, was lying down in his room.
Eli, a minister of the Lord, tended the light of God. In the nighttime, the light kept the shadows at bay. But these days, Eli’s own sufferings overshadowed that same light. The priest of the sanctuary at Shiloh, and in his time, Eli raised a family. His two sons, named Hophni and Phinehas, were being groomed to take over for their father, however their abuses of power have disappointed their father (and their God). Eli withdrew. Eli’s lockdown started to close in on him. The grey days of the wintry soul had descended on him so much so that he was no longer able to hear the Lord’s word, and visions weren’t widely known or recognized. It was Eli’s job to hear and see God, but he couldn’t. Eli suffered both a physical and spiritual glaucoma – losing the ability to see the light of God. He didn’t see it shining in Hannah, Samuel’s mother, whose deep faith committed Samuel to the life of God, and the service of Eli, before Samuel’s birth. Hannah’s prophetic life shone more brightly than Eli’s, but Eli couldn’t see it. Eli could no longer see that,
3 God’s lamp hadn’t gone out yet…
In the nighttime, the light kept the shadows at bay. With dawn about to break, God’s lamp hadn’t gone out…yet. The hope of the world resting on that three-letter-word…the lamp may go out, but not yet. God’s faith in us might waver, but God hasn’t given up on us yet. Our faith in God might waver, but we yet keep that flame alive. For we fan the flame of faith knowing that there’s still inauguration day, and stories of vaccines being taken by the frontlines and vulnerable, and good reasons to protect self and neighbour for the lamp of God is still not out. Every day that the sun rises is one more day rub the sleep from our eyes to awaken to God’s presence with us through the night. Even though grey skies obscure the brightness of God, even though dark shadows creep close to the light, God’s light hadn’t gone out yet.
3 and Samuel was lying down in the Lord’s temple, where God’s chest was.
How close are you to God?
I love the image of Samuel drawing close to God. He was serving Eli but Samuel knew there was something more, he saw how important and sacred was God’s chest, and how in it was the very heart of the divine. In other versions of the text, we’re told that the “chest” is the Ark of the Covenant, the box/chest that held the tablets of the Ten Commandments. Kept in that chest were the signs of God’s love, the good news of relationship to which we are drawn. Samuel drew close to a God he didn’t know. Even before understanding, Samuel sought out the holy places. Samuel positioned himself close to his source.
How close are you to God? What could you do to bring you closer to God, and rest in God’s presence?
4 The Lord called to Samuel. “I’m here,” he said. 5 Samuel hurried to Eli and said, “I’m here. You called me?” “I didn’t call you,” Eli replied. “Go lie down.” So he did. 6 Again the Lord called Samuel, so Samuel got up, went to Eli, and said, “I’m here. You called me?”
There are days I pray that I’m Samuel – excitedly jumping up when I hear God’s call – ready at a moment’s notice – but more often than not I know I’m Eli. Worn out and tired and overwhelmed by the world. Yet another state of emergency and nothing seems to be changing. Covid numbers are going down in Waterloo but good news is difficult to identify. Just go back and lie down. Just pull the covers over your head. Hide away from the world, and let the feelings of depression and despair muffle the disruptive call of God that stirs from sleep and desires only the best for us.
God is not done with us yet…for the lamp of God is still not out.
(7 Now Samuel didn’t yet know the Lord, and the Lord’s word hadn’t yet been revealed to him.)
It’s difficult not to criticize Eli. It was his job to lead people to God, so why he hadn’t taught Samuel just yet. Why didn’t he know the Lord? I wonder if this is not just a call to Samuel but Eli as well, to wake from his sleeping – open his eyes – hear and see again the presence of God. Because we all become blind – or deaf – unable to experience anything new of God’s love, unable to alter our worldview to anticipate God’s presence.
“I didn’t call, my son,” Eli replied. “Go and lie down.” 8 A third time the Lord called Samuel. He got up, went to Eli, and said, “I’m here. You called me?” Then Eli realized that it was the Lord who was calling the boy.
Without Eli’s help, Samuel would never learn about God. Without Samuel, Eli would never be reminded about how important his life yet was. The church is born when one generation inspires another, when they share moments that transform both their lives. I remember our birthday Sunday that we shared at church, when we had 12 tables set up from January to December, and we gathered based on our birth months. Those born in January all met at one table, and February at the next…and so on. There was such a beautiful mixings of people of all ages and stages, and it makes me yearn for the times we can be together in person again. In fact if I thought about all the churches I’ve ever been in – that’s been true – as you wonder how all these diverse people came together in this place, all of them following the call of God. For God never tires calling people together.
9 So Eli said to Samuel, “Go and lie down. If he calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord. Your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down where he’d been. 10 Then the Lord came and stood there, calling just as before, “Samuel, Samuel!” Samuel said, “Speak. Your servant is listening.”
We recently moved, from one side of Kitchener to the other, and when we were moving, I came across scrapbooks that highlighted my own answer to God’s call. On the days I feel like Eli, worn out and tired and overwhelmed by the world, I need only be reminded of the wild and wonderful world of God that I have been invited into, and the places where I’ve been taken because I was taught the words: speak, your servant is listening. Following that call has brought me to both difficult and rewarding moments as I was led to discover all that God was doing. For the call of God never leaves us where it finds us.
I remember my internship charge when I almost burnt down the rented apartment the church got for me because I wasn’t sure how to clean a lamb bone other than use the oven. It still smelled like smoke when I moved out months later. And oh yeah, I was on the cover of the United Church Observer. I remember my first church(es) in Melita, Manitoba, and how it wasn’t long before those wonderful people drew me out of my quiet/introverted shell and onto the stage, as the lead in The Music Man. Many jokes were made of the local minister playing a no-good-shyster. Or how in the church in Welland, I worked alongside tireless volunteers who re-envisioned their Sanctuary, and who put in countless hours to make their visions become reality. Or how just a few years ago, the call came again to see all that God was doing with these lovely people in Kitchener and who even before they’d known me a year, helped me get to Israel – a powerfully transformative learning experience. It changed my life, as did every other experience mentioned – for the call of God never leaves us where it finds us.
Let’s not pretend that these ‘best-of’ experiences were everything, as there were just as many experiences, in each and every church, that made me wonder if the lamp of God has gone out, making me despair and depressed. The Eli in me would overlook all that God had done, and was doing. The Samuel in me would naively say yes, again and again, even after heartache, trusting and believing and following the God ushers in the new light.
For God is not done with us yet… the lamp of God is still not out.
And so we pray, may God never tire. May God never tire of calling us, tapping us on our shoulders, wiping the sleep from our eyes, enabling us to see the light. For God calls the Elis to wake from their slumber and night-blindness to see the dawning day before us. For God calls the Samuels to excitedly push in new directions, knowing they will bump and bruise along the way. For God calls, me and you, the people of SJR and the wider community, the church of all God’s people, and all those who are doing just fine without God.
We are called together, pulled together, to tend the light of the world. For there are times that it seems like it’s out – or almost out. There are times like pandemics or presidencies that the shadows are stronger than light. There are times that the overwhelming din of the world speaks over the call of God. But God doesn’t stop calling.
So may God never tire of us we pray, for the lamp of God is not yet out. Thanks be to God.