Listen and Learn – June 3, 2018

Listen and Learn

A Communion Meditation by Rev. Karen A. Mendes

I Samuel 3:1-20

June 3, 2018

Main Idea:  Listen!

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.  Amen.

This morning’s worship service has embodied the truth to be found in our Scripture text for today.  We are called to listen to God, to listen to those who are outside our usual structures, to listen to our children and young people.  Moses designed and drew our bulletin cover. Hto Lwee Wah led us into a spirit of worship with her introit.  Our older elementary class wrote the Call to Worship we said this morning.  Charlie wrote the powerful prayer he shared during the Prayers of the People.  Ku Say Wah has brought her energy, her faith, and her perspective to our membership.  God has spoken to us today through the witness of our young people and we are called to listen.

The story of the call of Samuel is familiar to us. It is a charming story that parents who have kids that wake them up in the night can commiserate with.  When we look at the story from Samuel’s perspective we learn to listen for God, to make ourselves ready to serve God, and to commit ourselves to God even when it is hard.  We remember that Samuel had spent his childhood in the Temple.  Even though he knew the rituals and the teachings of the Torah, the text tells us that “Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.” (3:7) “The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.” (3:1) Everybody was just going through the motions.  No one even expected God to speak.  But God spoke to Samuel, patiently and persistently until Samuel and Eli recognized who was speaking.  The text actually says that God “came and stood there, calling as before, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”” (3:10)

We like to end the story here because, just like last week with the call of Isaiah, the call of Samuel does not lead him to preach cheerful, happy sermons.  God says to him, “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make both ears of anyone who hears of it tingle.” Samuel is to tell Eli, his mentor, that the world will be changing, Eli and his family will no longer be in charge because his sons had become corrupt and Eli did nothing to restrain them. Their privilege and power and their very lives will be taken from them.  Samuel lies awake all night.  How in the world could he say such a thing to the person who had raised him and taught him all he knew?

When we look at the story from Eli’s perspective we learn to listen for God, to make ourselves ready to serve God, and to recognize the call of others.  Eli had been the chief priest of the temple for a long time.  He knew how the world worked.  He had maintained the priestly traditions even though “The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.”  His sons, Hophni and Phineas were scoundrels of the worst sort, stealing from the offerings made at the temple, abusing the women who worked outside, and taking outrageous advantage of the privileges Eli’s status had given them.  Eli knew they were bad news but he could not make them change.  That night in the temple, it took 3 tries but finally Eli recognized that God was in fact speaking to Samuel.  It must have been bittersweet for Eli to realize that God was not speaking to him.  His gift was to recognize God’s gift to Samuel, to encourage Samuel to listen and follow the leading of God.

The next morning, Eli calls Samuel to him (just as God had done during the night!).  He must of had an inkling of what Samuel would tell him because in the 2nd chapter of Samuel, an unnamed prophet had already warned Eli about what was to come.  Eli does not shy away from the judgement spoken by Samuel.  He encourages Samuel to share what Samuel does not want to share.  Eli takes responsibility and resignedly waits for what is to come.  He is old and tired.  He can’t see any other way to be, so he says, “O well, It is the Lord; let him do what seems good to him.” (3:18).

Now here I take issue with Eli because in other parts of Scripture, when God makes such dramatic judgements, those judged speak out, change their behavior, and God relents.  We remember Abraham interceding for Sodom, Moses pleading for the Israelites, and the people of Ninevah repenting in the book of Jonah.  But Eli makes no effort to speak back to God.  He is too tired and too set in his ways.  He knows that God speaks to Samuel but he does not believe that God will speak to him.

The First Baptist Church of Burlington has been around for a long time.  Mainline Christianity has been around for a long time and sometimes we feel tired and unable to make much of difference in the world.   “Fine, the world is going down the tubes and there is nothing we can do about it. Nobody goes to church anymore anyway.  What’s the point?” When we feel like this we are embodying the defeatism of Eli.

But, there are Samuels among us.  New ideas, new energy, new people who need our encouragement and our welcome.  Saying hello to them means saying goodbye to some of our long standing habits and assumptions.   Even though Eli was old and tired he encouraged Samuel and taught him how to recognize and follow God. I believe Eli could have changed and he and Samuel could have ministered together.

As we prepare to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, let us remember that we are a congregation blessed with the wisdom of our elders and the energy of our youth.  May we listen to God and to each other.

Let us pray,

Persistent God, we thank you for your call to us.  Help us to listen to you and to each other.  Empower us to speak your truth always.  Amen.

Notes and Quotes

The Greatest Love of All – Whitney Houston

I believe the children are our future

Teach them well and let them lead the way

Show them all the beauty they possess inside

Give them a sense of pride to make it easier

Let the children’s laughter remind us how we used to be.