First Mennonite Church
November 7, 2021
Do You Know When God Speaks?
Text: 1Samuel 3:1-10
You might remember that Verizon commercial where it says, “Can you hear me now?” I know sometimes even I have had to ask this question to the person on the other end of the phone line, when there is a sudden silence. We know there are places where telephone signal or internet connection is not available. The last time I was at the Willow Creek Mennonite Cemetery, I got there a bit early that even the people who should have been there had not yet arrived. So, I texted Lilian, “No one is here yet.” But a few minutes before the scheduled time for the service, two people arrived and then the rest started arriving, with some doing so even well after the time the service should have started. When the service was over I texted Lilian again, “Coming.” What I did not realized was that my texts were not being sent, because there was no telephone signal. Somewhere along my way back home, the texts got sent. I arrived home only a few minutes after Lilian got my two texts, one after the other. So, she was worried about the idea that even two hours when the service should have taken place, that no one had been there and that I was coming home., “Did you miss the date? Lilian asked me. “So, the service did not take place?” I said, “Yes.” “Why?” “Because the first text that I got says, “No one is here yet” followed by the next saying, “Coming.” So, I thought you must have gotten confused about the date.
Samuel’s first experience with hearing the voice of God must have been one in which God was asking Samuel, “Can you hear me?” But Samuel was unfamiliar with the voice of God.
We know the story of Samuel. Hannah, his mother, was a childless woman. But God heard her cries in prayer and gave her the gift of motherhood. And Samuel was born. We are told that at a very young age Samuel was gifted back to God to serve in the shrine at Shiloh, where Eli was the priest. Eli had children of his own, of whom we are told were a little more than mischievous. They were called “scoundrels” (2:12). They, actually, took advantage of the people’s offering to God. It is reported that the two sons of Eli slept with the women at the entrance of the shrine (2:22).
As for Eli, his was losing his sight and he had also lost the respect of his two sons. But as for the boy Samuel, we read, “he continued to grow in stature and in favor with the Lord and with people” (2:26).
Chapter three begins with a critical assessment of the spiritual drought plaguing the house of Eli and the house of Israel, as a whole. In those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions, we read. There was scarcity of God’s word and guidance. God’s voice was not being heard on a regular basis.
The word used to describe the situation of God’s word and visions as being “rare” or “scarce” is not used anywhere else in the Bible. The word is mostly used to describe something very special, in that there are very few of those because of lack of supply or that their rarity is because of being extremely expensive, like an exquisite piece of jewelry. This time, it was the word of God that was rare. It was not available. Which makes us to wonder, why? We should remember the immediate context of those days. It was around the time of the judges in which we were told that “everyone did as they saw fit” (Judges 17:6, 21:25). Therefore, the voice of God was either not heeded or in fact, God could not speak because his people were doing their own things.
What seem clear, however, is that the very people who were in charge of ministering in the house of the Lord were neglecting their sacred duties. Eli’s eyes had grown deem. This description about Eli seems not only to describe the physical decline of his eyes, but also the spiritual darkness that had taken grip of the general situation in his ministry. And the behavior of his children was not helping. They were more than only being bad preacher’s kids (P Ks). God was displeased with them and even at Eli because of them.
This part of the story is a strong warning to of us who are in ministry for a long time. This month, I turn 16 years of serving here at FMC. It’s been a while I have been here doing what I believe is God calling for me and my family. Complacency and routine could be great temptations for me. Complacency leads to neglect and routine robs the joy, passion, and reverence of doing what I should do. So, I ask you to please pray for me and to stand by my side in this journey. We all have the calling to serve the Lord with joy and fear. There is a strong warning God gave to Eli that I always remember: Those who honor me I will honor, but those who despise me will be disdained (1Sam. 2:30).
While the house and ministry of Eli crumbled, the life and ministry of Samuel was developing powerfully. And the boy Samuel continued to grow in stature and in favor with the Lord and with people (2:26). However, he had not heard the voice of the Lord. But then God appeared to Samuel. God called him three times, but because Samuel did not know it was God calling him, he went to Eli. “Here I am, for what have you called me,” Samuel asked Eli. Even Eli did not readily recognize it was God calling Samuel until the third time Samuel came to him. Thus, Eli instructed Samuel, “Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” Then Samuel responded to God and the Lord spoke with him.
There are a few aspects about this story that I would like us to give some further thought. The rarity of God voice and visions. How does the Lord speak to us today? Do you hear his voice in the way he speaks today or has it become a rare and far in between one and the other? When you hear God’s voice, what does he tell you? Does it make any difference in your life? We must be fully aware that there are so many voices calling to get our attention. There are the loud voices of materialism, politics, entertainment, individualism, partisanship and controversies and many more. In this cacophony of voices, God is calling us. But sometimes, even our very entrenched thoughts about God, the Bible, or faith leads us to reject God’s calling or to miss hearing God’s voice.
It was at night when God called Samuel, and we are told that “the lamp of God had not yet gone out” (v. 3). There are two things to reflect about this verse. First, why is it that God chose to call Samuel at night? Is it not when we are in darkness of some kind that we desire to hear God? When or what was the last time you experience a dark moment and wished God would speak to you? Second, in the shrine at Shiloh, as it was also in the temple, a lamp should always be burning throughout the night. It represented the light of God’s presence. So here, we are told that it was during a time when Eli’s eye sight had become deem, there was spiritual darkness, and at night, but the lamp of God was still burning. We should be comforted to know that God’s light—his presence, power, love and righteousness are always present, even when the outward evidence tells us otherwise. God is present in the moments you feel you cannot understand anything that’s happening to you or around you. God is present in the midst of this dark time we are living—when most things seem to be going in the wrong direction. God is always present and he wants to remind us that his light never goes off. Jesus reminds us, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).
Another thought this story raises is that Samuel was the young mentee/disciple of Eli. Eli, unknowingly, was preparing someone who not only would take over some duties at the temple in Shiloh, but would completely takeover the priesthood from his household. How are you preparing the next generation of servants of God? What is your contribution in preparing the new generation who will be church leaders, deacons, congregational song leader and so on, after you are gone?
This week, I got a text from Jasmine, my daughter who is a sophomore at UC Davis. In it she wrote among other things: “I know God is truly trying to build a relationship with me. I want to really focus on him. Love you both, so much.” I truly rejoiced and gave thanks to the Lord for drawing my child closer to himself.
God is calling each of us. He wants us to know that despite there is darkness all around us, his light continues to shine. Maybe God is asking you and me, “Can you hear me?” So, let us open our heart to him. Let us respond, “Speak, Lord, for your servant listens.” Amen!
(We will continue next Sunday in the book of 1Samuel)