1 Samuel 3:1-20
(watch here: http://youtu.be/oqAZIx5KpN8)
Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread. 2At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; 3the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was. 4Then the Lord called, “Samuel! Samuel!” and he said, “Here I am!” 5and ran to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call; lie down again.” So he went and lay down. 6The Lord called again, “Samuel!” Samuel got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call, my son; lie down again.” 7Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. 8The Lord called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy. 9Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place. 10Now the Lord came and stood there, calling as before, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”
11Then the Lord said to Samuel, “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make both ears of anyone who hears of it tingle. 12On that day I will fulfill against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. 13For I have told him that I am about to punish his house forever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them. 14Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be expiated by sacrifice or offering forever.” 15Samuel lay there until morning; then he opened the doors of the house of the Lord. Samuel was afraid to tell the vision to Eli. 16But Eli called Samuel and said, “Samuel, my son.” He said, “Here I am.” 17Eli said, “What was it that he told you? Do not hide it from me. May God do so to you and more also, if you hide anything from me of all that he told you.” 18So Samuel told him everything and hid nothing from him. Then he said, “It is the Lord; let him do what seems good to him.”
19As Samuel grew up, the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. 20And all Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was a trustworthy prophet of the Lord.
We begin our readings at an interesting junction. Seldom do we explore the wisdom of Samuel and it might be helpful to first understand the context of this reading. Recall that Eli is the high priest who served in the Israeli city of Shiloh. Eli was a well-respected leader in the community but he had a problem—his sons didn’t respect his authority nor the authority of the church. Eli’s sons behaved irreverently by having inappropriate relations with women and not honoring church ritual. Time and time again, God told Eli to get his sons under control and yet Eli did little in response. Eli failed to rein in his wayward sons and God eventually punished him for it.
Although he was a poor father, Eli was faithful and could see faith and obedience in the people he served outside of his family. He had an encounter with Hannah, a similarly faithful woman who didn’t have any children. God was pleased with Hannah’s steady faith and answered her plea for a son. Eli told her, “Go in peace; the God of Israel grant the petition you have made to him,” and she went on to bear a son named Samuel. It was Eli who played a part in God blessing Hannah with Samuel as a reward for her strong faith. His disobedient sons brought shame to him but Eli witnessed God raising up a strong, faithful leader in Samuel.
Our reading assigned for today picked up when Eli was an old man and Samuel was but an early teenager. Eli had taken Samuel under his wing and was training him in ministering to the people. But Samuel hadn’t had an encounter with God yet. He was simply following the lead of his mentor. Eli knew God’s blessing of Hannah and knew God was raising Samuel up to be a great spiritual leader. Like any oblivious kid, Samuel didn’t know what Eli knew about God’s role in his life. Samuel was just being a kid, trying to please both his mother and his mentor. Out of the blue, God called out to Samuel, “Samuel! Samuel!” and Samuel mistook the voice for that of Eli. God called out three times and each time Samuel sought out Eli thinking it was he who was calling. Finally Eli advised, “Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” God called out another time and Samuel answered the call.
God told Samuel about the punishment that would befall Eli and his sons and instructed Samuel to have Eli prepare himself. What a strange first encounter with God! Not only was Samuel hearing God for the first time but he was being asked to enter into complicated relationships between God and his mother and mentor! Eli graciously and wisely accepted Samuel’s encounter with God and dutifully went about preparing himself for God’s punishment. Eli didn’t want Samuel to hide anything that God had told him so Samuel gave him the cold, hard truth.
This passage illustrates how God often calls out to the unsuspecting among us. Samuel likely had no idea about how God had blessed his childless mother with him nor about the unresolved anger that God had towards Eli and his sons. Samuel didn’t even know what God’s voice sounded like! Listening to his mentor, Samuel answered God’s calling and did what was asked of him. God calls out to each of us at times and we’re called into situations and relationships that we didn’t even know about. God expects us to answer His calling and do what is asked of us. Samuel’s obedience allowed him to become a great spiritual leader. He eventually went on to anoint Israel’s first kings, Saul and David. Who knows what God’s calling in our own lives can lead to!
Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18
1O Lord, you have searched me and known me.
2You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away.
3You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways.
4Even before a word is on my tongue, O Lord, you know it completely.
5You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.
6Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it.
13For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.
15My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
16Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed.
17How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!
18I try to count them—they are more than the sand; I come to the end—I am still with you.
Just because God calls out to the unexpected among us doesn’t mean they are unknown to God. Besides, are the unexpected really all that unexpected? Do we really know everyone around us? No, we hardly know anyone around us! We have a hard enough time knowing ourselves, let alone anyone else. Sure, we might claim to know our spouses or our children. Yet they continue to surprise us in the things they say and the things they do. We don’t know why people do the things they do, say the things they say. We may have a good idea why but we can’t absolutely know. This is because we are not them! Everyone is truly unique in the way they are made and the experiences they have. When God calls the “unexpected” among us, we ought to simply have faith that God has a reason.
And we can be assured that God knows each of us unlike anyone ever does or ever will. God called out to Samuel, a young boy unaware of God’s relationships with the adults around him. God called out to Samuel, a young boy unaware of who God is! All throughout Scripture, we encounter leaders with similar callings. King David was called out of obscurity as a shepherd boy. God guided and protected David as he rose to become a great king. Sure, we can imagine the experiences and thoughts David had during his rise but we can’t fully know them the way he did. Only God knows who He called. Only God knows what David was called into. God was with him every step of the way. David sings out, “O Lord, you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away. You searched out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways.” In many ways, David was the quintessentially “unexpected” among us. Why didn’t God call out to someone more worthy, someone with better lineage? God called out to David because He knew David’s heart. God knew David’s faith in the same way that He knew Hannah’s faith. God knew that David would lead his people well.
God knows each of us better than even we know ourselves. If God can know David so well, why not each of us? God wants to know each of us! We are His beautiful creation! God loves His creation! People get tired of other people. At times, even we get tired of ourselves. We lose interest in getting to know other people or ourselves. It’s hard work! But God never gets tired of us. God always wants to know us and love us. God is proud of us. God loves us. And not just some of us, but ALL of us!
God calls each of us, both the expected and unexpected, because God knows and loves each of us. God wants to be in relationship with each of us. He walks with each of us through every experience and every thought we ever have. Nothing we do in this life goes unseen by God! God sees everything we do so in a way God’s calling is simply a way for us to feel God’s presence in our lives. God is always there with us. At times we are more aware of his presence than at other times. God wants us to be aware! When we’re aware, we can’t help but sing out praise and thanksgiving like David. Let us rejoice in God’s calling as David rejoices!
1 Corinthians 6:12-20
12“All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are beneficial. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything. 13“Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food,” and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is meant not for fornication but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. 14And God raised the Lord and will also raise us by his power. 15Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Should I therefore take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! 16Do you not know that whoever is united to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For it is said, “The two shall be one flesh.” 17But anyone united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. 18Shun fornication! Every sin that a person commits is outside the body; but the fornicator sins against the body itself. 19Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? 20For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body.
Why are we called? To what are we called? We can’t help but ask these questions. Samuel and David probably pondered these questions over and over. Why had God called Samuel? Was God testing Samuel to see if he’d relay His message to Eli? Perhaps God called Samuel as a means of bringing him out of obscurity. Maybe Samuel was perfectly content as Eli’s tutor, letting Eli have all the conversations with God. Why did God have to bring Samuel into the discussion? We look to our reading from Paul for possible answers to why God calls us.
Recall that Paul, like Samuel and David, had a rather unusual life before his fated trip to Damascus. Paul was perhaps the most unexpected person to be called by God! He had built a reputation for persecuting Christians. Paul had not only ignored God’s calling in his own life but had violently persecuted other people for having answered their callings from God. For so many reasons, Paul shouldn’t have received God’s calling, let alone answered it! And yet God persisted in extending a call even to Paul. Like Samuel and David before him, God saw into the heart of Paul and knew him better than anyone else could. God saw a great follower of Christ waiting for recognition as such.
Paul answered his calling and came to understand God so very well. We know this through readings like this one from Corinthians. Recall that Paul wrote this letter to his church at Corinth. In his absence, they had become a divided church, arguing over theology and church practices. Paul had written this letter in the hopes of reestablished order in the broken church. He asserted his authority and berated the congregation on how they were to be conducting themselves. In this passage, Paul explains that in everything there should be moderation. As Paul expands on this in verse 19, our bodies are “temples of the Holy Spirit, which we have from God, and are not our own.” We must treat our bodies with the utmost respect. We mustn’t give in to such harmful behavior as gluttony and fornication. Whether Paul spoke to actual instances of gluttony or fornication in the Corinthian church or metaphorically to the church body is hard to determine. Regardless, this passages helps illustrate why we are called and to what we are called.
God called Paul out of a harmful life, both for himself and those around him. When Christ entered his life, Paul lived a life that was pleasing to God. But Paul still wrestled with the tensions of life. As he wrote, “all things are lawful for me, but not all things are beneficial. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be dominated by anything.” Paul came to fully live in the tensions of life. He lived within the law and yet above the law as a Christian. So it is when we answer God’s calling in our lives. We are called to live more fully. We are called to live in a more full life. As Luther would further explain, as Christians we are called to be both servant to all and master to all. We live within that tension. We are to serve our neighbors in all that we do. In serving, we find we become masters to our neighbors. God calls us so that we might rise above ourselves. God calls so that we might leave our obscure lives and follow God into situations and relationships that make us fully alive. Samuel understood this, David understood this, and even Paul understood this. Praise God for such a calling!
John 1: 43-51
43The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” 46Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” 48Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” 49Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” 51And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”
What does answering God’s call look like? Answering God’s calling means so many things to so many people. For some people, answering the call means committing their lives to the ministry as Samuel and Eli did. For some people, answering the call means choosing to do that which they don’t want to do as Paul did. For some people, answering the call means recognizing that God knows everything and being open to God’s plans as David did. So many different ways to answer God’s calling. In our reading from John, we see a couple more ways to answer the calling. Jesus called Philip with two words: “Follow me.” God’s calling couldn’t get any clearer than that! “Follow me.” Yet what does Philip do to answer the call? We read, “Philip found Nathanael and said to him, ‘We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.’” Philip most assuredly did NOT follow Jesus! Philip ran off and told someone else to follow Jesus! But wait, isn’t that how Jesus wants us to follow him? Doesn’t Jesus want us to bring others to know him? Perhaps Philip is following Jesus after all!
What about Nathanael? God had been calling him for some time. This is how Jesus knew him before he even introduced himself. We read, “When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, ‘Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!’” Jesus knew Nathanael…God had called Nathanael! And yet, like Paul, Nathanael had ignored the calling and hid behind prejudice. He said, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Nathanael didn’t want to acknowledge God’s calling, God’s presence, so he tried to hide. Nevertheless, it took very little to get Nathanael to answer the call. All Jesus had to say is, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you,” and Nathanael came running to the call. “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” he replies. He no longer hid but welcomed God and answered the calling.
Two more similar yet distinct answers. We don’t always know what answering God’s call will look like. Everyone will respond to it differently. Perhaps this is why Philip responds so wisely to Nathanael’s gibe about nothing good coming out of Nazareth. Philip said to him, “Come and see.” Three words. Just as powerful as Jesus’ two words, “Follow me.” Philip doesn’t try to convince Nathanael. He simply points him in the direction of Jesus. Jesus himself will convince Nathanael who he is.
We will continue this discussion about God calling us next week when we explore God calling to Jonah as well as Jesus calling the first disciples. God calls each of us throughout our lives. Sometimes we follow the calling, sometimes we ignore the calling, and sometimes answer wrongly. The good news from this week’s readings is that God keeps on calling us. God keeps drawing us into relationship whether we respond correctly or not. God is patient. God will wait…and wait…and wait. God will call…and call…and call. Why not save ourselves the hassle and answer the call already?! Let us go and see!!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.