1 Samuel 3:1-20Now 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... 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. But Eli called Samuel and said, “Samuel, my son.” He said, “Here I am.” Eli said, “What was it that God 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.” So Samuel told him everything and hid nothing from him. Then he said, “It is the Lord..”As Samuel grew up, the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was a trustworthy prophet of the Lord. Over the past few weeks we've been in the part of our Backyard Series called "Backyard Breezes, or, How the Holy Spirit moves and works among us in our community of faith. On Pentecost, we honored the gift of the Holy Spirit that birthed and grew the church, and watched our own church grow substantially in number that day. Last week we talked about what Spirit we actually received- how she is powerful and majestic and earth shaking- but also intimate enough to whisper to our individual hearts. This week we move to an example of what that call might look like in an individual life, and how that call plays out in community.
Samuel is eight years old. His mother, Hannah, waited a very long time to have a baby. She lived in a home where people would make fun of her because she couldn't have a baby and it hurt Hannah very much. She would cry a lot, and in her prayers, she promised God that if she ever did have a child, she would dedicate that baby to the Lord. Hannah kept her promise. She gave birth to baby Samuel, and she took him to the temple dedicated him and his life to God, and asked Eli, the priest teach Samuel all about God.
One night when Samuel was sleeping, he heard a voice, maybe it was quiet inside his head. Maybe it was a real voice that called out loud, or maybe it was a feeling Samuel had that someone was calling him. The voice said "Samuel! Samuel!" Samuel thought it was the old priest, Eli. Sometimes Eli needed help in the middle of the night because he was almost blind. Samuel ran to Eli- “here I am, he said, what do you want?” And old Eli said, "Go back to bed." So Samuel went back to lie down again. But no sooner did he put his head back on the pillow, and he heard the voice again! "Samuel! Samuel!" "I know I heard something, thought Samuel- and he ran into Eli's room once more and said "I'm right here! What do you need?" And Eli was starting to wonder what was going on- but he said "I told you I didn't call you- now go back to bed." (Sometimes grown ups are a pain, right?) But as soon as Samuel lay back down, it happened again- "Samuel! Samuel!" And if I were Samuel, I think I might be a little bit scared by now. Three times he hears this voice, and twice already he has gone in to the old priest, who could this voice be? He runs back to Eli again- "I'm here- you called- right?"
Now Eli may have been old, but he knew Samuel. He knew that Samuel was telling the truth, and that he really was hearing ‘something.’ Eli suspected that it might be the voice of God, so he said to Samuel, next time you hear that voice, don't get scared, just say, "Speak Lord, your servant is listening."
Samuel did just that! When he went back to bed, he heard the voice of God again, saying "Samuel! Samuel!" But this time, instead of running to Eli, Samuel decided to be brave. And he asked "God? Is that you? What do you want to tell me?" And guess what? God told Samuel something that no one else knew- and gave Samuel a job.
Samuel couldn't believe it. After all, he was just a child- he didn't know a lot about God yet, he wasn't a priest or a pastor, he was just him- and all the people he ever heard about who had done things for God were... well... old! And besides, even if it was really God talking to him, what grown up was going to believe that a kid got a call? So, Samuel thought about keeping all this to himself. He was afraid to tell Eli what God had said.
Thank goodness for Eli! He told Samuel that God can speak to anyone- and he wanted to know all about what Samuel had heard. Then he did something really amazing. Eli affirmed that this really was God calling Samuel- meaning he not just believed him, but he made sure that Samuel know that God really did speak directly to Samuel. He said "It is the Lord."
Now this is where I want to talk just to the young people in the room. You may have been told that you are 'only a kid,' and people are going to ask you over and over "what do you want to be when you grow up?" And that's a great question. It's awesome to think about what you might do when you get older, and even take steps to get ready for that, like, if you want to be a baseball player, you can take time as you grow up to practice, and play little league, or even get a private coach. If you want to be an astronaut, you might want to learn as much as you can about science and math, study the stars, even go and visit nasa or go to space camp. Whatever you want to do when you grow up, believe me, there are grown ups who can help you figure out how to achieve those goals.
But even though you need to wait to grow up for some of those things to happen, you don't have to grow up to hear from God and do what God is asking you to do, right now. And this goes for all of us. God may be calling you to amazing things- even at age 8, or 13, or 30, or 47, or 80! Did you know that each of us, from 8-80 has a call on our lives? You her me say that a lot- this thing "call." What it means is, that God has created you with something in mind for your life that only you can do- only you. And your whole life, God will be hoping and helping you to use those gifts that you've been given. But you are the one who has to agree- you are the one has to be brave and say, "here I am God' when you hear God's voice, or get that feeling that God is asking you do listen or do something. It's why I asked you to help me prepare communion this morning. This is something that you see grown ups do in the church, really, this church belongs to all of us, and all of us have a part in what happens here. I don't want you to grow up thinking that there are things in the church that you don't have access to- that God holds back some of God's blessings for when you get older.
So how do we know if we are really hearing God's voice? That's the tricky part, right? Because sometimes we can get God's voice mixed up with our own voice, or even with the voices of other people in the world, or teachers, or friends. How can we know God is talking to us?
First, no matter how old we are, we need to be quiet sometimes with God, all by ourselves. Everyone can take a time each day, maybe in the morning, maybe at night, to talk to God, and then to just stay quiet for a few minutes, to let God talk back. And you can do this all on your own. Tonight, while you're lying in bed, and you're praying, or telling God about your day, and thinking about all the things God has given you, like a bed to sleep in, or food to eat, just lie still. And when you do that, you might just fall asleep. Or you might get a feeling that God loves you. But sometimes, you might feel like God is telling you something, maybe not in your ears, but in your heart.
Do you think this has to happen just during the night? No- God can speak to you any time, day or night, but we need to be listening.
Now what do we do when we think maybe we've heard from God? What did Samuel do? He went to a person he trusted- he went to Eli. He told Eli all about the things that he thought he was hearing, and told Eli all about what he thought God wanted him to do. Sometimes we need someone to help us figure out what God is saying... and not just when we are kids. (So don't think I am telling you this because you are young) Most of us need help figuring out what God's call is on our life.
This afternoon we will be celebrating Pastor Jen who was pretty old when she heard God calling her to be a pastor. (Almost 20!). And just like Samuel, she thought she may have heard God calling her- and she went to people she trusted to help her figure out what she was hearing. And do you know what happened? The same thing that happened to Samuel the first time around when Eli- they didn't believe it! They didn't believe that Jennifer could be called to be a pastor- so those people told her "NO!" Oh boy! Now what? Well, like Samuel, Jennifer tried to go back to sleep. She tried to do what she was told by the people who told her God wasn't calling her. But God kept talking! God kept calling her. God wouldn't shut up in her ears at night!
And so one night, when Jennifer was laying in her bed, like Samuel, she decided to be brave- and listen again. And God spoke- again- and God called- and this time the people she trusted with what God was saying, listened, and affirmed that God had a call on her life.
Why am I telling you this? Because sometimes we might be hearing something from God, and at first, even the people we trust don't believe us. And that experience can really hurt us. Sometimes people see us one way, and then they want to decide what's best for us, or tell us what God wants us to do. But guess what? If you are hearing from God, and you feel like God is telling you to do something- don't go back to sleep. Be brave- ask God- speak, cause your servant is listening- You know why I think they go to the trouble of letting us know in this scripture that old Eli was almost blind? I believe it's because they are telling us that sometimes the people we seek out for help will need some time to understand something this cool- it will take time for them to "see" that God calls in ways that sometimes we don't understand- that we don't see all of God's ways, all of God's glory- just the tiniest bit of the hem of God's robe. So Samuel- don't you give up! And don't ever doubt that God could be talking to you. You are God's masterpiece- and God has a plan for you and believe me- God has a call on your life. It doesnt have to be to be a pastor. it could be to be a teacher, or a nurse, or an IT tech or a physical therapist- it could be to a music minister, or an artist- it could be a choir member or a gardener or just someone who listens to people and loves them in God’s name… God's spirit goes everywhere and in everything!
But, I want to talk a moment to the grown ups in the room. Eli- just because we're half blind, doesn’t mean that we stop trying to help others affirm their call. Someties it is up to us, when a child of God comes to us with something unbelievable, to listen, discern, and encourage that child to keep listening. To be the voice of truth to someone who needs to hear that they are valuable in God’s eyes, ad that god indeed has a clal on their life. It our job, half blind one, to look with our good eye into the lives of our young people with discernment- helping them discover and explore their gifts and talents- to let them know their call is valid, at 8 or 80.
My friends, life in the backyard, though it’s a place of comfort, or security, of safety and strength, is never one that lacks the spirits movement. She falls like fire, blows like the rush of violent wind, and speaks in a whisper to the hearts of all of us. May we be ever listening, and ever present for what she may be speaking to us…