1 Samuel 3
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 chest was.
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 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.”
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! 12 On that day, I will bring to pass against Eli everything I said about his household—every last bit of it! 13 I told him that I would punish his family forever because of the wrongdoing he knew about—how his sons were cursing God, but he wouldn’t stop them. 14 Because of that I swore about Eli’s household that his family’s wrongdoing will never be reconciled by sacrifice or by offering.”
15 Samuel lay there until morning, then opened the doors of the Lord’s house. Samuel was afraid to tell the vision to Eli.16 But Eli called Samuel, saying: “Samuel, my son!”
“I’m here,” Samuel said.
17 “What did he say to you?” Eli asked. “Don’t hide anything from me. May God deal harshly with you and worse still if you hide from me a single word from everything he said to you.” 18 So Samuel told him everything and hid nothing from him.
“He is the Lord, ” Eli said. “He will do as he pleases.”
19 So Samuel grew up, and the Lord was with him, not allowing any of his words to fail. 20 All Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was trustworthy as the Lord’s prophet. 21 The Lord continued to appear at Shiloh because the Lord revealed himself to Samuel at Shiloh through the Lord’s own word.
Thoughts on the passage:
Confirmation Sunday is a big day in the life of the church. It is a time when we gather to celebrate the faith of young people who are ready to claim for themselves the vows spoken at their baptism. Confirmation plays an important role in my own faith journey. Ironically it serves both as a marker for my own lack of faith as it does for my faith. I remember as a young child, probably early elementary age sitting in the balcony the sanctuary and watching the confirmation service. I remember listening to these professions of faith from the ninth graders and wondering what happens if you get to that age and you did not believe in God. At that point, I wasn’t sure about God and so I had a profound respect for those people who were able to claim their faith. A few years later, I experienced God’s presence while at church camp and my whole perspective shifted. My own confirmation was a profound moment for me when I experienced the Holy Spirit flowing through me as my pastor, parents, and mentor laid their hands one me.
Today we are celebrating the three women who are ready to claim their faith for themselves. In The United Methodist Church we often do infant baptisms. We do this because we believe in prevenient grace, the idea that God’s grace is at work in our lives before we are even aware of it. We also believe in justifying grace, that time when we claim for ourselves the salvation that is offered to us through Jesus. Today, these three women are claiming that grace for themselves and it is something to celebrate.
As I reflected on what scripture to read for this service I settled on the story of Samuel’s call. It is a story that is familiar to a lot of us because it makes a good Sunday school lesson. It involves a boy and children do better when they can sympathize with one of the characters. In the story, Samuel is called by God in the middle of the night. At first, he thinks it is Eli, his mentor and so he goes to him, but eventually, with Eli’s help, he realizes that it is God calling. He listens to God’s call, but still struggles. The message he is asked to give is a difficult one. Again, with the help of his mentor, he is able to live into the call.
I believe that each of us is called by God. Maybe it is not as dramatically as Samuel. I know it was not that way for me. We are also not all called to the same thing. Some are called to be preachers and others, teachers and still others, builders. Each of us has gifts that God has given us and that God has called us to use. We have heard God whispering in our dreams. We have heard God’s call echoed in the wisdom of friends. We have heard God’s call burning in our hearts. God has a purpose and a call for each of us.
A story that came to my mind while I was thinking about this sermon was the story of the Lorax. It is a children’s story by Dr. Suess. It tells the story of the Oncler who angers the Lorax when he chops down a magical Truffula tree. Despite the warnings of the Lorax, the Oncler continues to chop down trees until he has destroyed them all and he is left in a wasteland. As the Lorax leaves he gives a simple word, unless. The story is being told by the Oncler to a young boy and as he finishes telling he says that at last he has figured out what that word means. “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better it is not.” He then proceeds to give the last Truffula seed to the boy and entrusts him to plant and care for it that maybe one day new life and restoration would be possible.
We don’t have magically Truffula seeds in the Christian faith. Instead, we have the word of God. This is the seed of our faith that we plant in the hearts of the next generation. At confirmation, we give each student and Bible so that the word of God might grow in their hearts as well. We are charged with passing on our faith so that the whole world might be transformed.
The anthropologist Margaret Mead once said “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world, indeed it is the only that that ever has.” I might change that to say “committed Christians,” but I believe strongly in the sentiment. I believe that as Christians we are tasked with changing the world and we believe that with God’s help it is possible. In fact, the mission of The United Methodist Church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. We find the same charge over and over in the Gospels as Jesus challenges the disciples to go forth to the ends of the world. He gives them some pretty awesome responsibilities too. At one point, he says whatever is bound on earth will be bound in heaven. At another point, he charges them at whatever sins they forgive will be forgiven and whatever sins they don’t forgive will not be forgiven. He is giving them a great deal of power.
As disciples today, we have that same responsibility. We are all called by God in different ways to transform the world. We have each been entrusted with a role to play in God’s work in the world. Now it is up to us to echo Samuel as we say “speak, your servant is listening” and as we say “hear I am.”
Questions to Ponder:
What was your confirmation experience like?
How have you felt God calling you in your life?
What keeps you from responding to God’s call?
God, you call each of us into ministry in unique and special ways. You have spoken and your words burn in our hearts. Give us the wisdom and courage to hear and respond to your call. Help us to be faithful disciples of you as we go about your transforming work in thee world. Amen