The Call of Samuel

1 Samuel 3:1-20

Samuel’s call

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.


Thoughts on the passage:

Throughout the summer we are going to be looking at some of the stories in the Old Testament that tell us about the history of our faith. We will be starting with the call of Samuel, the story we read today, and then learn about the first kings of Israel, ending the summer with the construction and dedication of the Temple by Solomon. Our hope in looking at these stories is not to bore us with dates and details, but rather to bring to life the real struggles of these leaders and followers of God. In their stories we can learn more about ourselves and how God is at work in our lives as well.

Our story today begins with the call of Samuel. Samuel was a young boy who was serving the priest at the time, Eli. Prior to our story today there are a couple of events we should be aware of. First, we need to know how it was that Samuel came to serve Eli. Hannah, his mother had been childless and had promised God that if she was to have a son she would consecrate him and raise him to serve the Lord. Second, we need to know that while Eli was a good man and a good priest, his sons were not. They were taking the best offerings for themselves rather than giving them to God. So it was that God promised that Eli’s sons would die and that God would call up a new priest to serve Israel.

There are several elements to the story of the call of Samuel that I think are important to note. First, there is the pre-call, the preparation that is being made for Samuel’s call. He is not called in a vacuum, rather but by the work of God in the life of both Hannah and Eli who know that he is going to be special. Next, there is the nature of the call. Samuel is not called simply to follow God, but to perform a specific task, to witness the work that God is going to do in the world. Next, there is the help in discerning the call. It takes Samuel several times to finally respond to God and it is made possible by the wisdom of Eli who is able to recognize that it is God that is calling Samuel. Finally, it is important to note that the task is not an easy one. Samuel needs to tell Eli some uncomfortable news and he is reluctant to do so. A call from God is not always a comfortable thing.

On Friday, June 1st, my sister was commissioned as a provisional Elder in the United Methodist Church. She joins my wife, my mother, and I in a family of people who have been called to ordained ministry. The service of ordination is a powerful one for those of us who are clergy because it is a reminder of the work that we are called to do. We gather together and celebrate and pray for those who God has called and ordained to this specific work. At the service, the role I played was to help in the laying of hands on one of the newly ordained Elders, Laura Nordstrom, the woman who followed me in Glenwood. It was a powerful moment to be a part of the work of the Holy Spirit in her life.

Every clergy has a different story of how they are called into ministry. Like with the story of Samuel there are some common themes, but the exact nature of the story is different. In many ways, my own story begins first with that idea of a pre-call, the work that God was doing to call me into ministry before I was aware of it. My parents were good friends with a clergy couple who served the Lutheran churches of Lake Norway. I remember my mother and her friend Joyce talking about how I might become a pastor someday. This was long before I was seriously thinking about ministry. I know this because once I had given up on my dreams of playing baseball for the Chicago Cubs, I had wanted to be a computer programmer like my father. God was already starting to call me into ministry long before I was aware of it.

Unlike Samuel, I never had a specific moment when I heard the voice of God and could say that this was the point in time that I was called. Rather, my call to ministry was an on-going discernment that this was in fact what I was supposed to be doing. Like Samuel, however, in my call was always a sense of a wrong that needed to be righted. For Samuel, that wrong was the poor behavior of Eli’s sons. For me, it was the poor behavior of our churches. I attended Beloit College for my undergraduate work. The college is a classic example of a LIBERAL arts school. I knew I was called to ministry and made no secret of this. What I heard from my friends however were the stories of how the church had hurt them. I remember a friend talking about how a church would not let her have a popsicle if she did not say she loved Jesus. Another friend was essentially kidnapped by his grandmother who wanted to have him baptized over the objections of his mother. All around me were stories of ways that the church had failed to be the hands and feet of Christ and failed to offer love and grace to those who needed it. I felt called, and still feel called to try and change that.

One of the memories I have as a part of my call, was a comment made to me by the organist at Hamline Church. He almost seemed disappointed that I was going to go to school and become a pastor. He felt what the church needed was not more good clergy, but more good laity. While I think he was wrong about my call to ministry, I think he is right that what we need in the churches is for all of us to realize that we are called to ministry. Just because we do not feel called to the set-aside role of clergy, does not mean we are not being called by God to take action.

I believe that God is speaking to each one of us and asking us to serve. I believe that God is calling to each of us in the night. God has a vision of a broken world that God wants us to help fix. Maybe God is speaking to you about the problems of homelessness, human trafficking, bullying, or drug abuse. Maybe God is calling to you to take a stand on issues of racism or sexism. Maybe God is calling you to be a nurse and care for the sick, or to help with those who are aging, or to teach our children. Our calls will not all be the same, but they will be rooted in God’s vision for the world, not as it is, but as God wants it to be.

We are called to be agents of change. We are called to take action in the world. We are called to love God. We are called to love our neighbor. We are called. Are we ready to answer that call?


Questions to Ponder:

When is a time that you have felt God calling you?

Who is a person you know who is living out God’s call in their life?

How can you be like Eli and help others to recognize their call?

What brokenness do you see in the world that God might be calling you to help fix?


God, you call to us all. You know our names and have loved us since the moment of our birth. Bless us and open our eyes, our ears, our hearts, and our minds to hear your call. Give us the courage to say “speak Lord, your servant is listening.” Give us the strength to speak out against the injustices in the world. Give us the wisdom to know how best to serve you. Amen