Saturday, January 14, 2006

Second Sunday after Epiphany, 1 Sam 3:1-10, Jan 15, 2006

2nd Sunday after Epiphany January 15, 2006
St.  John’s Lutheran Church, Howard, SD
Now the young man Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. And the word of the Lord was rare in those days; there was no frequent vision. At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his own place. The 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. Then the Lord called Samuel, and he said, “Here I am!” and 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. And the Lord called again, “Samuel!” and Samuel arose 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.” Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. And the Lord called Samuel again the third time. And he arose and went to Eli and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the young man. Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down, and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant hears.’ ” So Samuel went and lay down in his place. And the Lord came and stood, calling as at other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant hears.” (1 Samuel 3:1-10, ESV)
Grace and Peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.
Well, the timing of this text is pretty good.  Next week we are starting adult bible classes next week, and soon well have more opportunities to Study God’s Word together too.  It’s about someone who’s learning to be a servant of God.  Samuel is a boy of probably about 12 years old.  His life has been dedicated to working in the church every day and serving the aging priest, Eli.  Eli is getting old and can’t see very well.  That explains why Samuel would go running to him if he thought he needed help in the night.  Samuel is a faithful servant, and does what is necessary for Eli.  But really this story really begins before Samuel was born.  It begins years earlier with his mother, Hannah.  Hannah was one of the two wives of a faithful man of God.  His name was Elkannah.  Every year the family would travel to Shiloh to worship present their sacrifices to God.  And every year Hannah would present double as instructed by her husband, he loved her so much.  And yet, Hannah was troubled.  She had not yet had children, while her husband’s other wife Peninnah did.  The two wives didn’t get along because of it.  
Hannah was very troubled, and during her visit to God’s house she prayed that God would give her a son.  If he did, she said, she would dedicate him to service in God’s house.  The high priest at that time was Eli.  He saw her praying, and because she was moving her lips, but praying in her heart, he accused her of being drunk.  “I’ve not been drinking, but I’m very distressed.”  She said.  “Go in peace.  May the Lord do for you what you have asked.”  Eli responded.  Hannah left confident that God would do what she had asked.  God did.  And as promised, as soon as Samuel was old enough he was brought to live and work in God’s house.  Samuel grew up to be a faithful servant to God.  
Eli, the High Priest, also had children.  His sons also worked in the temple.  They were priests like their father, but unlike Samuel they weren’t good servants.  In fact they were corrupt and deceitful.  They took advantage of their positions to fill their pockets and satisfy their desires.  Eli knew all about what they were doing, but didn’t do anything to stop them.  That’s one of the reasons why, at the beginning of this text, it says that the word of the Lord was rare.  It was God’s judgment on His people for being disobedient.  
And that leads us up to what’s going on here, Samuel receiving the rare word of the Lord.  It was God’s plan to make is not so rare again, through His servant Samuel.  
It all takes place just before dawn.  The lamp of God had not yet gone out.  That’s talking about a lamp stand that was lit and burned all through the night until morning.  Samuel is sleeping in his usual place, and just before dawn, Samuel hears a voice calling to him.  “Samuel, Samuel.”  He thinks it’s his master Eli calling for help with something.  Remember Eli was nearly blind and couldn’t see very well anymore.  It was probably common for him to call for help.  But when Samuel went to him and asked what he wanted Eli says, “Go back to sleep your dreaming!” But when it happens a second and third time, Eli finally realizes that something else is going on.  “Next time say, ‘Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went back to bed and God called him again and he answered just as he was instructed.  “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.”  That is how Samuel became a prophet of God.  He was willing to listen to God’s word for him.
“Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.”  That’s the word for us today.  It’s a good place to start as we start to think more about Christian education here at St. John’s.  Speak, Lord, we are listening.  But, I wonder, maybe we are really fooling ourselves.  Are we really listening?  Of course we are here today sitting patiently while God speaks to us through His Word.  But, sometimes it’s hard to pay attention.  We get to thinking about lunch in the oven at home; taking care of the lawn; the mountain of work we have on our desk; or the football game that starts in a little bit.  Oh, sure we are listening, but it’s hard to really listen, isn’t it?  After all it sounds so much like what we hear every other Sunday.
Are we really listening as a congregation?  Maybe we are fooling ourselves there, too?  After all our attendance isn’t really that good.  In fact most of the people who belong to the congregation aren’t even here.  That doesn’t really sound like we’re really listening.  
And what about our children, are they listening?  Maybe it’s not their fault.  Here at St. John’s we have great attendance at our Kids for Christ on Wednesday afternoon (20 kinds regularly show up) and that’s great, but when we look around church this morning they don’t seem to be here.  I know what most of you are thinking… well when we were kids, we weren’t given a choice about church… we just went.  Well, those days are gone.  We’ve got to start thinking about how to get the kids we have now to come, not how our parents made it work.  If they aren’t here on Sunday they don’t get the chance to listen to God’s Word where God promises to give it.  I don’t want ever to give the kids the impression that Wed afternoon is for the kids and Sunday morning is for the adults.  That’s not the way it should be.  God has His gifts of forgiveness here for all of us; that includes our children.  But, of course, we adults don’t attend bible classes very well either do we.  There’s always an excuse, beginning with the time being inconvenient.  It’s a little bit as if we say, “Speak, Lord, and I’ll listen as long as it’s convenient, and doesn’t interfere with my real life.”
And if that’s not enough St.  James tells us that if we listen and don’t act on what we’ve heard we really aren’t listening.  But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. (James 1:22-24, ESV)  When we look in the mirror we see our failings pretty clearly.  We don’t act much as if God’s Word means what it says.
So, we don’t listen very well.  We may say, “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.”  But when it comes right down to it we are pretty poor listeners.  If only we could be more like Samuel.  Maybe we could to him as a better example.  He was willing to listen to God.  We should willingly listen to God speaking.  But really, pointing to someone as an example isn’t going to help us much.  So what if Samuel was a good listener.  That doesn’t do us much good, really.  Really our problem isn’t really the fact that we don’t listen; our problem is that we don’t really want to listen.  The problem really runs much deeper than just what we do while we sitting here in the pew.  It’s not a matter of actions.  It’s not a matter of doing or not doing.  We confess that we are by nature sinful and unclean.  We have sinned against you in thought, word and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone.  And we could add “By how we have listened, not applying the truth to ourselves as we should, and by how we have not listened, and done what God commands.”  We could try to do better.  We could try to follow Samuel’s example.  But, when we are honest with ourselves, we know that before long we’d be right back where we started; with the necessity to confess our sin again.  Following Samuel’s example just shows us our sin again and again.  
So, what are we to do?  Aren’t we listening to this text to find out what we need to do better?  Aren’t we listening to it tell us that we need to better with attendance at Church and Bible study?  Isn’t that what church today is all about getting us all charged up and excited that we carry through with our promises and do the things we should do?
Well frankly, no.  I’d love to see better attendance.  I’d love to see so many people here that we run out of room.  And even so many children that we would sometimes have trouble hearing.  But, no amount of pointing to Samuel as an example is ever going to solve our problem.  Our problem is the sin that’s right here in our hearts, the sin that we can remove by any amount of our trying.  
We don’t need an example… We need a Savior.  It’s a little like telling a person whose drowning and shouting “I can’t swim,” to follow the example of someone who is swimming next to them.  At that moment that person doesn’t need swimming lessons; they need someone to reach out and save them.  Picture the drowning person struggling to stay above the water.  The life guard jumps in, floating quietly beside him.  “Ok, Mr. Smith, just pay attention, I’m going to teach you how to swim now.”  Meanwhile, the panicked Mr. Smith is splashing around trying to spit out the water he’s gulping down.  “Now, Mr. Smith,” the life guard continues, “you’ll never learn to swim that way.  You have to pay attention to what I’m doing.  You’ve got to follow my example.”  Well, thankfully that’s not what they train life guards to do.  At that point Mr. Smith doesn’t need an example he needs a savior.
Thank God, He knows that that’s exactly what we need, too.  So, He sends us a Savior.  He doesn’t give us the bible full of examples and say; “I’ll save you if you do what they do.  If you listen like Samuel, I’ll take care of your sin.”  Instead He gives us His Word, where we find not an example, but a Savior.  Really the person we should think about when we hear how faithful Samuel is isn’t us (that is how we should be faithful) but it’s Jesus.  Just as Samuel was willing to listen, so Jesus was willing to listen.  I didn’t tell you what God told Samuel when he listened.  It was bad news for Eli.  God was going to judge Eli and his sons for all the evil things his sons had done.  It wasn’t a pleasant task he was given.  Jesus listened to the Father, too.  Neither was His task pleasant.  When He listened to God the Father He heard a call to death.  He answered that call on the cross, where He bled and died for the sins of the whole world.  But also, when He listened to God the Father, He heard a call to life, and was raised again from death on the third day.  And He answered that call, too! It is Jesus who perfectly listened to God.  We hear about Samuel in the text, but he was an imperfect human.  But, even if he was perfect he could only save himself.  He died and stayed dead.  Jesus died and rose again.  He is the only one who can save us.  And that’s what we learn when we listen to God, here in this place.
It’s a message worth listening to.  Jesus Christ comes here to us in this place telling us again and again what He has done for us.  He tells us how He has saved us as we were drowning in our sin.  He tells us that He took the punishment for our sin, and was pinned with it to the cross.  He took our death and buried it in the grave.  He takes our live and gives it back to us by His resurrection from the dead.  That’s the Word that we hear, right here in Sunday morning worship.  That the Word we hear, in bible classes, Sunday school and our midweek program.  That’s the word that we need to hear, the Word that’s worth listening to.  
Worship is primarily about what God does for us.  It’s the place that God promises to come and give us forgiveness through His Word and Sacraments.  Nothing we do as a church is more important.  It’s important for Adults, old and young, and it’s important for all of our children.  We’ll have Adult Bible class after nearly worship every Sunday.  That class isn’t just for some people it’s for all of you.  If you haven’t been in a while, if you’ve never been, come and give it a try.  Our Children have many opportunities besides Sunday morning worship.  They have Kids for Christ.  It’s not just about getting confirmed, it’s about learning about what God has done.  
“Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.”  We are listening.  Not because of the example of Samuel.  But because of our Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

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