Epiphany 2

Preached: January 22, 2012

Listen as a Servant
1 Samuel 3:1-10

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The Word from God through which the Holy Spirit strengthens our faith in Jesus is 1 Samuel 3.

The boy, Samuel, was ministering before the Lord under the supervision of Eli. The word of the Lord was rare in those days; there wasn’t an abundance of visions. It was the time when Eli was lying down where he slept. His eyes had begun to go bad. He couldn’t see. The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the house of the Lord where the ark of God was.

The Lord called to Samuel. He answered, “Here I am.” He ran to Eli and said, “Here I am, since you called me.”

Eli said, “I didn’t call you. Go back and lie down.” So he went and lay down.

Again the Lord called another time, “Samuel.”

Samuel got up and went to Eli. He said, “Here I am, since you called me.”

He said, “My son, I didn’t call you. Go back and lie down.” Samuel didn’t know the Lord yet. The word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.

Again the Lord called, “Samuel,” for a third time.

He got up, went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, since you called me.”

Now Eli realized that the Lord was calling to the boy. He said to Samuel, “Go, lie down. If he calls to you, then say: ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’ ” Samuel went and lay down in his spot.

The Lord came and took his stand. He called now as he had before, “Samuel. Samuel.”

Samuel answered, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” (1 Samuel 3:1-10).

This is the word of our Lord.

She had prayed for a son. Oh how she had prayed! She poured out her heart to the Lord. Her lips moved, but no sound came out. So absorbed was she in prayer.

The Lord answered and gave Hannah a son. She named him Shemuel שְׁמוּאֵל, Samuel in English, which sounds like shemua el שְׁמוּעַ אֵל, meaning heard of God. As she had vowed, when the child was no older than five or six, she brought him to the Tabernacle at Shiloh to serve the Lord for the rest of his life. She and her husband Elkanah would see him once a year at the annual sacrifice. Eli, the priest, now trained him.

These were dark days for God’s people. It was towards the end of the time of the Judges, when people did as they saw fit turning away from the Lord toward greater and greater evil. Enemies oppressed them. The Philistines were a growing threat in the west. Even the spiritual leadership of the people was in decay. Eli appears to be an honest man, though incompetent at times. His sons were wicked. Although they were priests, they desecrated the Lord’s sacrifices, not allowing people to offer them in the proper way. They slept with the women who served at the entrance to the Tabernacle. And all Eli did was scold them. He did not punish them or remove them from office.

Under such dark conditions, is it any wonder that young Samuel does not recognize the Lord calling to him? At least Eli had the insight to finally tell him to say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening” (1 Samuel 3:9 NIV1984). Dear friends, let’s take those words to heart as the Holy Spirit opens our minds and moves our will to listen as servants to their lord. That’s the theme today. Listen as a servant. Part one: Listen first before busyness. Part two: Listen with willing readiness.

A. Listen first before busyness

Samuel heard his name. He gets up and runs to Eli. Eli’s eyes had grown worse. In the darkness before dawn, he might need help. Samuel wants to help. He wants to serve. That’s good. And how could Samuel have recognized the Lord calling out to him? “In those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions” (1 Samuel 3:1 NIV1984). It had been centuries since the Lord had regularly spoken through Moses. No prophet like that had been raised up since then. Even though his parents as well as Eli would have told him about the Lord and his promise of the Savior, Samuel did not know that the Lord would reveal himself in this special way. So it’s no wonder that Samuel figured Eli was calling. And yet, do you see how it would’ve been better for Samuel to listen first before the busyness of running? That’s what he needed to do in the end anyway. Listen first. “Speak, for your servant is listening” (1 Samuel 3:10 NIV1984).

But what about you and me? What excuse do we have for not listening first? We might say that it’s been a lot longer for us since the Lord spoke directly to a prophet. As far as we know that has not happened since the days of the Apostles. But that’s no excuse. For the Lord has spoken to us and keeps on speaking to us in a way that Samuel never experienced. The writer of Hebrews brings this out as he begins, “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son” (Hebrews 1:1, 2 NIV1984). You, dear friends, you have the words and works of Jesus himself, the Son of God, recorded and proclaimed through the Evangelists and the Apostles of the New Testament. We have the whole Bible. And we have his word made visible in the Sacraments, which bring us Jesus.

What did Samuel have? The Five Books of Moses (Genesis-Deuteronomy) had been written by his time and maybe also Joshua. That was it. The Lord was still revealing his saving plan through the ages. That’s why he would reveal new things in visions or dreams. For us today, he no longer promises to speak to us in those ways, because we have the full revelation of our God written down for us to listen to. It’s written so that it doesn’t change as it’s handed down from generation to generation. It doesn’t change like oral traditions and customs. You don’t have to wonder whether you'll hear a voice calling you in the night or whether the devil will masquerade as an angel of the light. You have God's written word instead of a night time voice. You have God's written word, all of it. Samuel could have said, “I have heard you calling in the night,” but we can’t. We live in a different time. Rather we could say, “I have heard you calling in your Word.” Listen to it first.

And look how available his Word is for you and me! The Bible is a very affordable book. It’s translated into a language you can understand. As our church body discusses which translation to use, part of the difficulty is that there are several good translations out there, any one of which would be greatly beneficial for our members to read and take to heart. To me the bigger question is not which translation to use, but how to get our people into the Word, reading and cherishing it. How available God’s Word is in our time! It’s not only printed for you to read and learn and treasure. It’s also proclaimed in our pulpits and studied in our Bible classes, right here in your home town. You don’t need to go to Shiloh or Jerusalem or some other place where the Tabernacle or Temple is. You don’t have to wait for a priest or Levite to read it to you on certain festival days as in the time of Samuel. The word is very near you. Listen to it first.

Listen to it first, for it may not always be so available. In the days of Samuel the word of the Lord was rare, the text says. People had neglected it, turned away from it, and listened to other things first. And when people neglect his Word, eventually the Lord gives them what they’ve been asking for. “You don’t want to listen to my Word. Well, then, I’ll take it away.” Then, what hope would there be if God’s Word no longer showered down on us it’s life-giving water? Listen first, before its refreshing rain passes on.

And yet aren’t we apt to be busy rather than listening? To listen as a servant means to listen before we get busy with serving. A servant listens to his or her lord first. Sometimes we get so caught up in the serving, we forget the listening. Remember Mary and Martha. Martha was busy serving. But Mary was listening. And what did Jesus say about Mary. “… only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better” (Luke 10:42 NIV1984).

I think there’s plenty for each of us to think about here as we examine our own lives. For example, many members are happy to help serve one of the mid-week Lenten meals. They come to bring their food. They come to serve. And that’s good. But do they come to listen? And what about the five other Wednesdays when they’re not serving? Jesus wants us to listen first before busyness. That’s what it means to listen as a servant.

Many of you are eager to serve, just like Samuel. And that’s a good thing. You’re eager to serve your family, your community, your school, your church. You’re willing to serve as an usher, on the council, with doing church cleaning or communion set-up, serving meals, singing, playing music, teaching, or helping. That’s good. But remember to serve like a servant, a servant who listens first before the busyness. Listen to your Lord’s written words. Take them to heart. Cherish them, treasure them day after day.

Samuel learned to listen first. “Speak, for your servant is listening” (1 Samuel 3:10 NIV1984), he said. That’s listening like a servant. So also, dear friends, listen first before busyness. For you see, the words of our Lord that we hear move our hearts so that we listen and serve with willing readiness.

B. Listen with willing readiness

That willing readiness -- that’s the servant’s attitude. As a servant, my will is no longer my own. It belongs to my Lord, my Master. “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening. I am yours. 'Take my will and make it thine; It shall be no longer mine.' Mold it like clay to match yours. Remake me in your image, in your likeness, so that my heart and mind walk with you.” That’s the attitude we hear in Samuel’s words, “Speak, for your servant is listening” (1 Samuel 3:10 NIV1984).

But where does this willing readiness come from? Our natural will is hostile to God. It’s ready to do evil, not to serve him. And even when our natural will serves others, it's out of some sort of self-interest, even if it’s simply wanting to feel good because I’m helping others, doing my part, paying it forward. That’s not the willing readiness of a servant eagerly listening to his lord. That’s a heart listening to his own longings for acceptance and self-esteem.

Where does genuine willingness and readiness to serve come from? “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening” (1 Samuel 3:9 NIV1984). “Speak, Lord, for my willing readiness can only come from you. Speak, Lord, for only your word in the Scriptures and the Sacraments can change my heart and will. Speak, Lord, for your Gospel takes my unwilling spirit and makes me willing. Your Gospel changes me, molds me, transforms me.” And how does our God answer this prayer and speak to you? Not by calling out in the night. He speaks to you, dear Christian, through his Word in the Scriptures and the Sacraments.

Now what does his Gospel say to create such willing readiness in us? The Lord Jesus says, “I have spoken. You have the record of it in my written word, and I do not change. For I am the Lord. I am the same yesterday, today, and forever. I am the Lord, who has redeemed you. Yes, while you were still a godless sinner, I poured out my blood for you in death to ransom you to be my own. You are not your own. You are bought at a price. You are my blood-bought lamb, my ransomed lamb, my redeemed lamb. I do not change. My love that led me to the cross to sacrifice myself for you still holds you in my hands today. Nothing tomorrow can separate you from my love or snatch you from my hands. I am the same yesterday, today, and forever. I am the Lord. I am your Lord.”

Such words from our God and Savior in the Scriptures and the Sacraments transform our heart, our mind, our spirit and will. How can we not say with Samuel, “Speak, for your servant is listening” (1 Samuel 3:10 NIV1984)? How can we not run with Samuel to our Lord saying, “Here I am” (1 Samuel 3:6 NIV1984)? Such willing readiness comes when we listen first. Listen as a servant. Amen.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313