A SERMON FOR ORDINARY TIME
The story of Samuel, the great former prophet of Israel, begins with his mother, Hannah. Hannah was childless, and went up to the shrine at Shiloh, where Israel of old worshipped the Lord, and made a solemn vow before the priest, Eli, that if the Lord would allow her to bear children, she would give her firstborn son to be a servant of the Lord all his life long. God answered Hannah’s prayer, and when the child whose name may be translated “I asked God for him,” Samuel, was three years old, she took him to the shrine and gave him into the care of the priest. She went to visit him once a year, taking with him a little garment that she made each time.
And little Samuel grew up in the shrine at Shiloh, doing the bidding of the old priest, Eli. One might call him an altar boy, or an acolyte, sort of a junior Levite. He lived in the temple, always eager to do the old priest’s bidding.
Our story this morning shows his eagerness, his willingness, to respond to the call of Eli. But that voice calling in the night is not Eli, not the old priest. It is the Lord God of Israel. And he is calling the boy Samuel to speak the word of the Lord to Eli, the priest of Shiloh. The message Samuel is given is a harsh one, a message of judgment upon the sons of Eli, who are corrupt and disobedient. My version of the Bible describes them as scoundrels. And the message that Samuel is to import to Eli is that God is going to punish the house of Eli forever because they have been blaspheming God, and Eli has not restrained them in their misbehavior.
Eli has told the boy Samuel to respond when the Lord calls, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” And Samuel does so, and God speaks.
I’ve never heard the voice of God speak to me. I’m sure that I’ve felt God’s call, and I’ve felt God’s guidance and direction and comfort and protection in my life. But a voice, a clear call, a clear command, not once, not ever. Perhaps it is my fault. Perhaps I have not said, clearly enough, often enough, maybe not even once, “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.” Maybe I have heard God’s voice, and didn’t recognize it, as Samuel didn’t when he first heard it.
But God doesn’t speak to us as God spoke to the prophets of old. God doesn’t single out prophets to speak the Word of the Lord to God’s Chosen. Sometimes I wish God did. Most times I’m glad God doesn’t. If God gave me a message to deliver, I’m fearful that it would be a message of judgment, of doom and destruction, like the one that God gave to Samuel.
In the morning, the old priest Eli asked the boy Samuel to tell him what the word of the Lord that had come in the night was. With great courage, Samuel told Eli that the judgment of the Lord was upon his household, upon his sons.
The punch line of the story, its high point, is the old priest’s response. There is no anger, no denial, no arguing with God’s judgment or Samuel’s delivery of the message. Eli merely says,
“It is the Lord; let him do what seems good to him.”
It is the Lord; let him do what seems good, right, fitting, to him. Even if it means my sons will die, even if it means that my lineage will vanish from the earth, let the Lord do what seems good to him.
Speak, Lord, your servant is listening. And Lord, if you speak, may I accept your word as willingly as Eli and say, “It is the Lord, let the Lord do what seems good to Him.