“Here Am I!”

1 Samuel 3:1-20, January 17th, 2021

Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard


“Hear now these ancient words from the Old Testament, the book of Samuel, chapter three, verses one thru twenty.”

1 Samuel 3:1-20

1 Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli.  The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.  2 At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; 3 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.  4 Then the Lord called, “Samuel! Samuel!” and he said, “Here I am!”  5 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.  6 The Lord called again, “Samuel!”  Samuel got up 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.”  7 Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.  8 The Lord called Samuel again, a third time.  And he got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.”  Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy.  9 Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’”  So Samuel went and lay down in his place.  10 Now the Lord came and stood there, calling as before, “Samuel! Samuel!”  And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” 

11 Then the Lord said to Samuel, “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make both ears of anyone who hears of it tingle.  12 On that day I will fulfill against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end.  13 For I have told him that I am about to punish his house forever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them.  14 Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be expiated by sacrifice or offering forever.”  15 Samuel lay there until morning; then he opened the doors of the house of the Lord.  Samuel was afraid to tell the vision to Eli.  16 But Eli called Samuel and said, “Samuel, my son.”  He said, “Here I am.”  17 Eli said, “What was it that he told you?  Do not hide it from me.  May God do so to you and more also, if you hide anything from me of all that he told you.”  18 So Samuel told him everything and hid nothing from him.  Then he said, “It is the Lord; let him do what seems good to him.”

19 As Samuel grew up, the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground.  20 And all Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was a trustworthy prophet of the Lord.

“Having listen to this writing about God’s invitation to Samuel, let us consider what and how is God calling out to us.”

“Here Am I!”

Most recently, I was ‘called’ by this church, the Riviera United Church of Christ, to be the Pastor, Teacher and Spiritual leader of this faith community.  I know, my journey here began back in November of 2013, and then a ‘formal’ ‘call’ was voted on in March of 2015.  Five, six and even seven years is a very, very short time in the realm of God’s kingdom.  Nonetheless, I was ‘called’ by this community.  My ‘call’ from God to begin the process for my training and my subsequent entry into Ordained Christian ministry… began back in the year 1990.  I, like Samuel, checked with those around me as I tested the authenticity of that which I consider my ‘call’ into formal ministry.  Somewhat like the search committee, which was appointed by the Church Council, they too, worked hard to authenticate who was to be formally called.  It took approximately nine months to make a formal decision.  I was one of several other candidates they considered.  Yes, I know exactly how Samuel felt.  If this be God who is calling out to me to serve, then I needed, I wanted to be sure about it!  So, also did the committee and this congregation.  As did the previous churches I have been ‘called’ to serve.  It is considered a trusted and sacred process.  This gets us up to verse ten of our reading.

At first, I cringed when I realized what the next ten verses conveyed.  Did I really want to discuss with you what God said to Samuel?  Not really.  You see, all pastors, all clergy are only human and thus subject to the failings of humankind.  The writing today is clear, God was calling Samuel to replace his mentor, his teacher Eli.  Seems God was displeased with how old Eli was handling things as his ability to do the ministry, the work which God had initially called old ‘Eli’ to do, was falling short!  This is not the kind of message a ‘trainee’ wants to carry to their mentor.  Yet, even old Eli knew that he would need to hear what it was which God had conveyed to the young prophet to be, Samuel.  I am now seventy-three and yes, many of you have joked that I am still young.  Thank you for that.  But the truth for us all is that none of us are getting any younger.  Yet, I do plan to preach just as-long-as God gives me the tools to do so; no more, nor less.

With all this in mind, we all know ‘not all’ will be called to be church leaders, or pastors, and truth be told, most folks have no desire to stand up here and do what I do, or for that matter what church leaders do.  If I am wrong about you, contact me so we can get you to fill in for me while I take that six weeks of vacation you promised me last year, which I shall take this year; two Sunday’s off a year is just not enough!  There are at least two within our community who are actively trying to follow their ‘calling’ by God to serve, at some compacity in formal ministry.  That leaves everyone else.  Surely, you are saying, this ‘call’ passage is not for you!  Perhaps not ordained ministry or even an occasional sermon.  (Which, by the way, I believe everyone here has at least one sermon that is worthy of a Sunday morning.)  However, this passage is for everyone who is hearing my voice this morning and all who are not hearing me; but are hearing the voice of God call out to them!    

One theologian has written down your question about all this for you.  Beth Tanner asks what you are most surely asking also.  “What does it mean to be called by God?”  This is a question I surely have asked, of myself, and from every Pastor and ‘want to be pastor’ I have had the opportunity to have a real conversation with!  It is a question I believe a great many of you, who now serve within this community of faith, have asked yourself also.  The second question everyone in service to God, at any capacity, asks: “How long do you want me to do this?”  Many of you, like me, have been serving the universal church of Jesus Christ, for a really, long time!  I know, seems strange I would bring this up in a conversation about being ‘called’ into ministry.  Yet, it is a fair question, and we all want to know the answer when we are asked to serve on a committee or ‘volunteer’ to do a particular task or duty which needs to be done.  So, what is the answer?

Let me take you back to a conference workshop I went to many years ago.  I believe I was pastoring a church in Middletown, New York when I

attended this ‘particular’ workshop.  The topic was exactly this: “when do I know it is time to make a change, go to another church, or just resign and do something different?”  The conference I was attending had several workshops which I attended, this one stands out!  I believe the room was filled with pastors and a Pastor was leading the discussion.  He asked the question which thereby allowed us to get all our misunderstandings about ‘called’ ministry out of the way.  One pastor said they should leave if things are going poorly, meaning the finances were shacky or difficult.  Another said to leave when everything was going great!  One pastor said they would leave if someone offered more money to work somewhere else.  Others said similar non-consequential reasons to stay in a position within the church they were serving or not.  Our workshop leader than asked a simple question: ‘what were you ‘called’ to do?  And do you still believe that “God’ called you to do so?  The room went silent, as we all realized we had stepped into the trap which our words had sprung. 

The leader of the workshop said it out loud: “When we are called by a committee or called by God to do a certain thing, a particular ministry, we are called to do so as long as we are able to do the ministry to which we are called!  But, if we can no longer do the ministry to which we were called, it is time to resign or leave that position.”  Let us be reminded that we are all ‘called’ into the ministry of ‘serving the Church’ which was initiated through the life, the examples, and teachings of Jesus.  Likewise, we need to step down or step-aside when the ‘flame’ of our ‘calling’ has gone dim.

When a Pastor can not get into the spirit of the ministry, the work which they were called to do, then a vacation, a sabbatical or possibly retirement from that position is in order.  The same goes for all of us who serve a church or a volunteer position or a staff position with the church.  It is time for a change when one feels, he or she can no longer do the work!  All of us who serve for long periods of time know what it feels like when the time of decision comes.  It is hard!  Surely, it was hard for Eli when he heard that which Samuel told him the voice of God had said to him.  Yet, Eli surely knew that his time had come.  If he did not, then we would have heard a lot more from him in our scripture lesson. Verses two and three of our reading tell us that Eli was getting old and tired, yet he was still involved in the ministry.  However, it is suggested he was growing away from the voice of God.  Does having a hard day constitute the end of our service? For that day perhaps, but if we can rejuvenate our spirits and get back to it, then no, it is not necessarily time to move on. 

Daniel B. Clendenin asks us a rhetorical question: “When or perhaps we could ask, why have you ever felt the silence of God?”  I think many of us can search our journey’s and pick out times when we feel that the voice of God was silent to us.  Answering the when is relatively easy.  Many have shared a time when it felt like God had gone silent, in that if felt that God had surely deserted them or those they love.  Even myself, when alone with God I have asked why, why, or why did this have to happen?  I got no answer, not in the context of that moment for sure.  Have you found yourself asking God what to do in a situation and you did not feel like you received an answer?  The second question is harder, determining the why of it.  Sometimes we may come to realize other factors which may have contributed to the silence.   And many times, we do not.  Frankly, most why questions when it comes to theology, or an understanding of why God does this or that, are not easily answered and oftentimes there is no answer, no answer that we are ready to hear.  Old Eli was apparently ready to hear why God was pushing him aside for the younger Samuel.   

Only God knows how many more sermons or prayers I have left to deliver.  Until then, I will probably keep doing what I do.  Yet, I will continue to stop and reflect, listening to new voices, as I seek to do the will of God.  My prayer is that each of us shall acknowledge how and what God has ‘called’ us to be and do.  Also, that we shall recognize when it is time to ‘pass’ the ‘mantle’ the ‘torch’ of ministry to another.  Furthermore, when the time does come, as it always does – we shall let go and let God do the next right thing.  

Amen.

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