Scripture: 1 Samuel 3:1–4:1a
“Once upon a time, there was a woman named Hannah, loved by her husband, yet unable to have children. She fervently prayed to God, crying out for the Lord to hear her prayers, promising that if she had a child, she would dedicate her son to be a servant of the Lord.”
“It was a dark and stormy night, and Hannah, who was now pregnant, gave birth to a son, who she named Samuel, because “she asked for him from the Lord,” and in time, Hannah did as she promised, dedicating him to be a servant of the Lord to live in the house of the Lord at Shiloh.”
“Once upon a time” and “It was a dark and stormy night” are both classic story beginnings, signalling to us that something special is happening. But what about this for a story beginning…
“The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.”
What does that beginning storyline evoke in you? This also signals to us that something special is about to happen. Naming the experience of feeling far from God indicates to the reader that change is on the horizon. But first we have to know where we are in the story of the people of God, so let’s go backwards in biblical history for a moment.
The book of Judges ends by saying, “In those days, there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes.” We now pick up the story in 1 Samuel, where this still seems to be the case. While Eli, the priest at Shiloh may be a little dense, he ultimately seems to be a caring, trustworthy individual who is trying to follow in God’s ways. Eli’s sons are the opposite–the passage says they had no regard for the Lord, as they disregarded priestly tradition, used their position to be with women, and acted out of greed.
So it makes sense that the word of the Lord was rare in those days, as the people, specifically Eli’s sons in this story, were acting in ways that kept their ears and eyes shut for what the Lord might be saying to them. I wonder what other people were feeling in those days–were they yearning for a word from God? Were they frustrated watching their priests act inappropriately or were they acting inappropriately right along with them? Did they feel lost and alone? It probably was a mix of all these things and more.
Knowing this background and the setting of the story, let’s begin the story again….
The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread. But the lamp of God had not yet gone out.
These words jumped out to me as I was studying the text this week. Even though times felt dark, there still was a light shining–the lamp of God had not yet gone out. In this story, “The lamp of God” not only tells us that it is night, as the lamp acts like a night light in the temple where Samuel is sleeping, but the lamp of God also tells us that God has not left. It is a symbol of hope. Even though God has not spoken in a while, God remains present. There is hope that God will speak again but first, Samuel has to learn to hear the voice of God.
It is night and while the young Samuel is sleeping, God calls out to him three times before Samuel knows how to respond with guidance from his mentor Eli. “Speak, for your servant is listening,” Samuel says when he hears his name being called out for a fourth time. And then God gives Samuel a difficult message, a message that will make everyone’s ears tingle, saying the house of Eli will soon end. This was not the message Samuel wanted to hear and he definitely did not want to relay the message to Eli. The text says he did not sleep the rest of the night, afraid of telling what he heard to Eli but he does tell Eli what God said, and Eli receives the message rather graciously.
And from then on, Samuel did not just know about who God was from what he had been taught, Samuel knew God from experience. The text says, “As Samuel grew up, the Lord was with him…and all Israel knew that Samuel was a trustworthy prophet of the Lord.”
Even with this message predicting death and downfall for the house of Eli, 1 Samuel 3 is ultimately a story of hope, that endings are also new beginnings and that God is always present among us and works through us. Now hope in the Bible is more than a wish saying, “I hope it will be sunny tomorrow.” Hope in the Bible is expectant waiting, knowing and believing that God will act, even though you don’t know how or when.
This story assures us that even when it feels like God is silent, when the word of the Lord is rare, God’s presence remains. God never leaves us. All of us experience wilderness times in our lives, when God feels silent and things don’t make sense, but we can have hope, knowing that even if we don’t feel it, God is still with us and will never leave us. The lamp of God is aflame. And when we can’t seem to see that light, we have the church, our brothers, sisters, and siblings in Christ to be with us in the dark, to hope for us, until we can see the lamp of God again.
This story also shows that in order for hope to be realized sometimes hard changes must take place. In this passage, Eli’s sons have become corrupt, showing no regard for the Lord and acting out of their own desires instead of God’s. For hope to be realized, the house of Eli must end. Change can be hard and painful but oftentimes, change is necessary for new life to flourish–change that roots out injustice, change that leads to a better way of life even though it will be hard and requires sacrifice, change that leads to hopes being realized. And God is with us in the midst of change.
And in this story, Samuel himself embodies this message of hope, as he was the son that his mother Hannah had hoped and prayed for for years. And now, when the line of Eli is going to end, Samuel is called to act as priest and judge for Israel. Remember that Samuel is not a man with years of leadership experience and training, Samuel is a boy, a child who hasn’t hit puberty yet, but God still calls him to lead at his young age. This story clearly shows us that no one is too young for God to work through them. There isn’t an age or a height requirement to follow the Lord, God simply requires a willing heart and listening ears.
In our world today there are a lot of reasons to feel hopeless, but looking at our children and youth is one of the things that gives me the most hope right now. I have had theological conversations with 4 and 5 year olds. I have seen young elementary students name their feelings and work through disagreements better than many adults. I know middle schoolers who were brave enough to ask for help when the world was crashing down around them. I have watched in awe as high schoolers call out sexism and hypocrisy and stand with confidence in who they are. Our children and youth aren’t waiting until they get older, but are doing kingdom work now, showing themselves and others that they are loved by God.
So to close, I have some final takeaways from this story for both adults and the children and youth listening.
Adults, while our children and youth are doing amazing things, they are also facing new challenges no generation has ever experienced before and they need our support. This story offers us some tips on how to do that. First, we need to believe that God can and is working through them at whatever age they are. We need to help facilitate experiences to help them know God with their hearts and not just their minds. One way we do this at FBC is by having a Spiritual Formation team, acknowledging that we don’t want to just educate our kids about our faith, we want their faith to help form them into who God made them to be. We do this at ABY by taking time most weeks to listen to a Bible passage and ask what God might be telling us through it. During the children’s sermon, we have been doing this by talking about the different parts of the service so kids can understand what is happening and know how to participate in the worship service. And in children’s church, we are talking about the same text that is being preached on, just at a level that is easier for them to understand and experience.
This story also reminds us as adults that we need to listen. Eli didn’t really take the time to wake up and think about what Samuel was saying until he had been woken up the third time. Adults, I think we can do better than that and need to make sure that we are aware and available, giving our children and youth attention when they need to talk. We need to take time to listen to what our children and youth are saying. We should try to listen to their passions and to help them see the talents and gifts God has given them. And as they are talking, just like Eli was willing to hear Samuel’s difficult words, we also need to be open to hearing hard and uncomfortable truths from them because we are not perfect and sometimes kids and youth can see where we are falling short. As they learn from us, we also can learn from them.
And now children and youth, here’s what I hope you take away from this story about Samuel’s call. I hope this story reminds you that you are an important part of God’s family right now. You don’t have to wait until you get older, God can already use you just as you are to show God’s love to other people. I want you to know that each of you is an important part of this church right now and we want to hear what you think about things because we know that we can learn from you. I also want you to know that you are loved by God and by the people in this church. We are here for you and we want to support you as you do the hard work of growing up, so if you ever want to talk, Pastor Matt and I, your Sunday School teachers, and other people are here to listen to what you have to say. We know that being a kid and a teen is hard and we want to encourage you and pray for you as you grow and discover who God made you to be.
Now let’s pray.
Dear Lord, Thank you for your word. Thank you for these stories in the Bible that remind us of important truths and give us hope…
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