What does it mean to be called by God?
Is it something that happens only to a few, or is it part of our lives as Christians? The Old Testament lesson from 1 Samuel is set early in the life of the nation. Israel had known strong leaders in Moses and Joshua. Then, after settlement in the land, the Israelites are led by a series of judges who rise up in difficult times. At this point, Israel is not an organized nation. In fact, as the book of Judges comes to an end, tribal wars threaten to tear the people apart. The books of Joshua and Judges demonstrate that things are far from perfect, even though the people are in the promised land.
Samuel lives in a time when “the word of the LORD was rare” (verse 1). This situation continues the problem from the end of Judges, where “all the people did what was right in their own eyes” (Judges 21:25). Indeed, 1 Samuel 2 speaks of how Eli’s sons did what was right in their own eyes in their work as priests (1 Samuel 2:11-17). The times are as dark as the night that falls at the beginning of the story.
The boy, Samuel, sleeps in the temple with the ark of the covenant while Eli slept in another room. The boy hears a voice calling and three times arises and goes to Samuel to ask what he wants. Meanwhile, we know that it is God calling the boy, but he does not. Even Eli does not understand what is happening right away. Eventually, however, Eli tells the boy to speak to the Lord. The lectionary reading is verses 1-10 with Samuel doing what Eli told him to do. I would encourage you to read through to the end of the chapter.
There are at least three points to remember in this story. First is the ease with which we may miss God’s call, or attribute it to a human instead. In speaking of their call, people often tell about a period of uncertainty regarding what they are being called to do or be. Like Samuel needed Eli to explain to him what was happening, it often takes others in our lives to aid us in understanding the call God places before us.
A second point is that Samuel is an outsider. Eli’s sons are from the priestly line, and it is their birthright to serve in the Temple. They have not acted justly. and used their position for personal gain instead of service to the Lord. God does not always choose the expected ones. Jacob, Joseph, Moses, and David were all unlikely choices. Power and position in the church or community do not guarantee a similar place in God’s world. All, even outsiders, are given tasks in God’s kingdom.
The third point is if you stop at verse 10 you miss the most important point of this chapter. Just as moving into the promised land did not guarantee a perfect life, neither does God’s call to serve. Like Samuel, Isaiah, and Jeremiah, God’s call often involves working to change human systems that are broken, leading one down difficult paths.
God’s call comes when we least expect. Many times it comes to those we least expect. God is always the God of surprises. We, as the church, need to be like Eli, encouraging everyone to hear the voice that calls them forth into all they are created to be. At the same time, we help each other to tell the truth, even when the truth is hard to hear.
Tune in Sunday morning at 11:00 as we explore “When God Calls”
“I don’t now how, but I know WHO!
Peace, Pastor Nelda
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