Scripture: 1 Samuel 3:1-10
It is a common complaint that Hollywood is all out of new ideas. The fact that so many of the movies that have been released over recent years are either reboots of older movies or endless sequels to other movies seems to confirm this. The repeat of the same idea might go deeper than yet another fast and furious movie coming out. I have noticed a lot of movies share the same story. The specifics are clearly different, but the primary story is the same. See if you can place what movie this story is from: An orphan being raised by their uncle is bored or trapped by their mundane life. They get glimpses that they are meant for something more, that there is something special about them-they are meant to be a hero. Even though they initially resist this, a wise mentor guides them along the way. The mentor can only go so far, as the hero embarks on a series of trials. Along the way, new friends are met who aid the hero on their journey. Eventually the hero has to face a great evil, the ultimate trial. The hero finds the strength within, discovers the truth about themselves and emerges victorious. What story is that?
It could be Star Wars with Luke Skywalker being mentored by Obi-wan Kenobi. He befriends Han Solo and Princess Leia, and he has to learn to use the force to destroy the Death star. It could also be Harry Potter who lives a miserable life under the stairs until he is told he is a wizard. He is mentored by the wise Dumbledore, and is helped by his friend Hermione and Ron. Yet in the end, he has to claim that he is a great wizard and defeat the evil Lord Voldermort. It could also be the Lord of the Rings, where carefree Frodo enters a greater world after he is entrusted with the one ring by his uncle Bilbo. The ancient wizard Gandalf mentors Frodo. A fellowship of the ring is formed to aid Frodo on this quest, and his best friend Sam goes with him to the end. In the end though, he has to rely on his own inner strength to resist the ring’s corrupting influence and cast it into the fires of Mount Doom. Of course the movie I was actually trying to describe was the Wizard of Oz. Dorothy leaves her mundane life behind and enters the Land of Oz. The good witch Galinda offers her guidance, she makes friends along the yellow brick road, but it is up to Dorothy to defeat the wicked witch of the west. Only then does she truly learn, there is no place like home.
This basic plot structure is something called the hero’s journey, and what is amazing about this basic story is that it is found in cultures all around the world. The details are clearly different, but the same basic structure is the same. This had led to literature professors to title the hero’s journey the monomyth, because it is so common and the basis for so many stories across cultures. The story speaks to something that must appeal to us. The hero’s journey always begins with an origins story. With the way the hero left the mundane life and began their journey to be something more than mundane. This morning’s scripture is the origins story for Samuel. It is his first step into a larger world. Like Samuel, we might too find the voice of God, calling us to listen as well.
This morning’s scripture sort of picks up in the middle so it is important to set the scene. At this time the Israelites had occupied the promise land for several generations, but as the book of Judges ends with “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.” This also means that there was no temple to worship God, but rather there was the tabernacle which had been set up at Shiloh. It is unclear if the tabernacle was still the tent like structure created for the Israelite’s time in the wilderness or if more permanent structures had been built. The Israelites would travel here at various times of the year to make sacrifices, and there was a group of priests led by Eli who oversaw all of this.
Samuel, though was not related to Eli. The book 1 Samuel begins with his mother, Hannah, weeping because she has no children. We are told she makes a promise that if she could have a child she would give him to the LORD and that is what she did. Samuel was raised in the tabernacle to serve there his whole life. At the time of this morning’s scripture, ancient sources put Samuel’s age at around twelve. Samuel would eventually be a prophet of God who was pivotal in the life of the Israelites as they coalesced into a nation and eventually entered a golden age under Kings David and Solomon. It was Samuel who anointed Saul and then later David as God’s chosen king, and Samuel was the first in a long line of prophets that God used to speak to these kings. That all started in this morning’s scripture. As we consider Samuel’s origin story as a prophet I think there are three aspects of it that can really stick out. These aspects can inform our own faith understanding and perhaps point us to better follow God in our lives.
One of the more remarkable verses from this morning’s scripture that really sticks out to me is verse 7 which states, “Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD. The word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him.” This really sticks out to me considering Samuel’s circumstances. To fulfill her promise to God, Hannah offered Samuel to God’s service after he was fully weaned. This would have likely been around the age of three. If Samuel is twelve at the time of this morning’s scripture, this means that he had spent nine years living at the heart of where the LORD is worshipped. It is likely he did not really remember a time before living in Shiloh and sleeping in the same room as the Ark of the Covenant. He grew up in ministry, he had daily duties to care for the house of the LORD. He was in the middle of the Israelite’s worship of God yet the scripture plainly states that he did not yet know God.
At first glance this seems kind of extraordinary, but perhaps it is really not. I believe in the importance of church. I think being part of a community of faith makes it so much easier to be a faithful Christian, and the weekly ritual of attending church keeps most of us connected to God better than we could ever do without it. Yet, I have to concede that just attending church does not make someone a Christian. Being surrounded by a religious culture does not actually mean someone knows God. Knowing God does not happen just by doing the right actions, being familiar with the right vocabulary, and being able to claim a label for oneself. Samuel probably knew all the right sacred words to say for a sacrifice, he knew of God, but the scripture states he did not know God. The reason for this, the scripture states, is that Samuel did not yet know the voice of God.
Jesus essentially states something very similar in the gospel of John. In John 10:14 Jesus states that he is the good shepherd. In that chapter, while talking about the idea of a good shepherd, Jesus also states, “He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice.”
To know God is to know God’s voice. I do not want to make assumptions, but likely none of us have heard the physical voice of Jesus. Yet I am convinced that those whole follow Jesus, who truly seek to know him, will know his voice. Even if we do not physically hear it, like Samuel- in the stillness when everything else is silenced- we can come to recognize God’s voice. We have a lot of voices speaking into our lives. We have outside pressures trying to influence us, we have our own desires, and the lies we beat ourselves up with, but I am convinced that when we know Jesus, not just know of Jesus, but we know him as our savior who died for us, our friend who laid down his life for us, and our Lord who leads us- then we can come to know the voice of Jesus and hear it over all the noise. We can his voice calling us, comforting us and leading us.
It is worth pointing out that Samuel did not recognize the voice of God at first, and I think there is some strange comfort in that. It means it takes some practice to recognize God speaking into our lives. It means we might convince ourselves that what we want is God’s will and not just our will. It means that even if we do not recognize the voice of God in our lives at first, God does not give up after the first try.
Another encouragement that we can take from this story is also the second aspect worth focusing on, and that is the fact that even though the scripture states Samuel did not yet know the LORD, God still spoke to him. This is encouraging because it reinforces that even before we know God, God knows us, and God can reach out to us. Our United Methodist tradition affirms there is truth to this. One of the unique viewpoints that we hold is that we can experience grace, God’s love in unique ways. One of those ways is called prevenient grace. The United Methodist Book of Discipline officially defines prevenient grace as such: “We acknowledge God’s prevenient grace, the divine love that surrounds all humanity and precedes any and all of our conscious impulses toward God. This grace prompts our first wish to please God, our first glimmer of understanding concerning God’s will, and our “first slight transient conviction” of having sinned against God. “
Prevenient grace is the love that God has for us before we ever love God. Because God loves us even if we do not love or know God, that means the love of God is still active in our lives and calling us towards God. This is encouraging, because it is likely many of us know at least one person who does not yet know Jesus. This story reminds us that God does not give up on those people. This story reminds us that God reaches out to the people who do not yet know God and even if they do not recognize it as such God’s love is active and present in their lives as well. This story reminds us that if Samuel who did not yet know God, could hear and respond to God’s voice, then the people who we know might yet do the same. And that is an encouraging thought.
The final aspect of this morning’s scripture to consider is how Eli told Samuel to respond to God’s voice. Eli, told Samuel to respond with “Speak LORD, your servant is listening.” Our response should still be the same today. Samuel responded that way, God spoke to Samuel that night and God continued to do so. Through Samuel God subdued invading armies, anointed kings, delivered messages, and even saved David from death. Samuel was used by God to do amazing thing and make a real difference, and it all began with him saying “that he was listening.”
Throughout history, Christians have done incredible things. Christians have challenged injustices to bring about real change in the world. Christians have fearlessly shared their testimony about how God has forgiven them and transformed their lives. In doing so they became disciples who make disciples. Christians have seen the needs around them and met those needs by sacrificially feeding the hungry, clothing the poor, and visiting those that others have forgotten. In doing so, and untold number of lives have been touched and changed by the love of God working through those Christians. All of these amazing things that are siblings in Christ have accomplished throughout history all began, because they were willing to listen to God.
The question that this should leave us with then is “Are you listening?” Because friends, God is active in this world. The voice of God is calling and inviting us to join in the kingdom of work of making disciples and transforming this world into a more kind and loving place. If we eyes to see and ears to hear, then I believe we can see God and work and we can hear God calling us to take part in that work of love. The attitude of minds and the prayer of our hearts every day should be “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.
This morning’s scripture is Samuel’s origin story. It is the beginning of him doing great things for God, and it all started because he was willing to listen for God. This story reminds us that those who know God will hear his voice, but it also encourages us by pointing out that out of God’s prevenient grace, God love and reached out to those who do not yet know God. So may you be encouraged, no matter where you are in your faith journey, by knowing that God does love you and that God’s voice can be heard and discerned in our hearts. No matter where you are in your faith journey, may you be willing to listen to God. Just like it was for Samuel, our first step to doing great, world transforming things for God, begins with listening. So may we be willing to begin each day by praying “Speak Lord, your servant is listening and I will go Lord, wherever you lead me.”