An Ear Tingling Mission
Text: 1 Samuel 3: 1-11
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.
This is a great story and a great text and honestly, it has been awhile since I last looked at this text. It came up this week in the Lectionary readings so I looked at it again and was intrigued a little bit because I feel like I may have experienced a bit of a perspective shift and maybe even a deeper or renewed understanding of the text. So today, I will be asking more questions than I am answering, but as I ask the questions, I would like for you to answer those questions as they relate to your own life, in your context, and in your own experience.
For example, let me begin with the end. In the last verse the Lord is speaking to Samuel and the Lord says that something new is going to happen in Israel and anyone who hears of it will have both of their ears tingle. So here’s my question; how long has it been since you have heard about something so new, so exciting, and so fresh that it made your ears tingle?
Many years ago before the days of ministry I was at somewhat of a crossroads in my life. My current job was ending, the entire family pretty much hated where we were living and I wasn’t certain of what was supposed to come next. It seemed our options were quite limited. We didn’t have much money, we had three small boys and a dog and employment was a little scarce.
Through the grapevine I heard about a place called the San Juan Islands. We were living in Texas at the time and Texas is a long ways away from the San Juans. But what I heard was that places were growing in the San Juans and one contractor in particular was having trouble finding and keeping good carpenters. This made my ears tingle. It was an option I had never even considered or even knew about for that matter. It was all new and all very exciting. My ears tingled for days.
What came next over a period of time, I’m not sure I would do again. I flew to Friday Harbor, taking almost every cent we had to our name. I found the least expensive hotel. I rented a bicycle instead of a car. I went to the grocery store and bought sandwich making stuff rather than eating out in restaurants. I located the contractor I had heard about and made my pitch. I had already built one house, had some experience remodeling others and really enjoyed being outside. We met in the morning and by that afternoon I had a job.
With Heidi and the three kids and the dog still in Texas, I began to look for an affordable place to live. In less than 24 hours, I found something I thought would work and filled out the paper work and I think gave them a post-dated check for a deposit, which they agreed to hang on to for me.
In what time I had left, which wasn’t a lot as I recall, I explored the islands a little bit. Of course I shot lots of pictures to share with the family when I got home. Which I did. Now, everyone’s ears were tingling!
We sold most of what we owned and packed the rest into a 6X12 U-Haul trailer and everyone piled into our Dodge van and we headed for Anacortes, Washington where we would catch the ferry to Friday Harbor on San Juan Island.
All this happened because my ears tingled. All this took place because I could hear the voice of others and I listened. All this happened because I had an attitude that embraced new ideas and new experiences. All of this happened because I was more like Samuel than I was like Eli in the story we just read.
I worked as a carpenter on San Juan Island for a time. It was some of the best times for all of us. For my kids they had experiences they still talk about to this day, even though it was over 30 years ago. Without my ears tingling and without the ability to listen and hear, it would have never happened.
I said earlier that I’m not so sure this story would play out the same way today. When I read the story of Samuel and Eli, it seems I find myself identifying in many ways with Eli rather than Samuel. In the past decade or so, status quo has started to look pretty good. I’m not so anxious to hear about new things. It has been awhile since my ears tingled with a new idea and in some cases I simply resist change.
I was a late comer to digital photography. I liked film and didn’t think a computerized image could ever rival good old Kodachrome. I resisted a cell phone for a long time. Then I resisted a smart phone for an even longer period of time. Now when it’s time to learn a new phone I can hardly stand it. If I could, I would still be running Windows 95 on my computer at home, because at least that one worked and I sort of knew how to use it. You get point.
When I read the story of Samuel and Eli, who did you identify with in the story? Did you feel like Eli a little bit? Can you see what is happening here? Had Eli grown deaf to the calling of the Lord? The text says that his eyesight had already failed, what about his ability to listen for the voice of God? Had Eli grown so comfortable with the status quo that he no longer heard God’s voice? The text says in the opening lines that the word of the Lord had grown scarce at this time. I think there is a lesson here.
There are a couple of other items I wanted to ask you to think about with regard to this text. First of all, just because something is new or it is the latest technology doesn’t mean that it is the right or the best thing to do. For example, in the text, Samuel hears the voice of God calling him and he goes to Eli and says “Here I am”. In other words, Samuel was available, willing and he was listening. Samuel was aware of what was around him and what was happening. Then when Eli tells him to go lie down one more time and if he hears God’s voice the next time to listen. That is what Samuel does and when God speaks, Samuel responds with the words; “Speak, for your servant is listening”.
I mentioned a few minutes ago about how much I resisted smart phones and I still don’t enjoy learning a new one when it’s time to replace it. But in the back of my mind I’m wondering about all the younger people, say those that represent the Samuels in our culture, if they are able to say “Speak, for your servant is listening”?
We are so plugged in as a culture, so consumed with screen time, so flooded with news and information, I wonder if anyone can hear the calling of God at all anymore?
I guess I would take these observations away from our text this morning. First, I think that we can all hear the voice of God regardless of our physical age. There may be signs in our life that we have become more comfortable with the status quo, maybe we don’t embrace change the way we used to, but we can still listen. Even if we identify more closely with Eli in the story than we do Samuel, we can still do what Samuel did.
If we look at the text again, there are a couple of things we should consider that allowed Samuel to hear the voice of God. First he was open. He was young. Samuel hade not already decided that God was no longer speaking. He hadn’t given up. He thought it was possible.
Next, Samuel was quiet before God. Eli had told him to go lie down again and wait for God to speak. The scriptures are full of these kinds of instructions; perhaps the most famous of those is the Psalm which tells us to “Be still and know that I Am God.” That is Psalm 46:10 by the way.
The third thing we should recognize that Samuel did was to respond to God by saying “Speak, for your servant is listening.” Samuel wasn’t playing music or checking Twitter on his smart phone. Samuel wasn’t playing a video game or watching a movie or sending a text to his BFF; Samuel was quiet before God and he was listening.
How often in our lives do we intentionally do those three things? Just to be clear; Samuel believed that God is still speaking; Samuel was quiet before God; Samuel was unplugged and listening when God spoke.
Even if our experience tells us that we may have become a little more like Eli and we favor leaving things alone and we don’t embrace change the way we used to, in the midst of our resistance, we can still do the things that Samuel did. We can believe. We can get alone and quiet before God. And we can listen.
God is still speaking. What ear tingling mission does God have planned for this church? We should all be listening for that Word of direction and vision for our future. And when we catch a glimpse of that ear tingling mission, we need to respond by saying “Here I Am, Lord, your servant is listening!”
Our closing hymn is “Here I Am, Lord” so let’s join together in listening for the voice of God.