Wednesday, January 18, 2012


1st Samuel 3: 1-20, page 247
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.
At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; 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.
Then the Lord called, “Samuel! Samuel!” and he said, “Here I am!” 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.
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.”
Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.
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.
Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down; and if the Lord calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’”
So Samuel went and lay down in his place.
Now the Lord came and stood there, calling as before, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” 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. On that day I will fulfill against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. 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. Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be expiated by sacrifice or offering forever.”
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. But Eli called Samuel and said, “Samuel, my son.” He said, “Here I am.” Eli said, “What was it that the Lord 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 the Lord told you.”
So Samuel told him everything and hid nothing from him. Then he said, “It is the Lord; let the Lord do what seems good to the Lord.”
As Samuel grew up, the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba knew that Samuel was a trustworthy prophet of the Lord.
It’s hard to appreciate interruptions, so most people don’t most of the time.
A cell phone rang during the final measures of Mahler's Symphony No. 9 at the New York Philharmonic on Tuesday night. The conductor, Alan Gilbert, was so disturbed he stopped the performance and as this one patron scrambled to silence his phone the crowd began to boo him.
Interruptions derail the flow of what is supposed to happen, and when accidents interrupt the normal commute of many drivers, good, kind people sometimes become so irritated by the delay that evil thoughts creep into their minds. When they’ve slowed traffic it’s hard to see them as people in need of help, and they become objects that are in the way.
No one really likes to be interrupted, even though it seems like the great, life changing events of our lives don’t happen during our normal routine, but when the normal routine is interrupted.
That was the case for me last Tuesday. Mr. David Locke barged into my weekly staff meeting and before I could ask him to wait outside while we finished the meeting he was helping himself to a doughnut hole and a cup of coffee.
“Yes, Mr. Locke,” I said.
“Ya’ll don’t mind waiting for me to finish my doughnut hole,” he responded.
We waited, and then he asked me to stand.
“Joe, you’ve been preaching at First Presbyterian Church for a full year now,” he began, “and during this first year you’ve preached good sermons, even preached on national radio. I want you to know that I look around the sanctuary while you’re preaching and it seems like there aren’t even that many people sleeping. We just wanted to get you something in recognition of your ministry.”
Then he handed me this. An airbrushed tee-shirt that says, “Joe is a preaching machine.”
David Locke didn’t say that he made this shirt himself, but he didn’t say that he didn’t either. You’ll have to ask Ms. Jean if her husband has been sneaking off to Gatlinburg for airbrush lessons. Regardless, I was honored, and much more honored than irritated by the interruption to my staff meeting.
Most of the time we don’t like interruptions, though.
The gospel of Luke tells the story of three who were on their way down the road. On the side of the road lay a man in need of their help. Only the third, a Samaritan stopped to help, while the first two, a priest and a Levite, were unwilling to be interrupted on their way to wherever they were going.
In the same way the Psalmist in our first scripture reading is amazed by God and the body that God has created: “you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” To be so amazed takes time however, so rarely are normal schedules interrupted to consider it all.
Most of the time it seems as though we are most interested in just getting on with it – getting on with work, getting on with our appointments, getting on with our normally packed schedule. Then should we have a few minutes to sit and read a book or watch TV we certainly don’t want to be interrupted regardless of who needs help or attention. When we finally lay down to go to sleep we don’t want that interrupted either.
No one really likes to be interrupted, even though it seems like that’s when everything important happens – not when the normal routine is intact, but when it’s not.
It’s hard to believe that when you’re fast asleep, only to have your rest interrupted by a crying baby, a late night trip to the bathroom, or a boy named Samuel who thinks that you’ve been calling him.
The first time it happens I bet Eli wasn’t disturbed, not too annoyed, maybe not even completely woken up by Samuel who barges into the room, “Here I am, for you called me.”
The second time, though, must have been different, and I’m sure that while scripture tells us Eli says, “I did not call, my son; lie down again,” he really said something else a little less saintly.
Then the third time – the third time it happens – how do you feel when someone wakes you up for the third time? Your mind is made up that there’s no good reason for it. You’re not going to check under the bed for a monster a third time happily; a dog that wakes you up a third time to go out may not have a home the next day; and whatever is making that beeping sound in the kitchen for the third time is on its way to being completely destroyed.
But Eli, after being woken up for the third time, doesn’t stare down Samuel with contempt but takes this young boy and his trouble seriously: “Go, lie down; and if you hear the voice again, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’”
It all started then. The boy became a prophet of the Lord – and not just any prophet, but the prophet who would call Israel’s first kings.
But for Samuel to listen to God he first had to be heard by Eli. For him to take God seriously he first had to be taken seriously by Eli. And for Samuel to allow his life to be interrupted by God, Eli had to allow his sleep to be interrupted so that he could listen to this boy for whom “the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed.”
He didn’t have any idea how special he was in the eyes of God. And if Eli had ignored him or not taken him seriously, sending him back to bed for the third time, he may never have found out.
You and I – we’re no different. Born with God-given gifts that we only learn how to take seriously because of parents, teachers, and friends who take us seriously – who pick up the phone in the middle of the night because we’re more important to them than sleep – who turn off the TV to hear what we have to say because our words are more important than the words of the evening news. We only learn to take ourselves seriously because we have been taken seriously.
Your call, then, is to go and do the same: to put down whatever you’ve been working on to hear the concern of the little girl pulling on your sleeve, to look her in the eye rather than dismiss her, to not be satisfied with “I’m fine mom” when you know well and good that everything isn’t.
You are the church and if any child of this church is ever going to believe that they are as important to God as we say they are, you have to listen to what they have to say.

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