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Difficult Conversations

Now the boy Samuel was serving the Lord under Eli. The Lord’s word was rare at that time, and visions weren’t widely known. One day Eli, whose eyes had grown so weak he was unable to see, was lying down in his room. God’s lamp hadn’t gone out yet, and Samuel was lying down in the Lord’s temple, where God’s chest was. The Lord called to Samuel. “I’m here,” he said. Samuel hurried to Eli and said, “I’m here. You called me?” “I didn’t call you,” Eli replied. “Go lie down.” So he did. Again the Lord called Samuel, so Samuel got up, went to Eli, and said, “I’m here. You called me?” “I didn’t call, my son,” Eli replied. “Go and lie down.” (Now Samuel didn’t yet know the Lord, and the Lord’s word hadn’t yet been revealed to him.) A third time the Lord called Samuel. He got up, went to Eli, and said, “I’m here. You called me?” Then Eli realized that it was the Lord who was calling the boy. So Eli said to Samuel, “Go and lie down. If he calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord. Your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down where he’d been. Then the Lord came and stood there, calling just as before, “Samuel, Samuel!” Samuel said, “Speak. Your servant is listening.” The Lord said to Samuel, “I am about to do something in Israel that will make the ears of all who hear it tingle! On that day, I will bring to pass against Eli everything I said about his household-every last bit of it! I told him that I would punish his family forever because of the wrongdoing he knew about--how his sons were cursing God, but he wouldn’t stop them. Because of that I swore about Eli’s household that his family’s wrongdoing will never be reconciled by sacrifice or by offering.” Samuel lay there until morning, then opened the doors of the Lord’s house. Samuel was afraid to tell the vision to Eli. But Eli called Samuel, saying: “Samuel, my son!” “I’m here,” Samuel said. “What did he say to you?” Eli asked. “Don’t hide anything from me. May God deal harshly with you and worse still if you hide from me a single word from everything he said to you.” So Samuel told him everything and hid nothing from him. “He is the Lord,” Eli said. “He will do as he pleases.” So Samuel grew up, and the Lord was with him, not allowing any of his words to fail. All Israel from Dan to Beersheba knew that Samuel was trustworhty as the Lord’s prophet. -1 Samuel 3:1-20

In the beginning, God spoke the dialogue of relationship with the words of creation. God began the cosmic conversation that God would have with humanity throughout history. God called into being all that is with his words, and began to interact and engage with the creation, particularly with his people. First, we have the stories of God walking in that Garden of Eden and conversing with Adam and Eve. And throughout the story of the Bible, we have God conversing and talking with people of faith. God calling Moses through that burning bush and talking to him on the mountain on behalf of the people... The prophets, the judges. The ordinary people like you and I. They got invited to be a part of his story. This morning, we find young Samuel working as an accolade or an assistant to the high priest, Eli. Now, Samuel is a story that comes at a time that was rather bleak for the people of Israel. Eli was not the greatest of high priests. And his sons... well, they were all but worthless. They were carousers. They were skimming off the offering in the temple. But even before that, Samuel's mother Hannah, desperate to have a child, went to the temple and offered her sacrifices and prayed fervently, pouring out her heart to God and Eli the high priest observing this, thought she was just drunk.

That tells us of the spiritual depth or lack thereof of Eli. But he's in charge. He's the high priest, and young Samuel is learning under him. And so in chapter three, we hear these words that, “In those days, the word of the Lord was rare and visions were not widespread.” This God that spoke into creation and talked to and through the Prophets for generations, suddenly seemed silent. But consider the experts, the officials, the establishment who were in charge: an elderly priest whose vision is failing, who also had not had any true vision of God, his corrupt sons who were only interested in lining their own pockets and attending to their own once and wishes rather than serving God. So maybe it wasn't that God had stopped speaking, maybe God wasn't silent, maybe God was still engaging in... Or trying to engage in this conversation. But there was nobody to listen, and so God acted by speaking to Samuel, this young boy who we’re told really didn't know of the Lord or The Lord's word. And yet he became the means by which God conveyed a message... A message to Eli, but also a message to all of Israel.

Samuel didn't understand this voice that was coming to him, and I've experienced that in my own life with my call to ministry. A feeling like maybe I was being called to something and not quite understanding what it was. My first path into college was thinking that medicine was where I was headed. But in retrospect, after I did enter into ministry, I realized that God was calling me to assist and help and serve, I just wasn't quite sure where it went or where it would lead me. Samuel heard his name called. He thought it was Eli. And on the third time, Eli, from his