Rev. George Miller
1 Samuel 3:1-10
Sept 14, 2014
(This is a character sermon, given by Eli. He enters singing the Shema, wearing dark glasses, carrying a seat which he sets up and sits.)
“Sh’ma Yis’ra’iel Adaoni Eloheinu, Sh’ma Yis’ra’iel echad.” Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is One.
It is a difficult time. We are at war with the Philistines. They have drawn up a line against us and killed 4,000 of our men.
As a last resort, we have brought out the Ark of the Covenant in hopes that God will deliver us from our enemies.
My two sons, Hophni and Phinehas are fighting. As they fight, I wait with my heart trembling. An old, fat, blind man who can do nothing but to tell you a story while he sits by the side of the road.
I’ll tell you a story because that is who we are. While others gaze at the stars, while others study signs of the zodiac, we pay attention to what has happened.
We are interested in history; we observe events. Why? Because we believe God is personally alive and active in our lives.
History is the medium by which Yahweh works. History is the means by which our God creates, saves and blesses.
So, listen to my story.
Nearly 1,000 years ago God spoke to Abraham and said “Go! I will give you family and land.”
Nearly 600 years ago, God spoke to Moses and said “Go! And free my people.”
Nearly 550 years ago, God said to Joshua “Go! Cross the Jordan River into the land I am giving you.”
Now? Well now it seems as if God is no longer speaking, much less saying “Go!”
It’s not God’s fault. We’ve become too well fed, self-assured and complacent to hear.
Yet, the lamp of God has not gone out.
It seems that once we were no longer slaves, once we no longer had to depend upon God in the wilderness, once we conquered the land and settled down…we settled in.
Things became easy. Things became good…perhaps too good.
When you live in the land of milk and honey it is easy to think you are the reason for the milk, you are the reason for the honey.
So over the decades corruption has crept into our lives. We worship God through our mouths but not through our hearts.
In actuality, we are really worshipping ourselves.
My sons and I are as much at fault. As Judge of Israel, I’m the most powerful man there is. People come to me for leadership and to speak and hear the word of God.
But here’s the thing: I can’t even govern my own family and it’s been ages since I’ve last heard a peep from the Lord.
So I’ve been winging it. Sticking to ritual and appearances, liturgy and bylaws.
I know how things are to be done. People come to Shiloh to interact with God. We follow the proper procedure: ritual, incense, sacrifice. Ritual, incense, sacrifice. With me as intercessory.
That’s why it threw me off guard when years ago a woman names Hannah came to the temple and skipping all familiarity she walked right past where I was sitting and boldly did her own thing.
She was weeping like a wild woman; she was moving her mouth but no words were coming out. She looked like a person possessed with strong drink.
I approached her saying “You drunk fool- put away your wine.”
But Hannah said “My lord, I am not drunk. I am a woman deeply troubled. I’m not worthless, I am simply childless.”
Turns out she had been praying to God for a child, promising that if she had a boy she’d set him apart as a nazarite.
I was humbled and answered “Go in peace, God will grant what you have asked.”
It was clear she was a woman of great faith, perhaps greater than I had ever seen. Certainly greater than me and my boys.
I’m embarrassed to say that even though I’m Judge over all of Israel, I’m unable to judge my own sons: Hophni and Phinehas- what scoundrels!
All they do is eat and fornicate. They have abused their place as priests; they have no regard for the Lord.
When people bring in a sacrifice to be cooked, they are the first ones there with their forks to get the biggest piece of meat and all the delicious fat, which by the way is supposed to be burnt for the Lord.
They have no respect for people’s offerings and they demand for more, more, more and if people refuse to give it to them, my sons bully them and threaten to take it by force.
Perhaps worse yet is the scandalous way they abuse their pastoral authority. They’ve been known to have sexual relations with women right in the doorway leading into the tent of meeting.
Right there for everyone to see!
I’m ashamed to say I have turned a blind eye. What am I to do? What am I to say? They are my sons. I ask them “Why do you do such things?” I hear nothing back.
So our nation has fallen into moral and political chaos; our religious traditions are in shambles, merely a show, and it seems as if God is no longer speaking.
Can anyone blame God?
Yet the lamp of God had not gone out.
A few years later a woman who looked vaguely familiar comes into the house of the Lord with a boy of about 3, a bull, a skin of wine and a measure of flour.
After the bull was sacrificed, the woman said “Do you remember me? I was the one you accused of being drunk. The Lord has answered my prayers and given me a child as I have asked. Now I give him to the Lord as a nazarite, just as I have promised.”
I never saw such faith. Truly, the lamp of God has not gone out!
She then stood before all the people and spoke the most beautiful prayer I ever heard:
“My heart rejoices in the Lord.
My strength is exalted in God.
There is no other Holy One
There is no Rock like my Lord.
Let no one be arrogant or conceited
For the Lord is God of wisdom and truth.
Weapons are destroyed
The weak are made strong.
Those who are overfed will experience hunger
Those who are hungry will be well fed.
The childless will have children
The poor and lowly will be exalted.
The Lord raises the poor from the dust
And the needy from the ashes.
God will guard the feet of the faithful
And judge the ends of the earth
The Lord gives strength to his chosen
and empowers God’s anointed. Amen.”
Truly, the lamp of God had not gone out!
She left the boy, named Samuel, behind to be raised in the house of God. I looked at him: innocent, pure, full of life and decided that I would do what was right.
While my sons slept and ate their sinful lives away, Samuel was properly raised in the ways of the Lord.
Once a year Hannah would make the 20 mile journey to visit, bearing gifts and a handmade robe for Samuel to wear.
I, in return, offered her a blessing, that God repay her with many more children, which she had: 3 boys and 2 girls.
Samuel grew in the presence of the Lord. Unlike me and my sons, Samuel had a true gift of ministry, caring for the Lord, doing what was right for God.
Then there was that fateful night. My eyes had grown much worse, I could barely see. I laid down in my room; the lamp of God had not yet gone out.
Samuel was in the temple, a stone’s throw away from the Ark of the Covenant.
He came running into my room saying “Here I am for you called me.”
I said “I did not call you, go back to sleep.”
A little while later Samuel came back in “Here I am; you called me.”
I said “I did not such thing my son, go back to bed.”
A third time Samuel came back into my room saying “Here I am, for you called me.”
Then it hit me: it was God who was speaking to the boy! Why didn’t I realize it before? Had I truly forgotten the stories and history of our people like Abraham, Moses and Joshua?
It made sense. He was right beside the ark, he had been set aside by his mother, he had not been made fat, complacent and deaf with food and drink and selfish behavior-
He was able to hear and see what my sons and I no longer could. So I told him “Go, lie down, and if he calls you say ‘Here I am, God. Speak for your servant is listening.’”
I didn’t hear another peep from Samuel the rest of the night.
But the next morning I got a real earful. I asked the boy what God said, and it was not good news.
God was about to do something new that would make people’s ear tingle. But my family would not be a part of it, for we have been unfaithful and full of sin.
The sins of my sons and I were so great there was no undoing what we had done, therefore there were consequences to be paid.
My ears certainly did tingle and my heart fell. By turning a blind eye on my sons’ sinful behavior I had enabled them and set us all on a path of destruction.
But Samuel…well Samuel was righteous and he continued to grow in the Lord and God was with him.
Not a word fell to the ground. He was trustworthy and just, fair and good.
As for me, I have grown old and fat, blind and full of remorse, wondering why God has not spoken to me.
God spoke to Abraham and he left his home to raise a family and secure some land.
God spoke to Moses and he left his home to free his people and to lead them to the land.
Here I am, part of that family, living on the Promised Land, and it was a boy that God spoke to.
And now my sons are at war and we are in threat of losing what we have.
Is there any good news that I can share with you as I await to hear the news of the outcome?
I wish I had done things differently. I wish that we, as God’s people, had done things differently.
That we remembered our history and our stories and what we had: milk and honey, green pastures and still waters.
I wish we did a better job of realizing what it meant to say we are descendants of Abraham and Sarah, the midwives and Moses’ mother, Miriam and Joshua and that our best leaders were like the ones who stood still in the Jordan River allowing others to safely cross over.
Not those like me and my sons who bullied others and took what was best for ourselves.
I also would say that the lamp of God is still burning; it has not yet gone out.
As much wrong as my sons and I have done, as much sorrow as the people have caused, as much as we have turned our back on God, the light of God still burns.
I do not believe that God has turned his back on us.
Like Miriam who followed Moses down the Nile river,
Like the leaders who stood still in the Jordan while bearing the Ark of the Covenant,
Like Hannah who prayed with such passion,
Like Samuel who is pure of heart, fresh of ear and ministers to the Lord,
As long as there are the faithful who live and listen for the Lord, God’s light will never go out.
As long as there are the faithful who act and speak for the sake of the Kingdom, God’s fire will burn and inspire and give hope for the world.
My eyes may be blind, but by amazing grace I can still see. Amen and amen.
(Most Of Eli's statements about history is taken from Eugene Petterson's commentary on "First and Second Samuel", Westminster John Knowx Press, pp 2-4, 1999)