St Luke's Anglican Church in Enmore a lively, inclusive welcoming liturgical community

Here I am

Here I am

Ser­mon preached at Enmore, Second Sunday after Pente­cost, 3rd. June 2018

Read­ings: 1 Samuel 3.1–20; Psalm 139; 1–6, 13–18; 2 Cor­inthi­ans 4:5–12; Mark 2:23–3:6

The story of the call of Samuel is a beau­ti­fully told nar­rat­ive in the Old Test­a­ment which is prob­ably very famil­i­ar to most of us and for that reas­on alone is worthy of con­sid­er­a­tion. Famili­ar­ity may not breed con­tempt but it may breed the idea that this story has noth­ing new to teach us.

First of all let’s remem­ber the con­text. Samuel was a child of prom­ise. His moth­er Han­nah, had been child­less in a mar­riage where she was loved but not loved exclus­ively. Her hus­band, Elka­nah had anoth­er wife who bore him sev­er­al chil­dren: poly­gamy being com­mon in those days. Han­nah remained child­less, the source of great grief to her, made all the more pain­ful because her rival con­tinu­ally tor­men­ted her about her infer­til­ity. One day when vis­it­ing the sac­red tab­er­nacle at Shiloh she poured out her heart to God and made a vow that if God would give her a child she would give this child back to the Lord. She shared this inform­a­tion with Eli the priest, who sent her away with the com­fort­ing words, “Go in peace, the God of Israel grant the peti­tion you have made to him.” God not only answers Hannah’s pray­er but he also answers Israel’s pray­er for Israel is wait­ing for a new lead­er. Israel at this point in his­tory is not a nation but a group of tribes, con­stantly war­ring with each oth­er and without any cent­ral author­ity either reli­gious or polit­ic­al. The land is marred by law­less­ness; the nar­rat­or of the Book of Judges describes the situ­ation as ‘every man does what is right in his own eyes.’

When Samuel is born, Han­nah is true to her word and after wean­ing the child presents him to Eli with the words, “For this child I prayed; and the Lord has gran­ted me the peti­tion that I made to him. There­fore I have lent him to the Lord; as long as he lives he is giv­en to the Lord.” This was an extraordin­ary action on Hannah’s part but it illus­trates a fact which is true for all chil­dren. Chil­dren are not a pos­ses­sion- as par­ents we don’t own them; they are giv­en to us by God to love, nur­ture and care for until the day comes when they can be inde­pend­ent of us and make their own decisions. Han­nah recog­nised that Samuel was a gift and she had the cour­age to give the gift back to God. God hon­oured her incred­ibly dif­fi­cult decision by mak­ing Samuel the man who would lead Israel to a new begin­ning and who would see Dav­id enthroned as the King, ush­er­ing in an age of prosper­ity and greatness.

At the begin­ning of chapter three, Samuel is still a boy but has been a kind of appren­tice to Eli for a num­ber of years. In chapter two we are told that ‘the boy Samuel con­tin­ued to grow both in stature and in favour with the Lord and with the people.’ Samuel stands in stark con­trast to Eli’s own sons who use their pos­i­tion of author­ity to exploit people and enrich them­selves. The nar­rat­or also tells us that in those days ‘the word of the Lord was rare and vis­ions were not wide­spread.’ It was a time of spir­itu­al bar­ren­ness. This is the con­text for Samuel’s call. Two times Samuel hears a voice call­ing him in the night and not sur­pris­ingly he assumes it is his ment­or and guide, Eli but Eli sends him back to bed. When it hap­pens a third time Samuel again goes to Eli and this time Eli per­ceives that Samuel is hear­ing the voice of God. He instructs Samuel to go back to bed and if called again to say, “Speak, for your ser­vant is listen­ing.” Samuel does as instruc­ted and receives the mes­sage God has for him.

The story is about voca­tion or call­ing. ‘Voca­tion’ comes from the Lat­in voceo (to call): a voca­tion is not a task I choose for myself but a call to me from someone else to which I attend and respond. Voca­tion res­ults from Call­ing. In the his­tory of the Church we have some­times lim­ited voca­tion to the call to full time Chris­ti­an min­istry. That is a pity because there is a very real sense in which all Chris­ti­ans are called. What are we called to? To quote the bap­tism ser­vice, we are called to ‘strive to live as a dis­ciple of Christ, lov­ing God with your whole heart, and your neigh­bour as your­self until your life’s end.’ Then after being bap­tised the can­did­ates are exhor­ted ‘to shine as a light to the world to the glory of God the Fath­er.’ That call­ing is expressed in our daily life as a teach­er, law­yer, plumb­er, car­penter, moth­er, fath­er, home man­ager, retir­ee, whatever we hap­pen to be. We need to revive the concept of Chris­ti­an voca­tion, using the gifts, abil­it­ies, edu­ca­tion and skills we pos­sess for God’s glory. When we use those gifts to add to the hap­pi­ness and well- being of our work­place, our cli­ents, cus­tom­ers, chil­dren, grand­chil­dren or the wider com­munity we bring glory to God. I was an Audi­olo­gist before being a priest- one voca­tion was not spir­itu­ally super­i­or to the oth­er. I gave up one to pur­sue the oth­er only because I believed God was call­ing me to do some­thing different.

Some­times God calls us to change dir­ec­tion and take a new path – when we have been quite happy with the old path tak­ing a new one can be a chal­lenge. Samuel’s role as God’s spokes­per­son was dif­fi­cult. The mes­sage God gave to Samuel when he called him that night was a hard one. In the second half of the nar­rat­ive we dis­cov­er that Eli was about to lose his job as Priest; worse than that, his house was to be pun­ished forever because he had failed to restrain his sons from their cor­rupt ways. Hav­ing received that mes­sage, Samuel remains awake for the rest of the night won­der­ing how he is going to con­vey this mes­sage in the morn­ing. He need not have feared, Eli was aware that the mes­sage would not be good news and insisted that Samuel hold noth­ing back. Their roles are sud­denly reversed. Before this happened Samuel was depend­ant on Eli for everything but now Eli waits on Samuel to hear his fate. The young inno­cent one is now author­ised, the old know­ing one is now disempowered.

There will be many more times in Samuel’s long career when he will be the bear­er of unwel­come news. When the people demand a king he will tell them hon­estly what king­ship will involve- heav­ier taxes, sons made into sol­diers and daugh­ters made ser­vants and con­cu­bines. When they appoint a new King, Saul, it will be Samuel who will one day have to tell Saul that his king­dom is to be taken from him and giv­en to anoth­er. His proph­et­ic role will make him a lonely, some­times unpop­u­lar fig­ure but he remains obed­i­ent to the call of God on his life and faith­fully deliv­ers the mes­sages entrus­ted to him.

Finally, a brief word about today’s Gos­pel read­ing. The account of Jesus and his dis­ciples mak­ing their way through the grain­fields has been the source of some debate. It appears the dis­ciples were hungry and thought chew­ing some grain might keep them going until the next town when a prop­er meal might be avail­able. Pluck­ing heads of grain was not pro­hib­ited in the Mosa­ic law but har­vest­ing grain with a scythe was. How­ever the Phar­isees liked to tight­en up the law and remove all the loop holes, so they regarded the dis­ciples’ actions as work and there­fore pro­hib­ited. Jesus jus­ti­fies his dis­ciples beha­viour by refer­ring to an incid­ent described in 1 Samuel 21.1–6 when Dav­id and his sol­diers are being pur­sued by Saul’s army and Dav­id goes to the High Priest, Abiath­ar, to ask for some bread. Abiath­ar tells him that the only bread he has is con­sec­rated bread and is reluct­ant to give it to Dav­id. How­ever, Dav­id is insist­ent and takes some bread away. The account Jesus gives is slightly at odds with the text of 1 Samuel and the High Priest named is not Abiath­ar but Ahimelech. Now the usu­al explan­a­tion is that Mark just made an hon­est mis­take when recount­ing this event and that is the cause of the dis­crep­ancy but I rather like the explan­a­tion giv­en by anoth­er com­ment­at­or, (Wil­li­am Plach­er). He argues that Jesus delib­er­ately intro­duced some errors into the story to show that these Phar­isees who were quick to bur­den the com­mon people with their rules, were actu­ally rather ignor­ant of the Scrip­tures and there­fore didn’t notice the errors in Jesus’ account. Whatever way we look at it the real point of Jesus’ mes­sage in this incid­ent is found in his state­ment, that, ‘the Sab­bath was made for human­kind and not human­kind for the Sab­bath.’ To have a day of rest and refresh­ment in a soci­ety where too many people are over busy and over worked is a bless­ing we ignore at our peril.

Philip Brad­ford