Listen Up dear friends, and I will tell you a story of a time when everyone was sleeping in church. Now, granted, it was very early in the morning, before the sun had risen. So in one sense I guess you can’t blame them entirely. However, it wasn’t just their bodies sleeping and that’s where the greater problem lay. The story in our text shows us a time in the history of God’s chosen people where the outward forms proper worship and service seemed alive and well (more or less), but on the inside most people were going through the motions, asleep on their feet.
Listen Up dear friends, and I will tell you that the time of Eli the High Priest and his wicked sons, the end of the age of the Judges of Israel was a time of great spiritual depravity. Hophni and Phinehas, Eli’s sons, were using the sacrifices of the tabernacle for their own gain. They were disrespectful bullies who had turned the services of God’s house into a swinging bachelor’s pad. Eli, their father and High Priest of all Israel, had told them they were making him look bad, but had not done anything to stop them. Yet that is not the worst of it. As we hear in our text: “And the word of the LORD was rare in those days; there was no frequent vision.” God was still there and His word was still there, but very few now listened.
Over the many years described in the book of Judges people had come to despise God’s House. People began to ignore the Word of God. Oh, sure they still went through the motions, making their sacrifices and bringing their families for special occasions, but few gave it any real credence. Most never really listened to what God was saying, and even less took it to heart and changed their lives accordingly.
How else do we explain the fact that a young man like Samuel (likely twelve or older by this time), raised from three years of age right there in the tabernacle of the Lord, who slept within a few dozen yards of where the Ark of the Lord God Himself Rested, had know idea that God might actually want to speak to him? Or could speak to him? Or did speak to him? (7) Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD, and the word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him.” No one had ever taught him such a thing should be considered. This was God’s house, but in the minds of most God wasn’t really there. How else do we explain that Eli, the High Priest himself, didn’t catch on to the possibility until it had hit him over the head for a third time?
However, Listen Up dear friends, and I will tell you the rest of the story. A story of God’s patience and faithfulness and mercy. For despite priests that did not serve him or call upon His Name, despite worship that did not praise Him from the heart, but was hollow to the core, despite a people that had either wandered from him or simply did not listen to Him … Yes despite all this The Lord remained faithful to His promise to call them, and lead them and guide them. He did not give up, but called and called and called again. (10) And the LORD came and stood forth, calling as at other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” He made His presence known. He came and stood forth in Samuel’s presence and changed the course of a very dismal history. To a sleeping people he would proclaim a wake-up call in this prophet He was now commissioning.
Listen Up dear friends, and I will proclaim your wake-up call. For this story of the young man Samuel is also Our own Story … for the Word of the LORD is rare in these days. People continue to go through the motions, make their personal sacrifices of a little time here or a little donation there. They bring the families out to church on those special occasions, they say the Lord’s Prayer and sing their favourite songs. But most never really give it any credence … it is just one more thing to do in a very busy list of things to do. No one is truly bothered if they hear God’s Word, but most just don’t bother to stop and LISTEN.
As any wife can tell you, there is a huge difference between Hearing and Listening. Trish no longer cares if I hear her or not. I almost always hear her. And if I don’t I ask. It is the listening part I still need a lot of work on. Hearing takes no serious action or commitment. Hearing costs nothing. If all you are willing to do is hear then the words can slide off your ears like water off a duck’s back. The proof (as they say) is in the pudding! The Lord’s house is not about empty ritual or just going through the motions. Being a Christian is not about just hearing while yet remaining disengaged and distracted.
Listen Up dear friends, for it is time to be honest. Who here has not found themselves sleeping in church from time to time? Oh sure, the eyes may be open, but those eyes are looking longingly out the window, or the heart is on a golf course somewhere, or the mind is busily at work back in the kitchen at home. You may not be snoring, but perhaps you are dreaming of last night’s TV show, or that movie you just saw, or you are just counting how many times your neighbour is going to sniffle during the sermon. How many of us have come into the Lord’s House on a Sunday morning and managed to sit through an entire service without once truly considering that the Lord God Almighty Himself is truly present, and really truly, actually wants to speak with you! Being a Christian is not about just hearing while yet remaining disengaged and distracted. It is about Listening to the one who is right here in
Listen Up dear friends, for this is the most important part of the story. The part of the story that is worth listening to. “Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD, and the word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him.” But we do know the Lord for His word has been revealed to each and every one of us. Revealed in the Word made flesh. Revealed in the babe of Bethlehem. Revealed in the Baptizing waters of the Jordan River “This is my Son … LISTEN to Him.” God’s Word may be rare in that many people shrug it off, but that word is alive and well and right here among you.
The Lord himself has come in human form and stood forth. He has made himself one of us and has called each of us by name. He sets himself firmly in our midst, in the preaching of the Holy Gospel, in the waters of Holy Baptism, and in the bread and wine of His Holy Supper. He stations himself in our presence so that we might hear again and again that we are forgiven by the sacrifice of Jesus. He places himself squarely before us here today that we might truly begin to listen to Him. To Listen to what it means that we are redeemed, we are purchased, we are cleansed, and we are called by Him to a life of service in his House, and as His prophets to this hurting world. That you would no longer despise or ignore His Word, but take it to heart and change your lives accordingly. Our Lord and Saviour promised in the covenant of the Old Testament, and delivered in the Covenant of the New, has come and stood forth, that He might call you to himself and that you would listen.
As the words of God to Samuel are words for us too, may the words and deeds of Samuel become ours in response: “And the LORD came and stood forth, calling as at other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for thy servant is listening.”