1 Samuel 3:1-10 (2nd Sunday after the Epiphany—Series B)
“Are You Listening”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
January 18, 2015
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the Old Testament reading from 1 Samuel 3:
Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the LORD in the presence of Eli. And the word of the LORD was rare in those days; there was no frequent vision. 2 At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his own place. 3 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. 4 Then the LORD called Samuel, and he said, “Here I am!” 5 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. 6 And the LORD called again, “Samuel!” and Samuel arose 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.” 7 Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD, and the word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him. 8 And the LORD called Samuel again the third time. And he arose and went to Eli and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli perceived that the LORD was calling the boy. 9 Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down, and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, LORD, for your servant hears.'” So Samuel went and lay down in his place. 10 And the LORD came and stood, calling as at other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant hears.”
Ten years ago the United Church of Christ began a promotional ad campaign: “God is still speaking.” Maybe you remember seeing the big comma on signs outside their congregations like this one. (Show image) In this campaign it was desired that their congregations would “be a new people, open to fresh new ideas from the Stillspeaking God.” What do they mean by all this, the comma and “fresh new ideas”? What the United Church of Christ is saying is that the revelation of God’s Word didn’t end with the final period of the Book of Revelation. They claim that there is a comma, more to come, fresh and new ideas. Perhaps God will change His mind about a few things? Maybe what God didn’t like in the Bible He will say is okay now?
How dangerous it is to look for more revelation from God than is already given to us in His Holy Word! It is particularly dangerous when someone claims God is still speaking and that “speaking” is in total contradiction to what God has already spoken! With this line of thinking, a church could claim that, even though God condemned homosexual behavior in the Bible, since He is still speaking today, He has decided that it is okay for people to act on homosexual inclinations and even to be married. If that’s the case, then how could we ever be sure if God ever meant what He said about anything in the Bible? Maybe, at any moment, He’s going to change His mind, maybe even about our forgiveness and salvation! How comfortable are you with that?
Yes, there are things in the Bible that we do not agree with because God says “we can’t” and we want to. We tend to disagree with God’s Word when it go against our thinking and desires. We want our way and our thoughts and our desires to be the right way, right thoughts, and the right desires. And when we run up against God’s Word of Law that shows us how wrong we are in our sinfulness, we don’t like it. We want God to see things our way and change His mind to suit us.
The Lord revealed His Word in our Old Testament lesson to the young man named Samuel. This was a new thing for the boy because the Word of Yahweh was rare in those days. God wasn’t speaking much, and what God revealed to Samuel was not good news! Our text ends a little prematurely with Samuel’s words, “Speak, for your servant listens.” What follows is God’s Word of Law against the priest Eli and his household, God’s Word that Samuel is to announce. You see, Eli’s sons were sinning all over the place. He tried to speak to them about it, but they wouldn’t listen to their father, and he didn’t push it. A prophet of the Lord spoke to Eli about this and threated God’s punishment. But nothing changed. There was no repentance from them and Eli did not stop their corruption. So when Samuel said, “Speak,” Yahweh said, “Behold, I am about to do a thing in Israel at which the two ears of everyone who hears it will tingle. On that day I will fulfill against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. And I declare to 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 atoned for by sacrifice or offering forever.” And so Samuel shared this word with Eli, a word that had not changed from prophet’s lips to prophet’s lips. So Eli said, “It is Yahweh. Let Him do what seems good to Him.”
Eli accepted the Word of the Lord, even though it was a message that he didn’t like. He didn’t seek another word, a changed word to suit him. He didn’t say, “Maybe God will do something different than He has already revealed in His Word.” No, it is Yahweh. Let Him do what seems good to Him.
This is how we are to receive the revealed Word of God in the Scriptures. Like Samuel, we say to the Lord, “Speak to us through Your Word, for your servant is listening.” And when we receive from God’s Word the sacred text, like Eli, we say to God, “Do what seems good.” For the Word of God that we read in Scripture is the God-breathed revelation of Himself. Our Lord tells us definitively in 2 Timothy 3:16, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.”
In His Word, God indeed speaks a message of Law. As the God who created us, we, His creatures, are bound to His commandments. As those born sinful, we live at odds with His good and perfect commands. As sinners we want to serve ourselves and not the God who made us. We want to be our own gods and do whatever we will. So God’s Law accuses us of sins and rightly condemns us to punishment because we have not done what the Lord commands. And of course we don’t like that. We don’t enjoy guilt. We hate punishment. But God is just and holy and so He must punish and condemn all who break His Law.
But what so many people forget, or simply don’t get, is that God, while being just and holy, is also at the same time gracious and merciful. So He also speaks a message of Gospel in His Word. From Hebrews 1, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days, He has spoken to us by His Son.” The very Word of God, who was with God and is God, became flesh and dwelt among us. (John 1:1, 14) That’s what we’ve just finished celebrating during the Season of Christmas. God the Son, the eternal Word, became man so that He might take away the sins of the world. Jesus Christ, true God and true man, took our place under God’s just and holy Law and fulfilled it in our place. He kept all of God’s commandments perfectly on your behalf and mine. Then, out of His great love for you and me and all people, Jesus took our sins upon Himself and suffered the full wrath and anger and punishment of God. He suffered on the cross, enduring hell in our place. He shed His blood to make full atonement with God for our sins. He paid our debt in full so that we are not condemned for our sins, but are saved through the forgiveness of sins which Christ won for us with His death.
And that is a Word that cannot change! “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Heb. 13:8) The Lord also promises, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” (James 1:17) We have a God who does not change who has already spoken the Word that does not change. We already have everything that we need from God in the Bible. He has revealed Himself to us as our loving Creator and Preserver. He has shown Himself to be our Savior and Redeemer. He has made Himself know as our Comforter and Sanctifier. The one, true God in three divine Persons—God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit—does not change. The Word of our Triune God does not change. “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.” (Isaiah 40:8)
What confidence we can have, then, in the truth and surety of God’s Word. It is just and holy, gracious and full of mercy. God’s Word to us in Law and Gospel has not changed and will not change. We can depend on it. The Word is not wishy-washy. It is consistent from generation to generation. As we will sing in our closing hymn this morning, “God is speaking by His Spirit, Speaking to our hearts again, In the ageless Word declaring His own message, now as then. Through the rise and fall of nations One sure faith yet standing fast; God abides, His Word unchanging; God the first, and God the last.” (LSB 583:3)
Because we have God’s consistent, changeless Word, you and I are able to “test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world,” as John tells us in his first Epistle. (1 John 4:1) We are able to go to the unchanging Word of God in the Bible and find out if what we heard on the radio from that preacher, or what we read in that devotional book, or what we saw on the Internet from such-and-such a denomination is consistent with the revealed Word of God. From radio and TV, Internet and print, to this very pulpit—test what you hear by using the Word that does not change—a Word that shows yours sins and need for a Savior; a Word that gives you faith and trust in Jesus Christ as your Savior; a Word that forgives your sins and delivers to you eternal life by the power of the Holy Spirit.
The United Church of Christ says that God is still speaking, revealing new things to us apart from His Word. God is still speaking, but not new things apart from His Word. God is speaking by the Holy Spirit through His changeless Word of Law and Gospel, of justice and mercy, of love and grace. God has spoken by the prophets and the apostles. God has spoken through His Son, Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh. Go the Word of Holy Scripture. Listen to the voice of God and pray as you read and meditate, “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.” Amen.