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Edward F. Markquart

Series B

Old Testament Series, Epiphany 2B     I Samuel 3:1-10

Today continues a fifth sermon in a series of sermons about Old Testament personalities. It is beneficial for both “old time” Christians and “new time” Christians to hear sermons based on Old Testament texts and personalities.  It is good for “old time” Christians to hear these basic stories from the Old Testament because we have forgotten the basics of the stories, forgotten the details of the stories, and forgotten the message of the stories. It is also good for “new time Christians,” who are comparatively new to the Christian faith, to hear these Old Testament stories about Samuel for the first time. “New time” Christians have saturated themselves mostly in the New Testament, mostly in the stories about Jesus and do not know the meaning and the message of the Old Testament stories.  It is our belief that the voice of God actually speaks to us today through these Old Testament stories as well as the New. God is present in his Word, reveals himself through his Word and speaks powerfully through all parts of his Word, including the stories about Samuel.

The Old Testament story for today about Samuel is one of the memorable and miraculous, exotic and extraordinary “birth stories” of the Bible. In the Bible, there are five miraculous birth stories that announce great Biblical characters, grand leaders, and glorious religious personalities. All of these people with miraculous births seem larger than life.

For example in the Old Testament, we have the story of Abraham and Sarah who could not get pregnant. They were both one hundred years old. One night an angel of the Lord came to her in their tent and told Sarah that she was going to get pregnant and knowing her old age, Sarah laughed. She laughed. You shouldn’t laugh at God’s messenger. Abraham and Sarah miraculously got pregnant and they gave birth to a son by the name of Isaac that means, “laughing boy.” Isaac became a towering religious figure in the Old Testament. That is, he became the father of the twelve tribes of Israel. God has promised Abraham and Sarah that they would give birth to a son who descendents would be numerous as the stars of the sky and the sands of the sea, and that couldn’t happen unless they got pregnant…at a hundred years old. This birth story is memorable and miraculous, exotic and extraordinary.

Another miracle story in the Old Testament was the birth of Moses, the towering religious personality who was given the Ten Commandments, the moral principles for living in community here on earth. The miraculous story of Moses’ birth did not have to do with a problem with conception. Rather, all the little male Jewish babies were being killed by the Egyptian soldiers because the Jews were becoming so numerous in Egypt that the Jews would perhaps rise up in rebellion and fight for their freedom from the Egyptians. So the Egyptians were killing all the male Jewish babies in order to control the growth of the Jewish population. Moses was born and secretly hid in the bulrushes of the Nile River, so the Egyptians would not find him to kill him. Instead, a daughter of the ruling Pharaoh found Moses hidden in the bulrushes and miraculously, the daughter of Pharaoh took the baby as her own. Miraculously, the biological mother was watching and volunteered to be the “wet nurse” for the baby. So this baby was named Moses, which means, “pulled out of the bulrushes.” And Moses grew up to be a towering religious figure in the Old Testament, a great leader, a miracle man through whom God would do miraculous things. Memorable and miraculous, exotic and extraordinary.

In the New Testament, there is a story about Zechariah and Elizabeth. They were both very old. He, Zechariah, was a priest in the temple. They were what the Bible calls “barren;’” that is, they could not get pregnant. One day an angel of the Lord appeared to old Zechariah in the temple and said that he and his wife were going to get pregnant. Zechariah didn’t believe the message from the angel, so the angel struck him dumb and Zechariah could not speak. Well, time passed, and Elizabeth got pregnant, just as the angel said she would, and she delivered a child. As the child was born into this world, miraculously, John got back and speech and blurted out the name of this new baby. “His name shall be John.” That miracle story announces the birth of a towering religious personality, the forerunner of Jesus, John the Baptist, one of the great prophets of the New Testament. Miracle birth stories announce the arrival of towering religious figures who stand above the rest of us mere mortals, the birth of a great leader, the birth of a miraculous man who would who seems to be larger than life. Memorable and miraculous, exotic and extraordinary.

In the New Testament, the angel Gabriel came to the Virgin Mary and told her that she was going to give birth to a child. Mary said, “How can I give birth to a child when I don’t have a husband.” The angel Gabriel said, “The Holy Spirit will come over you and you will give birth to the very Son of God.” Mary said, “Let it be to me according to your promise.” Miraculously, Mary gave birth to Jesus, the Son of God, the Mind of God, the Heart of God, the Fullness of God. Miracle birth stories announce the arrival of towering religious figures in the Bible who stand above the rest of us mere mortals, the birth of a great leader, the birth of a miraculous man who would transform the world.

Abraham, Moses, John the Baptist, Jesus. These are the most mighty, miraculous and momentous personalities in the Bible. So it was with Samuel. The birth of Samuel, also, is one of the miracle stories in the Bible that announce the birth of a towering religious personality, a great leader, a miracle man who is bigger than life.  Samuel is in a league with Abraham, Moses, John the Baptist, and Jesus.

Today, I need to tell you the story. I know that we have read it in the Old Testament lesson, but there is more power to the story when it was told orally, as the story was for hundreds of years before it was written down. The story is an oral story.

There was a man by the name of Elkanah and he had two wives whose names were Hannah and Peninnah.  Now, why any man would want two wives I still do not understand. One wife is more than enough to try to understand. In those days, the cultures practiced polygamy, which means having several wives. The reason that they practiced polygamy in those days is because many wars were going on. Every spring, the men would go to war and get killed and so there weren’t enough men to go around. Because of all the wars and killing of men, there was a shortage of men, and so men would have several wives in order to replenish the population. By the time we get to the New Testament, Jesus taught monogamy; that there should be one man and one woman to constitute a marriage. One man, one woman, one marriage, monogamy. Jesus was a very strict monogamist. But at that time in that era of history at the end of the time of the judges, Elkanah had two wives and their names were Hannah and Peninnah. Peninnah was like a jackrabbit. She got pregnant so fast. The kids just kept on popping out so fast. The two would go to bed, have sex, and out would pop a kid. It was absolutely nothing for Peninnah. But poor Hannah, she could get pregnant. Hannah was depressed about this, down in the mouth about not being able to get pregnant. But Peninnah not only got pregnant very easily, but she kept on rubbing it in. Peninnah would ridicule, taunt, and not so subtly make fun of Hannah and her infertility. Hannah was nervous and upset by the whole thing. Hannah prayed about this a great deal, asking God to grant her that she could get pregnant. One day, Hannah was at the temple at Shiloh, and there was an old man there by the name of Eli who was the priest of the temple. That lady knew how to pray. Hannah was in that temple, on her knees, praying deeply and fervently, asking, begging, and badgering God, begging and bartering with God, so that God would grant her prayer for pregnancy. She bartered with God, “Lord, if you give me a son, I will give him back to you.” Meanwhile, Eli was watching this scene and thought that Hannah was drunk, the way that she was carrying on in prayer. And so Eli said to Hannah, “It isn’t good for you to come into the temple, drunk, whining, complaining, crying and carrying on the way you are.” Hannah looked up at Eli and said, “I am not a wicked woman. I am not drunk. I am totally sober. I am miserable and I am pouring out my misery to the Lord.” Eli said to her, “May God grant you what you have prayed for.”  Hannah got up from her knees and said, “Thank you very much. May God bless you as well.” The Bible says, “She calmed down.” Yes, Hannah calmed down, relaxed, mellowed out, and went and got something to eat. She returned to her home, went into her tent with Elkanah that night, made love, and got pregnant. It wasn’t very long that she gave birth to a child. They named their child, Samuel, which means “I begged from the Lord.” Yes, Hannah had begged for years from the Lord, and a child was given to her.

So this birth story is a miracle story and it announces the birth of a towering religious personality, the birth of a great leader, a miracle man through whom God would work miracles among his people.

Samuel is this towering figure for at least three reasons. First, Samuel was the last of the judges. He was a judge; that is, people from neighboring villages would come to him for advice and he would give them judgments as to what was wise and good. His word was law. Samuel was the last of the judges. Secondly, he was the anointer of kings, the designator of the first two kings of Israel. Samuel anointed both King Saul and King David to be kings.  But that is not why Samuel was important. Samuel was important because he was the first of the prophets, where the Spirit and Word of the Lord came and lived in this person in a powerful way. A prophet then spoke the Word from the Lord with boldness, strength and conviction.  Samuel was the first in a long line of prophets, followed quickly by Elijah and Elisha, by Isaiah and Jeremiah, by Hosea and Amos, by Daniel and Ezekiel, all of whom had the courage to speak honestly and forthrightly to everybody, including their kings over them. Then, you get to the New Testament, the line of prophets includes John the Baptist. Then comes Pentecost, and the Spirit of God comes down on all the Christians and all the Christians become prophets who speak boldly, powerfully and personally about Jesus Christ. That whole cycle of prophecy begins for the first time with Samuel. The Word of God came down on him and he spoke with authority about God and his ways, the Word of God to those around him.

Would you all please imagine the mouth of the Mississippi River down there in New Orleans? The mouth of the Mississippi is miles wide. Now travel up north on the Mississippi way up into Minnesota and the headwaters of the Mississippi in Itasca State Park. The river is so narrow that you can jump across it. So with the power of prophetic words and Spirit which are mighty in the church today, and back to Pentecost and the first Christians and back to the Old Testament prophets and then back to first prophet himself: none other than Samuel.

Today, more than three thousand years later, what do we want to learn from Samuel? What is the message of Samuel to our lives today?

First, from the stories about Samuel, we learn the meaning of Samuel’s name: I begged from the Lord. That is what prayer is: passionately begging from the Lord. We learn how to pray passionately and persistently, like Hannah, his mother. Like so many people, Samuel had a great mother, Hannah, and she shaped his life immeasurably. We don’t hear many stories about Elkanah, Samuel’s father, but we do hear several stories about his mother, Hannah.

Samuel’s mother, Hannah, knew how to pray. Hannah’s prayers were not wimpy little prayers such as “O God, I don’t know what I want today.” Her prayers were not a whining “God, if it is your will, I will just accept it.” Her prayers were not anemic, nor antiseptic, nor pathetic, nor wobbly kneed. No. This woman got on her knees and told God what she wanted and needed. She wanted to get pregnant and she wanted a son. She was honest and outspoken in her prayers, and I believe that is the way that Jesus wants us to pray as well. Jesus told us a parable about prayer in the New Testament. Jesus said prayer should be like a widow who got up before a judge and said, “Judge, this is what I want.” The widow in that story came to the judge every day with her persistent prayers, pounding on the door to the judge’s chambers, until she got her justice. I believe that Jesus was thinking of old Hannah when he told that story. That is the way we are to pray. But that does not mean that you and I are going to get what we pray for. That does not mean that you are going to get pregnant or find a job or escape the invasions of cancer. To be persistent in prayer as Hannah was does not mean that your prayer will be answered the way that you want it to be. Being persistent does not mean we will get what we are persistent about like a spoiled child persistently badgering a parent for some exotic gift. But, persistence is the way God wants to us pray. This is the way that Jesus wants us to pray. Persistently. Fervently. Regularly. Like Hannah. … What is it that you desperately need in your life? To be pregnant? To find a husband or wife? A job? Escape from an illness? Healing? Health? What is it that you desperately need in your life? God wants you to hound the Lord, get after him, be persistent in your prayer life.  …. As an illustration of this, I will tell you a story. In the prayers of the church, we print all the names of the people in the bulletin. We pray for those people on Sunday morning and during the week, we pastors call those people and pray with them for the needs that they want prayed for. So, Steve Beer in our church, his mother has cancer. Steve called and asked that we prayed for his mother and her cancer. So every Friday afternoon, I called down to Portland to pray with his mother who was dying of cancer. Her name was Joan. She was dying of cancer and her husband, Emerson, had just died. Joan was real clear about it that she did not think that it was right for her family for her, the grandmother, to die immediately after the death of grandpa. The family should have not two deaths of grandparents back. So in her prayer life, Joan bargained with God. She prayed, “God, I need just a little more time here on earth. Not much time, but just a little time so my death will be separated from Grandpa Emerson, so my grandchildren will not have to deal with the two deaths of two grandparents at the same time.” Her prayers were not wimpy, “I am not sure what I want.” This lady put it right on the line. She bugged God, badgered God, blistered God with her needs. It so happened that God answered her prayer in the way that she wanted; that she had a temporary remission of her cancer so the grandchildren would not experience two deaths of grandparents simultaneously. Prayers are not always answered the way we want, but God still wants us to pray persistently. As we look at the story of Samuel, we also look at his mother’s prayer life as a model of the way that we are to pray.  … I asked my wife, Jan, as if was working on this sermon, if she ever prayed that way and really bugged and badgered God about a need. She said, “O yes. I prayed to get pregnant.” What was the result of that prayer? We adopted. God gave us a wonderful gift and God answered our prayer in a different way than we asked. So often when we pray so hard, we get a different answer than the one we were looking for. In fact, the answer to our prayer may have been a better answer. Prayer is persistently sharing our deepest needs with God.

What else can we learn from the story of Samuel? From the stories about Samuel, we also learn something else about prayer. We learn the importance of listening. We need to hear and examine the story of young boy Samuel and the old priest Eli. This is a wonderful story. Samuel was a young boy of about eleven or twelve years old and Eli was the old man, this old priest, in the temple. The story occurred late one night in the temple. The only light in the temple was the light of the candle, hanging high up in the temple ceiling. Samuel was a little twelve-year old boy. And there was old man Eli who was old, blind and getting ready to die. One night, the voice of God spoke out to Samuel calling, “Samuel. Samuel.” Samuel went to find the old priest Eli and asked, “What do you want?” Old Eli said, “I didn’t call you. Go back to sleep.” Samuel went back to sleep. In his sleep, God called to Samuel a second time, “Samuel. Samuel.” Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “You called?” Old Eli said, “I didn’t call you. Go back to sleep.” A third time the voice of God called, “Samuel. Samuel.”  A third time, the boy Samuel went to Eli and asked, “You called?” Old Eli finally figured it out and said, “I sense what is going. My boy, you go back to bed and if the voice speaks to you again, answer, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” God’s voice again called out, “Samuel, Samuel.” Samuel finally replied, “Speak Lord for your servant is listening. Speak to me. My heart is open. I am ready to hear. My spirit is open. Talk to me.” And God spoke to Samuel with the following words: “The two sons of Eli the old priest are bad priests, are bad men. They have slept with the women in the synagogue. They have stolen from the offerings of the people. They are bad sons. Those two sons, the sons of the old priest Eli, will be killed in battle.”  Young Samuel, hearing this unpleasant message from God, then went to sleep. The next morning, old man Eli was standing near the bed of young Samuel and young Samuel woke from his sleep. The old man Eli, anxious to hear if God had spoken to Samuel, questioned the young boy Samuel. “Samuel, did God talk to you last night?” Samuel answered, “Yes, God talked to me last night.” But Samuel did not want to tell old man the contents of the conversation that he had with God. Eli sensed Samuel’s reluctance to tell him what God had said, so Eli gently persisted. “Samuel, even though it is painful for you to tell me, I want you to tell me what the Lord God said to you last night.” Breathing deeply with reluctance, young boy Samuel answered, “Well, what the Lord said is that your two sons have committed enormous sins, that they have slept with women in the synagogue, that they have stolen from the people’s offerings, and that they are going to be killed soon.” The old man Eli nodded and replied, “I understand.” In the next story in the Bible, the two sons of Eli were killed in battle.

So, that is the story.  How do we approach this classic story? What can we personally learn from this wonderful conversation between young Samuel and the old priest, Eli? We can learn from the classic line when young Samuel said, “Speak Lord for your servant is listening.” Your servant is finally listening.  Prayer is deeply and keenly listening for the messages from God in our lives.

You see, prayer is not simply telling God all of your requests and being passionately persistent in expressing your needs to God. Prayer is not simply reciting a laundry list of all of your concerns, informing God all that you want. God already knows those things. I can pray, “God, be with Joan Beer who has cancer and is living down in Portland.” But face it, God already knows Joan Beer, that she has cancer, that she lives in Portland. God knows all of those things. Prayer is not simply a recitation of all the things that we think that God needs to know when God already knows all those things. Now, I know that it is part of prayer to tell God all those things that are on our heart. But, we need to be reminded, that prayer is also listening. When you finally turn off the television. When you turn off the radio. When you turn off the computer. When you turn off the noises from your family. When you turn off the pressures from work. When you turn off the plans for your pleasures today or for the next vacation. When you turn off your busy mind. When you finally turn it all off. And you say, “Speak Lord for your servant is finally willing to listen.” That is the essence of prayer. Prayer is not primarily rattling off all the things that we want and need from God. Prayer is listening. Prayer is turning off all those channels off and leaving one channel on. Prayer is turning off all the distractions and finally listening to God. And Samuel, filled with the Holy Spirit, understood that. For us, our prayers need to find the time to quietly listen to the voice of God to us, to listen for the messages of God for us.

Such as when we hear God’s message to us through the Bible. We listen to God in prayer as we open the Bible in the morning or the evening or whenever during the day that we do this. We turn open the Bible to read our daily devotions and before we read the Scriptures, we pause and say, “Speak Lord for your servant is finally listening.” And you turn off the channel and the next channel and the next channel and the next channel and the next channel in your busy mind. You turn off all the channels of a busy life when you open the Word of God. I guarantee you that God’s voice will speak to you through his Word. I guarantee you if you are finally willing to listen. My suspicion why many people do not read the Bible is that that they or we are not willing to give our precious time to God in order to listen.

Such as when we hear God’s message to us through worship. Through the reading of the Scriptures. Through sermons. Through the music. Through the prayers. Through the conversations with people. You may not realize it, listening to a sermon is a form of prayer. It is listening to the voice of God within my voice, speaking to you in the particularity of your life. Where you turn off all those other channels and you finally focus. Speak Lord, for your servant is listening. Listening is a gift of time; listening is a gift of concentration, of focusing on someone else and that someone else is the Voice of God to us.

Such as when we hear God’s message speaking to us through friends. Often you are an angel who speaks God’s message. Often you are talking to a friend who is an angel before you, and you are unaware of God’s messenger through the person of your friend.

Samuel said, “Lord, I am finally listening to your message for me.” You and I need to do the same.

And then, having prayed passionately and listened deeply to God, we discover a new found courage in us, a new found resource, a spiritedness that enables us to speak boldly and more authoritatively to family, friends and neighbors about Jesus Christ, God, our Christian values. Just as young boy Samuel became courageous and spoke to old man Eli after deeply listening to God, so you and I become more courageous and speak to others about God and our Godly values.

Further, in this prayer, we hear about the courage of Samuel who said, “Eli, I have to tell you the truth. God says your sons are really bad sinners. They are priests but they have slept with the women of the synagogue. They are priests but they have stolen from the offerings. God is going to punish your two sons and they are going to die.” As a young boy, Samuel had the courage to tell the truth to the old priest. That is the essence of a prophet. A prophet is a person who is willing to tell the truth to the priest, the king, or anybody else who walks in a way that is contrary to the will of God. That is what a prophet does. He tells the truth about the sinfulness of another. … When the prophet power is in us, we also need to tell the truth to our children, our husband or wife, family, friends, neighbors, government. Prophets are those people of God who are willing to tell the painful truth to another.  (Add conclusion.) Amen.

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