Summer 2018: Lessons in Leadership. The Call of Samuel
June 3, 2018 – 1 Samuel 3:1-18 Sermon by Rev. Dr. Rolf Svanoe
Greenfield Lutheran Church, ELCA. Harmony, Minnesota
When I was growing up in Madison, Wisconsin, in the days before cellphones and texting, my friends would come to our home, knock on the door, and yell out my name. “Rolfy!” Inside, we heard the knock and we heard the voice, and we knew it was my friend, Curt, calling me to come out and play with him. Over the years I have had several nicknames. Swaney was one my friends gave me in college. “Hey, Swaney!” When they called out my name, I knew that it was a friendly, affectionate way of getting my attention.
I came from a family of six kids. My mother was busy and preoccupied with many things. If she were distracted enough, she would call for me, but call me by the name of her oldest child. She would absentmindedly go through the whole list of her children before she finally got to me, the youngest. Have any of you experience that in your home? When Mom called my name, it was usually to tell me to do something. But if she raised her voice and used all three of my names, I knew I was in trouble. “Rolf David Svanoe!” she would say. Oops. Now what did I do wrong?
Have you ever heard God call out your name? As Christians we believe that God calls us each by name in the waters of baptism. Water is splashed on our head three times as our name is said and we are baptized in God’s name, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Look at that beautiful banner hanging near the baptism font. The next two Sundays we will be celebrating baptisms here at Greenfield. We put the name of the baptized person on the banner. “Greenfield, I have called you by name.”
Let me ask the question again; have you ever heard God call out your name? It may not be a literal voice that you hear with your ears, though it could be. It may be a voice that you hear with your heart, God quietly calling your name, trying to get your attention.
Close your eyes for a few seconds. I want you to imagine in your mind that you hear God calling your name. What does God’s voice sound like as you hear your name being called? Is it a loving voice? Is it an accusing voice? Is it the sound of a friend wanting to hang out with you? Is it a lover’s voice? Is it the sound of a parent letting you know that you’re in trouble?
Today we begin our summer series called “Lessons in Leadership.” It is the story of the kings of Israel- Saul, David and Solomon. What can we learn from these ancient stories that can help us live our lives today in 2018? How does God want us to live? We can learn a lot if we listen to them. We begin with this wonderful story of the Call of Samuel. Samuel had a miraculous birth and his mother promised that if she had a child, the firstborn would be dedicated to the Lord’s service. She kept her promise and Samuel was raised in the temple under the care of the priest Eli. It was there that Samuel heard the voice of the Lord calling to him in the night.
I wonder, if we had been there, would we have heard the voice of God speaking Samuel’s name? Was it an audible voice, or just a voice speaking in Samuel’s mind. Either way, Samuel experienced God’s voice in such a compelling way that he thought it was real? Samuel got up from his bed and went to Eli and asked what he wanted. Eli told Samuel that he hadn’t called him and told him to go back to bed. After this happened a third time, Eli finally figured out that maybe it was really God who was calling Samuel. He told Samuel that if he heard the voice again, he should say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” That is when Samuel began to realize that God was speaking to him and that he should listen to what God was saying. God gave Samuel a message to give to Eli. “On that day I will fulfil against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. For I have told him that I am about to punish his house for ever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them.” God needed someone to give a message to those in power that they were abusing their privilege and would soon face judgment.
One of the things we see in the Old Testament is that the times of the kings are also the times of the prophets. The purpose of the prophets was to check the power of the kings. They were there to speak truth to power and to make sure the kings remained accountable to God. Our story of the call of Samuel is significant because Samuel is the first of the prophets. And God used him to call Eli and his sons to account for their abuse of power.
Do you remember twenty years ago when we were hearing stories about Saddam Hussein and his abuse of power? If we thought he was bad, the stories about his sons were even worse. Uday and Qusay were their names. They learned well from their father how to use power to control and manipulate people and satisfy their appetites. They were brutal monsters who had few people to control them. They sound a lot like the sons of Eli.
Throughout this series, we will learn that power is never given to someone to seek their own benefit. Power is always given by God to people to seek justice for everyone. God didn’t make someone king so they could live in luxury. God made someone king so that they could promote justice and peace in society. This is exactly what Jesus tried to teach his disciples. In Matthew 20 he said to them, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.’ (Matthew 20:25-28). According to Jesus, this is what leaders are called to do. They are called to serve. They are even called to give their lives at times for the people they serve. That is what good leaders do- they serve, they give, they sacrifice for the sake of the common good. That is what Jesus did for us in sacrificing his life.
Do you see power being abused today? Do you feel uncomfortable when there is injustice? Do you feel anger when the poor or weak are taken advantage of? I hope that in those feelings you realize that God is calling out your name. God is calling you to speak out, to share your truth. What would have happened if Rosa Parks had remained silent on the bus in Alabama, and refused to speak her truth? Wouldn’t it have been a lot easier for her to just go along with the injustice and move to the back of the bus? And what about the women who have spoken out recently in the #MeToo Movement? Some have spoken their truth at great personal risk and cost. But this is what God has called us to do when powerful people abuse their position. We need to speak truth to them and hold them accountable. And the result is a greater justice and a greater good for all people.
“Samuel!” Listen! Do you hear it? God is calling out your name. God is calling you to follow his Son, Jesus, and to follow his example. God is calling your name to speak out on behalf of others and seek a greater justice and peace. Sometimes that is scary. Sometimes doing that can be risky and costly. But that is the only way find healing and peace, and to bring God’s blessing to our world.
Summer 2018: Lessons in Leadership. The Call of Samuel