First Congregational Church
(United Church of Christ)
Neil H. Wilson, Pastor

101 State Street
Charlevoix, MI 49720
231-547-9122


In Spite of Ourselves

~ Sermon ~ Sunday, January 14, 2018 ~ Pastor Neil Wilson

In Spite of Ourselves.

1 Samuel 3:1-20

 

“And the word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not wide spread.” 

We live in confusing, some would say uncertain times.  Many refer to it as a post-Christian era, and to be sure the church is not as influential and dominate as it once was in our nation.  Now I don’t believe that the Christian worldview was ever as all-embracing as some do, but I think we can agree that it certainly is not a strong a moral guide for people today as it once was.  So a very compelling argument could be made that the story of Samuel is set in our day as well as three millennia ago! “. . . the word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not wide spread.”  Will this be the be the headline of a religious quarterly review a hundred years from now? 

The call of Samuel comes at a time of spiritual famine in Israel.  With no leadership, the people have grown away from God.  The only figure of authority in our story is the priest Eli, but he makes a mockery of his position by ignoring the wickedness of his sons, who have rebelled against the Lord.  (Little side note here. We cannot blame religious leaders for all the behaviors of other members of their families.  We all know the stories and jokes about PKs.  And how some relish the scuttlebutt of some high-profile pastor’s brother or brother-in-law falling into some immoral lifestyle.)  But the biblical account seems to hold Eli somewhat responsible for the sins of his sons.  Even though he tried to set them straight as we can read in 1 Samuel 2:22ff, Eli called them out on their immorality and warned them of God’s judgement, but they did not heed their father’s advice.  Sadly, this would eventually impact the effectiveness of his own ministry. 

We are also told that Eli’s sight was “dim.”  On first glance one would think, “Okay, so Eli is older and his physical eyesight is beginning to fail him.”  But there is in the background of the story the suggestion that Eli’s spiritual awareness or spiritual vision was also “dim.”  

Then we have Samuel: young, dedicated to the Lord by his mother, Hannah, energetic, no family baggage or skeleton’s in his closet.  It is easy to compare the two with Samuel coming out the better.  But when we look at the entire life and work of Samuel, he too has some all too human imperfections.  Like Eli, Samuel’s sons, who he appointed as judges in Israel, (1 Sam. 8) did not follow in the ways of their father, but rather were corrupt, known for taking bribes and perverts justice. (Umm, again sounds all too contemporary!) 

And even though he did not like the idea, when the people pressured Samuel to anoint a king over them (something God had warned them about), in his role as prophet and judge, he anointed Saul as king and in so doing he broadened the people’s independence from God.       

A common way to “get into the scriptures” is to imagine ourselves as one of the characters in a biblical story.  The obvious question here is who do you identify with: with the young Samuel sleeping away as God is attempting to get his attention; or the elder Eli, who seems to lack spiritual awareness, and yet recognizes that it just may be the Lord who is calling to the boy before Samuel does?

There are times when I am like Samuel.  I’m asleep, not fully aware of any divine movement around me.  Sometimes it exhaustion.  I’m tired, physically, emotionally, mentally, often because of the confusion of today’s world.  How does one sort through all the claims, the images, the demands for our allegiance that bombard us?  What is real and what is fake?  What is the truth in the “half-truths” we are being told all the time.  I feel this way and I don’t use Twitter.  I’m on Facebook once every couple of days, if that.

You know I used to get this slight panicky feeling when I would go out the door and realize my cell phone was not in my pocket and return promptly to retrieve it.  More and more I’m finding I’m off somewhere and notice that my cell phone is not in my pocket and actually feeling rather okay about it.  (Or should I worry that this is the onset of age-related forgetfulness?!) 

So sometimes it exhaustion, other times is pre-occupation or distraction.  Which as we know life is full of distractions.  Either way I find myself asleep, unaware of the movement of God right around me like Samuel. 

What is more troubling is that like Samuel, I am in the “temple” day in and day out!  Of all places isn’t it here we would expect God to speak, for visions to occur?  Yet how often do I (we, you) actually come to this place expecting to hear a real “word from the Lord”?

The word of the Lord is indeed rare and visions, real visions (not fake ones) are scarce!

Or are they?

So, we have in the temple a young fellow asleep whose youth and lack of experience, maturity leaves him unable to discern God’s voice and an elderly man whose spiritual sight has grown dim and whose leadership ability is questionable.  Eli, the high priest at Shiloh, who did nothing, really, to restrain his sons, Hophni and Phinehas, and the way they abused the priestly positions and authority they had simply because of their birthright as a priest’s sons.    

The word of the Lord is indeed rare and visions, real visions (not fake ones) are scarce!

Or are they?

The story of Samuel and Eli tells us that “. . . the lamp of God had not yet gone out.”    While visions may be rare in the modern world, they still happen, God only seems to be sleeping, and like with Samuel, while Samuel sleeps, God is wonderfully awake! 

And again, in the end it was the elderly, physically and spiritually blind Eli that seems to have figured it out first.

God calls Samuel in his youth and immaturity and God uses Eli even with his blindness and moral weakness. 

So, I guess my point is rather simple, whether we identify with Eli or Samuel, or both depending on the day and the circumstances, both had their weaknesses, and God used both in spite of themselves.   

And as the title of my message says God can use us in spite of ourselves! 

If we are listening, if we have the inner sight, if we are willing to listen and look for God in unexpected ways and speaking through someone other than the usual suspects, God can and just might use us, speak to us, and perhaps even speak through us in spite of ourselves!   

I know!  God has used me in spite of myself.  

To listen to the original audio version, please double click on the “download file” link below, open it on your device and enjoy.

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