1-24-16 “Samuel’s Ears” Isa. 6; 1 Sam. 3

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“Samuel’s Ears”  1 Samuel 3:2-10; Isaiah 6:8-13  1/24/16

God’s call comes to us in different ways to do different things.  Sometimes it is to go to a certain school where you will determine your profession.  Sometimes it is where the world’s great need meets your great passion.  There was a man in Greenville who didn’t know me from Adam’s house cat.  But his passion was to help young people go to seminary.  He didn’t give me a scholarship, but he helped make it happen.  He was an executive with Lowe’s.  He told me he was really really blessed at what he did but his main goal was not to just earn money.  He invited me to his house and it was a nice house- but it was not a mansion.  He said he lived simpler than some because he had all he needed but really wanted to help people answer their call to go to seminary.  He helped so many people go that he eventually sat on the board of the seminary.  He had me over to meet his family twice, and paid for my round trip ticket to check out the seminary.  His kindness and generosity made a tremendous difference in my choice of where I went.  He said he was blessed to be a blessing.  That phrase from him stuck in my mind.  Sometimes the call of God comes through blessing like this man; sometimes through tragedy- like the beginning of the Justin Pepper Foundation which has helped hundreds of families and children in our community and Thornwell.  The parents took the tragic death of their son and turned it into a way to bless other children and families.  You could say the same thing about the Ashley Shealy nursery.  Tragedies always hurt, but sometimes God calls us in the midst of them to comfort and bless others.  Samuel would not have happened if Hannah could not have a baby and Eli’s sons rebelled against him and God.  Isaiah is one of the greatest books in history.  But it would not have been written if the people didn’t tragically reject and rebel against God.  God has a way of weaving both blessing and sadness into a greater purpose.   Today I want us to look at the phrases “Here I am Lord” or “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.”  I believe we can learn from this how to listen a bit more to God’s voice in our lives.  I. THE CONTRAST- It is important to hear the response of both Samuel and Isaiah in contrast and context.   Samuel grew up in a time of the Judges when “everyone did what was right in their own eyes.”  The people of God were continually living under a pattern of God would rescue them from an enemy by a judge, then the judge would die and the people would stray from God and more enemies would come.  Then God would rescue them again.  But this time was a little different for Eli had sons to whom he could not say no.  They were robbing the people and corrupting the faith.  Samuel’s mother could not have children for years, she may have had miscarriages.  It is described simply as “the Lord had closed her womb.”  She was in real anguish of heart when she went to the Temple and she told God that if He would allow her to have a child she would dedicate him in service to the Lord in the Temple.  So in contrast to Eli’s sons who ignored God was Samuel who had listening ears in answer to his mother’s prayers.  He knew he was here by a miracle and he did not take that for granted.  Isaiah is also a contrast.  It contrasts Isaiah who heard God’s voice asking who will go – and he was willing to the people who were plugging their ears and closing their eyes to God.  They did not want to hear what God had to say and they did not want to see God at work.  They wanted to continue to go their selfish and sinful ways.  So the question, when we look at these two great passages is who do you want to be like? Do you want to be like Isaiah and Samuel who had listening ears to God; or do you want to be like the people in Isaiah’s day who had ears but refused to listen to God?  Or do you want to be like Eli’s sons who were religious- but religious for their own selfish benefit?  The scriptures tell us to wait on God’s voice and to respond to it. Isaiah’s contrast was that the people had ears but they couldn’t hear God.  It is not that God had stopped calling, it was that they, for whatever reason, had stopped listening.  Maybe they were sad, maybe they were angry, maybe they were frustrated that things didn’t meet their expectations.  Maybe they wanted to be in control.  Maybe they wanted heaven now.  But they had ears and they would not- maybe even could not use them because they had hardened their hearts to God.         Not too long ago I was listening to some music on my phone and then and I started the car, and the radio came on.  I had two things going on at the same time.  What this did was just make two beautiful things seem like noise.   I don’t know about you- but two pieces of music playing against each other doesn’t work for very long- one has to go.  To have ears to hear, we have to be able to focus.  Similarly, I went to the mall around Christmas- there was a guy who was walking by himself in the mall but he was talking really loud- it looked like he was just talking into the air.  Then I realized he had a blue tooth device.  He was talking on his phone as he was walking.  It seemed kind of interesting to me.  Then he stopped at a kiosk to look at something.  The clerk said, “May I help you?”  The guy was in mid-sentence, and he just ignored the clerk who was right in front of him.  If God is trying to get our attention- and we know it is good for us that He gets our attention, let us focus.  You can have ears to hear but not be listening.  II. GOD KNOWS AND KEEPS CALLING. Isaiah responded the first time, but He had an awesome vision of the throne of God in heaven that cause him to shake with fear and be very aware of his own sin.  But Samuel had to be trained to listen.  It took several times for God to call him.  At first Samuel thought he was hearing Eli.  Then he thought he was hearing things.  Eli had to remind Samuel that he was in the place of worship and it could be that God was speaking to Him.  Now God was not surprised by Isaiah or Samuel or their presence.  In some ways the words, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you” apply to Samuel specifically.  God blessed Hannah when she was able to give up her child to God.  God blessed both Elizabeth and Mary in their miraculous births when they were able to give up their children to God.  In some ways, every parent must realize our children are not our own, they are God’s first and last.  In baptism we affirm this.   Sooner or later we must give up our children.  Hopefully we see that our job as parents is to get our children out of the nest with great strength in their wings so they can fly on their own.  A sign of successful parent is not of having a doting child who is dependent, but a child who can have their space and keep the faith with integrity and strength.       This passage also tells us a lot about listening in general.  Samuel woke Eli up twice.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t particularly love being woken up.  He could have just ignored Samuel, but instead, despite being tired he listened to him, and asked him to listen.  Listening is looking into the heart of another person.  We are called to listen to each other- and share each each other’s lives.  This is a part of human love.  Listening to God is a part of loving God.  Jesus said, how can you say “I love God- but then not listen and do what I say.”        When our oldest was a little girl, Kay would try to keep her quiet by giving her a mint- one of those white mentos.  One day they were in church, and my oldest and youngest daughters both had pink dresses on and white patent- leather shoes on.  Kay gave her a mint to suck on, but Sarah dropped it.  Kay reached down, got the white thing and put it in her mouth.  She said, “No.”  Kay got a little bit upset- thinking that she was didn’t want it because it barely hit the floor- we had the old 3 second rule- if it didn’t stay on the floor longer than 3 seconds you could brush it off and it would be okay.  Kay put it into her mouth.  She spit it out.  They were about to have a fight in church. Kay kept putting it in her mouth- she kept spitting it out.  When Sarah told Kay- “that is not a mint.” It turned out the button on her patent leather shoe had fallen off.  Kay picked up the button instead of the mint and tried to get her to eat it.  Sometimes, we need to listen because we think we know better, but we may need to quit forcing things that don’t fit.  III. LISTENING IN PART MEANS BEING WILLING- When both Samuel and Isaiah said, “Here I am” they were not saying I am in this place as opposed to that one.  They were saying “Yes, Lord, what do you want me to do?”  Or, “I will do what you want me to do Lord- whatever it is.”   They knew God wouldn’t make them do evil.  They trusted God more than they trusted themselves.  Hannah too listened to God and was willing to respond to God’s grace by giving back to Him.  Listening and gratitude are very similar virtues.  They both require us to stop being the center of attention.  They both require us to be willing to stop and focus.  They both show grace and love.  “Here I am” is putting yourself in God’s hands.  It is like saying, “Here I am to do with whatever you want- I am yours, Lord.”   So, this is what I want us to say this year in 2016- “Here I am.”  If we say that, if we mean it, God can do some amazing things through us and with us.           But do not shut your ears.  Don’t pretend that you cannot hear God’s call upon your life.  Do not go your own way, ignoring God’s way for you.  Do not let disappointment or anger with God ruin your life.  When bad things happen to you, disappointment and sadness- those things that can cause some to be driven far from God can draw you close to God so that you will want to listen to Him.  When good things happen- like a new love in your life- or a new baby- that can also cause you to hear God’s voice in a way you couldn’t hear it before.   In the good, in the bad, God is calling you.  Open your hands to Him and say, and sing, and believe “Here I am.”  We will sing this as the last song today.  I invite you not just to mouth the words, but believe it and sing it in your hearts.  The other part of this is that Samuel said, “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.”  This is basically the same thing as saying, “Here I am.”  It means you have my attention- you are the object of my focus- I have let everything else go and are seeking you first.  It means you are finally claiming that God is God- and we are His servant (and not that God exists to serve me and my comfort).  These two phrases are worth memorizing for us “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening” and “Here I am Lord.”  If we start our day with this, we will find a new focus and hope in life.  Amen