Here is the written text followed by Del Holley, conference lay leader, during his Lay Leader Report during the Monday morning session of the Holston Annual Conference.
LAKE JUNALUSKA, N.C. (June 12, 2017) -- One of the stories we find in the Old Testament is the story of Samuel. His story begins with a petition and a promise.
Samuel’s mother, Hannah, prays fervently for the blessing of a child. She tells God that if He will hear and answer her prayer, she will commit the child to the Lord’s service. God does hear and answer, and, in due time, Samuel, the son of Elkanah and Hannah is born.
Just as she promised God, as soon as Samuel is weaned, she takes him to the Temple and gives him to Eli, the high priest, to serve God all the days of his life.
So, the story goes, there is little Samuel, serving in the Temple. He even has a kid-sized ephod – the priestly garment – to wear while he works. Every year, when Elkanah comes to the Temple to offer the sacrifice, Hannah brings Samuel a new robe. And every year, Eli says a blessing over Hannah and Elkanah for their faithfulness to God.
Then one night, Samuel is lying in the part of the Temple where the Ark of the Covenant is kept. He hears a voice – it is God’s voice, but Samuel is just a kid; he thinks it is Eli calling him. He goes to Eli’s room to see what he wants, and Eli does what most of us have done when a child wakes us up in the middle of the night – he says, “You’re hearing things or having a dream; go back to bed.”
So Samuel goes back to his bed, but he hears the voice again … and again.Three times he returns to Eli’s room and says, “Here I am. What do you need?” The author of Samuel’s story makes the point of telling us that, when all this was happening, Samuel did not know the Lord and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.
Finally, on middle-of-the-night trip number three, Eli realizes what is going on and tells Samuel that it is God calling the boy. He tells him that if he hears the call again to answer, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”
Guess what? God called to Samuel again. And Samuel answered just like Eli instructed. Do you know what God said to Samuel? He said, “Behold … behold I am about to do a thing in Israel that will make the ears of everyone who hears it tingle.” God spoke to Samuel and laid out the beginnings of His plan for Eli (spoiler alert: it wasn’t good) and the Temple and Israel. And Samuel listened. It was the beginning of a long and productive relationship between Samuel and the Lord.
There is so much good stuff for us in this story. We could talk about prayer, or keeping our promises, or committing ourselves or our children to the service of God’s Kingdom. We could talk about listening and responding. We could even talk about judgment and chastisement.
But I want us to focus our attention for just a moment on hearing. Specifically, this detail in the story: Samuel heard something that Eli could not.
Scientists who study the human auditory system have learned that there are frequencies on the sound spectrum that we can hear when we are young but not when we are old. I want to say that again in a slightly different way because I believe it is significant. Listen to this: there are things that a twenty-something-year-old can hear that someone over 50 cannot!
I want to talk to the “old fogeys” in the room for just a minute. When I Googled “old fogey” a search result popped up from UrbanDictionary.com that said you are officially an old fogey when you turn fifty – so I am talking to myself right now, too.
Remember that time you were sitting in the sanctuary at church and you heard a group of teenagers talking about their youth group studying what the Bible says about this or that hot cultural topic, and you thought to yourself (or maybe you said it out loud), “Well I’ve never heard that in my Sunday School class”?
Or how about that Wednesday night dinner when the college kids sitting at the next table were talking about the conversation they had with somebody at Starbucks about the church’s position on some controversial issue?
Or maybe you watched a brand-new mother and father trying to deal with their precious toddler who hasn’t quite mastered the finer points of Sunday morning worship service etiquette, and you just shook your head because that’s not the way you handled your own children when they wanted to act up?
How much different might our responses to these situations be if we first stopped to consider that there are things those young people can hear that we cannot? God might be speaking to them, revealing Himself to them in ways that are so new and different that those of us who have been around for a few years can’t even begin to understand.
I’m not going to let the younger generation off the hook in making my point, though. In the story of Samuel, he needed Eli to help him understand what he was hearing. Eli’s own experience provided spiritual context for Samuel’s situation. Eli was there to offer guidance and counsel to Samuel when he was hearing something so new he didn’t know how to respond.
Here’s my point this morning: It takes all of us, working together, for the mission and ministry of The United Methodist Church to be fully effective in making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. We need the Samuels who hear God speaking in new and different ways, but we also need those like Eli who can provide context for understanding and guidance for answering. We need men and women, people of all races and ethnicities, laity and clergy. We all have something to add to the effort. We all have a role in proclaiming the Gospel message.
God needs you. God needs you to look and see. God needs you to listen and hear. God needs you to respond and go. God needs you to be a minister. God needs your Christ-like example and your words of witness to help others come to know Jesus as Lord and Savior.
My challenge to you this day is to lay claim to our word for the week: BEHOLD! Behold our God who knocks and desires that we open the door. Behold our God who does a new thing and invites us to be part of the mission. Behold our God who makes all things new – the weak made strong, the broken made whole, even the dead raised to new life.
Behold our God who never leaves us alone or abandoned, but is with us always – even to the end of the age.
Thanks be to God! Amen.