November 12, 2021
Clergy, Kendricks Creek UMC
1 Samuel 2:12-21 (NIV)
12 Eli’s sons were scoundrels; they had no regard for the Lord. 13 Now it was the practice of the priests that, whenever any of the people offered a sacrifice, the priest’s servant would come with a three-pronged fork in his hand while the meat was being boiled 14 and would plunge the fork into the pan or kettle or caldron or pot. Whatever the fork brought up the priest would take for himself. This is how they treated all the Israelites who came to Shiloh. 15 But even before the fat was burned, the priest’s servant would come and say to the person who was sacrificing, “Give the priest some meat to roast; he won’t accept boiled meat from you, but only raw.”
Eli’s Wicked Sons
16 If the person said to him, “Let the fat be burned first, and then take whatever you want,” the servant would answer, “No, hand it over now; if you don’t, I’ll take it by force.”
17 This sin of the young men was very great in the Lord’s sight, for they[a] were treating the Lord’s offering with contempt.
18 But Samuel was ministering before the Lord—a boy wearing a linen ephod. 19 Each year his mother made him a little robe and took it to him when she went up with her husband to offer the annual sacrifice. 20 Eli would bless Elkanah and his wife, saying, “May the Lord give you children by this woman to take the place of the one she prayed for and gave to[b] the Lord.” Then they would go home. 21 And the Lord was gracious to Hannah; she gave birth to three sons and two daughters. Meanwhile, the boy Samuel grew up in the presence of the Lord.
I am not a musician. I took piano lessons for a few years in middle school. I learned to play the recorder in Fourth Grade. I even really like and value music. But music is neither an artistic medium in which I can express myself nor an avenue of ministry that God has given me. The last thing I want to do is stand on a stage and sing.
A Boy Wearing a Linen Ephod
My two daughters are the opposite. Every Sunday, the prelude to our service involves my two little girls running, jumping, and singing in the front of our church. Some people do pipe organs; we do Frozen.
My church is incredibly gracious, warm-hearted, and kind. Rare have been the complaints about my kids being, well, kids. But while I hope this is the general disposition of our churches (didn’t Jesus say to let the little children come to him?), I’ve heard enough to know this isn’t always the case.
All of this brings to mind a very, very important question: where do children fit in our churches? If we just look at what we actually do, not what we say, we might learn that kids fit in the nursery, a youth group, or children’s church. The current trend now is to label these areas as “Next Generation Ministries.” Now, please don’t misread me: all of these things are good and have their place. But our children and young people are not the “next generation.” They’re one of the current generations. And as my case study, I’m citing our text today.
The boy, Samuel, had been dedicated to the Lord from birth. He spent his formative years under Eli, the old priest, at the Tabernacle in Shiloh. Now, Eli also had two sons. The appraisal between the two parties – Eli’s sons and Samuel – couldn’t be more different. What I find fascinating is that all three were raised in the Tabernacle. All three looked to Eli as a father figure. All three were young men who grew up around ministry.
But Eli’s sons were “scoundrels.” Eli’s sons “had no regard for the Lord.” Eli’s sons were entitled consumers made to believe that the entire enterprise of worship centered around their preferences.
Samuel, however, is a contributor. And, unlike Eli’s sons, Samuel “grew up in the presence of the Lord.” Eli’s sons are killed in battle in what is determined as an act of judgment upon the House of Eli. Samuel becomes the last Judge of Israel, a deliverer and prophet who anoints David as the unifying King.
So, what gives? How did they turn out to be so different, Eli’s sons and Samuel? While there are, perhaps, many answers, I’ll offer one take from the text: “But Samuel was ministering before the Lord—a boy wearing a linen ephod.”
Our children and young people are coming of age in a world that is ripping itself apart. Anxiety and depression among our youngest generations are at alarming levels. In a world where they are constantly told to sit on the sidelines and wait for their turn in life while they are glutted with YouTube and TikTok and Instagram, should we expect anything different?
So, for those of us in roles as parents or pastors or parishioners in the church: how can we raise more Samuels? How can we raise up our children in the presence of the Lord? Here is my working theory: let them wear their linen ephod and minister before the Lord. We must create a culture in our churches where everyone can bring something to the table. We must raise our children up as contributors, not consumers.
Under Eli and his sons, Israel was decimated and the Ark of the Covenant was captured by Philistines. The future was bleak. But God raised up Samuel and a generation later, Israel reached its pinnacle of health, vitality, and prosperity. Revival is a steady process, like a great wave building over time before it crashes upon the sandy shore. And like every attendee at a football game this fall will tell you, the wave starts in the student section. May we raise up our children like Samuel, a boy wearing a linen ephod.