Here I Am
Updated: Feb 14, 2019
1 Samuel 3
Growing up it was not uncommon to see my dad cry when he preached. He did a good job modeling vulnerability behind the pulpit. He was not afraid of his own emotions.
I remember one particular time when he cried during a sermon, and it was because my dad was crying about me. Dad was recalling a time when I was a baby and he was at some sort of church service or event where people were asked to write down on a slip of paper what their “first fruits offering” would be. Meaning, if we still participated in sacrificial offerings, what would be the best things we had to bring forward before God.
What would we give up in order to show our devotion to God? He wrote down my name on the slip of paper. He thinks of it as his Abraham moment, or his Hannah moment.
Obviously this was different from him literally attempting to sacrifice me or dump me on the doorstep of a temple
Which is slightly less extreme...But the motivation was the same. In that moment Dad was dedicating me to God. He was relinquishing control over my life. He was acknowledging that I was God’s, not his. I am not sure if he consulted my mom about this or not…:).
But he thinks about this moment with tears in his eyes because he knows what giving me up to God could mean. My dad was a pastor for 22 years. And he says that he had a good 20 years of ministry. There were difficulties all along but the last two years were pretty horrible. I grew up in a small church, not unlike you all. They were like family, they nurtured and supported me. But at the same time, no one can hurt you quite like your family can.
Growing up at this church, as the pastor’s daughter, I saw the good, bad, and ugly sides of congregational ministry. So it should come as no surprise that when I told my dad that maybe I wanted to be a pastor, his emotions were bittersweet. He knows how pastoring can be the utmost blessing yet he has experienced how cruel people can be. So he experiences pride…and grief…when it comes to my calling.
I can identify with Samuel when it comes to my calling. I, too, experienced my calling in the night. I remember lying in bed, thinking about my feelings of possibly going into ministry when a few things clicked in my head. I saw parallels between how I was feeling about ministry with some of my dad’s comments. Something shifted into place. I felt a sense of clarity and overwhelming peace. This prompted me to say to God, “Ok God, if this is what you want for me, for my life, then I am listening.”
Without realizing it, when I picked Samuel’s calling story for this sermon, I was again picking a man who, like Samson (who I preached on last week), was born of a mother who was previously barren. I picked another man who was a miracle baby, set aside for a life of serving God’s purposes.
You see, Samuel’s mother was so harassed because of her barrenness that it drove her to plead with God with such fervor that the priest Eli
—who witnessed her plea, thought she was drunk.
Thankfully our culture doesn’t think about barrenness in the same way today as we did back then. In that day barrenness was thought as a sign of a lack of faithfulness, perhaps as a divine punishment. Hannah carried a huge social and spiritual stigma with her. Thankfully today there is less of a stigma surrounding barrenness and a whole lot more compassion and understanding.
To the original writer of this biblical story, the point of highlighting Hannah’s barrenness in 1 Samuel was not to shame women who are barren but rather to emphasize the nature of God. A God who works to bring hope into seemingly hopeless situations. A God who relates with the marginalized and empowers the downtrodden, the underdog. The point was to highlight the fact that God works in upside-down ways. So God chose the very ordinary Hannah to give birth to the very ordinary Samuel.
God didn’t choose to reveal God’s vision to Eli, which is strange because Eli was a priest—it was his job to be in communion and communication with God. Or perhaps God tried to talk to Eli, but it was Samuel, the young boy who didn’t even know the Lord yet who was the one listening.
Samuel, believing that it was his master Eli calling to him in the night, ran from his place at the foot of the Ark of the Covenant—the physical reminder of the presence of God—to Eli and said, “Here I Am.”
After two times of Samuel hearing his name, running to Eli, only for Eli to tell him that he didn’t call his name…then Eli realized what was actually going on. Eli realized that it was God speaking to Samuel, calling him by name. And so he told the boy to return and say to God,“Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”
And God replied by saying,
“Ah my good and faithful servant.
You will do great things in your life.
I will ever be by your side.
Temple worship will flourish
Wars will cease
And all will be well in the House of Eli”
Or at least that’s what I wish God would have said. But no, God chose to deliver a prophesy, a vision of very bad news destined to fall upon the house of Eli.
“See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make both ears of anyone who hears it tingle. On that day I will fulfill 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 foreverFor the iniquity that he knew, Because his sons were blaspheming God and he did not restrain them therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be expiated by sacrifice or offering forever.”
Basically God said that Eli and his family were doomed and nothing would save them. For Eli’s sons had turned their back on God and Eli did nothing about it. Reading this I am stumped. Maybe this is why the text say that in these days vision from God were rare. The voice of God was not breaking through. Maybe God was speaking, but no one was listening. Maybe they didn’t want to hear foreboding news, they didn’t want to hear any hard truths. They were content to pretend that everything was ok, and that everything will be ok, so they didn’t have to change. They could just ignore it.
And Samuel, upon hearing this bad news, was scared. He listened, he heard, but he was terrified. He even procrastinated his duty by doing other tasks
I can’t relate to that at all…
But then it came time to face the music.
Eli demanded to hear the entirety of God’s message—he didn’t want Samuel to hold anything back from him.
And so Samuel didn’t. He told Eli, his trusted guardian and mentor
That destruction would plague his house, his family.
I can also relate to Samuel’s fear.
The prophetic responsibility is not an easy burden to bear. And I feel strange equating myself to Samuel, to calling myself a prophet.
Voices of shame and insecurity ask me, “Who do you think you are to claim this calling, to call yourself a prophet…who even gave you this title in the first place.”
And then I remember, ah…God did. God called me and I must say yes to the call. Otherwise I would be denying part of what makes me, me.
Part of my discomfort comes with the language of prophesy. We just don’t talk like that anymore. We would feel crazy to speak about visions and receiving prophetic messages and God visiting us in our dreams. We have sidelined God’s voice, carefully putting boundaries around to whom and how God speaks. I am perfectly comfortable calling myself a pastor, a preacher…but a prophet? To my unaccustomed ears that sounds arrogant, foolish, and a little crazy.
But then I think about what the jobs of a prophet are. In my understanding prophets are:
Truth tellers. They see beyond the status quo and point beyond surface-level realities. They go deep. Especially when others don’t want to. Prophets see gifting in others and call it out. They help others claim their own calling. Prophets name and mourn social injustice. They proclaim the gospel. Prophets see where God is working and join in that work, inspiring and encouraging others to join with them in this Holy task.
The prophetic role is embodied and personal. And at the same time it isn’t even about the prophet at all. It is about God.
Remembering that my calling is real, embodied, personal, yet not about me, gives me a sense of peace in this role.
I am called to preach—which as pastor Meghan Good would say—means to:
1. Stir hunger and generate desire for the voice and presence of God.
2. Raise questions and provoke discussion
3. Inspire action
I am called to pastor, to sit with people in their joy and suffering and to inspire discipleship.
And I am called to be a prophet.
Which means I carry the Word of God as fire in my heart and bones and I cannot remain silent.
And, just like Samuel, I am terrified.
It is a vulnerable position to be in, standing here in front of you all, baring my soul week after week after week Asking hard questions.This is a vulnerable and scary task.
When I preach on Sundays I am not putting on a show for your entertainment. We do not consume church like we consume other media and entertainment. Church is not something for us to, “get something out of”
It is not a good to be consumed. Church consumes you.
Church, as I see it, is not a place for us to come and ignore the rest of our lives, get a good pat on the back, and when we get our fill leave—ending our worship when we walk out the door. Church is sleeping at the foot of the Ark of the Covenant, dedicating your life to being near the presence of God. It is a commitment, a community, a path of life.
While being the church and following Jesus in discipleship might not be easy, the church is also a sanctuary, a safe place. A place to see God and be seen by God.
My job, if I am to be the pastor at this church, will be to make sure that you all are so aware of God’s love for you that when I bring hard news and uncomfortable questions to the pulpit, that you will be brave and empowered enough to react the way Eli did when he heard Samuels prophesy. With humility and respect for a God of wonder and mystery.
This doesn’t mean that you all will agree with everything that I say. In fact I hope that sometimes you don’t agree with me. I hope that I scandalize you with the gospel. I hope that I make you uncomfortable with how I see the Word of God because that means that you are thinking, That you are engaged That you are energized. That you are hungry for more of the God that breathed you into life.
Most of all I hope that you, like Eli, realize that reacting in anger, blame, or defensiveness in the face of hard news is not helpful. Eli realized that Samuel is only human. He was only reporting what he heard, what he experienced in his vision from God.
If I pastor here I won’t always get it right. I will fail you. And you will fail me. We are only human.
But there is beauty in our humanity, there is beauty in our ordinariness.
And the good news is that we believe in a God that sees the Holy in the ordinary. In people like Hannah and Samuel, and you and I. God sees the Holy in the ordinary and chooses to Shine through it. The Fire of the Lamp of God burns in all of us. WE are called by God to be witnesses to God’s love and grace. Your calling is not going to look like mine, but no matter what it is, I do think it will involve responding to God’s voice in raw vulnerability, saying, “Here I Am God, speak for your servant is listening.”