Once again, the lectionary passages are all about being known, prodded, claimed, and called by God in community with one another. God calls Samuel but only Eli recognizes the voice of God. . . . Paul reminds us of God’s concern with the material and emotional stuff of our lives, with our bodies as temples and our choices as acts of faithfulness and love. Jesus sees, knows, and calls the unlikely, recognizing our stories even before we speak them.
This is a good week to reflect on God as the hound of heaven and on our response to that relentless God who sniffs and barks through our world. It is a good week to consider where we are called to go and what are we called to be. Perhaps even more important is this: how we are called to help others hear the voice of God.
At the Festival of Homiletics in Chicago several years ago Jana Childers described the experience of listening to the story of the call of Samuel as she was on the cusp of turning 40 and working with a group of youth. It suddenly dawned on her that her place was shifting in God’s story “from bright, promising young Samuel to fat old Eli.” It is a shift many of us need to make more gracefully as we age and mature, asking less about how our own adventures can be distinct and new, and more about how we can help beloved others hear God’s call and claim on their lives and future. This would also be a good Sunday to ask a congregation to find their shared place, to identify where God can use them in the work of calling disciples and painting new horizons of hope—to listen to the Elis and seek the Samuels in their midst.
– Denise Thorpe
John’s Gospel tells us that Jesus had enigmatic words for those he called. To Nathanael, who quickly affirmed Jesus’ identity, John shows us Jesus responding with assurance that more marvels than can be imagined await us. To those who are called (including everyone), following Jesus means we will see things we could not have guessed.
“Angels ascending and descending upon the Son-of-Man”? We could talk for decades about what that means. And in that conversation we are knit together into a sisterhood and brotherhood not possible in other ways. We enter into a story that includes mighty metaphors such as “heaven opened.” The preacher can say: “What does it mean? Come and see.”
1 Samuel 3:1-10[11-20]
Since the RCL lists verses 11–20 as an option, they should be included in the reading, or at least as part of the homily; for the subsequent verses offer an explanation for why Eli’s sons were not chosen by God to fill the prophetic role to which Samuel was called. The boy hears a voice in the middle of the night three times, and in response goes before Eli, the priest for whom Samuel is the understudy. Only after the third time of the voice calling Samuel does Eli perceive that it is none other that YAHWEH, the God of Israel calling Samuel. The old priest tells Eli to go lie down and should he hear the voice again, he should answer the Lord, “Speak, for your servant is listening.’’
YAHWEH calls Samuel. He hears and responds with obedience. He is the carrier of the news of change to Eli, the priest. The priestly system of sacrifice of which Eli is a part is corrupt. Eli hears the word. God brings about a new, different, ear-tingling way.
– Eric T. Myers
1 Corinthians 6:12-20
God’s call to any of us – whether in grade school or moving into middle age and old age – is a call to know that God's desire for us has changed us. The alteration is thorough, outside and in, top to bottom, head to toe, involving all our senses.
The preacher would do well to ask the assembly on this Sunday what this change means for each person individually and for the church as a whole. How do we – and will we – each and together manifest this God-given new life?
Denise Thorpe, a Presbyterian pastor (PCUSA), is the Project Director of the Race, Church, and Theological Practices Collaborative Inquiry Team at the Louisville Institute, Louisville, Kentucky.
Eric T. Myers serves as pastor to the Frederick Presbyterian Church, Frederick, Maryland and is a former church musician and adjunct professor of worship at Wesley Theological Seminary.
Homily Service 42, no. 1 (2009): 97-106.