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Gospel centred sermons, based on the lectionary often in advance.

Jan 10, 2012

Focus text: 1 Samuel 3:1-20

As John says at the start of his Gospel, the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. God still calls people, Sometimes God calls young people like Samuel. Sometimes God calls senior citizens like Abraham or Moses or Sarah, or Miriam. Sometimes God calls people to be great leaders like Samuel, and Deborah or sometimes God calls people to be humble witnesses like Simeon and Anna. God calls everyone to turn back, to repent, and to trust in God’s love, goodness and forgiveness. We are all called to witness to God’s word. It may be that like Israel in the time of Samuel there is a time of renewal and growth around the corner. Whatever the future holds though, the light has not yet gone out. God is still speaking and calling.

The light will not go out and the word of God can still be heard. Do you hear the call?

Questions for thought and discussion

Who is called by God? How comfortable is God's call? What do you think God's word to you is? Why are people in Western Europe and Australia abandoning church?

Andrew Gillies
almost twelve years ago

Called to hope and challenge
In a time of challenge for the church or the nation God calls us offering us hope in darkness and a challenge to comfortable Spirituality and affluent society.
Samuel was a prophet and a Judge in ancient Israel. We meet him today at the time when God first calls him to be a prophet. At that time Israel had no king, it was ruled by tribal leaders, who banded together to ward off common enemies. Among those leaders were great men and at least one great woman Deborah who acted as Judges. Gideon and Samson are the other two well known ones. They often led the people in Battle but they also acted as what we would call Judges and they were sometime spiritual leaders as well as community leaders. Eli an Samuel are great examples of this kind of Judge.
Israel was in a mess. Its leaders were corrupt, its faith was brittle and the word of the Lord was rare and visions were not widespread. Moreover the non Jewish people who surrounded these people were hostile to them. It was a situation not that different to the situation which faces Israel today. The great difference though is that Israel was not a united nation or kingdom as we think of it today. It was a loose grouping of tribes which often squabbled among themselves. These were dark, difficult and godless times. As the boy Samuel sleeps we hear that “the light had not yet gone out”. We’re probably just being told that it was near dawn, but some commentators think that the writer of this story is trying to tell us that even though times were dark God’s presence was still shining. Even if that’s not what was meant you can see how we could read it that way, looking at the situation Israel was in.
[Our times are very different. We are not surrounded by enemies who want to destroy us. We are not struggling to survive. Although the world is in a difficult economic place compared to about three or four years ago, the vast majority of today’s Australians do not have to worry about whether they will survive to see tomorrow. Despite this, overall the church in Australia and in affluent Western Europe is declining. Moral standards are lowering and cynicism is rising.
But as I look down from this pulpit on an average of about 90 faces I can say that even though many of the heads are grey - the light has not yet gone out. For we are here faithfully worshipping and we are in the community faithfully living out our faith and the hope that is in us. This is not to say that things are all sweetness and light, there is some darkness, the future is uncertain, but a light still shines in the darkness.]
Into a dark situation a light shines, the word and the call of God is heard and the young boy Samuel responds. For Israel the dawn was about to break. A period of growth and consolidation was coming. By world standards Israel would never be a great nation but a time of strength unity and prosperity was just around the corner. A time also of Spiritual awakening. David, Solomon, and the Kings of Judah and Israel were just around the corner. The temple would soon be built and Jerusalem would be established as the capital. Before all of that Samuel was going to call the people back to faith. However things were about to get worse before they got better. The Ark of the Covenant the sign of God’s presence was about to be stolen, and in the battle and it’s aftermath Eli and his sons die.
In Israel people had stopped being part of the faith because of the difficult situation they faced. They had turned away from God but not from religion. Instead they had turned to other faiths of the surrounding more successful people. In Australia and Western Europe today the opposite is true. People have turned away from faith, not because they are worried about survival and have turned away to other gods, but because people don’t believe that they need God.
There are writers like Bishop Spong who argue that the reason people in the West have abandoned the church is because people can no longer believe in the miraculous but research seems to indicate that this is only a minor factor. The main factor seems to be that people believe that they do not need God to survive. Technology, science, money and education can solve all our problems and even save us. Life is meant to be enjoyed, and while for most people God exists, God is not particularly relevant. We don’t need God to survive and God and the church are always asking us to love and serve others. And that’s a good idea but it takes time and effort away from our busy lives. The floods a year ago this week reminded us though that life is not as certain as we like to think and it was not surprising that over January last year we had very good attendances.
Into a very different situation- God spoke to Samuel and through him to the people of Israel, and a nation, not just religion, was transformed. Faith re-awoke and national life was enriched.
But the call on Samuels life was not an easy call. His first hearing of the word of God was a word of Judgement. It was to tell Eli that his sons were corrupt and that Eli while a good Judge and priest, had failed God and the people in how he had not restrained his sons. This would be the end for his family. When we next hear from Samuel, he is bringing a message of confrontation again. He is saying to Israel - Repent - turn away from those other gods and turn back to the Lord. Your lives are not right. Trust in God and not in these other things.
The good news is that people heard this message and did turn back to God. Faith and hope awoke and renewal followed.
I believe that the light of God never goes out. We see this supremely in the story of Jesus, like Samuel and John the Baptist, he called people to repent, but that call was hard to hear. Unlike Eli the Jewish and Roman authorities did not take Jesus’ call on the chin. They killed him on a cross of wood and buried him in a tomb. But on Easter Sunday God raised him and the light of God’s love and presence has burned brightly ever since. Every year the church grows especially in Asia and Africa and the