Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the LORD under Eli. The word of the LORD was rare in those days; visions were not widespread. At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the LORD, where the ark of God was.
Then the LORD called, “Samuel! Samuel!” and he said, “Here I am!” (Samuel) ran to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call; lie down again.” So he went and lay down. The LORD called again, “Samuel!” Samuel got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call, my son; lie down again.” Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD, and the word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him. The LORD called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli perceived that the LORD was calling the boy. Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.'” So Samuel went and lay down in his place. Now the LORD came and stood there, calling as before, “Samuel! Samuel!”
And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” 1 Samuel 3:1-10 (NIV)
O, LORD, you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away. You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, O LORD, you know it completely. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it. For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed. How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! I try to count them — they are more than the sand; I come to the end — I am still with you. -Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18 (NIV)
“All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are beneficial. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything.
Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body. 1 Corinthians 6:12, 19-20 (NIV)
Epiphany, which is the season of the church year between Christmas and Lent, is a time for Jesus followers to rediscover and to see God-with-us in fresh ways and with open eyes, ears, and hearts. Jesus was born. God is in the world with us. So what does that mean? How does that have an impact on us and on the world around us?
God made us for a purpose.
Richard Scarry wrote and illustrated children’s books. Many of us remember his wonderful books about life in and around Busytown- in which he depicted various anthropomorphic animal characters in all sorts of different occupations, such as farmers, police officers, firefighters, machine operators and so on. Everyone in Busytown had something he or she was supposed to do. Aside from being a lovely introduction for children to both economics and vocation, the message of Busytown was one that affirmed that everyone in a community has an important role and that people in community depend upon each other.
Scarry applies the basic principles of the Author of Life’s plan for community to his magical little town. In those cheery and colorful books we can see a little bit of how God works in and through His community, though our life is not as nearly as simple and straightforward as life in Busytown.
Community and life are meant to be symbiotic– we were made by God to complement and build each other up in a cooperative relationship.
The only hero of the Bible is God. He puts His people in the places where He needs them- because He makes us and names us and claims us for His purpose. Here are three examples in the Bible of people God used in really big ways.
These three men- Samson, Samuel and John the Baptist- shared much in common:
All of them were first born sons dedicated to God, and sworn to the Nazirite vow, (see Numbers 6) from before their birth.
God had very important missions for all of these men, all of whom made a great impact on the history of the people of God.
God has important plans for all of His people, whether or not they are remembered in Scripture or in history. Each of us was known and crafted by God for Him and by His design, whether we know what His plan is for us or not. We may never know the extent of the role we are given by God, or why we are given the gifts and the challenges we are given. He just asks us to plant the seeds and live His way by His grace. The harvest and the end results are up to Him.
Samuel- who had been dedicated to the service of the temple when he was around four years of age- was taken by surprise with the voice of God. He thought his mentor, Eli, was calling for him. How many times do we mistake the voice of God for someone else? Is the voice of God sometimes found in our calls to serve others or in the pressure to take on that challenging person or project? Is the voice of God sometimes calling to us in our commitments to others that seem overbearing? Does God speak to us in our daily work? Is the voice of God calling to us to meditate and rest and study His word? Sometimes He speaks to us about our purpose, but we think it’s someone else talking, or we aren’t even listening.
Sometimes we need to pray the simple prayer Eli taught Samuel: “Speak, for your servant is listening.”
Psalm 139 is an amazing statement of God’s love and good intent for His people. The Creator of the universe, the Author of Life, knew us since the beginning of time. He put us together before we were born and He crafted every detail, every strand of DNA, every cell in our bodies. We are not accidental (whether or not our parents might think so) and we are not here by random chance.
So what does that say for our value? What does that say for the value of every human being we encounter? What does that say for the value of all of God’s creation?
Purpose is not about having good self-esteem or about how others may view our purpose. The janitor is just as important as the CEO. A person’s net worth or physical appearance means nothing in God’s economy. In fact, God has shown a little bit of bias toward the unlikely, the unloved and the underdog when He plans great things.
Not everyone can be the high profile performer, even though some people may be more visible and some people may earn more public acclaim. In God’s eyes we are all loved, needed and cherished. We are here for a reason.
In our world, the cook needs the farmer, and the engineer needs the factory worker, and so on, just as we observe so simply in the Busytown books. Our lives depend upon the roles of others, others who have also been named and claimed by God and made for His purpose. We are also called to intercede on behalf of others- to be their eyes and ears and hearts when they are weak or ill, and to be the voice for those who cannot defend themselves from injustice.
So what does it mean for us to know that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” by God?
The apostle Paul goes even further to call our bodies temples of the Holy Spirit. God didn’t just make us, He lives in and through us. Our bodies are holy ground. God didn’t just create us to do work. We aren’t robots or machines who are disposable once they don’t work anymore. We are His creation, His children. He gives us life and breath, not just moving parts or an idling engine. God gave us Jesus, His only Son, so that we can be with Him forever. He bought us with a heavy price.
How do we live in response to God? God Who loves us so much He gave His only Son? We can’t earn or deserve His love or His grace, but we can listen for His voice.
In the time of Eli and Samuel, it was said that “the word of the LORD was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.” As Lutheran Christians we tend to take a dim eye toward claims of things such as supernatural visions or impromptu chats with God-as-George Burns, and in most situations a healthy skepticism of things that claim to be supernatural is warranted. Things that sound too good to be true usually are not true. Jesus warned us about false teachers. If we are to be true to Scripture, God’s word to us, then we must teach and live the way of the Cross, which includes the real humanity of suffering and loss, rather than a false Pollyanna prosperity Gospel.
God isn’t a celestial Santa Claus, and God isn’t going to heal what ails us just because we all send checks to some guy on TV with bad hair wearing a leisure suit who tells us that, for your gift of $50 or more, GAWD will do a miracle! Your $50 will miraculously disappear, but that’s about it. God is the Author of healing and rescue, but He comes to us in His time and in His way.
God is present in and throughout His creation whether we recognize Him or not. He does speak to us even when we aren’t listening, and He speaks even when what He has to say is not what we want to hear. Even when we aren’t recognizing it, God does work in and through us, and the Holy Spirit is everywhere. The presence of God is often subtle and unobtrusive, but He is there. Are we listening? Do we respond? God made us to hear His voice, but we aren’t always paying attention. We might be like Eli, getting old and tired and going deaf. This world has a way of doing that to us, distracting us with trivialities and sidetracking us from our purpose. This season of Epiphany is a reminder to us to open our eyes and ears and hearts and rediscover the voice and the presence of God-with-us.
Sometimes we doubt that we are of such great value to God. Sometimes we doubt the value of others. We wonder why we are here drawing breath at times- even though we are reassured throughout the Bible that God created us with intent, that He loves us more than earthly parents love their children, and that He has a specific role for each of us in His creation. We are indeed made for God’s purpose- wanted, needed, cherished and loved by Him.