Epiphany 2B: Maybe God’s Tryin’ to Tell You Somethin’
1 Samuel 3:1-20
January 18, 2015
Andrae Crouch died last week.
The gospel singer and songwriter worked with the greats:
Stevie Wonder, Elton John, Quincy Jones.
His first hit song was written when he was only 15.
He was known for a number of songs,
but one that I’ve been playing over and over again this weekend
is a song from the movie The Color Purple,
called “Maybe God’s Tryin’ to Tell You Somethin’”
I’m going to be bold this morning and ask you to turn to a neighbor
…your neighbor may be in front of you or behind you…
Turn to someone and say,
“Maybe God’s Tryin’ to Tell You Somethin’”
Samuel hears a voice in the night.
After it happens for the third time Eli finally realizes what’s happening
to the boy and he says,
“Maybe God’s Tryin’ to tell you somethin’!”
Next time – listen.
Eli is the high priest at Shiloh.
The biblical city of Shiloh about 20 miles north of Jerusalem.
We don’t hear a lot about Shiloh,
but for 300 years, Shiloh was the center of Jewish worship.
For 300 years all the ritual prayers and sacrifices were performed at the altar at Shiloh.
The Ark of the Covenant was in Shiloh
until the temple in Jerusalem was built.
Eli and his two sons are the priests in charge of the daily rituals.
Their job descriptions are spelled out quite clearly in the book of Leviticus.
They would burn incense twice a day on the altar.
They would also be in charge of sacrificing animals for the various offerings
guilt offerings, sin offerings, peace offerings.
In thanksgiving to God for giving her a son,
Samuel’s mother places him in Eli’s service.
The book of 1st Samuel says that this happens as soon as he was weaned.
Imagine this little boy’s life for a moment….
It was meant to be holy work…
but dealing with the ritual slaughter of animals,
it was also bloody, smelly, messy work.
It was meant to be holy work that went on at Shiloh,
but it so happens that Eli’s sons were ‘scoundrels’ the Bible says.
They would take the best part of the meat for the offering for themselves
instead of offering it to God.
They were sleeping with the women who served at the temple.
And Eli was complicit.
Eli knew all about what his sons were doing.
And so with this background, with Eli, his two corrupt priest sons,
and a boy Samuel, who is now 12 years old,
we come to today’s passage.
“The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.”
And now finally God speaks…
To whom does God speak?
Not to the priests…
Not to ones whom one might think would be in a position to be listening to God.
God instead speaks to a young boy.
A boy who has to be told that it’s God who’s speaking!
Samuel becomes the very first prophet in the Hebrew Scriptures.
He becomes the first in a long line of prophets…
He’s followed by Elijah and Elisha,
Isaiah and Jeremiah, Hosea and Amos, Joel and Micah,
Daniel and Ezekiel, to name a few.
The prophets in the Bible are remarkably similar.
They speak over various times and in various contexts,
but really they have only 4 messages [i]
(and alas, none of them is, “Great job people! Keep doing what you’re doing!”)
The prophets talk to people and kings about 4 things:
- How God is angry that they’ve broken their covenant – broken their relationship with God
- How God is angry that they’ve allowed economic injustice
- How God is angry that they’ve become what we might call ‘religious but not spiritual’ – they’ve gone through the motions of religious ritual but have not been living as children of God
- How there is nonetheless hope of healing because God is gracious and merciful
Throughout his lifetime,
like most of the prophets,
the prophet Samuel angered a good many priests and kings.
Here today he tells Eli that the message from God
is that he and his sons are doomed.
They were the religious but not spiritual.
They had done the rituals,
but it was all just an act – they had just gone through the motions
– it didn’t make any difference in their lives.
They were selfish and greedy.
And for that, they would die.
I doubt Samuel wanted to be a prophet…especially at that moment!
I doubt anyone would say they wanted to be a prophet.
I doubt Martin Luther King Jr. wanted to be a prophet.
I doubt Rachel Carson wanted to be a prophet.
I doubt Malala Yousafzai or Pope Francis want to be prophets.
Prophets annoy people…
They do sit-ins and die-ins and boycotts and protests
and carry signs and shout in bullhorns
and block sidewalks and hold up traffic…
Prophets are annoying.
But when we get annoyed with prophets, as Andrae Crouch said,
“Maybe God’s tryin’ to tell you somethin’….”
I’ve been blessed with an annoying prophet named Philip.
Philip calls the church sometimes 2 or 3 times a week,
looking for assistance.
As soon as I answer the phone, I know it’s him…
not just because he has a characteristic drawl,
but because he’s the only one I know that calls me Pastor Jenny!
“Miss Jenny, Pastor Jenny,” he says,
“How’s your health?”
It’s really quite lovely…the first time.
But he calls over and over again…
It’s like he won’t let me forget that he’s homeless!
Prophets are annoying…
So I’m going to ask us to be an annoying prophet to each other one more time…
Turn to a neighbor again (it could be the same one)…and say
“Maybe God’s tryin’ to tell you somethin’”
[i] from Marty Stevens, Leadership Roles of the Old Testament: King, Prophet, Priest Sage, Augsburg Fortress.