Sermon from Sunday, January 14, 2024
Speaker: Rev. Doug de Graffenried
Scripture: 1 Samuel 3:1-11, 19
Our lesson this morning comes from the third chapter of First Samuel, first Samuel Chapter three, verses one through 11, and then verse 19. Hear these words. Now, the boy, Samuel, was ministering to the Lord under Eli. And the word of the Lord was rare in those days. And 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 the Lord 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. And ran to Eli and said, Here I am for you called me. He said, I didn’t call you. Lie down again. So, he went, and he 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 you, 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.
And 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 laid down in his place.
Now the Lord came and stood there, calling as before. Samuel. Samuel. Samuel said, Speak Lord or your servant is listening. Then the Lord said to Samuel, See, I’m about to do something in Israel that will make both ears of anyone who hears it tingle. As Samuel grew up, the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground.
Friends, this is the Word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God. Amen.
In trying to figure out how to be a better preacher, I’ve run across a conundrum that you’re going to help me solve. I won’t know you’ve helped me solve it, but you’re going to help me solve it. The average human being speaks at a rate of about 125 words a minute. Unless you’re from Ohio or Pennsylvania, and you might speak 150 to 175 words a minute. Those of us from Alabama will only speak about 100 words a minute. But because I’ve spent so much time in Louisiana and spent all the time around Cajun culture, I’m up to about 125 words. The minute that I speak, you can hear at the rate of 800 words a minute. Your brain can process that much information. I speak at 125. You hear it, 800. Do you know what’s going on in that interim in that math interim? I do. Your brain right now is making your shopping list for super one after the sermon. You’re trying to figure out what we’re going to eat in the cold weather. You’re counting the number of verticals up on the stage or you’re looking up at those lights up there. Yes, you’re counting the bulbs and then the bulbs within the bulbs. You’re doing something to fill the space because your mind works faster and hears faster Then poor old brother Doug can talk.
And then we have another issue. Paul said it this way. Faith comes by Hearing and hearing comes by the Word of God. And our other issue is the difference between hearing and listening. Anybody who’s a parent who’s in this room knows the difference between hearing and listening. You tell your little one, did you hear me? No, Mommy, I didn’t hear you. You know, they heard you to hear means to perceive with the ear. Listen, there’s a difference here is to perceive with the ear. The verb to hear appears over 1100 times in Scripture. The verb to listen. To listen, to do or to act on that which is heard, appears less than a handful of times in Scripture. God is doing all this talking. We’re doing all this hearing, but we’re not doing a very good job of listening.
Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God. Yet here we are. We live in a visual driven culture. Hearing is considered antiquated and old. If you want to get their attention, it’s got to be digital and visual. Soren Kirkegaard, a Danish philosopher and theologian, lived about 350 years ago, now said that if he could prescribe one remedy for the ills of society and the ills of the church, he would prescribe silence. But even when Soren Kirkegaard was writing and thinking and preaching, he said, Life moves too fast and there’s too much noise. even in church life If you’re a silent for more than 10 seconds, people start looking around, wondering who forgot something. Why isn’t something else happening? As a matter of fact, we can sit here right now, and I can close my mouth and it’s not silent. That’s the sound of your comfort. Now, if you didn’t hear that, you’d get uncomfortable. We are not used to silence. It disturbs us. It upsets us. Why? Because our brain is hearing at 800 words a minute. We want something to fill our brains.
Elijah was running from Jezebel, and he runs to Mt. Horeb. And he’s pretty much there pouting. He’s exhausted, he’s pouting, he’s frustrated. And God comes to him and says, what are you doing here, Elijah? And Elijah complains. And God says, go out and stand by the mountain before the Lord for the Lord is about to pass by. Now there’s a great wind so strong it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks and pieces before the Lord. But the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind, an earthquake. But the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake, a fire. But the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire, the sound of sheer silence. And that’s where God was. The sound of sheer silence. You know, the preachers who hear First Samuel three and the call of Samuel it for all of us. It brings us back to that time when we were called into the ministry. And the only way to describe those of us who do this, we’re called most of us reluctantly. Most of us held God all for as long as we could. But God called us to do this. God was calling me way before I even became a Christian. Now I have to confess that the de Graffenried children were not what you call high energy church attending children. As a matter of fact, we were those kids that when we showed up, the church went to Def Con 2 The de Graffenried kids are here, look out. All three of them are here. The deacons, the deacons at Central Baptist Church in Decatur, Alabama. When the DeGraff and Reed family came up on their list of people they needed to visit to invite back in church. The deacons would go out back, get their dice and shoot dice to see what Deacon lost, to have to come see us. The Bible calls that casting lots, if you want a holy phrase. We were. We were those kids. We were not church broken. I’ve personally calls to Sunday school teachers to quit.
But the whole time, as I was growing up, I had an overwhelming sense of God to when no other adult was around God was there. I gave my life to Christ and was baptized when I was 16 years old, and very soon thereafter God really started working on me. I had life all planned out. Let me put it another way. The adults in my life had life all planned out. I was going to go and play football and I was going to go play football on a scholarship. And believe it or not, I was a wishbone quarterback who could throw. But my junior year of high school, I broke my throwing elbow. Surgeon said, I can fix it, but you might not be able to throw a football ever again. My dad’s plans and my plans; play football, go to medical school, be a radiologist. Being a radiologist fits my personality. You may not know I’m an introvert. Yes, I am. I’m preached to thousands but put me in a room with 15 people and I just find I’m gonna find the door or the corner to go standing because I don’t know what to do with those 15 people.
My mother wanted to meet me to be a journalist. Not a lot of money in journalism. So, as I’m approaching the senior year in high school, doors are starting to close and I’m starting to pray, God, what do you want me to do? Because I’m filling out all these scholarship applications. I’m filling out applications to every university I can think of, and they’ve all got these funny lines. In the 1970s, we had funny lines on our college applications. What are you going to major in? I don’t know. God, what do you want me doing? I need to discover what you want me doing. And on Youth Sunday in our church, we took over and I was the youth pastor. And I got to preach the sermon. And I have a clock in here. I know it’s 11:35 a.m. I don’t pay much attention to the clock in here, but the one in the sanctuary tells me the time and it also has the countdown for the television broadcast. So, I will make sure that the worship service last until the broadcast is over and our sanctuary back home. The preacher walked me in on a Tuesday and he said, you see the clock on the back wall? I said, yes, sir. He said, well, they switch over to our church at 11:00. We get the television signal and until 12:00, the television signal is ours. You have to preach, or you have to do something until 12:00. Don’t forget 12:00. There’s the clock. Look at the clock.
My first sermon was preached on the Sunday morning after my senior prom. Yes, I did. And I can testify that going to a senior prom is not a good way to prepare to lead worship the next morning. But I did it. We did all the youth stuff we did. And I walked in the pulpit, and I grabbed onto the pulpit because that’s what I want to do. I needed security. And the first thing I did was look up at the clock and it said 10 minutes after 11. 50 minutes, I’ve got to go 50 minutes. What am I going to do? 50 minutes, y’all? I went to 12:05. Yes. And I remember walking out that Sunday and I thought, why in the world would anybody want to do this? And I heard a snicker from heaven. And I kept grappling, and I kept grappling, and I kept grappling and Dad, play football, be a radiologist, Mom, be a journalist. My I’m horribly shy and tend toward give me in a room by myself. Plus, I was also that kid in life, you know, back when I grew up, there was something called S&H Green Stamps and you’d collect green stamps, put them in a book, take the book to the green stamp store, and they would give you stuff and I would get all the green stamp signs indicator and I would take them to the funeral home. We give green stamps. It would kind of be like if I put a bogus sign in front of a funeral home. Now, I was that kid and I tried to talk to my friends. I think God’s calling me. They say what you are, by the way. That’s why I’m not in north Alabama right now. There are too many people that remember me. And when we hired Karen, Florence and I found out she was from Decatur, Alabama, but she went to the other high school. I paid her handsomely to keep her mouth shut.
It was driving me nuts because I had this sense that God was calling me. But I me, I know what I know. And one afternoon I was walking along the banks of the Tennessee River. They built a walking trail, and I was doing my walking trail trying to think. And there was this this tree that one of the limbs went out over into the river. And I just climbed out on the limb and was straddling it. And me and God were talking, and I was trying to convince him he was nuts, that there was no way on the face of this good Earth that I needed to be a minister. And y’all from the top of my head to the bottom of my feet, I felt the sheer silence and when you feel an experience, the sheer silence, you’re caught up in the wonder and the majesty and the love of God. And it is so true that God does not call the equipped. He equips the cold.
And so, I read the story of Samuel and his call, and I go, Yeah, I can relate. Samuel is a great biblical character. He’s not a judge. We’re over the period of the judges, Samuel’s considered the first of the prophets. Samuel will anoint two kings of Israel, both Saul and David to be kings, but Samuel is There serving in the temple before he knows the Lord, before he knows the word of the Lord. And he’s serving under Eli. And when you read the stories of Eli, you find out Eli is old and tired and burned out and Eli has two children. Hophni, Phinehas and the Bible says of his sons, They’re scoundrels. The people come and offer a sacrifice to the Lord and Hophni and Phinehas will walk up, look at the sacrifice and say, By the way, before that gets too crisp, I want to cut the rib eye out of that and take it home to eat. They are scoundrels. They have no regard for the Lord. They have no respect for the Lord. And Eli is pretty much letting them do what they want to do. And God says, no more for Eli. I’m going in another direction. I’m calling the young boy Samuel, the young boy who doesn’t know the Lord, who doesn’t know the word of the Lord.
But we have hints about Samuel’s greatness. It starts when Samuel’s mother, Hannah, is in the temple and she’s praying. And we find out how bad of a pastor Eli is because, Hannah is praying before the Lord. And Eli observed her mouth. Hannah was praying silently. Only her lips move. But her voice was not heard. Therefore, Eli thought she was drunk. So, Eli said to her, how long will you make a drunken spectacle or spectacle of yourself? Put away your wine. But Hannah. Hannah answered, no, my Lord, I am a woman, deeply troubled. I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink. I’ve been pouring out my soul before. The Lord do not regard your servant as a worthless woman for I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation at this time. What was she praying for? She was praying for her son. She was praying for a son and dedicating that son to the Lord. And that son that Hannah prayed for is Eli and the Bible hints that son is Samuel, and the Bible hints about Samuel. It says, Now, the boy, Samuel, continued to grow in both stature and favor with the Lord and with his people. Have you heard those very words used to describe somebody else? His name would be Jesus. Luke uses them. Samuel’s life as a result of his mamas praying for him. My life and ministry are the result of my grandmother praying for me and Sunday school teachers praying for me and deacons going, Lord, it’s the de Graffenried Kids, help us praying for me.
So, Eli, Eli tells Samuel it’s God. And then God tells Samuel, I’m going to give you a vision that will make the ears of Israel tickle and tingle. That’s the vision. Paul says that, look, you get to the end of time and people get itching ears. They want somebody to come scratch their ears, tell them what they want to hear. And God says, my vision will make your ears tingle. So, there’s one thing I want to say about Eli, and there’s one thing I want to say about us old guys who are old preachers. Did you know we have a superpower? I’ve got a superpower. We’ve been around so long, and we’ve heard so much and we’ve seen so much that we know when it’s real. We know when you’re called, and we may know you’re called before you know you’re called. So, if the old curmudgeon, me or any other old curmudgeon here at Trinity walks up to you and says, I believe you’ve got a calling from God, my suggestion to you is that you listen. This morning after the 9:00 service had one of our young people walk up to me after the service. He said, I think I want to preach. And here are some of the things I want to say in my sermon. Do you think I’ve got it? Eli knew what was going on with Samuel. Took him a while, but he eventually figured it out. As old curmudgeons know, when you are called by God, trust us. Which leads me to the bigger question Has God called you has got called you?
Aw man, I can’t believe he’s talking about that. How does he know? Because I know in a roomful of people like this, God is laying a call on somebody, whether it’s to pray, whether it’s to visit someone, whether it’s to follow God in full time Christian service, whether it’s to preach it at one of our little churches, whether it’s to serve food. God is in the calling business. But because we hear it 800 words a minute and very often God does not speak that fast. We get distracted. We’ll let our minds go. Other places we pick up our excuses. I don’t have the education or Lord, you don’t know where I came from or you don’t know the hurt or the brokenness or the shattered nature of my life, or you just don’t know what kind of sinner I am. God can’t call me. Yes, he can. And he does.
Will Willimon who was for many years the chaplain at Duke, he was chaplain to the Divinity School and the university. He became the bishop of North Alabama. Will Willimon was talking to Carlyle. Marnie Carlyle. Marnie is Baptist, was a Baptist minister and author. Carl Armani pastored First Baptist in Austin, Texas, and then Meyers Park in Charlotte. And Will Willimon talked about it. He told Carl Armani. He said that I think I want to get one of these Rockefeller grants allows me to do a year seminary to explore this, but it seems kind of crazy. Karl Armani said to him, why does it seem crazy? And Will Willimon explained that he had grown up without a father, and as a result of his college psychology classes, he figured out his interested interest in religion was a way of compensating for not having a father.
And Armani said that he was probably right, son. Karl Armani said God will use any handle he can get. God will take advantage of any messed-up background, Crooked Daddy, manipulative mama. Read the Scripture, for God’s sake. I swear, and I’m quoting Karl Armani now. I swear I’ve never known a preacher worth a damn that didn’t have a bad mama daddy problem. So, God can work with either and be glad you only have one loss in your life for God to take advantage of. Karl Armani continued. Yep. I’m pretty sure God’s got your name. It’s not the first time I’ve heard this story. You’re nobody’s special, but God has got his fingerprints all over you. That’s the dangerous God we serve. The one who calls us not because of ourselves, but despite ourselves.
Would you stand and pray with me? We thank your God for the call that you’ve placed on our lives in Christ. Jesus, whatever that is. We pray that we would listen carefully and quietly so that when that sheer silence hits us, we’ll know it’s you and will obey our men.