Sermon Commentary for Sunday, June 2, 2024

1 Samuel 3:1-10, (11-20) Commentary


It is a strange trick of the lectionary that we are back to 1 Samuel 3 for the season of Pentecost even though we just engaged it during the season of Epiphany — there are several archived sermon commentaries you can access for the text.  For the purpose of this week, though, I want to set the text in conversation with the other three lectionary texts in hopes that resonances might spark connections to deepen your preaching on this (or one of the other three) texts. Rather than providing an illustration for this text, let’s wonder together how this text might illustrate the other three.

Comments, Observations and Questions:

In Conversation with Psalm 139

This Psalm takes us to the back-story of this morning’s Old Testament reading, to the story of Samuel, as told in the first two chapters of I Samuel.  The story of a woman desperate to be a mother, praying so fervently that she was mistaken for a drunk.  Although Eli misinterprets her character and intentions, she is bold to state her case because she has confidence in the God who knows her when she is sitting and standing, when she is walking and when she is lying down.  Her prayer is bold because she is praying to the God who has searched her and who knows her. God is “acquainted with all my ways.”

Then she receives the miracle she prayed for.  With each wave of morning sickness, at that first flutter of life, I wonder if she touched her belly and hummed the familiar words of the psalm, “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.”

Then, Hannah does what might seem unthinkable.  She returns God’s gift to God’s service, dedicating him to service in God’s Temple.  And I wonder whether — when her arms ached with emptiness at bedtime, when she missed his presence from the family table, on birthdays they did not spend together, I wonder if she returned to this psalm — bleeding past the edges of this pericope — not only for herself but as a prayer for her child. “You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.”

Note: Stan Mast’s commentary on Psalm 139 works with this conversation:

In Conversation with II Corinthians 4

If you intend to preach the epistle text the week, you might find that the character of Eli presents a marvelous example of the letter’s exhortation. Here he is at the end of his life.  He is discouraged and disappointed by the lives his sons are leading.  He has reason to blame himself and he does.  He is aging in unpleasant ways, as the text tells us that his “eyes were becoming so weak that he could barely see.” Now, Samuel must tell him what God has spoken. “I will carry out against Eli everything I spoke against his family—from beginning to end. For I told him that I would judge his family forever because of the sin he knew about; his sons blasphemed God, and he failed to restrain them. Therefore I swore to the house of Eli, ‘The guilt of Eli’s house will never be atoned for by sacrifice or offering.’” How can it be that Eli could respond with equanimity and submission to this utterance, as he replies, “He is the Lord; let him do what is good in his eyes.”

Of course it would be a terrible anachronism to place the words of Paul’s letter to Corinth all the way back in the history of Israel.  But I still can’t help wishing that Eli would have had access to these words of comfort. I can imagine them being spoken between that terrible prophecy and Eli’s submission to God’s will. “But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies.”

And yet, the same God who brings hope to us in Jesus Christ was the God who inspired and empowered Eli’s trust, even in his last difficult days.

In Conversation with Mark 2-3

In the story of Samuel’s calling, the young boy had been conditioned to answer Eli’s call in the night.  Observe how, even after this interaction with God, he returns to Eli with eager obedience, “Here I am!” By every indication in the text, the two — Samuel and Eli — loved each other deeply. Samuel, especially, was trained and raised up under Eli’s guidance. Eli proved to be a reliable guide, pointing Samuel beyond himself and teaching him to identify the voice of God, responding rightly to the point of choosing loyalty to the message he had received, even if it contained a devastating message for him.

In this week’s Lectionary Gospel text, Jesus encounters the Israelite’s obedience to Sabbath law. Having been raised up and trained under the law, they were eager to obey.  And the law faithfully intends to guide them toward relationship with God and awareness of God’s voice.  In this week’s Lectionary Gospel text, Jesus functions a bit like Eli, calling his disciples and all those questioning him, not just to obey the text but to learn, by way of the text, to recognize the voice of God, choosing loyalty to such things as healing, life and reconciled community, even at the expense of the exact dictates of the law itself.


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