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Samuel and the Sons of Eli

00:00 / 15:15

14 Jan 2024

2nd Sunday after Trinity

1 Samuel 3:1-20

Samuel and the Sons of Eli

Epiphany 2, 2024

1 Samuel 3:1-20

A Well-Known Story

-       Story of boy Samuel, called by God in temple, very well-known, yet wider context give us a deeper understanding.

Context of Religious Decline

-       Story of 1 Samuel about two priesthoods, one represented by Eli and his sons Hophni and Phineas, and one represented by Samuel, which would bring about the kingship of David.

-       The word of the LORD was rare in those days; there was no frequent vision… (1 Samuel 3:1)

-       This at the time of Eli. Eli not a wicked man but father to two wicked sons, rebuked by the Lord, “because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them” (1 Samuel 3:13).

-       Eli was old and soon to be replaced by these two, who treated the sacrificial offerings given to God with contempt and lay with women who were serving in religious ceremonies. We are told of them that they were “worthless men” and that ‘They did not know the LORD’ (1 Samuel 2:12).

-       The priesthood was falling into disrepute. The priests had no regard for the honour of the Lord.

-       If the Lord had not intervened, a bleak future remained for his people due to the failure of the priestly class.

Yet…‘The lamp of God had not yet gone out’ (1 Samuel 3:3)

-       Yet, the Lord intended to bless his people through a renewed priesthood, stemming from the faithfulness of Hannah and Elkanah, mediated through their son, Samuel.

-       Samuel’s calling illustrated in our story: to stand in the presence of God and to hear his voice, to communicate it faithfully, even when message unwelcome.

-       Word of the Lord was rare, no frequent vision, priesthood falling into disrepute, yet, ‘The lamp of God had not yet gone out in the temple of the Lord, (1 Samuel 3:3)

Relevance for us today…

-       What is the relevance for us?

-       The lamp of God is dim and flickering but has not gone out. Context of pervasive secularism and increasing antipathy/hostility towards Christianity. And yet, faith in Jesus Christ persists and will do so.

-       The question is: Who will we be in this story?

-       Some home truths: Church of England statistics for mission for 2022 just released. Do not make good reading. Decline from about 1.2 million Sunday attendance in early 90s to just under a million at turn of Millennium, to 680,000 in 2019. In 2022, to 549,000. A decline of about 130,000 worshippers in last four years. With another four more periods of similar decline, the CofE will be dead and gone.

-       This is not happening everywhere. Many evangelical churches and traditional catholic churches are holding steady and increasing in number. I am happy to say that we have seen God’s blessings at HTW in the last six months and I am confident that we will continue to do so.

-       But we have to observe the wider context and ask why this is happening? And, more importantly, what is God saying to us through this decline? We cannot possibly interpret this as a blessing from God but must realise that people are turning away from the Church because we, like the priestly line of Eli, Hophni and Phineas, are failing to communicate God’s purposes to the world, and are, in many ways, falling short of the most basic standards of faith and practice.

-       We learn from this story that God will not bless a priesthood and a church that despises his law and has no regard for his glory. He will not allow the worship of his name to die out but will replace those who take the names of priest and church with faithful ministers and a faithful people.

How can we be faithful?

-       How can we be faithful? In a sense, the answer is easy. Eli got it right in the end: “…if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, LORD, for your servant hears.’” (1 Sam. 3:9).

-       Are we willing to listen to God’s voice? To discern what he has to say and to speak it, even when it is hard? Samuel as a child had to prophesy against the wickedness of the priesthood, again Eli’s own sons. What message might we be given? And are we willing to tell the truth even if it is uncomfortable, even if we will suffer loss for it?

-       This is not an easy task. There are enemies from without and from within. The world will mock us to scorn and treat us like fools. Those within the Church who are more interested in position, status, and the love of the world will oppose us as they seek to court its favour.

-       But, ultimately, there is only one thing necessary. There is only one thing that can protect us from disaster, and that is the favour of God.

-       In the previous chapter to our reading, the LORD spoke to Eli through a man of God, saying, “‘I promised that your house and the house of your father should go in and out before me forever,’ but now the LORD declares: ‘Far be it from me, for those who honour me I will honour, and those who despise me shall be lightly esteemed.’” (1 Samuel 2:30).

-       Regardless of how it might look in earthly terms, the LORD will honour those who honour him. Those who despise him will be put to shame, maybe not immediately but eventually and inevitably. Friends, decide now to honour him with your whole hearts, come what may. For the lamp of God is growing dim in these days, and the hour approaches when we must all make a choice.


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