Sermon for Ember Friday – Br. David Allen

1 Sam. 3:1-10 / Mt. 9:35-38

On Ember Friday, we are asked to pray for the choice of fit persons for the ministry.  We can find this theme reflected in the readings for today.

The reading from 1st Samuel is about a significant incident early in the life of the boy Samuel. He had been given by his parents to service in the temple of the Lord in Shiloh in thanksgiving for his birth. I think it is a story familiar to many of us.  I heard it first from my grandmother when I was a small boy.

We are told in the early parts of this first Book of Samuel that spiritual life in Israel at that time was in a very poor condition.  The two sons of Eli, the priest at Shiloh, were described as scoundrels.  “They had no regard for the Lord or for the duties of priests to the people.” (1 Sam. 2:12-13a)  Eli himself was very old, and at the time of today’s reading had become blind.  Naturally he was very grateful that Samuel had been dedicated to the service of the temple.

At the time of our reading Samuel must have been at least 6 or 7 years old.  His mother had borne three sons and two daughters after Samuel’s birth.  He was old enough to help the old priest to take care of the temple in many ways.  However, we are told that he “did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.” (v. 7)

Samuel slept in the temple itself, where the Ark of God was kept. A lamp was kept burning in that place from evening until dawn.  It seems likely that even though he was still a small boy, Samuel acted as a guard for the Ark. Probably he was also the one who lighted the lamp that was there in the evening, and saw that it was extinguished at the proper time at dawn.

As you heard in the reading, young Samuel heard a voice calling his name three times.  Each time he ran into Eli’s bedroom thinking that Eli had called him, and was sent back to his place in the temple to go back to sleep.  By the third time Eli realized that it must have been the Lord calling to Samuel.  Eli therefore instructed the boy to answer the voice by saying, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” (v. 9) The Lord did call to Samuel again, and he answered as Eli had instructed him, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”  There our reading ends.  If you don’t already know what the Lord had to say to Samuel you will have to look it up in your own Bibles.

The point is that Eli had perceived that God was calling Samuel to greater service at a time soon to come.  Eli passed the responsibility of responding to God on to Samuel.  It was at this point that the word of the Lord was revealed to Samuel, and he came to know the Lord.

I don’t know of anyone in my lifetime who has actually heard the voice of the Lord in a way that can be measured physically.  But I know that the Lord does speak to us inwardly in our prayer and in our meditation.  Instead of audible words, God speaks to us by insights and intuitions, and through other people.  It is by the growing certainty of these insights and intuitions that we are led to find the vocation and ministry to which any of us are called.

God does not need our prayers in order to call others to ministry, ordained or lay, but I believe that God wants our prayers so that we may be aware of the needs of the Church and the world, and be aware of the role of every one of us to help guide, nurture, and encourage those whom we know who are responding to God’s call.  Also I believe that God wants our prayer as a way of connecting us with the actions of God and participating in those to which we are called.  Prayer is also a means by which God can enlighten us.

For these same reasons, in our Gospel reading Jesus exhorted his disciples to pray to the Lord to send out laborers into the harvest.  Now we are asked to pray that suitable persons may be called to the ministry of the Church, and be sent out into the harvest of souls, and for the extension of God’s kingdom.

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  1. Ruth West on February 17, 2013 at 22:43

    Br. David, thank you for this good message.How often I have prayed and
    while in the prayer time have had a strong leading to do something I had not previously thought about. I think that during prayers a door is opened for the Holy Spirit to speak to our minds and hearts. Perhaps it is to hear
    or recite a particular hymn, to send a message to someone, or to turn
    our thoughts to special meditations. May our channels of listening stay open. REW

  2. DLa Rue on February 17, 2013 at 12:03

    Reading about beginnings like this make me also think of endings…

    The hardest part of a life of ministry may well be 2/3 in, when preparing for its termination is supposed to start (per some educational theories I’ve heard, anyway). Decisions about what can be completed and what will have to go by the wayside must be made. Unlike the exhortation to “take care with the beginning of a friendship, for the end will take care of itself,” one’s vocational life does not “take care of itself,” but wants a lot of attention.

    It’s a different kind of attention from that given at the beginning, and I, for one, find myself looking back at that beginning for clues as to the priorities and focus the third act (or, “troisieme age”) might have, and to the input from praying friends and colleagues who may see better what there is of value to be continued, and what not.

    So prayers and directional ideas for maturing vocations, and those already en route, as well as for those just beginning, are of use, too.

  3. DLa Rue on October 12, 2012 at 07:39

    The channels of listening can become sclerosed, silted in, with other cares and thoughts. Thanks for this reminder to dredge them out – and pray. John Coburn’s little book on “Prayer and Personal Religion,” for the Layman’s Theological Library in the 1950s, started with (or soon came to repeat often) the phrase, “Prayer is Listening.” I found it in high school and started reading it the summer of my senior year. It has influenced my life ever since. I think a re-read may be in order… :–}

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