A sermon based on Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18 and 1 Samuel 3:1-4:1 preached on November 9th, 2014
It’s time for new glasses. Every 3 or 4 years—probably less often than I should, really—I make my way to the optometrist and I get fitted for a new pair of glasses.
For a reason I can’t quite explain, making the decision about which frames to get is super important to me. I’m the one who walks into LensCrafters and asks to look at their catalogs. I’m the customer who is never happy with the frames they have in stock—I always want something in a different color or shape.
I can’t apologize for my pickiness when it comes to choosing a new pair of frames. I’ll have to wear them every day for the next couple years, so they have to be exactly right. So, over the next couple years, the people who work at LensCrafters at the mall will learn to despise me. And I can live with that.
So after picking out a pair of frames on Monday morning and having them ordered in a different color, I declared to Jessica, the woman who helped me, that there was no need for me to get my vision checked. I did my own eye test already—the one where you go like this—close one eye and then another over and over again. And the results of my own vision test were fine. I passed with flying colors, while sitting on my couch watching TV one evening. I figured as long as I can read the scores and stats of last Sunday’s football games as they scrolled along the bottom of my TV screen during Sports Center, then my vision is perfect. But Jessica didn’t seem to be as convinced with my at-home test results as I was. She told me that since it’s been more than 3 years since I’ve had my eyes checked out by an optometrist, she wouldn’t be able to sell me a new pair of glasses before I got them checked out again. Legal reasons, she said.
No new lenses without a new prescription. So tomorrow I go to Charleston for my eye exam.
Whether we think it’s necessary or not, it is good to have our vision checked regularly.
Eli had weak eyes. He was a priest, Israel’s foremost priest in the time of the judges. This was a time in Israel’s history before Kings. Judges were men and women who were appointed by God to govern inside individual communities—they oversaw the people, offered wisdom, and like judges today, they often settled disputes between disagreeing parties, but more often they were regarded as wise tribal leaders who delivered or rescued people from distress.
The problem with having judges presiding over Israel was that nothing was consistent between any of them, so Israel was quickly becoming anarchic—this was a time in Israel’s history where, in the words of scripture, the people did what seemed right in their own eyes. The vision was weak. The time was dark. And God wasn’t speaking. The people needed new eyes to see by.
Eli was old and had weak eyes. Eli may have benefitted from Jessica’s help at LensCrafters, but I don’t think that’s what this story is really trying to say.
Eli’s eyesight may have been dim, as the text says, but so was his vision. The Lord’s Word was rare and visions weren’t widely known. That’s how our passage starts out. The people’s sight had grown dim. And as their head priest, the responsibility for that failure rested squarely upon Eli.
All of Israel was having a hard time seeing. There was an entire nation with weak eyes—in need of someone to come along to check their vision.
Samuel was somewhere around 12 years old when the Lord called his name. I remember nights as a child—a little younger than that, I suppose, when I couldn’t sleep. I would stir in bed for what seemed like hours, convinced I’d see the sun come up at any moment—even though my clock said 10:00pm. I convinced myself I was the only one in the world who was awake at that hour. Even my parent’s had turned in for the night.
I also remember nights when I had bad dreams and called out for mom or dad. Like any good parent, they would pretend to listen to me as I recounted my visions at who-knows-what o’clock in the morning. They were always kind about that even though it chewed up their entire night’s sleep. Eli too was kind to the boy, Samuel.
“I’m here, you called me.” Samuel interrupts Eli with these words 3 times that night.
Each time, Eli says no, “I didn’t call you, Samuel.”
Eli’s vision was dim, so it was Samuel who made his way to the old priest. Samuel had a lamp. God’s lamp. A light to see by. It was a dim, vague light—but it was enough for him to make it up the dark hallways toward his Master Eli’s bedroom. The flame of God’s Lamp wasn’t extinguished and any flame that hasn’t yet been extinguished can be rekindled into something brighter, something to see farther with. Something for the people to use to brighten up those dim times—when God’s Word wasn’t widely known. Samuel was the holder of that tiny flickering light. God’s light.
It took 3 tries for God to get Samuel’s attention, and it was Eli who helped Samuel see that it was God who was calling. When God called Samuel that third time, Samuel used the exact words Eli gave him,
Speak, Lord. Your servant is listening.
With Eli’s wisdom and guidance, Samuel was able to hear God speaking to him. We need one another to help each other notice the call of God upon our lives. And we need encouragement and guidance, just as Samuel did from Eli, to help us make sense of God’s Word when it comes to us. That’s why we gather in community. We are here to help each other see—to stay focused on God’s call upon us. And without others around us to help us perceive God’s voice—to tell us God is speaking, we’d most likely miss it.
Samuel grew up to be one of Israel’s greatest seers. He became a man who people flocked to, to understand their visions and their dreams. The mentee became the mentor. The vision-castee became the vision-caster. And with Samuel as their priest, all of Israel woke up.
There’s this irresistible image in verse 11. The Lord says to Samuel that night,
I am about to do something in Israel that will make the ears of all those who hear it tingle!
Who wouldn’t want ears that tingle with a new Word from God?!
That image makes me think of that distinct feeling we all get when our arms or feet fall asleep. Our nervous system sends that tingling feeling to our sleeping parts, and whenever it happens we cannot ignore it. We shake it out, shake it off—whatever we have to do to get that part of ourselves back into working order again—to make it come alive once more. That’s what the presence of God does. God makes us come alive—over and over again. God gives us ears that tingle with new things to hear—eyes that blink awake after long slumbers through dark nights.
God shakes us awake and revives us from our sleep. Gives us a new Word—a new light to see by. God gives Samuel new eyes. Through Samuel’s eyes, all of Israel will be able to see again. And God will give us new eyes if we ask for them.
God is the Lens Crafter—the creator of new dreams. The Ultimate Vision-Caster. The One who has sent us Jesus, His son.
Look at v.21 for a second:
The Lord continued to appear at Shiloh because the Lord revealed himself to Samuel at Shiloh through the Lord’s own Word.
I don’t think God’s Word was never rare. It was just that the people didn’t have the eyes to see it. Now with Samuel as their priest, the people will see again.
Now God’s Word comes to us in Jesus Christ—the Living Word. Jesus is the image of God in 20/20. The brightest light ever given to God’s people. Always among us, in front of us. With Jesus, the perfect projection of God, who now lives among us and in us, God’s Word will never fade into darkness again. Now that God’s Word has come to us in the person of Jesus Christ, an entire people who were once blind can now see.
So, how’s your vision?
It’s a good question to ask yourselves, since you’re turning 100 next week.
How are your eyes? Are they focused on God? Can you feel your ears—are they tingling?
Can we pray that God will craft better lenses for us? So we can see more sharply, more crisply, what is ahead for us as God’s people? Can we focus our vision upon Jesus, the very perfect image of God? And can we ask God that He would continue calling out to us—by our names, just like He did for Samuel that night—so that we may hear a new Word from Him?
May we pray:
Awaken our senses, O God! Refresh our vision! Speak to each and every one of us! Continue appearing to Your people!
All praises to the One who made it all and finds it beautiful!