Psalm 139 and "Speak, Lord, Your Servant Listens"

Text: 1 Samuel 3:1-10
Date: Epiphany II + 1/15/12

God called Abram out of his unbelief and idolatry to be­come the father of faith for the whole world. The Bible simply says, “the Lord said to Abram.” How the Lord spoke to Abram is not said. Interestingly, Luther wrote, “did he hear this voice from God Himself? I am convinced that he was not called directly by God without the ministry, as it is related below (Gen. 18:2) that God visited him, conversed with him, and was even the guest of Abraham; but I believe that this command was brought to him either by the patriarch Shem personally or by some others who had been sent by Shem.”8[1]

In addition, we’re all familiar with the miracle of how God called Moses directly “in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush” (Ex 3:2). Through the Word God called Joshua. After the time of the judges God called young Samuel, of which we heard and is our text for today. And who can for­get the spectacular call of Isaiah in the holy temple shaken to its foundations and filled with smoke and the song of angels? Today’s Gospel is about Jesus’ call of men named Philip and Nathanael. Many of the Old Testament prophets were called directly, immediately by God, some of them mediately as Luther said of Abraham. So also the apostles of the New Testament were called directly, personally by Jesus including Saul who became Paul called directly by the risen and ascended Lord Himself. Today we have no word, no promise that God calls or speaks to anyone directly or immediately. We do have the Word and promise that God calls and speaks to people through the Word, the prophetic and apostolic Word of the Bible and through its reading, study and preaching, and “doing” through the sacraments.

All people are called by God to His gift of salvation and life. That saving call comes “mediately,” through the witness and ministry of the Church concerning the holy sacrifice of Jesus’ body and blood for the forgiveness of the sins of the world. That witness bears God’s own stamp and validity in the sacrament of Holy Baptism by which we are joined to Christ’s death and resurrection. Unfortunately, in those churches that do not believe and do not use Baptism as it has been commanded and promised, they are left with hav­ing to just take someone’s word for it that God has spoken with no reliable evidence or confirmation of it.

In addition the Church uses the word “call” to refer to the recruitment of men into the public ministry of the Church. But that call also comes “mediately,” in the Church’s usual order. Beyond that, each Christian is encouraged to discover the particular gifts, talents, abilities and interests with which the Lord has equipped you and to consider whatever your station in life and your occupation as your “vocation” in which you serve God and others in this world.

In many ways each of us can relate to some aspects of Samuel’s call.

Our author says that the young man Samuel, God’s mira­culous gift to Elkanah and his mother Hannah, was engaged as a Levite in “ministering to the Lord under Eli.” Whatever else is meant by the comment “the word of the Lord was rare in those days,” and “there was no frequent vision,” we might ask if this doesn’t apply today, implying either the increasing confusion of Law and Gospel among preachers and/or ears grown dull among hear­ers as Jesus quoted from the prophet Isaiah’s call, “For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear” (Mt 13:15).

We’re told that, during the night, the Lord called to Samuel three times, speaking his name. Three times Samuel assumed it was Eli calling him from the other room. Only when “Eli perceived that the LORD was calling the young man,” he instructed Samuel how to answer the Lord in the words, “Speak, Lord, for your servant hears.”

Like Samuel, we can say, we have been called by God speaking our name at our baptism, yet we need to be instructed both how to recognize God’s voice and how to respond to it. That instruction happens as we hear God’s Word in the scriptures, as we learn the doctrine and nature of God’s grace in Law and Gospel. We hear God’s voice and learn how to respond to it in catechesis, praying the psalms and the liturgy of the prayer offices and divine service of the Church.

The most interesting detail of the call of Samuel is in the last time God calls to him. Each of the other times we’re simply told that “the Lord called.” Samuel didn’t see anyone which is why he, logically, assumed it was Eli calling. But this last time our text says, “And the Lord came and stood, calling as at other times.” Whether Samuel actually saw someone (as did Abram of old, Gen. 18) is not said. But we are to know by these words that this revelation of God was an objectively real affair to Samuel and not just a vision or dream.

The ultimate objectively real coming of God was when He came into the world in the flesh of the Son of Mary, Jesus the Christ. That “him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote” (John 1:45) would appear as an other­wise normal human being was maybe a little too real for a man named Nathanael who asked, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” and “How do you know me?” It was at the revelation of Jesus’ divine omniscience (“Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you”) that faith sparked and Nathanael confessed, “you are the Son of God!”

It is the faith created by the Holy Spirit “when and where He wills in those who hear the Gospel” that draws you to hear, understand and perceive the reality of God’s call and care to and for you. It is a wonderful thing to be convinced by faith in God’s Word of the truth that is in Christ Jesus, and that this truth and faith has been handed down to us through our “fathers of faith” in the Church who have gone before us. It has come to us through the faithful vocation of mother and father who brought us to Holy Baptism in the fellowship of Christ’s holy Church. We have learned to know and recog­nize God’s voice through catechesis at the feet of faithful pastors and also to be warned to recognize those other voices not of God.

Today God’s mercy calls us and we have been taught and learned to answer,

Speak, O Lord, Your servant listens,
Let Your Word to me come near;
Newborn life and spirit give me,
Let each promise still my fear.
Death’s dread pow’r, its inward strife,
Wars against Your Word of life;
Fill me, Lord, with love’s strong fervor
That I cling to You forever! (LSB 589:1)

8                    See p. 231, note 23.

[1]             Luther, Martin: Pelikan, Jaroslav Jan (Hrsg.) ; Oswald, Hilton C. (Hrsg.) ; Lehmann, Helmut T. (Hrsg.): Luther’s Works, Vol. 2 : Lectures on Genesis: Chapters 6-14. Saint Louis : Concordia Publishing House, 1999, c1960 (Luther’s Works 2), S. 2:249