The Call of Samuel
‘…Then the Lord called, “Samuel, Samuel” and he said, “Here I am”…’ (1 Samuel, 3, 4)
‘…Rekindle the gift of God that is within you…’ (2 Timothy 1, 6b)
Samuel appears to have been one of the most significant individuals within the history of the Israelites. He it was who bore the responsibility for bringing together what was hitherto a somewhat lose association of Tribes - what scholars refer to as an amphictiony - into a people with a shared national identity. He was the last of the Judges; he was the first of the Prophets; he was the instigator (against his better judgement) of the Israelite monarchy, installing first Saul, whom he later denounced, and then singling out David as the one who should succeed Saul as King, the one under whose ‘Sacral’ Kingship Israel became one nation, to be ruled by its King from His chosen capital city - Jerusalem. He was a man of humble beginnings who rose through the ranks to become the most influential person of his generation. His call to serve came whilst he was already serving. He was active in the shrine at Shiloh working alongside the Priest Eli. As a young man God entrusted him with a message for Eli: the apprentice was to pass judgement on the master; the emerging generation was to deliver God’s verdict upon the older generation. And it wasn’t pretty. Eli’s sons had debauched themselves at the expense of God’s generosity, perverting the very reason for which the shrine at Shiloh had been established. Eli’s failure to condemn his sons’ behaviour rendered him complicit in their crime against God. Accordingly God was to bring to an abrupt end the service rendered by Eli and his family. It would be Samuel who would follow in his stead. It is never easy for any of us to be ‘taken to task’ by those of the younger generation.
If we are honest, our usual response is to fall back on the presumed experience that having lived longer necessarily provides us with; invariably the experience of age if often presumed to trump the energy of youth. And yet, every now and again, sooner or later, it does become necessary for those of us who are older to be prepared to hear from those who are younger; indeed it does us good, as the older generation, to be prepared to invite those younger than ourselves to pass judgement upon us, upon what we have assumed to be our greatest achievements, upon what we have failed to recognise as our biggest mistakes. In the Church we have to be prepared to recognise the possibility, even the inevitability that there comes a time when God will speak through those younger than us what God wishes those of us who are older to hear. The hauntingly beautiful words found in the prophecy of Isaiah should resonate with all of us, ‘And a little child shall lead them’. We need to be prepared to acknowledge that for many younger than us a truce has been called in respect of the battles of yesteryear which we of the older generations till believe are worth fighting over. Samuel was destined to effect great change within the life of the Israelites; but before ever that change might be brought about he had to deal with the legacy of the past, and do so in such a way that what was being contemplated for the future would be able to be brought about unencumbered by what had gone before - not that everything of the past is to be regarded as of little or no value; it is not that every emerging generation has to tear up its history, airbrushing it out of its conscience, not every year can be ‘zero hour’, but it is necessary that every emerging generation be given the space to be itself in the light of how it chooses to interpret its past, and we in the Church have to give God the opportunity to be heard through the voices of each emerging generation…Which brings us to Timothy.
He was chosen by Paul to take up the responsibility of ensuring that the Christian Church established itself sufficiently to be able to move forward into the second century regardless of the increasing opposition from within the Roman Empire. He had been converted as a young man but now, as Paul contemplated the end of his own life it was time for Timothy to emerge from under the shadow of his mentor in order to take forward the work that, under God, He had been chosen to do. All of us, individually, and as a congregation together need to acknowledge that we reach such moments in our lives; moments that demand of us that we step back that others step forward; but more than that it demands of us as individuals and as a congregation together that we recognise the need to encourage those who would otherwise be content to stay in the shadows that the time is now right for them to step forward and take the responsibility that was always going to be theirs to take. When God calls, it isn’t always that the response has to be made immediately, but if God calls, and we know that God is calling then we can be sure that there will come a time when we will be required to respond to that call. It may be that we are being called by God early in life that we might at that time respond in the way that only someone who is young can respond, regardless as to how those who are older and supposedly more wise react. The forward thinking that is characteristic of a young man is as vital component of the mission of the church as is the contribution that past experience might bring.