Today the youth led our worship service at Vestavia Hills Baptist Church. I mean the WHOLE service! Our youth often participate in worship events at our church, reading Scripture, bringing special music, and ushering, but today they were in charge of everything. Even the sermon! Milligan Burroughs, a Vestavia Hills High School senior, delivered the message with all the poise and composure of a more practiced preacher. And a worthwhile sermon it was, pertinent and profound.
Milligan preached on the well-known text in 1 Samuel chapter 3 where young Samuel, asleep in the temple, hears God calling him in the night, but thinks it is the prophet, Eli. Three times Samuel leaves his bed and goes to Eli's room in response to the voice he hears. After the third time, Eli realizes it is God calling so he tells Samuel to return to his bed and when he hears the voice to respond by saying, "Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening."
I have heard quite a few sermons based on this text over the years, but never with the emphasis Milligan brought. She asked us to imitate Eli! Every previous message I've heard using this Scripture, has urged the congregation to imitate Samuel: Listen for God to speak to you and when he does, answer that you are attentive and receptive to his words. And Milligan didn't neglect that aspect of the text, but additionally, she urged us to take on the mentoring role for other believers--not just our young people, but even for our peers. As she pointed out, Samuel might not have recognized God's call to him had Eli not pointed him in the right direction.
What makes this affirmation of Eli's role unusual is that Eli had become displeasing to God in the way he administered the temple. He had allowed his sons to assist when the people brought animals for sacrifice, and they would demand of the one offering the sacrifice to give the choicest part of the meat to them rather than allowing it to be burned for God. They refused Eli's attempt to restrain them and engaged in other sinful activities as well. When God spoke to Samuel in the night, God told Samuel He was about to bring judgment on Eli and his sons because of their wickedness. Consequently, Eli comes out of the story without praise or commendation.
Milligan's unique approach to the text, however, recognized that Eli also had a positive role: He pointed Samuel to God and encouraged him to listen and heed God's instruction. In that way, even though Eli's time of service was coming to an end, God still used him to affirm God's calling of Samuel. Milligan applied that lesson to her own journey and expressed appreciation for her family, friends, and church family who are encouraging her as she seeks to discern and heed God's call in her life. And then, she urged us to follow Eli's example in our relationships with each other as well as with our youth.
A simple message, yet profound. I came away not only resolved to look around for people whom I might help listen to God, but also reminded that God sees us as more than the worst things we have done. Even though Eli had displeased God, God had not forgotten the years of Eli's faithful service. God allowed Eli to be His instrument in helping Samuel grow into the new role and responsibility God had for him. I hope I remember this lesson when I may be too quick to surmise that someone can't be of use to God because I see them doing things displeasing to Him.
Thank you, Milligan, for a thoughtful and stimulating engagement with God's Word this morning. And let me take this opportunity to affirm the gifts I see in you and encourage you to keep on listening as God calls your name.