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The Second Sunday after Epiphany

[1 Samuel 3:1-20] …And the Lord came and stood, calling as at other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant hears.” 11 Then the Lord said to Samuel, “Behold, I am about to do a thing in Israel at which the two ears of everyone who hears it will tingle. 12 On that day I will fulfill against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end.13 And I declare to him that I am about to punish his house forever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them.14 Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli's house shall not be atoned for by sacrifice or offering forever.”


Too Lightly Corrected

Who is this young man, Samuel? When did he live? Where and how did he serve? Samuel, a young boy in today’s reading, grew from here on out to be a great judge and prophet of God’s Old Testament people, Israel. When was this?

The time is a little less than eleven hundred years before Christ, around 1080 B.C. This is about four hundred years after Moses led the people of Israel out of Egypt. They then entered the land promised to them, the land of Canaan. By God’s command, they drove out many of the nations who were there before them.

After the people of Israel had settled in the land, they were ruled, not by kings, but by judges, deliverers, whom God raised up every so often to deliver them from their enemies. So, this is after the people had settled into the promised land – Moses and Joshua are long gone – but figures like King David and Solomon are not yet around, not quite yet.

The time period of Samuel’s life and service to God is at the tail end of the period of judges, as they transition into being ruled by kings. Samuel himself rules as a judge, yet as a prophet he also anoints the first kings of Israel, Saul and then David.

But right now, Samuel is a young boy. He is serving in the tent of meeting, the tabernacle, that served as Israel’s temple in a city called Shiloh, years before the center of their religious life eventually moved to Jerusalem and the Temple built later there by King Solomon.

Samuel lives in the tabernacle and serves the Lord from childhood onward because he was dedicated to the Lord by a vow that his mother, Hannah, made. Hannah was barren. She had no child, though her husband’s other wife did. Hannah was distressed. She prayed in the tabernacle for a chid and vowed to the Lord that, if He gave her a son, she would dedicate that son to Him.

The priest Eli tells Hannah that God has heard her prayer. And God had. God granted Hannah a son. Hannah, after weaning the child, hands her son, Samuel, over to the Lord to serve God for life. Year after year, Hannah visited Samuel at the tabernacle where he grew and served. Each year she made a new linen robe for him. There Samuel stayed, being raised in priestly service.

Samuel was raised in priestly service, but was not like the priests. The leading priests at the time were Eli and his sons, who are referred to as worthless men. Eli’s sons, priests in the tabernacle, lived in sexual immorality even as they served the Lord. They also stole portions of the sacrifices for themselves, and took for themselves the best portions which were meant to be offered alone to the Lord.

Eli, though he did correct them by word, corrected them too lightly and did little about it. He allowed his sons to continue to serve, even as their service was really treachery and blasphemy against God. Eli’s first love was not God but the approval of his sons.

Eli corrected them too lightly, the blasphemy continued – God’s name continued to be dragged in the dirt by their actions – and God judges Eli for this.

In our time, what is God’s temple? Who is judge, prophet, priest, and king? We know that Jesus Himself, God’s Son made man, is our Judge, our final Prophet, our once-for-all High Priest, and forever our King. He alone has done it right and is perfect.

And Jesus has made your body the temple of the Holy Spirit. Jesus, by His sacrifice on the cross, made purification for your sins and washed you clean in your Baptism. Now you yourself are set up as a dwelling place for the Lord. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have made their abode in you.

Our Epistle lesson tells us, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” [1 Corinthians 6:19-20]. And, by your Baptism, you are all priests of God, each of you – “A royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession.” [1 Peter 2:9]

We too correct ourselves too lightly. We don’t take into consideration that we are not only sinning against a lump of flesh and blood but against God’s own possession, against God’s own temple, against His dwelling place – when we sin with those bodies – and when we sin against one another.

What I do to my brother or sister in Christ, I do to the temple of the Holy Spirit, the blood-bought, redeemed dwelling place that God has chosen as His own. How I ought to treat the house of God is how I ought to treat these true houses of God around me, these baptized sons and daughters.

And, just as it would be a disgrace to bring any indecency or cursing or unclean, immoral behavior or speech into God’s house of stone, how much more of a sin is it when I bring such things into my own body, which is the true sanctified temple of the Holy Spirit?

We all sin. But we need to tell ourselves the hard truth about our sin. In thoughts, words, and actions, sinning with this redeemed body and soul is a double sin – against God’s command and against God’s special house, bought with the blood of Christ.

We should not correct ourselves too lightly, therefore. In God’s presence, we should face up to our need for repentance. We should not be content to be like Eli or his sons. Let’s address our sins before God and seek His help in doing better, every day.

God does help you. He has given you a Savior and the Holy Spirit, who are mighty and who love you. It’s their will to keep you as a pure temple – to forgive you and to do repairs.  

Samuel, the young boy, was called by the Lord for the first time in today’s reading. The first message He was sent to deliver from the Lord – the first of many – was not easy news to share. But Samuel shared the truth.

Eli encouraged him to do so, which is a good thing we can say about Eli. He too knew that the truth of God had to be shared without us holding anything back or adding anything to it.

Above all, let’s remember in our day that we do now have the Savior, Jesus. There is a sacrifice for your sins – Jesus who gave Himself for your sins upon the cross, once for all. It is finished.

He died for your sins so that you won’t. You stand and move and go through your life and trials forgiven, in a state of His grace, under the umbrella of His atoning sacrifice.

You are still alive today, which means Jesus isn’t done with you yet. As we come forward to His Supper today, to receive Him, let’s each come to be corrected strongly, to be forgiven fully – as He always does – and to be helped by His careful and willing hand, which is building and renovating you – bit by bit, more and more – into temples fit for His dwelling. Amen.

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