In the 1930s, a man by the name of Charles Templeton became an evangelist reaching out to people with the Word in Canada. He was a close friend of the famed evangelist Billy Graham. Yet, unlike Billy Graham, Charles walked away from what he once believed. No longer did he see Christ as the Savior even writing a book in 1995 titled Farewell to God: My Reasons for Rejecting the Christian Faith.
What is unforgettable about Templeton, however, is not his fall, but the way he still cared about Jesus and the nostalgic way he still spoke of him. In an interview by Lee Strobel, Templeton’s love for a lost Savior was revealed. Templeton said this: “The greatest human being who ever lived…the intrinsically wisest person I’ve encountered…the least duplicity, the greatest compassion of any human being in history…the most important person ever born. Everything decent I know, I learned from him. There have been many wonderful people, but Jesus is Jesus.” In saying that, his voice began to crack. Lee wrote, and his words, just before tears flooded his eyes and shoulders started to shake, were these: “I miss him.”
I miss him. Do you hear that same sentence being uttered in Israel as you look at our lesson today, specifically verse one where Samuel tells us, “The word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions.”? God did not seem to be present at this time. He was no longer revealing himself as he once did. No longer was he leading them as during the time of the judges. Surely, he was missed?
And yet, why was God not revealing himself? Why was his word rare? We can answer that question. The people at that time had little interest in what God had to say. God speaks through his Word. Through that Word he creates a willingness to listen. The people of Israel were not listening. They were neglecting the word God had given them. God was not being missed, he was being ignored!
And so what did God do? He took the word away. It became rare. No longer did he speak. No longer did he reveal himself. What a judgment; the loss of God’s word. God was silent, and that silence was deafening.
Let’s stop here for a second and let’s ask ourselves this question. Is God’s word rare today? Certainly, we can look out at the world and pinpoint specific countries or areas of the world where it seems like, yes, God’s word is rare just like it was during Samuel’s time. But let’s narrow the scope. Let’s make it personal. Ask yourself. Is the word of the Lord rare in your life?
And, no, I’m not asking you if you’ve received a vision from the Lord recently. No, I’m not asking you if you’ve heard your God call to you in the middle of the night or as you sat there on your coach. No, I’m asking you to think about whether or not you find or have found yourself saying, “I miss him.” I miss my God. I miss my Lord. I miss Jesus. I don’t hear him. I don’t see him.
Is that a fair question to ask a group of people sitting in church who are taking time right now to listen to God’s Word? But, wait, weren’t the people of Samuel’s time God’s people? It is a fair question to ask. Because right here we see a stark warning that even seemingly “safe” and “chosen” people of God can find themselves blind to the light that leads to salvation and deaf to the voice that calls them out of darkness. Even you can miss him.
We consider our sin. A sin of the past, or an ongoing sin that you can’t seem to overcome. You’re filled with shame and embarrassment. How do you let yourself do this? You’re afraid. What will others think if they knew? How will I ever be forgiven? How can God love me? “I miss him.”
We think of our disappointments. Prayers unanswered. A loved one lost. Sickness and pain we don’t deserve. Financial struggles. A family torn apart by pettiness and lies. Loneliness. There’s anger. There’s doubt. Where is God? Why won’t he help? What must I do? “I miss him.”
We look at the world around us. The recent disasters, hurricanes, mudslides, and fires. The innocent deaths of countless and the depravity that will lead to more. There is hatred. There is turmoil. Why does he let this happen? Where is his compassion? “I miss him”
Do you see, do you see how even you can miss him, that is miss Jesus? Look at what we face every day: The guilt of sin. The disappointments of life, and the reality of a world ruined since its creation. But the problem often isn’t the clamoring of these noises pulling us in every direction, it isn’t that God doesn’t give us answers or that his voice has gone silent. No, the problem is often we don’t listen; we neglect the simple Words that can be brought up with an app on our phone, or with a click of a mouse, or, if you prefer, by opening the hard copy itself – you know what I’m talking about – the Bible!
There is God’s Word. It isn’t rare. It isn’t hard to find, and it rings out loud and true. Listen! Don’t miss him! Hear what he did in our lesson today. Listen to his response to a people who neglected him. Here it is in verse four, “Then the Lord called Samuel.”
Even as he was ignored, and neglected God spoke. “Samuel!” The silence was broken. “Here I am.” Samuel replied, but he thought it was Eli who called him. “I didn’t call,” Eli said. Again, the voice rang out. “Samuel!” “Here I am…I didn’t call” A third time, “Samuel!” and as if waking from a deep sleep Eli realized who it was that spoke. “So Eli told Samuel, “Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’ ” “Samuel! Samuel!”…Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”
The Word of the Lord reached out to Samuel and opened his heart so that he could listen, so that he could say, “Speak, Lord.” Hear these Words today. Hear God’s response to your cry, “I miss him.” “Samuel! Samuel!” “Andy! Andy!…etc. He’s calling you. “I’m right here! I never left. Where have you been?”
God calls people who miss him and even those who don’t know they miss him through his Word. He calls to us. He calls to sinners. And Samuel shows us how to answer. “Speak, Lord.” Too often though aren’t we tempted to say, “Lord, listen to me. Listen to what I need. Listen to what I want. Listen to what you have to do.” But that’s not what we see in Samuel’s response, no, we see humility: “your servant is listening.”
Consider Samuel the next time you hear your sins cries of condemnation. Think of Samuel when you see your life falling apart. Remember that gentle voice calling out in the night, “Samuel” when the world with all it’s pain overwhelms you. Here is God coming to you in the quiet of his Word. Here is God calling you by name and reminding you that he has not left you. He loves you. His Word proves it. Listen and you’ll see.
You’ll see the Word made flesh. You’ll see Jesus. He missed you. He missed you so much that he came to earth in human flesh to bring you back to him. He rescued you. He rescued you from those sins that shouted loud and condemned you. He saved you from the disappointments that sin wrought in your life. He showed you a new world free from sickness and disaster, a new home, that will one day be yours as you walk with him in eternal glory.
Say it with Samuel, “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.” but don’t just say it, do it. Listen to your Lord speak and you will get to know this light who calls out to sinners. Listen to your Lord speak and you will never miss him again. For he promises that through his Word his Spirit will work creating and nurturing faith in your heart. Faith that wants to listen. Faith that knows to listen and can pick out the voice of God’s mercy and grace in even the toughest times of life. Faith that holds on to that voice of Jesus crying out on the cross “It is finished” and recognizes that those words were meant for you.
As we marvel at God’s love in calling us from sin and into salvation through Christ, let us also see the sad truth; many have not heard his voice. Like us, they all have one God in heaven, who wants to be their Father, one Savior. Jesus paid for their sins too, but they don’t know this light; all they see is darkness all they hear is ruin.
They groan from their sickbeds and cry out in misery. For them, the earth is a waiting room for hell. They know nothing of him who took the power from death. They don’t know the voice that seeks to call them to know the light who is their Savior. As they live without God, they also die without hope.
We know the hope they do not have. We know the light who is Jesus. We have heard his voice speaking to us through his Word. Calling us like Samuel, sinners, to now serve. “Then the Lord called you” by name to be his servant. Not necessarily to be a prophet, or a pastor, or an evangelist, but he called you to be a faithful witness in the place he put you so that all those who do not know Jesus or find themselves missing him, can be encouraged by your faithful testimony and hear their Savior call to them, “Samuel! Samuel!”
Charles Templeton once knew his Savior, the light of the world. He stopped listening and was robbed of his certainty and was led to say with tears, “I miss him.” Today we have seen how we can always know and believe in our Savior, we listen. Don’t miss Jesus. Let God speak. His Words are forgiveness and everlasting life and he speaks them to you.