In the days leading up to feast days like Thanksgiving there are articles and videos circulating on Facebook and Twitter. Some are cheesy and some are amazing. The video that inspired me this week is called “The Science of Happiness – An Experiment in Gratitude.” http://www.upworthy.com/scientists-discover-one-of-the-greatest-contributing-factors-to-happiness-youll-thank-me?g=2
Here is how the experiment worked. The test subjects were invited to take a short happiness test to determine their level of happiness. Then each person was asked to write as much as they could about the person who inspired them the most. Then comes the important step – they are asked to call that person and read to them what they had written. Before they left, each person was given another happiness test. For those who just wrote down their gratitude their happiness increased 2 – 4 % and the people who actually talked to the person their happiness increased by 4 – 19%. The people who saw the greatest increase in happiness were the least happy people at the start of the experiment.
The simple act of saying thanks makes us happier people. Such a little thing that can have a big impact. As I pondered this video, I wondered about Samuel from our reading today. Who would he pick as the person who inspired him the most? We’ll never know for certain, but I wonder if Samuel would pick Eli. Sounds strange after all Samuel had to deliver some pretty devastating news to Eli about his family, but all the same it was Eli who first taught Samuel who to speak to the Lord.
Let’s put the story in a bit of context. The book of Samuel marks a shift in the biblical narrative. Up to this point in the Bible we’ve heard some foundational stories about the relationship between God and God’s people. The story of creation, the promise to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob that their descendants would be as many as the stars in the night sky and grains of sand in the desert. We’ve heard how God called the oh so reluctant Moses from a burning bush to lead the people of Israel out of slavery and into the promised land. With God’s people settled in a new land, life went smoothly for a while, but then as it says in the last line of the book of Judges, “In those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes.” (Judges 21:25)
And that my friends is the Bible’s way of saying that the people of God were not listening to God. They were listening to their own wants and desires. Our reading opens with the words, “Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.” (1 Samuel 3:1) Eli, the head priest if you will, was losing his eyesight. So even if he wanted too he couldn’t have seen God’s vision. Eli’s sons are taking advantage of their position as priests in the temple, eating the offerings meant for God. It says in chapter 2, “Now the sons of Eli were scoundrels; they had no regard for the Lord.”
Difficult times call for a new kind of leadership. Enter Samuel. Samuel’s story with God begins when his mother Hannah who came to the temple distraught. She prayed and prayed for a child. When at long last Samuel was born, she took care of him, loved him until he was weaned and then she brought him to the temple and where she dedicated him to serve the Lord for the rest of his life.
Now the boy Samuel is living and serving in the temple with Eli. One night, Samuel is lying in his bed, tucked in for the night when he hears a voice calling out. “Samuel, Samuel!” and he said, “Here I am!” and went straight to Eli. The voice did not belong to Eli. So Elie sent the boy away. Again Samuel is just about to drift off to sleep when the voice calls again, “Samuel, Samuel.” And again he runs to Eli. Again Eli sends him back to bed. Samuel did not know what was going on. The voice was so plain and clear. It took a third call and Eli’s knowledge of the Lord to help him know what to do next. Eli says to Samuel, “Go, lie down, and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord for your servant is listening.” (1 Samuel 3:9) And Samuel does just that. The Lord came calling and Samuel says, “Speak, Lord for your servant is listening.”
The word that came to Samuel from God was not an easy word. God says “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make both ears of anyone who hears of it tingle. On that day I will fulfill against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, form beginning to the end. For I have told 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.” (1 Samuel 3:11 – 13)
Samuel did not sleep again that night and it is not surprising that he did not want to face Eli in the morning. What would he say? What would he do with such a terrible vision? Most of the time when we read this story we focus on Samuel who bravely says, “Speak, Lord for your servant is listening.” But Eli has a story too. Eli’s sons may have been scoundrels but Eli was faithful. The next morning he calls to Samuel and says, “What was it that he told you? Do not hide it from me. May God do so to you and more also if you hide anything from me of all he told you.” (1 Samuel 3:17) What choice does Samuel have? He tells Eli everything – all the terrible things that God has said will happen to Eli’s family.
And what does Eli do? He does not go into a rage and tell Samuel he’s lying. He does not turn to God and plead for mercy. He does not deny that his sons are scoundrels. He does not deny knowing what they are up to or his failure to restrain them. All he says is, “It is the Lord, let him do what seems good to him.”
Eli was a man of faith, he may not have been able to teach his sons the ways of God, but he passed on his knowledge of God and God’s ways to Samuel. So I think, if Samuel were to pick someone who inspired him, someone he wanted to say thanks to, it would be Eli. Our reading says, “As Samuel grew up, the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground.” (1 Samuel 3:19) Thanksgiving is about celebrating the gifts of harvest, of the bounty of creation but it also about pausing to give thanks. Who do you give thanks for? Who inspires you in your faith and in your life? Who helped you to respond to God’s gifts of grace saying, “speak, Lord for your servant is listening.” Maybe today is the day to give them a call or write them a letter to say thank you.
Not only will it increase your happiness but it will make their day. Gratitude changes our lives and the lives of others. It is like that old song says, “Count your blessings, name them one by one, count your blessings see what God hath done! Count your blessings name then one by one, And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.” (Johnson Oatman Jr.) Today is a day to give God thanks for our blessings and go out into the world to be a blessing to others. Amen.