Summit Presbyterian Church January 13, 2008
Delivered by Jim Eby FOR WHAT DO YOU LISTEN? 1 Samuel 3:1-10
It's a wonderful story, isn't it? I can imagine Hollywood making a movie out of it, or at least a special for TV.
There's an old minister, Eli, whose sons have gone astray. They won't be around to carry on the family tradition of being the religious leaders of the community. It's the story of the younger generation marching to a different drummer, a drummer that leads them into deep trouble.
It's a story of an older, childless, married woman, Hannah, who wants to have a baby in the worst way, for until she bears a child, preferably a son, she is worthless in the eyes of the community in which she lives. She is so desperate in her prayers to God, she promises God that if she gets pregnant and gives birth to a son, she will give him up to the work of ministry. One day at the Temple, she pours herself into those prayers so much that the old minister thinks she's drunk and rebukes her. She is able to convince the old minister that she has not been drinking, that she was simply praying with all her heart, and so he consoles her and sends her away with a benediction.
And sure enough, God answers her prayer with pregnancy, and she gives birth to a child, a son, and names him Samuel, and when he's old enough to leave home, she takes him to Shiloh and dedicates him to the service of the Lord. Samuel stays there and takes care of the old minister, becoming the faithful son that the old minister's sons have never been.
It's a wonderful story, isn't it? It even has a happy ending.
If this were the ending. But it's not the end. It's another of the frank accounts about the people of God down through the centuries. It's another illustration of the way that we take the wonderful gift of choice, of free will, and misuse it. It's another illustration of the way that God takes our disobedience and judges it and comes up with a contingency plan to accomplish what God intends to accomplish, the reconciliation of the world with God. God has not given up on the mess that we make of things. God continues to call and to give instructions for you and for me to be the instruments through which God will bring into being the vision God has for this world.
And it begins with God calling our name. You did hear it, didn't you? You heard God call your name, as clearly as the young boy Samuel heard the voice in the night, not once, but four times. You heard God call your name. It was in your baptism. That is when you were named and claimed by God. That is when you were called to a consecrated life of faithfulness.
Of course consecrated life is not something you do all by yourself. You have to continue to look to God for the spirit and the strength and the direction to live life faithfully.
If you're like me, you have lots of examples of the times when you tried to do it alone, all by yourself, and found how weak we really are, how easy it is for us to stumble in false pride and despair and hopelessness. You know how hard it is to do the right thing when we pretend that we rule the world. And you know the good news. You know how God can come in after we've made a mess of the kitchen and the recipe and convert our mess into something good. You know that. You know the good things accomplished in this world are accomplished by God working through us, God living through those moments when we have answered as Samuel did: "Speak, for your servant is listening."
But there is so much that seems to get in the way of our listening
For some of us, it is our inability to say "No!" We attempt to be faithful by doing everything. We never say "No!", we never admit to the reality that we have just 24 hours in each day. We try to be Wonder Woman and Super Man. And we reach the point where, when someone says "I need a volunteer to do this or to do that", we're the one who pushes other people away, people who could and would do a better job, or at least as good a job as we, we push them aside in our attempt to be faithful, or what we feel is faithful. We always say, "Yes!", and that gets in the way of our listening to what God would have us do.
Some of the rest of us are worried that if we do say "Yes" to one thing, that will encourage folks to ask and ask and ask until we may burnout because of over-commitment. In our fear, we hold back and procrastinate. We always say, "No!", even when it is God that is calling us to a particular task.
We are like
There is a bit of Garfield in all of us. And that gets in the way of our listening for the call of God.
Others of us are concerned about being in control. Being in control of our lives, being in control of our children, being in control of our church, being in control of our world. We are so busy trying to make everything go right that we can't hear the words of the song we sing, "This is my Father's world." This is my Father's world. Not mine. This is my Father's world. I don't have to correct all the injustice. This is my Father's world. I don't have to make everyone be good. This is my Father's world. I don't have to rule the world. This is my Father's world.
Sometimes trying to be in control gets in the way of our listening for the call of God.
And sometimes, we don't want to hear God because we just know that the voice of the living Lord is going to ask us to spend ourselves sacrificially. It's okay for Samuel to do that, for Paul to do that, for Jesus to do that, but we're not sure we want to do that, spend ourselves sacrificially. Surely there must be another way to accomplish the bringing of the kingdom of God into our midst. Surely there must be another way to bring an end to racism and sexism and all the other isms that God would eradicate. Maybe if we just wait patiently, a little longer, God will call someone else's name to do that work.
It was in the early 1960's, at the height of the civil rights movement, a group of white ministers issued a public statement urging Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in the name of the Christian faith, to be more patient in his quest for justice and to relax the relentless struggle for civil rights. Dr. King's response came in the form of the famous "Letter from Birmingham Jail." In the letter, Dr. King wrote that he had received similar requests for such a delay, indeed, that he had just gotten a letter from a "white brother in Texas" who wrote, "... It is possible you are in too great a religious hurry....The teachings of Christ take time to come to earth." Dr. King replied that such an attitude stemmed from a sad misunderstanding of time, the notion that time itself cures all ills. Time, Dr. King argued, could be used for good or for evil. Human progress, he said, is not inevitable, but rather ... "....it comes trough the tireless efforts of men willing to be co-workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right."
Dr. King knew that complete justice must await the coming of God. That was the theme of his last sermon in which he proclaimed, "I've been to the mountaintop. I've seen the promised land." But Dr. King was persuaded that while we wait, "the time is always ripe to do right."
God is calling you. God called you by name in your baptism. And then God calls you wherever you are, whether in the temple or in your office or as you bake bread or as you wash the dishes. God calls you. After this story of the call of Samuel, you can't say things like, "I'm only fourteen, so God has no work for me." Or, "I'm just a member of the congregation. I'm not a Deacon or a Pastor." Or, "I'm no expert on the Bible." Think of Samuel.
Think of Samuel and remember four things:
First, God will probably call you when you least expect it, at the least convenient time, in some unlikely situation. Keep your ears open. Listen!
Second, God may have to call you more than once before God gets your attention. God had to call Samuel three times before he started listening. God's voice is consistent, and because there are so many other voices calling our names, God usually needs to call our names a number of times before it starts to sink in our thick skulls.Third, when God calls, God calls us by our very own name. God calls us the way God calls us, calling us by our own individual name, not somebody else's. Not everybody is called the same way. There is no one way to get called.
Fourth, nobody is too small, too inexperienced, too unimportant not to be used by God for big, important work. In fact, judging from the many stories of people in the Bible who were called and used by God, it appears God takes particular delight in calling the "little people" of this world to do big things for God. Think of all the "little people", the ordinary tax collectors, fishermen, women who cook and keep house, the widows, those who have lost things. It was those whom Jesus called to be his disciples.
You are called, and you are called by name. Your very own name. Are you listening? Is there anything else that keeps you from setting out on the work, on the journey God intends for you?If there is, maybe you can find comfort and encouragement in the true story of Roy L. Smith's fear of the dark when he was a boy. Late one evening, his father asked him to go to the barn for some tools. Roy begged his father not to send him, admitting he was deathly afraid of the dark. His father put a kerosene lantern into his hand. "How far can you see, son?" "As far as the mulberry tree," he replied. "Then go to the mulberry tree." When he got there, his father asked, "Now how far can you see?" "I can see to the currant bush," Roy said. When he arrive at the currant bush, his father asked again: "How far can you see from there?" This time it was the henhouse. Next it was the hayloft, and finally the barn. And so Roy Smith, step by step, made it to the barn -- and back again, safely.
This is our Father's world. We are called by name. In Jesus our Lord, we have the light of the lantern that will show us the next mark on our journey. Let us take each other's hands and be on the journey, using "time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right."God, we give thanks for the way you called Samuel, and Isaiah, and Jesus, and Peter and Paul -- Hannah and Deborah, Mary and Martha. We give thanks for the way you call each of us, by our own name, to do the work you have for us to do. Help us to dedicate ourselves as Martin Luther King, Jr., did, to spend all we are and all we have following the leading of Jesus, our Lord. Help us to do that today, and tomorrow and each day of our life. In the name of our risen Lord we ask it. Amen.