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Newaygo United Methodist Church
Thursday, November 23, 2017
Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors

When God Calls

When God Calls

I Samuel 3:1-10

 

Every once in a while we meet someone who stands out, someone who impresses us beyond the normal, who leaves an indelible print upon our being.  This happened for me in seminary during the fairly short three years that whizzed by in my enthusiasm to embrace my calling into ministry.  This particular professor was quiet by nature, eager to hear what others, his students, had to say.  He taught an old testament class, shared his knowledge faithfully and marked words of agreement or disagreement on our papers, sometimes enthusiastically with his red pen, “yes! Yes! Yes!” was a frequent mark received when he heartily agreed.  When he got out his Bible he would don a stole and sacredly open the Bible in reverence.  At first it seemed odd to watch him do that, but once we got to know him it seemed exactly the right thing to do.  I recognized something in him!  The most evident thing about him was the way the Spirit of God spoke through him.  How did I recognize that?  Because it was that very spirit of God that I had encountered in my call and that had led me to that point in the expression of that call.  There was no missing it.  He was indeed a man of God!  He died a year later, quietly in his sleep.  I do not believe he died but simply drifted into a new life, peacefully and with quiet acceptance.  There is no doubt in my mind that he knew where and to whom he was going.  Such was the nature of his faith.  And it was that nature that I was able to identify due to my own experiences of God. 

Samuel did not have the luxury of knowing God when God called.  He lived in a time when God’s word was rare and visions had become uncommon.  So when God called, Samuel had no reference with which to identify the speaker.  His only really close contact with anyone was with Eli the priest.  Eli himself had not heard a word from God in a long time.  His own sons had become unscrupulous in their practices and his own sight been dimmed by age.  So Eli himself could not at first discern that it was God calling the boy.  But after three callings, Eli figured it out.  Something in his memory triggered the recognition and he was able to redirect Samuel to sit and listen.

That must have been quite an experience for Samuel, to know that it was God himself who was calling.  But his first response was to obey his master Eli.  We do not know if he felt excitement, shock, fear, or inadequacy.  But his response was as he had been directed.  “Speak, your servant is listening.”  Samuel’s obedience to Eli was what got him through any sense of being overwhelmed by the encounter with God.

Each of us has had some experience of God.  He may not have called us by name in the same way he did with Samuel, or in the way his Spirit descended upon Jesus at his baptism, but God has spoken to each one of us.  There have been times when we have been moved deeply enough to respond to that call.  My friend Rosemary heard God speak to her through the bout of cancer that claimed her life.  A woman who lost her son in a motorcycle accident heard God speak to her through the song of a bird in a quiet garden before the funeral.  Another friend heard God speak to her through the invitation of an altar call.  And a very close friend heard God call through long conversations as we walked almost weekly in her neighborhood.  Most of us hear God speak through a seeming coincidence, or a moment of a sense of extreme beauty at a sight, or during an overwhelming sense of love for another person, be it child, friend, parent or other significant person such as my professor.  Some of us hear God through the words of scripture that suddenly seem to inspire us beyond the usual, or a prayer that seemed to be answered or given us a sense of assurance or peace in some way while we prayed.  Some of us hear God call in the turmoil and disappointments of our lives.  Some of us hear God in a song or in a silence, but God’s voice is not silent in our time. 

Some of us are more attuned to that voice in whatever form it comes to us.  Others of us want to tune it out due to the fear that we might be asked to do something that we don’t want to do.  But God calls us into a faith response of some kind.  We can ignore it.  We can share what we have experienced.  We can act upon it.  Or we can tuck it away until it finds some form of expression.  If we ignore it, it is simply set aside for a while, and God continues to call.  If we share it we may get laughed at or teased about it, but someone will pay attention.  If we act upon it we may find new purpose in life.  If we tuck it away it will work itself out at an appropriate time, so that someone benefits from it.  But sometimes we are called to do something that we don’t particularly want to do.  And so it was with Samuel.

Here is what happened next.  “Then the Lord said to Samuel, ‘See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make both ears of anyone who hears it tingle.  On that day I will fulfill against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end.  For I 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.’”

Certainly Samuel’s initial excitement about God speaking to him gave way to his fear of telling Eli what God had said.  God wanted Samuel to do something difficult.  We read further, “Samuel was afraid to tell the vision to Eli”, but Samuel did it.  He told Eli and instead of becoming angry, Eli graciously accepted the harsh words reported by Samuel saying, “It is the Lord; let him do what seems good to him.”  Eli needed to hear those words, but Samuel needed to become the prophet he was created to be and the only way he could become that was to obey God in telling Eli what he needed to hear.  Samuel became a great prophet and spokesperson for God.

We are not necessarily called to be great in our work for God, but we are called to hear and obey the voice of God even when it means doing some things we are afraid of doing.  God calls for a purpose and some need for accomplishing His purposes is in his call to us.  And he equips us to accomplish what we need to accomplish.  When we live by faith, we are more likely to hear God’s calls to us.  Not only do we get the rewards of faith: assurance, joy, grace and strength and comfort when needed, but we are called to response.  Faith is not just about getting what we can, it’s also about giving what we are called to give, doing what we are called to do, no matter how easy or difficult that may seem to be.  It was not easy giving up three years of my life, being away from home, in seminary, driving through blinding snowstorms in winter.  It was easy studying, creating written pieces of my ideas about God.  It was not easy doing the administrative piece of ministry, but it was and is easy preaching and caring.  But it’s not about doing what is easy or hard, it’s about doing what God calls us to do.  It’s about letting God direct our call.  It’s about giving up enough of our own selfish interests to enter into a new possibility for this world, a transformation of the way we live with each other.  It’s about allowing God’s purposes to be realized even in each small way we are asked to participate in that transformation. 

It will not be easy for me these next several months, but God has called me into something new, some experience that has to be learned, some benefit to someone else.  It is my sense that God is using this event called cancer, not that he gave me the cancer, but that he is using what the physiology of my body has produced to move me into a new arena, the outcome of which I cannot see.  But I am convinced that if I live by faith, if I heed the call of God through this experience, probably faltering at times, probably having to be picked up, brushed off, and set on course a few times, then I will be accomplishing something in God’s grand scheme of transforming the world. 

It takes great courage to stand by God through the darkest of times, but if we didn’t what alternative is there: Despair, hopelessness, anger, bitterness and loss of faith, all of which can consume us and lead us down a more difficult path.  I don’t know about you but I choose a path of faith, I choose the power of God’s love to overcome and make me strong. 

I wonder where God has called you lately?  I wonder what your response has been.  It’s not too late to pick up the phone, as it were, and let God know we are listening.  It’s never too late to pay attention and to respond, and then know that God is smiling on his beloved in response.

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