Series: January 2024
Speaker: Rob McClellan
"It’s For You"
1 Samuel 3:1-20
1Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.
2At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; 3the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was. 4Then the Lord called, “Samuel! Samuel!” and he said, “Here I am!” 5and ran to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call; lie down again.” So he went and lay down. 6The Lord called again, “Samuel!” Samuel got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call, my son; lie down again.” 7Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. 8The Lord called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy. 9Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.
10Now the Lord came and stood there, calling as before, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”
11Then the Lord said to Samuel, “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make both ears of anyone who hears of it tingle. 12On that day I will fulfill against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. 13For 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. 14Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be expiated by sacrifice or offering forever.”
15Samuel lay there until morning; then he opened the doors of the house of the Lord. Samuel was afraid to tell the vision to Eli. 16But Eli called Samuel and said, “Samuel, my son.” He said, “Here I am.” 17Eli said, “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 that he told you.” 18So Samuel told him everything and hid nothing from him. Then he said, “It is the Lord; let him do what seems good to him.”
19As Samuel grew up, the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. 20And all Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was a trustworthy prophet of the Lord.
It’s For You
It is fitting to be sharing in a prophetic call story the day before Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Put yourself in the place where you were when you first heard God’s voice calling you. Some of you are recalling an actual vivid experience. Others experienced a less obvious voice, more of a leading. Others still are drawing a blank. With respect to that last group, I suspect: 1) you fear you’re in the minority in the church—you’re not, or 2) You are somehow not, therefore, really called by God—you are. Even characters in the Bible don’t easily or readily hear God, but we’ve been conditioned to think otherwise. Listen again: “Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were notwidespread” (1 Sam. 3:1). They did exist, but they were not widespread, so we can all relate.
We are going to use Samuel’s call story as an entrée into the idea of calling, of what it looks like and what it means. I decided to go to some experts in the congregation, members of what up until recently we called the Outreach Committee but now are calling our Committee for Community Service. This is the group responsible for helping us put our faith into action out in the community not just in our own private lives, but in our shared life together, and while the committee members might not describe themselves as experts, they are those who have stepped up in leadership to try and put their calling into practice.
I asked them a couple months ago to look at this passage and then respond to the prompt: To what are we called as people of faith? What does that calling mean to you and what does it look like to answer it in the world? I am going to share with you excerpts of what they had to say in a way that helps us explore what it might mean for us. I’ll obscure their names because they’re not in this to make it about them. By the way, they’d love for you to join them in as a committee participant or someone who jumps in to support certain initiatives. I know right now they are weighing certain projects for next year and they need your help to do the work. I will point out their membership later.
Person A simply said when they thought of calling, they thought of giving and service to others. They immediately pointed out someone in the congregation who embodied that for them. This is interesting. Right out of the gate, it’s clear, this is not about ego, but about recognizing the good models around us, the angels in our midst who show us ways to live into faith.
Person B said flat out, “I am not called.” This is a good sign. The people who make me the most nervous are the ones quick to tell you how called they are, how chosen, how deep and evolved they are. Nobody who is truly deep and evolved tells you so. In the Bible, the greatest ones were those often most reluctant. “Who me?” they asked with a healthy dose of humility or skepticism. It’s part humility and part recognition of what is at stake. Your feelings of “who me?” may be a sign of your calling too.
Person B went onto share what can only be described as a miracle they witnessed after a prayer they offered as a self-proclaimed skeptic. An answered prayer prompted a response. They first said, “Thank you God” but then realized, “saying Thank You is not enough.” There’s something about the sacred encounter that moves us to do more, not necessarily out of guilt but a compelling and propelling gratitude. For person B, that response has looked like feeding those in need, which they noted both addresses the physical hunger of those being served and the relational hunger of those in need of connection at a fragile and isolating time. Real service serves the served and the server. Person B said all of it is a response to God’s love. Wow.
Person C talked about calling as carefully examining their life, giving careful consideration to the choices made in trying to do good. The sad reality is sometimes in trying to do good we cause harm. Calling involves critical reflection not just passion. For them too, like Person B, this is about the human connection, and not a disconnected delivery of goods from those who have to those who have not, as much as that redistribution does matter.
They shared another critical piece worth emphasizing: Doing this is energizing. They talked about volunteering with the Salvation Army in New York in a literacy program and admitted, as we all probably could, that sometimes they felt cranky and tired going there. Inevitably, they left feeling refreshed. That’s your God-given barometer. This is a sign that you are aligned with the good and God, when you are lifted up by what you are doing. They too talked of models doing great things in the world that inspired them to do good in their corner or the world. We all have a part to play.
Person D kept it succinct – They reflected on someone they were studying and how the concept of oneness that flows throughout his teaching. In response—there’s that word again—answering that calling is all about demonstrating that oneness in our lives and helping others find and express it in their own. There is a simplicity to the divine calling at its core.
Person E said, “I keep coming back to a neat and tidy catch phrase of being called/wanting to use the time, energy, compassion & financial resources God has gifted me to be like Jesus and ‘flip tables’ and ‘show up at tables.’” Flip tables, which Jesus did to the money changers in the temple, by engaging in organizations and causes working to affect larger systems and policies. Show up at tables, as Jesus did time and again breaking bread with others, making space for connection, sharing, and understanding across lines. They spoke of trimming superficial interactions in favor of more deep connection points. Then, at the end of their reflection, Person E exclaimed that they were off to pick up the kids. Isn’t this important! We have lives, everyday responsibilities. Not all of us can or will give up everything to go treat people with tuberculosis in Haiti like a Paul Farmer, but we can all flip tables and show up at tables right where we are.
Person F turned to their favorite scripture passage, Micah 6:8 which reads, “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Scripture grounds and guides us. She talked about what I would describe as a visceral reaction to injustice in the world, stronger than she would probably like. It takes a toll, but a visceral reaction to others’ suffering is too a God-given barometer. The Bible talks about Jesus being moved with compassion, but the word really points to a feeling in the gut. We should be moved, affected by what we see even as we’re careful not to get overwhelmed to the point we can’t act. We are called to do something.
I heard an interview with Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman. He won the prize for “having integrated insights from psychological research into economic science, especially concerning human judgment and decision-making under uncertainty.”Kahneman, who was being interviewed by Adam Grant, responded to a question about happiness and he said we are putting the focus on the wrong thing when we focus on happiness. He said, and this may surprise you, we should focus more on misery as a society. Misery, he explained, is concentrated in our own lives around a few experiences and concentrated disproportionately in a small subsection of the population. If you want to improve wellbeing, stop focusing on increasing happiness; focus on alleviating misery. That sounds an awful lot like Jesus, who didn’t, contrary to what you might find in bookstores, concentrate on self-help, personal success, live your best life teachings, but rather taught about caring for those who hurt the most. When he did speak of happiness, or blessing, he described it as being like those who suffer, the poor, or being like those who were working to end misery, the peacemakers in the midst of violence. A day after Person F sent in their answer, they wrote again troubled they hadn’t mentioned love. I responded this is what love looks like when it’s lived out. Be moved by injustice and misery and work to address it.
Person G, the last of our reflections, talked about having what they described as a mystical encounter, and it is important to include that because for as much as we talk about who doesn’t have those experiences, we run the risk of closeting those who do and there are many. As with the earlier example, this encounter prompted an immediate response in them. Now what? Visit Mother Teresa was what. Talk about jumping in with both feet. They had been reading about her and so made the trip to Calcutta to volunteer with the Missionaries of Charity. There were touched by what Mother Teresa carried deep within her, “I see Jesus in every human being. I say to myself, this is hungry Jesus, I must feed him. This is sick Jesus…” and so on. Though they did not become a sister or stay in India, they have tried to use their gifts and skills where they are to do what they could to help as many get treated as they were Jesus, particularly those who were overlooked or disadvantaged.
Person G, also mentioned the dedication and discipline of the nuns even when they were tired or grumpy and yes even Mother Teresa got tired and grumpy. That’s such an important reminder. We can enter a sense of calling with the notion that not only will it ultimately be energizing, but it will always be energizing, always immediately fruitful, that it will be a Hollywood film, when in fact it can be gritty, glamourless, even grueling. Verses 11-20 were cut out of the lectionary reading. We included them. They contain all the tough stuff about Samue being called. He will have to tell the people their unfaithfulness and the coming consequences. It’s good work and it’s hard work. It’s work that often meets opposition, but it is our work.
Since I have spoken of them, it’s worth having any members of the Committee for Community Service here to be identified so you can engage them after the service and hopefully join them. Would you stand if you are or have been involved in that work?
Remember when you heard that voice of God calling you? Great. Respond. No? Well, so what? Put yourself in a place where you can hear it through voices you might not otherwise recognize as God. I can help you discern that voice. Talk to me. Or, hear it from me now. I just got a call from God. It’s for you.