Sermon by Rev. Tim Woodard
January 18, 2015
1 Samuel 3:1-10
“Answer the Call!”
Hear these words of Holy Scripture from the First book of Samuel, chapter 3, verses 1 through 10.
1 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. 2 At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; 3 the 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. 4 Then the Lord called, “Samuel! Samuel!” and he said, “Here I am!” 5 and 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. 6 The 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.”
7 Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.
8 The 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. 9 Therefore 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. 10 Now the Lord came and stood there, calling as before, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”
God has blessed our hearing of these ancient and holy words.
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We live in a world filled with strife and injustice. We live in a world that needs change. We live in a world that needs individuals that have the moral backbone to stand up and advocate for the marginalized in our society. We live in a world where our children look to us to be the powers of examples to which they will model their lives. What we say when we’re called upon or when we’re given an opportunity to stand up and make a difference is crucial. We are being called upon to make a difference in this world; are you willing to answer the call?
God calls us to take action.
We all know that gut feeling–you know the feeling I mean: that sense that you should do something about some situation or circumstance–that gut feeling which tells you something isn’t quite right.
Consider these questions as we reflect on what it means to be “called” into action as a God centered person. How does a mother know when she must respond to her baby’s cry? How does an employer know when to call 911, after a disturbing meeting with an employee, rather than just put their file back into the filing cabinet? How do you know when your neighbor or friend’s phone message needs an immediate response? What makes us respond at all when somebody is asking for help? How is it that our inner senses can cause us to perceive a noise or a cry, thus causing us to respond, when our ears can barely pick up a sound? How do you know, or how do you respond when you hear about someone that’s been pushed aside, bullied and/or treated improperly? Within the circle of life that you live in, how many times do you hear of a wrong before you answer and finally do something about it? Let’s make this even simpler to understand. How do you know when your dog Jamie is calling you to take her outside? If you don’t have a dog, you still understand my point: even our pets, like dogs, they ask for help, through their actions or even their barking. Dogs, like a crying baby make an effort to get someone’s attention when they need it. Isn’t it amazing how most parents and a great many pet owners are able to discern and respond to their children, and yes even their pets, with an uncanny ability to understand their needs? Surely these same instincts are there for us in the other situations I have mentioned.
As we stand back and look at the broader scope of the society in which we live, we come to understand, in a larger setting, how people do and do not respond to the cries of those in need. Some are able to hear or choose to hear the call of those in need around them, others are not or will not heed or respond to what they have heard. Some are able to hear the call of God; others are not. We here in the 21st-century–we will not hear God’s call; we will not hear it the same as in the story of Samuel. The scriptures tell us how a boy heard God calling out to him in the night. No, God seldom yells out to us, audibly in the night, thus speaking to our hearing ear what is being said or asked of us. Yet, many of us are called to do things, in a vast number of ways: some will respond and answer; most will not. Clearly, it is unlikely that the next call you receive will be a booming voice in the night from God!
Living as we are, in the modern era, with so many and vast levels of communication one can easily get confused. There are many voices calling out to us, there are many voices calling out to the world. We know that the world is filled with choices; way too many voices; too many choices to be made. Some, if not many, are clearly not god like. Others are way outside our realm of reality. And still other voices, well, if they were really meant for our response, we would not be who we are. How do you, how do we sort out God’s call from the many voices? Few of us have an old prophet, an old priest name Eli waiting to clarify what is the right choice. We do however have guides and teachers.
Just last Sunday I was asking a young lad where I could find the Spirit of God, and, from nowhere, he clearly looked at me and said: “in the Ark of the covenant.” I jokingly replied–astonished at his answer–and knowing that his mother is a Sunday school teacher, I said, “You must have a Sunday school teacher for a mother.” Is it possible that he knew that Eli, the priest, and his young apprentice Samuel, were assigned to sleep in the Temple in the presence of the Ark of the Covenant? Does it matter? His voice was a clear sign of God’s presence in our midst.
On Christmas Eve, when the batteries went dead in my talking stuffed animal, as I searched for the words to explain to the children “what Christmas is all about,” the same young lad spoke up and said: “Christmas is about love–not about toys.” God speaks to me and to you, perhaps via that inner voice you hear at the most opportune moments–or is it that your conscience speaks to you when you need to hear it the most? And yes children speak to us; we simply need to know who is calling us to do God’s will. And we need to be willing to hear what they say; we need to listen with an open heart.
Our young lad, he was living in the temple–being mentored and trained by an elderly priest. The lad hears the voice of God in the night. Being so young and inexperienced he does not understanding or recognize that it was God who was calling out to him. So he turns to the old priest and asks him what to do. Eli was a power of example that Samuel was currently looking to for advice and guidance. Three times he goes to Eli, saying, “Here I am, did you call me?” And the third time Eli realizes it must be God calling the lad and tells him to respond, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” God calls him again and this time there is a tremendous shift in the lad. He no longer points out that he is there by saying, “Here I am!” Rather he does as Eli told him and humbles himself by simply responding to God, putting God first in his response. “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” I had missed this shift in attitude until Pastor Bob Baggott pointed it out this past Tuesday morning, at the weekly 7 AM Men’s Bible study that he leads.
Many have answered the call.
The former pastor of this church felt “called” to lead this church through a time of discernment that led to this church becoming an Open and Affirming church. Because he answered that call many lives have been changed and the direction of this church’s outreach was altered. The lay leadership that rolled up their sleeves to put this vision into motion was also answering a call from God. The backbone of this congregation came together and made a choice and took a stand on a controversial policy. All those of you who were involved in this process believed that you were following the will of God. Not only did you believe that you were following God’s vision, but you also had God’s full backing! That took courage as well as faith. Their leadership, your leadership, and actions have been part of a movement that is changing the face of our society.
“Martin Luther King Jr. answered God’s call and he laid down his life standing up for what he believed on April the 4th, 1968 at age 39. As the leader of the African-American Civil Rights Movement he was best known for using nonviolent civil disobedience based on his Christian beliefs. On October 14th, 1964, King received the Nobel Peace Prize for combating racial inequality through nonviolence. In 1965, he helped organize the Selma to Montgomery marches.” /Wikipedia/ I pray that we will each take pause tomorrow to honor the memory of this great leader who was willing to share with us in words and in action his “I Have a Dream” speech.
There are so many ways for us to respond to God’s calling, God’s leading in our lives. Pastor Bob reminded me that not just clergy people are called by God. Many doctors, lawyers, and professionals of all sorts feel that their choices were led by the gifts that they were given. They do not all speak of it the same way, but their stories lead to the same conclusions for many that observe them. Clearly, many are called to be in the profession they are in. Next time you are in a hospital, let me know if the doctor, or nurse, or even the volunteer who wheels you to and from your hospital room, tell me it they were called or did they just have a job. You will note the difference.
I once heard of a truck driver, who was working for the trash collection service within his community. Once a week he would pick up the trash at a local church. There was a basketball hoop there. He began bringing a basketball with him each week and after he did his job, he would get out and shoot a few. Over time a group of teenagers began to shoot hoops with him, and from that he pulled together one of the largest gatherings of youth in the community. The local pastor was in awe at his accomplishments. Farfetched story? Maybe. But, I can introduce you to a few pastors who believe it happened and are still trying to recreate it in their back parking lots.
I believe that our God has a dream for each one of us here today, and a dream for those that are absent today as well. God calls to us; God sends out messages and offers guides to us every day. God taps on our shoulders, nudges us forward, and speaks to us, not only in our dreams but through the voices and actions of others all around us. All we need to do is humble ourselves and listen.
What calling have you answered? Is God still trying to get you to answer? Have you listened to the children in your life? Do they listen to you? We can’t all be great leaders; yet, we all can strive to be the very best at what we have the gifts to achieve. Answer the call. God will smile upon you, and you will know what it means to be fully alive.