9:30AM Sunday School
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Speak God. I’m Ready to Listen

San Williams

January 15, 2012
1 Samuel 3:1-10 (10-20)

This story of the calling of Samuel is one of the iconic stories in the Bible.  It often appears in children’s books of favorite Bible stories, right along with Moses and the burning bush, Noah and the flood, and Daniel in the lion’s den.  Don Juel, a New Testament professor, remembers his parents reading this story to him as a child.  When his father finished the story of God calling Samuel, Don looked up from the book and asked, “When is the Lord going to call me?”

The little boy’s question may be the very one that comes to your mind when you hear a story like the calling of Samuel.  Does God speak to you? To me?  The one place in the story that very likely resonates with our own experience comes in the story’s first verse:  “The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.”   Well, isn’t it true that the word of the Lord is rare in our day, and visions are not widespread?  Ironically, we live in a time when there are more words than ever streaming into our lives. Words proliferate on the internet, come to us in the form of e-mails, cell phone calls, text messages and tweets.  We get our visions from YouTube, cable networks and so on.  An unprecedented cascade of words and visions continually flow into our lives, but has anybody heard a word from on high? Or seen a clear vision of God’s purpose in our lives and world?

You may relate to Rabbi Burt Visotsky’s comment on Bill Moyers’s PBS discussion on Genesis a few years back.  At one point the Rabbi said, “I’m a praying Jew, so I talk to God all the time, but I don’t usually hear answers.  It’s a much more subtle process with me.  God may tell Abraham and Sarah to get up and go and change everything about their lives.  But nobody ever says that to me.  If I hear God at all, it’s somewhere between the lines of a page when I am reading the Torah, and all I ever hear is, ‘Burt, turn the page.’” Is that your experience, too?  If God speaks at all, it’s by way of a subtle message.  Surely we live in a time when God seems mostly silent, and visions are not widespread.

But according to the Bible, God hasn’t always been so tight-lipped.  In fact, the Bible records one “call story” after another. God calls Abraham and Sarah, “Go to a place I will show you…through you will come my blessing to all the nations.”  Moses was tending his herd of goats when God summoned him: “Go down to Egypt and tell the Pharaoh to let my people go.”  All the prophets perceived that God was calling them.  Isaiah, for example, was worshiping in the Temple when he heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”  Jesus, you remember, began his ministry when the voice of God called to him out of the water of his baptism.  “You are my beloved.”  And the disciples were each summoned by Jesus, “Come and follow me.”

It’s instructive to recall that our word “church” is translated from the Greek word ekklesia, meaning “to be summoned, called out.”  The Bible is replete with stories about heroes and heroines of the faith whose significance was derived from the fact that they were called by God.  Yes, we hear these inspiring stories, but then find ourselves asking, ‘When is the Lord going to call me?”  Does God still speak to people today the way God supposedly spoke in years past?

This weekend we are celebrating the birthday of Martin Luther King, and it’s natural to point to a great leader such as Dr. King and say, “There is an example of a person called by God.”  King reluctantly left his pastorate at Dexter Avenue Church in Montgomery, Alabama to lead the Montgomery bus boycott only because he felt called.  “I couldn’t say no,” he declared.  He felt called to proclaim a new vision, of a society in which “the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners could sit down together at the table of brotherhood…and the heat of injustice and the heat of oppression would be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.”

Early on during the Montgomery bus boycott, King received a phone call threatening the lives of his wife and children. Unable to sleep, King sat at the kitchen table and prayed for a way to extricate himself from the struggle.  “At that moment,” King would later write, “I experienced the presence of the Divine as I had never experienced it before.  It seemed as though I could hear the quiet assurance of an inner voice saying, ‘Stand up for justice, stand up for truth; and God will be at your side forever.’. . . Almost at once,” King wrote, “my fears began to go.  My uncertainty disappeared.  I was ready to face anything.”  This weekend we’re honoring the legacy of Martin Luther King who, like the prophets of old, heard the voice of God calling him to take up God’s work of healing, of peace-making, of lifting up the downtrodden and making the world a more just and gracious place for all people.

Yes, we’re grateful for the spiritual giants of every age whom God called and used to further God’s purposes in history.  But I still hear the question of that little boy, “When is God going to call me?” I’m thinking of those many of us who haven’t heard God speaking to us and thus aren’t sure if we have a calling, or what that calling might be.

Listen, friends.  Hear the word of the Lord.  You have been called in your baptism.  Every one of you has been named a child of God and joined to Christ’s ministry of love, peace and justice.  You may be a teacher, a doctor, a laborer, a homemaker, a lawyer, student or retired person.  Through the multiplicity of our vocations, we each have a calling to put our lives in the service of God’s purpose wherever we are, and however we can.  Martin Luther King often preached on the theme that God calls every person of faith.  He put in this way, “We each have…a responsibility to set out to discover what we are called to do.  And after we discover that, we should set out to do it with all of the strength and all of the power that we can muster.”

“When is God going to call me?” asked the little boy.  Well, now we can answer. When?   As soon as you see a wrong and try to set it right…The next time you meet a stranger and welcome him or her with respect…The day you give the hungry something to eat…At the very moment you refuse to return evil for evil.

You probably haven’t heard an audible voice calling your name, but trust me, somebody’s knocking on your door, and that Somebody is calling out to you saying, “Show my love to the next person you meet.”  Somebody’s knocking on your door this morning, summoning you to do whatever it is in your power to do to make the world a better place.  Yes, somebody is knocking on your door, saying, “Do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.”  Isn’t it time to open the door and say to the One who is forever calling you, “Speak God.  I’m ready to listen.”