Throughout history, God has called prophets and disciples to shake up the status quo and change the world. Today, God is calling us out! Join us this Sunday to remember the legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who gave his life for that call and to consider how God is calling each of us. What is God calling us to? How might we be agents of change who refuse to be silent in the face of injustice and fear?
1 Samuel 3:1-10
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. At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; 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. Then the Lord called, “Samuel! Samuel!” and he said, “Here I am!” 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. 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.” Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. 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. 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. Now the Lord came and stood there, calling as before, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”
A PDF of the sermon as distributed at Calvary is available for download and printing.
The Bible is full of stories of God calling people, of God choosing to partner with human beings, to do the divine work of peace and justice.
This morning, Lucas read for us the call of Samuel, the story of a young boy who worked for the priest Eli. It’s kind of a sweet story of hearing God’s still, small voice in the middle of the night, and of how Samuel, through his mentor Eli, learns to listen. But if we were to keep reading and to finish chapter 3, we would realize that Samuel is called to an almost-impossible task.
What God tells Samuel, once he is listening, is this: the one from whom he is learning, his mentor, the priest, the judge of Israel, Eli will be punished for the sins of his household and his days as priest will be no more, and Samuel will take his place.
Can you imagine? Being a young apprentice to a man with power and authority, someone you even look up to. And the call that God has placed on your life is to tell him of his downfall and that you will be the one to take his place? Verse 15 tells us that “Samuel lay there until morning … and he was afraid to tell the vision to Eli.” Well, yeah.
See, that’s the thing about being called out by God. It’s rarely convenient or comfortable.
Like Samuel, it can leave us wide-awake in the middle of the night, a little afraid of what will come next. And it will certainly break open our understanding of the world and challenge us to be and do more. Take our gospel lesson this morning. A reading from John:
The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter.
Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.”
Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”
Philip said to him, “Come and see. (John 1:43-46)
Friends, The Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.
This is the story of the call of two disciples: Philip and Nathanael. We don’t know for sure what Philip and Nathanael did for a living before leaving it all to follow Jesus. But they weren’t homeless, and they didn’t have to rely on the hospitality of others for food and shelter as they did when they were with Jesus. They gave up the life they knew, some of the creature comforts of having a steady job and a place to call home, just so that they could follow Jesus.
Andrew and Peter, also mentioned here, were fishermen before they became disciples, a steady and honest job with a decent pay in Jesus’ day. They left these reliable and esteemed careers to follow a carpenter’s son from Nazareth.
Nazareth, obviously, was not held in very high esteem. After all, Nathanael asks, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”
Nazareth is a place much like how some people might view Haiti or countries in Africa – with prejudice and disdain. Nathanael had his strong doubts about what good could possibly come from a place like Nazareth.
But, oh, isn’t that just how God works?
Taking that which people of power and wealth look down upon and from those very places bringing about the healing and salvation of the world.
See, God is often where we might least expect it.
Not in a palace, but a manger.
Not in a high-rise condo building, but on the streets of a slum.
Not celebrated on a fancy stage, but crucified on the outskirts of town.
God is often in the very places where we don’t want to go, the places that rarely even make it on the news, the places where we wonder, “can anything good possibly come from there?”
And that is precisely where God is. Unless we step out of our comfortable, overly-sanitized and overly-planned lives, we will miss what God is actively doing in the world.
We are called out, and we are sent, as disciples and as apostles of Jesus Christ.
Just as God did throughout the Bible and throughout history, God is calling us to the hard work of justice, the work of healing and wholeness, of sharing the gospel truth and the good news with those who need it most. But maybe, like Nathanael, we’re skeptical of where that call comes from and where it might take us. Or maybe, like Samuel, we’re tired, and we’re asleep, and we don’t want to or can’t recognize that voice.
It’s easy to look inward, to privatize our faith and to make it just about me and God. And I do think it’s natural, perhaps even our default condition, to seek out what’s comfortable and the path of least resistance.
We hear Jesus saying that he came so that we might have life and have it abundantly, and too often we mistakenly believe that means we get to do and have and be whatever we want.
Getting everything we want and having everything go our way, that’s not abundant life. Those who dispense a “prosperity gospel” will try to sell you on that, and it sure is enticing. But that is not what Jesus meant. Because Jesus also calls us to sacrificial living, to a love that would give its life for others, to a faith that would give our lives fully and completely over to God.
Abundant life is not the opposite of a sacrificial life or a life lived for God. In fact, perhaps our greatest joys and deepest loves will elude us until we finally fully give ourselves to God and to others. Perhaps that is where abundance is found.
Now, that’s not to say we don’t practice self-care. But it is to say that self-care is not the same as self-centeredness.
Self-care recharges and rejuvenates, so that we can continue to do what God calls us to do.
Self-care is necessary and biblical, and is rooted in love, love for your self because God loves you.
Self-centeredness, on the other hand, reorders and restructures our lives, so that God is no longer at the center, rather we are. And my needs and my desires overrule what God calls us to do, so much so that we can drown out the voices of those who need us to come alongside them, who need us to listen, and to speak up against oppression and hate.
Self-centeredness is rooted in fear; fear of scarcity, fear that you are not enough, and fear that there is not enough love or resources for both you and for others. So we turn inward, shutting out God’s voice and God’s call, shutting out the world and all its problems.
Practice self-care. But do not be self-centered. And do not mistake one for the other.
One allows us to hear God when God calls. The other allows us to roll over and go back to bed.
It took God four times for Samuel to finally listen. How many times will it take us to heed and hear? Will we arise, wake up, and pay attention when God calls?
The only way we can really know what God calls us to, is if we’re paying attention, is if we know what’s happening in the world and in this country and in this city. Frederick Buechner writes, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” In other words, where your greatest joy meets the world’s greatest need; it is to that intersection where you are called. So you have to know, know yourself and your joys, and know the world and its needs.
God calls us, each and every one of us.
Each year in January, we, collectively as a nation, take a moment to remember the life and legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a man who answered God’s call on his life. Dr. King had a pretty decent ministry in a nice congregation. He probably could’ve made a simple and sweet living without speaking out against segregation and racism and war.
He didn’t have to go march, or go to prison, or speak out in public where he was vulnerable to assassination. But he couldn’t shake God’s call on his life.
Sometimes, it can be easy to gloss over how divisive Dr. King’s words were when he first spoke and wrote them. We all too often lift up his call to unity, while forgetting that he demanded justice and equality first.
If you only read his, “I Have a Dream Speech,” but not his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” we can go through this three-day weekend without feeling the disruption of his words. But I encourage you to read or listen to both before Monday comes and goes.
A quote from “A Letter from a Birmingham Jail” is printed on our bulletin today. Dr. King wrote, “We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words and actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence of the good people.” He wrote this letter to white clergymen, people he believed were essentially good, but who were perpetrating horrible wrongs and injustices by their silence.
This letter haunts me. And if I’m completely honest with you, one of my greatest fears is that my own privilege and comfort and self-centeredness will shield me from being able to see and respond when an injustice is happening right before me.
I don’t think I’d knowingly oppress another human being. But my goodness, I think I am absolutely capable of (and, if I’m honest, have already) participated in the oppression of others through my silence, my disregard and my neglect. You see, if it doesn’t directly affect me, I am all too eager to overlook it.
As such, I am grateful to be part of a tradition that corporately confesses together our sins each and every week. Rarely do people say their favorite part of worship is the Prayer of Confession. But that may very well be my favorite part.
Or, more accurately perhaps, it is the Assurance of Pardon, the grace that we receive once we are honest enough to confess. But first confess we must, so that we can be forgiven and try again.
Dr. King warned us of the sins he saw most prevalent in American society. The sins of racism, militarism, and materialism.
This man who was a preacher and a pastor first worried more about this country’s spirit and its soul than about this country’s wealth and its status. He recognized that a country that spends more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift would approach spiritual death.
That was fifty years ago, and while some things have greatly changed, our propensity towards the sins he names: racism, militarism, and materialism, still hold true. We all participate in these -isms, both individually and collectively.
And our worship, if it right and to be pleasing to God, not only comforts and lifts us up, but worships a God who calls us to a different way of life by challenging us and changing us, so that we leave here a little different than when we came. This is our opportunity to respond, to commit, to recalibrate and to return to God and God’s ways. In Hebrew, the word for repent is shuv, and it means to literally turn. Turn to God; Re-Turn to God.
This is something as people of faith we must do, week after week. Because of course we fail, we’re human.
But God chooses to call us out again and again.
Like Samuel, like the disciples, like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, like Rosa Parks, and so many who have gone before us, none of whom were perfect by the way, we are being called out.
CALLED OUT of our comfort; CALLED OUT of our complacency; CALLED OUT of what is familiar and known.
And CALLED INTO risk & trust that deepens and grows our faith; CALLED INTO God’s plan for our lives and for all of humankind; CALLED INTO relationship with God and with others- relationships that change us forever.
And ultimately, it is God who leads us.
One of Dr. King’s favorite songs was “Precious Lord.” At his request, Mahalia Jackson sang it at his funeral.
As we sing together this old gospel hymn, let us allow God to lead us, to take us to places we may never have gone had we not heard or heeded God’s call.
There is a deep comfort, a deep peace, and a deep joy in following God and letting God take our hand. The road ahead is not easy, never easy, but that’s not what Jesus promised. Jesus promised to be with us, that we will never be alone.
So we go with God, hand in hand, to do the work of God.