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June 2/3, 2018

Lectionary 9b

Pr. Michelle Sevig

 

“Listen, God Is Calling”

 

My new favorite comedian is a regular on NPR’s Saturday evening show, “Live From Here.” Tom Papa, comes on each week to do a piece called “Out in America” when he pretends to travel to American cities and tells long, detailed stories of his experience. The scenes are outrageous and unbelievable, but the funny part is his repeated classic line, “Have you ever ____ (fill in the blank with something unbelievable)? I have.”

For instance in the last show telling about his bad experience in a San Francisco hotel he asks, “Have you ever checked into hotel and thought the desk clerk might be nicer if you were a Chihuahua? I have.” And as the story goes on “Have you ever drunk so much whiskey and caffeine in the middle of a flight between Florida and Chicago that you actually forgot that you’re in San Francisco? I have.”

You get the idea, I think, so I thought I’d try a few of my own.

Have you ever been restless in the middle of the night unable to fall back asleep? I have. Have you ever heard someone call out your name and turned around unable to identify the voice? I have. Have you ever had your supervisor challenge you do something new that stretches you beyond your comfort zone—like preach on the Old Testament test instead of the Gospel? I have.

This summer your pastors will be trying something new, and you can be thankful it’s not stand up comedy. We are going to be focusing our preaching on the readings from the Hebrew Scriptures, AKA the Old Testament. Starting with the books of Samuel we’ll hear about Israel’s greatest heroes: the prophet Samuel, Israel’s first king, Saul and David who would become their greatest King. These stories of heroes and heroic victories remind us of Gods help and faithfulness. God calls real people into positions of responsibility—even people who make mistakes.

First we must start with Hannah. Have you ever longed for a baby so much that you made promises to God, if only you could have a child? I have. And Hannah did too. She begged God for a son, and during her prayer she encounters the priest Eli, who is less than comforting, accusing her of being drunk. Despite this encounter, Eli tells Hannah that her prayer will be answered. And when her long awaited child is born she does what she promised to do, and after he was old enough to be weaned from her, Hannah brought him back to the temple. Samuel stayed with Eli and grew up in the temple among Eli’s sons. He was formed and shaped through Eli’s mentoring.

At the beginning of our reading today we are told that the “word of the Lord was rare” in those days. Eli’s sons who were being groomed for the ministry, who were from the right family and were destined to take Eli’s place when he retired or died, were not trustworthy. They did what was right in their own eyes, not what was right with God. And it is at this time and place that the young boy Samuel receives his call from God.

In the middle of the night Samuel hears a voice calling his name, so he runs to Eli who is old and frail and says, “Yes Lord, what is it?” But the old man turns him away and hushes him back to sleep. Again Samuel hears his name called, and he runs to Eli saying, “Here I am.” And Eli sends him back again. And then when it happens a third time, Eli finally comes to realize that it is the Lord who is calling Samuel’s name. And he tells the boy to respond, “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.”

Eli helps Samuel identify God’s voice. Sure, it took three times of Samuel running into Eli’s darkened room in the middle of that night before Eli had the “aha” moment. But as Samuel lay on his bed on that restless night, by the 4th time his name was called he was finally in a position to hear. Was it a still small voice? Was it a booming loud, commanding voice coming from heaven? Who knows? But even though the word of God was rare in those days, Eli knew how to attend to that voice… by listening.

Speak Lord, your servant is listening. Have you ever heard the voice of God calling your name? I have. Well kind of. Not as clear as Samuel did, but certainly God called me to service and truth-telling just as God called Samuel to do the same. How easy it is for any of us to miss God’s call or attribute it to a human instead. In speaking of their call most people do not describe a major disruption in their lives like Samuel’s. Instead they speak of a quiet, slow awakening—perhaps to a life of service or to confront an injustice.

Which is exactly what happened to Samuel! He didn’t get it at first. It took some help from his mentor to explain what these stirrings meant. God’s persistence and Eli’s mentoring go hand in hand. And it often takes others in our lives to help us understand the call God places before us.

What’s God calling you to this day? What stirrings cause you to have restless nights and an open heart? We join with Samuel saying, “Speak Lord, we are listening.” We turn to this community of faith to help us discern the still small voice that whispers to us to speak truth to power, that nudges us to say no to evil and work for peace, that empowers us to forgive and love in Jesus’ name.

There’s a little Samuel in all of us who are waiting for a clear voice to call us out of the shadows and into the light of God’s justice and transformation. And let’s not forget that Samuel was just a child, only 12 years old. God tells him he’ll be an important messenger, not someday in the future—after graduation, or after doing enough, being enough or getting enough. God calls him to be a messenger now.

God’s call comes when we least expect it. And often to those we least expect. God is always the God of surprises. Sometimes we need to be like Eli, encouraging others to hear the One that calls them into all they were created to be. And at the same time, we need to be open to hear the One who is calling us to be more and do more in God’s holy name than we can ever imagine.

Quiet. Listen. Can you hear it? God is calling you to hear those who are crying out in pain. God is calling you to bear witness to love and light in the world. God is calling you to tend to the poor. God is calling you to be a bold truth teller. God is calling you to a feast where everyone who hungers and thirsts will be fed.

Have you heard this call that is outrageous, wonderful, challenging and full of hope for a broken world? I have. May we all be ready to respond, “Here I am, Lord. Is it I Lord? I have heard you calling in the night. I will go Lord, if you lead me. I will hold your people in my heart.”