Vocation: consistent, constant and insistent


Sermon for Epiphany 2 – St George’s, Dunsborough

18 January 2014

I Samuel 3:1-10, John 1:43-51

“The word of the Lord was rare in those days.” (I Samuel 3:1) That may not have been surprising. Eli was old, frail and nearly blind. He couldn’t see how corrupt his two sons were, partly because he was a doting father, and he didn’t want to believe that his offspring could be the stand-over merchants they were. His eyesight was failing, and as they say, “There are none so blind as so those who do not want to see.”

Maybe Eli’s end of life fatigue made him deaf to the word of the Lord. He wasn’t even in the Temple when the word of the Lord came, and the eternal lamp was only just flickering.

Little Samuel, on the other hand, was right inside the Temple, but he was naïve. He didn’t know what the word of the Lord was. There was nothing to hear because Samuel didn’t know then that there could be anything to hear.

So the word of the Lord was infrequent. I don’t think that means that the Lord had given up on his side. God still spoke consistently. People just listened infrequently.

We’re just human, after all. When I was about eight, my big brother said to me, “Don’t let them,” (them meaning our parents) “Don’t let them teach you how to milk the cow, or else you’ll get the job.” I never did learn how to milk a cow! We all arrange things so we won’t get called up to do some task or another, and we justify it to ourselves some way or another. But in the end, it’s avoiding the responsibility of a relationship.

Eli hadn’t taught Samuel how to listen because Eli knew what was likely in store for Samuel: a call to minister to the Lord in the Temple. But the Lord persisted, as the Lord does. The Lord woke Samuel, and Eli sent him back to bed telling him he was mistaken. He hadn’t heard a voice. How ridiculous! God doesn’t call people. The word of the Lord is rare.

Three times the Lord called. Three times Samuel answered, “Here I am, for you called me,” and three times Eli sent him back to bed.

Eli knew that both Samuel and he had to take on this responsibility. Samuel had to respond to this call from God, and Eli had to mentor him to become a spiritual leader. Both Eli and Samuel were called up to duty, to take up the responsibilities God had for them. So on the fourth occasion, Eli gave Samuel the instruction to reply, “Speak, Yahweh, Lord, for your servant is listening.” (3:9-10).

God did have something to say. It wasn’t actually the case that the word of the Lord was rare in those days. God had been calling Samuel before that night. God called Samuel repeatedly that night. God continued to call Samuel all through his life from that night on. The name “Samuel”, “Sh’muel” in the original Hebrew, means “called by God”.

Shmuel

Of course these days, in 2015, in our sophisticated world, the word of the Lord is rare. I mean, who would admit to hearing God speak to them?

Or might it be the case that it is our deafness, our spiritual unwillingness to listen, that is giving the impression that the word of the Lord is rare? We don’t want to hear, in case we’re called up to do a task, and get caught up in a web of relationships having to be responsible. Count me out, we pray silently. We might get the job of milking the cow every morning.

But the uncomfortable truth is that God is consistent and insistent. He continues to call people to himself.

Nathanael, in this morning’s Gospel, was called through Philip. That was the moment Nathanael responded, but he was surprised to realise that Jesus had already called him. Jesus had already called him when he was sitting under the fig-tree, presumably studying the Old Testament. (The scholars say what else would a model Israelite be doing sitting under a fig-tree?)

The fact of being called is important in itself, important enough to be recorded in the Scriptures.

God continues to call us. Not just like Samuel, at the beginning of our Christian lives, to particular life-long tasks of ministry, although those calls are still valid and immensely important. I’m no longer able to run a parish or work as a school chaplain, but I still feel strongly under the call of 40, 60 years ago to be a teacher and priest. The shape of the tasks is different; the call is still there.

Just as I am called, you are called. As a priest, the sacrament of ordination makes visible the fact that I am called. But that sacrament testifies to a God who calls his people. God has been calling you; God is calling you, God will go on calling you.

We are obviously not all called to be priests. But we are called to be with God. This aspect of being called grows in importance as we grow older. Our calling is first of all to respond in love to that love which believes enough in us to be constant in calling us to him.

Our calling is to be loved. Beyond all the tasks, beyond all the busy-ness. God calls us to allow Him to love us. Before we begin to love God, before we begin to love others, knowing that God loves us.

There’s a well-known prayer by St Ignatius of Loyola that usually goes by the name of Suscipe, the first word of the prayer in Latin. Suscipe means “Take”. The prayer goes:

“Take Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will, all that I have and possess. You have given all these to me. To You, Lord, I return it. All is Yours, dispose of it wholly according to Your will. Give me Your love and Your grace, for this is sufficient for me.”

       “Give me Your love and Your grace, for this is sufficient for me.”

Take a moment now in your place to be aware that God is calling you. God has been calling you; God will continue to call you. If you are comfortable in doing so, close your eyes. … … … Be aware of your name, your Christian name, the name by which God claimed you at baptism, the name by which God welcomes you into his nearer presence, and be aware of God calling that name.

In your heart, say, “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.”… … … In the quiet, in the silence, continue to hear that loving voice speak your name; and hear whatever else He is saying to you. … … …

The Lord is with you.

Philip brings Nathanael to Jesus

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