1 Samuel 3:1-10, 19-21
Now the boy Samuel was serving the Lord under Eli. The Lord’s word was rare at that time, and visions weren’t widely known. 2 One day Eli, whose eyes had grown so weak he was unable to see, was lying down in his room. 3 God’s lamp hadn’t gone out yet, and Samuel was lying down in the Lord’s temple, where God’s chest was. 4 The Lord called to Samuel. “I’m here,” he said.
5 Samuel hurried to Eli and said, “I’m here. You called me?”
“I didn’t call you,” Eli replied. “Go lie down.” So he did. 6 Again the Lord called Samuel, so Samuel got up, went to Eli, and said, “I’m here. You called me?”
“I didn’t call, my son,” Eli replied. “Go and lie down.”
(7 Now Samuel didn’t yet know the Lord, and the Lord’s word hadn’t yet been revealed to him.)
8 A third time the Lord called Samuel. He got up, went to Eli, and said, “I’m here. You called me?”
Then Eli realized that it was the Lord who was calling the boy. 9 So Eli said to Samuel, “Go and lie down. If he calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord. Your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down where he’d been.
10 Then the Lord came and stood there, calling just as before, “Samuel, Samuel!”
Samuel said, “Speak. Your servant is listening.”
19 So Samuel grew up, and the Lord was with him, not allowing any of his words to fail. 20 All Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was trustworthy as the Lord’s prophet. 21 The Lord continued to appear at Shiloh because the Lord revealed himself to Samuel at Shiloh through the Lord’s own word.
One of my biggest pet peeves is when people don’t return phone calls, text messages, or emails. I always think to myself, “how hard is it to just pick up the phone or type a few words in response?” In this world where people are communicating less and less, it baffles me as to why people don’t want to connect with one another. Even more confusing to me is that we have more ways to communicate with each other than ever before, yet we are more and more isolated than ever before. I hate having missed calls on my cell phone- when I do, it’s this blaring little red number telling me that I have missed someone’s phone call. I want to get rid of that little red number as soon as possible. One time, I looked at one of my colleague’s cell phones, and she had over 100 missed calls and text messages that she hadn’t read! It drove me crazy just to look her phone! I just couldn’t imagine all of the people on the other end of the line or text message screen waiting for a response. In this world that often times feels so lonely and isolating, sometimes all we really need is a response. Sometimes, we need more than anything to have someone reach out, call, text, follow through with conversation or to ask “how are you?”
For some of us, we may look at our phones and see that we have too many missed calls. Some calls we know are unimportant or spam calls that we have missed on purpose, but what about the important phone calls that we miss? I have a colleague who missed a phone call with this important message: “We have a birth mother for you.” They were able to connect later, but anxiety was high until they did connect! I have another colleague who could not get ahold of her parents at 5:30 am when she went into labor with her second child. The agreement was that her parents were to come and take her older child when she went into labor. They missed 6 phone calls altogether. Her husband ended up having to hang out at Dunkin Donuts with a 2 year old until preschool opened. Finally, my friend’s mom called her 5 hours later, but she did not answer the call since she was giving birth! And another colleague missed a phone call from her dad letting her know that her mom had died. We all have had those important missed phone calls and wonder what would have been different if we had been available to pick up the phone right then. And sometimes, we are happy to miss certain calls as we wonder how we will respond to the situation on the other end.
The questions I want us to address today are these: do we have missed calls from God? Are we too busy to take a call from God? And how and when we will respond? Samuel was a young man who almost missed his call from God, but God was persistent. Sometimes, the only thing that gets in the way of us hearing God’s call is ourselves. The story is kind of humorous. Samuel is lying down in the temple and hears someone calling to him. Assuming it is his mentor, Eli, Samuel runs into the other room and says, “Here I am!” Imagine the look on Eli’s face when Samuel comes in from out of nowhere. Sometimes I will be at home , and I think I hear Corey saying something to me from the other room, so I walk in to ask him, “What?” and the look on his face before he says, “Umm…I didn’t say anything…” is priceless! I’m sure we all have similar stories.
But with Samuel, this happens three times until Eli finally clues him in about what is going on. Now to be fair, we are told that Samuel did not yet understand the word of God, and therefore would have not known what to listen for or what he was hearing. The key is that he responded to whatever it was he was hearing right away, knowing that he was needed for some reason. He responded without really even knowing what he was getting into, which is better than many of us would do, myself included!
This story of Samuel’s call from God is a stark reminder that God, in his persistent love, calls over and over again until we respond. God continually calls out to each one of us. The question is how we are responding…or if we are even listening at all. I spent last weekend with a group of people who are just entering the candidacy process for licensed or ordained ministry. I have the privilege of mentoring a group of candidates as they go through the process. I hear their call stories, answer their questions, and help them with the mounds of paperwork they have to do, and I remember being in the exact same place. But the most amazing part of being a mentor is hearing people’s call stories. So often it follows this pattern: God called me, but I didn’t listen. God called me again, I ran and did something else. God called me again, and I finally found myself here, wondering what is next!
I think it’s powerful, important, and often crucial to share our call stories with one another. Whenever I hear someone’s story of how God has called them, whether to ordained ministry or to their life’s profession, I am reminded of how God calls me…calls each of us to a purpose in this life. In this I am also reminded that I need to respond- and not only just respond, but respond in ways that continually honor God and honor my calling. People often ask me why I am in ministry or how I ended up being a pastor. For me, it was a calling from God that I believe began when I was a teenager, although I certainly didn’t recognize it at the time. I was Jewish, as many of you know, and was involved in synagogue and Jewish youth group, and I was given opportunities from the Rabbi and others to learn how to lead worship and was given the confidence to do so. I began to feel comfortable in that role and felt like it was something I wanted to continue doing.
When I became a Christian in my college years, the call in my life continued simply by the fact that I had decided to follow Jesus. From the time I proclaimed Christ in my life, I knew that I wanted to lead, guide, and encourage others to do the same. I wanted to walk with people on their own faith journeys, to care for and nurture people, to teach, to challenge, and to grow with people in their faith. I wanted to help people wrestle with their faith, the Bible, and ask the tough questions with them. I found joy in knowing that as a pastor, I am called to walk with people in all seasons of life- at their best and at their worst, from the beginning of life to the end and everything in between. As a pastor I am privileged to celebrate with people and also mourn and cry with people. That is what God calls me to do.
My call wasn’t an overnight thing or one lightbulb moment. It wasn’t like Samuel who was called 3 times before he responded, or like many of my colleagues who felt God calling them but ran from it. My call story is one of doors that were opened to me and the people who helped me along the way. When I decided to follow the Christian faith, I had people who helped me understand Jesus’ teachings and the depths of God’s grace. When I accepted a position in youth ministry, I had people who encouraged me along the way and much to learn about church life and leadership, and I faced many challenges and adventures along the way! When I took an internship as a hospital chaplain in college, I saw this as another door opening for me and I decided to walk through it, not knowing what I would discover. But I knew that this was something else that shaped my call to ministry.
I picture in my mind the faces of people who have brought me to where I am today, and I also know that there are faces that I have not seen yet. I know that God is not through with me yet, nor will God ever be. Call stories are never an open and close case- they are ongoing throughout our lives. Our calls change and grow as we grow, as long as we are open to how God calls us. Sometimes we are ready to listen for God’s call, and sometimes we are not. But God calls each one of us, whether we are ready or not!
Samuel certainly did not see his call coming, but Eli recognized it. Sometimes it takes someone else in our lives to help us recognize how God calls. There have been several people in my own life that have helped me with this, but the most crucial person, whether she knows it or not, was my mom, who is Jewish. She was my Eli when in the car one day when I was in TN visiting from college, she turned to me and said, “So, are you going to get ordained as a pastor?” I looked at her and said, “Oh, I don’t know. I’m still thinking about it.” Her response was, “Why not? You might as well!”
Who is your Eli? Who is that person who sees you for who you are, celebrates your gifts, and encourages you to do something with them? In the church, we should be in the business of helping each other recognize how God calls and to nurture that call. Today I want to lift up that “every call from God is a personal call. God’s call comes to us person-to-person. It is not a conference call. Some of us respond by putting God on hold. Others of us use call-waiting and take other calls first. Then there are those of us who try to return the call collect – making God pay for calling us” (Homiletics). Where do you find yourself this morning?
God is calling you. God is calling you to follow him, to be in relationship with him, to use your gifts, and to live your life in love and service to God and neighbor. Are you staring at your life and seeing missed calls from God? If so, will you ignore the call and go on to the next thing? Will you delete those little red numbers from your phone and act as if you never missed the call? Or will you respond? And how will you respond?
Respond by saying yes to God and acknowledging the call, even if you are not sure you have heard correctly. Share your call story and invite people into your life who encourage you and nurture your call. Discover your Eli. Be an Eli for someone else. We can take a lesson from Samuel and Eli who figure it out together. Samuel’s response is one of further clarification, “Speak, Lord! Your servant is listening.” In this moment, God began to work in Samuel’s life, shaping him into an honored and trustworthy prophet. We are told that with God, Samuel’s words never failed. And all because Samuel did not miss the call from God.
My guess is that we all have some missed calls from God that we need to return…and “it would be impossible for us to return God’s call with ‘Our Father, who art in heaven,’ if we did not first hear God say to us, ‘My children, who art on earth, I have loved the world so much that I sent my one and only Son that whoever believes in me shall not perish, but have everlasting life’” (Homiletics). God is calling you and me…God is calling us to life abundant, to love, to grace, to humility, to acceptance, to live lives worthy of the call. And when we open our ears and hearts to the call, may we be able to hear these words loud and clear, “Do not be afraid I am with you. I have called you by name. Come and follow me, I will bring you home. I love you and you are mine.” Will you respond to the call or not? The choice is yours. Amen.