A Sermon by Rev. James Eaton • © 2021
January 27, 2021 • Second Sunday After Epiphany
1 Samuel 3:1-10 (11-20) • 1 Corinthians 6:12-20 • John 1:43-51
We have a small, blond dog we call Lucy; opinions differ on whether that’s short for Lucille or Lucifer. She’s a mix of terrier and small poodle. The idea was that she would be perky like a terrier and smart like a poodle and not shed. She’s not that smart, she sheds most of the time and she barks at everyone and everything. This wasn’t so much an issue when we lived on a big lot. It became an issue in Albany the first morning the garbage guys arrived at 5:30 AM and Lucy decided to warn us by barking loudly and endlessly. Lucy doesn’t do any tricks, she doesn’t come on command. She has one talent but she has it in abundance. Lucy has big pointy ears and she can hear things no one else can.
What do you hear? Today we read the story of Samuel’s call. It’s a lesson in hearing your own call. It’s a slack time in Israel’s history. The great days of Moses and Joshua are over; King David isn’t on the radar screen yet. The text says, “The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.” Samuel is a kid, the son of Hannah, who conceived him after praying desperately and has, the Bible says, “lent him” to the Lord. So he’s helping out at the sanctuary, assisting Eli. Think of him as an intern.
He’s sleeping when he hears this: “Samuel! and he goes running off to Eli, assuming the boss was calling. Eli tells him to go lie down. Again: “Samuel!” It happens again. I’m guessing by now Eli was getting tired of this game; he tells Samuel, “Well, if it happens again, pretend it’s God and tell God you’re listening.” Amazingly enough, it is God indeed calling and God says, “I’m going to do something that will make everyone’s ears tingle.” Just to start, he certainly makes Samuel’s tingle; he tells him he’s going to throw Eli and his son’s down because of all the bad things they’ve done. This isn’t a great message to take to your boss; at first, Samuel says nothing but of course God’s Word always gets out and it does and Eli is overthrown, Samuel becomes renowned as a prophet. Later on, he’s going to be the one who has the courage to do God’s bidding and anoint David as God’s chosen to rule God’s people.
Are your ears tingling? Have you heard God calling your name? Is there a moral purpose at the center of your life based on a call from God? Today I want to offer a way to seek God’s call in this time, in every time.
That process begins with the same advice parents gave us about crossing the street: “Stop, look, listen”. Perhaps you remember the story of Moses’ call. He had been an exalted leader in Egypt who had to run for his life when he murdered someone in a fight over mistreatment of Hebrew slaves. He hides out in the wilderness of Sinai; he makes a new life there. One day, off in the distance, he sees a bush burning without being consumed. “I will turn aside to see this sight”, he says and does. There, turned aside, after he has stopped, when he looks, as he listens, he hears God calls his voice. There is an ancient Rabbinic tradition in fact that there had been many burning bushes before but no one bothered to stop and look at them.
One of the most important prayers of my life was, “I give up, Lord.” As a pastor of a growing church in Suttons Bay, Michigan, I had been going to meetings, talking to church leaders and trying to get a building project going. The congregation needed space but was divided on what to do, whether to build new or try to expand our existing building. Finally, we held a Congregational Meeting to make a decision. But the meeting fall into an inconclusive process and nothing was done. All that work went down the drain. Discouraged and depressed, I sat in the little sanctuary a day or so later and told God I was giving up. And I did. One day a few months later, a young woman who was new to the congregation came up with a solution that had never occurred to any of us. I believe now, as I have believed for years, that God was just waiting for me, and our church leaders, to stop trying to do it on our own and listen for God’s call.
The first step toward hearing your call is to stop living from your to do list and listen for God’s call. Look around: see to what God puts in front of you. God often uses what is simple, what is there, to teach. When Jesus taught, he didn’t construct long logical paragraphs, he told stories about the simple realities everyone hearing already knew. Sowing seeds; keeping watch, everyone knew about those things. He taught them to see these things with great seriousness.
Part of this looking and listening is paying attention to others. Assume everyone you meet might be a text from God. In the story we read from the Gospel of John, Jesus doesn’t call Nathaniel. Jesus asks Philip to go with him; it’s Philip who goes to Nathaniel and invites him to come along as well. Every Christian leader I know has a story, often many stories, of a person or people who were the means of God’s calling to them
Listening means learning to pray slowly. I find this is a great challenge. When I sit down to pray, I want to get to it. I want to start right up but is that how we talk to good friends? “Hey, yeah, hi listen here’s what I want you to do, Lord.” When I was being taught to do counseling, I was nervous about how I would start a conversation. The professor listened to me and said, “Why don’t you just say, ‘How are things?” and then shut up?” Perhaps the best prayer is one that simply begins, “Hello God” and then… shuts up, listens. You can see this process in the final part of the story of Samuel. What does Samuel say to God? “Speak, Lord, your servant listens.” Notice there are no petitions here, no requests, no list of things for God to do. Just a slow prayer: your servant listens.
Stop look and listen, pray slowly, assuming others might be a text from God are three steps toward hearing God’s call. We can’t all hear as well as Lucy our dog does. That’s ok; over and over we find that in the stories of God calling, God is persistent. God calls Samuel three times before Samuel understands it’s God calling. God calls Moses and confirms that call several times.
Paul said in First Corinthians, “…you were bought with a price.” Now even we have a purpose when we buy things. I don’t randomly buy spinach; I buy it because Jacquelyn is coming home and she eats it for breakfast. I don’t randomly buy dog food; I buy the cans of chicken for small seven year old dogs because that’s what Lucy likes. If we act with such purpose, isn’t it certain God does? So if we have been bought with a price, it must mean God has a purpose for your life, a call to which you’re invited to respond. Are your ears tingling? If they aren’t, maybe the answer is to take Lucy as an example and stop, look and listen.