Sermon for the Second Sunday after the Epiphany

Text: 1 Samuel 3:8-10
Eli realized that it was the Lord who was calling the boy, so he said to him, "Go back to bed; and if he calls you again, say, "Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.'" So Samuel went back to bed. The Lord came and stood there, and called as he had before, "Samuel! Samuel!"
Samuel answered, "Speak; your servant is listening."
Samuel

Discovery, decision & action

In her book, A Man Called Peter, Catherine Marshall relates this event. 

One dark night, Peter, then a young man, decided to take a shortcut across the Scottish moors.  He knew there was a deep deserted limestone quarry in that area, but he was confident he could avoid it.  The night was very dark and he could barely see where he was going when he suddenly heard someone call, “Peter!” There was great urgency in the voice.  Peter stopped and called, “Yes who is it?  What do you want?”

There was no answer.  Maybe it was the wind.  Maybe he was hearing things.  He walked a few more steps and then heard the voice again calling out of the darkness and with an even greater urgency, “Peter!” 

He paused then stumbled over something and fell on his knees.  Putting out his hand to catch himself, he found nothing there!  He was at the very edge of the abandoned stone quarry.  One more step would have meant certain death.

Peter Marshall knew that the voice calling him that night was the voice of God and that he had been saved from certain death for a purpose – to speak God's Word wherever and whenever he could.

Late one evening a professor sat at his desk working on the next day's lectures.  He shuffled through the papers and mail placed there by his housekeeper.  He began to throw them in the wastebasket when one magazine – delivered to his office by mistake – caught his attention.  It fell open to an article entitled “The Needs of the Congo Mission”.

The professor began reading it idly, “The need is great here.  It is my prayer as I write this article that God will lay his hand on one – one on whom already, the Master's eyes have been cast, that he or she shall be called to this place to help us.”

The professor closed the magazine and wrote in his diary, “My search is over”.  He went to the Congo.  The professor's name was Albert Schweitzer.

You might say that it was purely accidental that the little article, hidden in a periodical intended for someone else, was placed in Schweitzer's mailbox and it was by chance that he actually read it.  Through the pages of that magazine God's voice called out to Schweitzer to take a path that he wouldn’t have otherwise followed.

The Bible is full of stories about people who are called by God – some who received a call directly from God and others who are called indirectly through other people. Peter Marshall heard God calling him directly much like Samuel in our Old Testament reading; Albert Schweitzer through the words of someone else much like Nathanael who heard about Jesus through Philip.  Each of us has been called by God to fulfil a purpose, to fulfil some task in this life. 

When God calls there seems to be three things that happen - discovery, decision and then action. 

Let’s look at the step of discovery.  We see this in the story about Samuel in first reading today.  Samuel is woken up by a voice calling his name in the middle of the night.  With the help of Eli the old priest he discovers that it’s God who has been calling his name.

In the gospel reading when Nathanael first heard about Jesus he mocked the idea that anything worthwhile can come from Nazareth and yet when he met Jesus he soon discovered that he was no stranger to Jesus and that Jesus had called him to “come and see” through Philip and led him to confess that the Nazarene was truly the Son of God. 

Just as he did for both Samuel and Nathanael, God takes the first step and comes to us where we are.  He calls us to serve him. 
Whether it’s Moses to lead the people of Israel,
or Jeremiah to be a prophet with warnings of God's anger and judgement,
or Jonah to declare the Word of the Lord to the Ninevites,
or Gideon to the lead an army against Israel’s enemies,
or Mary to be the mother of Jesus,
or Saul to preach the Good News to the Gentiles –
no-one applies for these jobs or puts up their hands and enthusiastically cries out “Pick me! Pick me!”

In each case, God acts first and people discover the plan that God has for them. For many of us that begins at baptism and it is in that event that God first establishes a relationship with us. God is the initiator of this relationship.  He comes to us as babies, who don’t know anything about God, but that’s all right, because it’s God who is undertaking these first important steps. God comes and calls us to be his children even though we are completely in the dark as to what it really is all about.

For others, baptism might not have been the first step in the process, but be assured that it was still God who made the first step toward you. Through the power of the Holy Spirit at work in your heart, Jesus called you to be his disciple, to follow him and serve him.  Baptism then is God's seal on the relationship he has established with you.  It is never something you do to create that relationship.  Baptism is Jesus’ gracious commitment to you to be your friend and Saviour all the days of your life.

How exciting it is to discover again and again the special place that we have in God's heart. What a relief it is to discover afresh God's commitment to us when everything else seems to be going wrong. God calls us and we discover ho we can serve him.

Let’s go on to step two – the decision.

When God spoke to Samuel the fourth time, Samuel responded by saying, “Lord speak to me, tell me what you want me to do.  I’m all ears”.  Philip’s response to Jesus’ words, “Come with me” led him to become one of the twelve disciples.

We have been called into a relationship with Jesus.  The questions needs to asked, What are we doing with that unique calling that he has given to us?  What is our response to Jesus’ call to each of us, “Come with me”?

God calls us into a relationship with him and as we discover what God has done for us this leads us to some decisions and choices that affect our attitudes and thinking.

I’m afraid this is where our relationship with God appears to be a bit like bungy jumping.  You are standing on the edge of somewhere up high.  Down is a long way but you have all the right gear and all who have gone before you and those in charge promise that it’s a great ride and everything will be all right.  All you have to do is step off the ledge.  Believe, trust and let go.  The decision is all yours. 

In the same kind of way, what is it that allows us to let go of ourselves, to surrender ourselves to Jesus, to make a decision which allows me to let go of my life and allow Jesus to have full control?  It is God-given faith; faith in God’s promise which allows us to develop a more complete and a richer relationship with God.  God calls us, we discover that call as something personal and individual, as a special relationship that God has with each of us.  It is faith that enables us to let go and let God be our God and let Jesus have control and let the Holy Spirit direct what we say and what choices we make and how we treat others.

And that brings us to the third step, action.

Samuel and Philip put their decision of faith into action.  Samuel said to the Lord he would listen to what God had to say, and Philip asked Nathanael to come and see the Messiah.  And Nathanael made a declaration of faith, saying, “Teacher, you are the Son of God!  You are the King of Israel!”

Whether they realised it at the time or not, their lives would never be the same again.  God had come to them.  They had discovered God's love and his will for their lives.  They decided to listen and trust the love they had come to know in their relationship with God.  Now their actions reflected that God was an integral part of their lives.

When God calls us the same thing happens – our actions reflect the God who is in our midst. Sometimes it might lead us to do some extraordinary things in the name of Christ; often it will simply make us be who God wants us to be and to use the abilities and resources available to us not just for our own wants but also to help others and further the Kingdom of God. 

We will become bungy jumpers stepping off with confidence trusting in God's love even when everything seems to be doom and gloom.  We will trust God's promises that nothing can separate us from the love of God which ours through Christ Jesus our Lord. We will step out and help the down and out when all logic screams at us that it’s all a waste of time and money.

It’s true we can’t always be the loving kind of person we ought to be, but we try. Sometimes we fail, sometimes we step on people’s toes;
sometimes in our enthusiasm about God, we turn people off;
sometimes in our concern for their eternal welfare, we challenge their complacency to such a point they are turned off,
and it is at those times we need to seek their forgiveness and the forgiveness of God.
 

But there are times when we need to keep challenging people so that they don’t become complacent in their faith and we need to keep on challenging ourselves so that our Christianity doesn’t become simply a cosy pillow to rest on but continues to challenge us to grow and mature.

We are called by God. May our response be like Samuel’s, “I’m listening, Lord. What do you want me to do?”

 

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
15th January 2012
E-mail: gerhardy65@hotmail.com

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