Sunday, January 16, 2011

Called By Name

1 Samuel 3:1-10

1 Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread. 2 At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; 3 the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was. 4 Then the Lord called, "Samuel! Samuel!" and he said, "Here I am!" 5 and ran to Eli, and said, "Here I am, for you called me." But he said, "I did not call; lie down again." So he went and lay down. 6 The Lord called again, "Samuel!" Samuel got up and went to Eli, and said, "Here I am, for you called me." But he said, "I did not call, my son; lie down again." 7 Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. 8 The Lord called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, "Here I am, for you called me." Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy. 9 Therefore Eli said to Samuel, "Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, "Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.' " So Samuel went and lay down in his place. 10 Now the Lord came and stood there, calling as before, "Samuel! Samuel!" And Samuel said, "Speak, for your servant is listening."

John 1: 43-51

43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, "Follow me." 44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, "We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth." 46 Nathanael said to him, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" Philip said to him, "Come and see." 47 When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, "Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!" 48 Nathanael asked him, "Where did you get to know me?" Jesus answered, "I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you." 49 Nathanael replied, "Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!" 50 Jesus answered, "Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these." 51 And he said to him, "Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man."

Samuel put on his pajamas and went to bed. It was easy for him to find his way in the semi-darkness; the lamp of God was lit, and he had been at the temple since he was a small boy. His mother, Hannah, had brought him here. Samuel smiled when he thought of his mother. He missed her sometimes – what boy wouldn’t? But he was proud that he had been promised by his mother to the Lord.

Sometimes it got old – doing all the chores, toting this and cleaning up that. But Samuel loved the old man, and he hated the way Eli’s sons treated him – they were supposed to be priests like their father, but they were scoundrels. They only cared about themselves. Samuel knew how to attend to the priest; he knew where everything was, and how every ritual went. That was good, because Eli was nearly blind.

When the voice woke him in the night, Samuel thought there must be something wrong with the old man. Samuel ran to Eli and said “Here I am!” But Eli said, “I didn’t call you! Go back to bed!” And Samuel obeyed. “I must have been dreaming,” he thought. Until he heard his name again, “Samuel! Samuel!” Samuel hadn’t gone back to sleep – it wasn’t a dream! Surely this time it really was Eli. Again, Samuel ran to Eli and said “Here I am!” But Eli said, “I didn’t call you! Go back to bed!” The third time it happened, Samuel was certain that it had to be Eli. “Here I am, for you called me!” he said.

But then Eli realized what was happening. He told Samuel what to do. When he went back to bed, Samuel heard the voice, calling his name in the darkness, and he did as Eli told him, and answered, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”


Nathaniel had not yet heard about this Jesus of Nazareth; who would have? Nazareth was the podunk town down the road – nothing ever happened there! Besides, Nathaniel had his own fish to fry – he had his work, and his faith. He worshiped and prayed as the God of the Covenant had commanded. Nathaniel knew the scriptures, what the prophets said and what the law required.

So it was a little bit hard to believe – actually, a LOT hard to believe, when Philip came running up all excited with his announcement: “We found him! The one that Moses said was coming! The one the prophets wrote about! It’s Jesus, son of Joseph! From Nazareth!”

Nathaniel could hardly keep from laughing! “From Nazareth? You’ve gotta be kidding! From Nazareth?”

“Come and see,” Philip challenged him. So he went.

As Nathaniel walked toward Jesus, Jesus said, “Here comes a true Israelite. Not a false bone in his body!”[1] And Nathaniel knew that Philip was right. This man – this Jesus! -- from Nazareth, of all places! – this man was the one. “Rabbi,” he said, “You are the Son of God!”


Martin hung up the phone and heated a cup of coffee. The call had been another death threat. When the coffee was ready, he sat at the kitchen table, his face in his hands. He was only 26 years old, new to ministry, a baby on the way. He was a confident young man -- he had a Ph.D. in theology, for goodness sake. And he had taken charge right away in his new church. After Mrs. Parks was arrested, the people needed someone to lead them. Martin knew that God was calling him to do this one thing.

So WHY was this happening?

Martin began to pray, out loud, right there at the kitchen table. He said, “Lord, I'm down here trying to do what's right. I think the cause that we represent is right. But Lord, I must confess that I'm weak now. I'm faltering. I'm losing my courage. And I can't let the people see me like this because if they see me weak and losing my courage they will begin to get weak.”

And then it seemed at that moment that Martin could hear an inner voice saying, "Stand up for righteousness. Stand up for justice. Stand up for truth. And to I will be with you, even until the end of the world."

Martin said, “...I heard the voice of Jesus saying still to fight on. He promised never to leave me, never to leave me alone..[2]”


Three stories of call. Three stories of obedient response. Three stories of people whom God called by name.

One was a boy, promised to God by his mother. The boy Samuel grew up to be a great prophet of Israel, A judge and priest, Samuel anointed the boy king, David, the king from whose lineage would come the Messiah.

When Samuel said, “Here I am” he didn’t know where it would lead. But he listened and followed the God who called him by name. Samuel, the boy called by God, served the Lord until his death. And the scriptures tell us that when he died, all of Israel mourned for him.

The second was a young man, a devout Jew, skeptical until he was seen and known by Jesus. Nathaniel, isn’t heard from much in the gospels. We know from John’s account that he was called with Philip, right after Jesus called Simon and Andrew. After that, we don’t hear much more about him.

He was, I think, the guy who works behind the scenes. He was like the guy that cleans up the sanctuary after church, like the folks who wash out the 30-cup percolator after the fellowship dinner, the ones who clean up the lawn and the parking lot on Easter weekend.

Nathaniel didn’t know that following Jesus would lead to the cross. He didn’t know that the one who knew him and called him by name would die a shameful, humiliating death. But he followed. Nathaniel said “yes!” And we know that he was present with the others to see the risen Christ.

And the third, also a young man, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He was called “a reluctant prophet.” King, only twenty-six years old, barely beginning his work as a minister, was called to lead his people in non-violent resistance to injustice. The Montgomery bus boycott was only the beginning. Martin didn’t know that the path he took would lead him to jail. He didn’t know that he would be hated and reviled. He didn’t know that his stand for justice would eventually lead to his death.

But Martin said, “Here I am” And he knew that the Jesus who called him by name Stayed with him until the end, and never, no never, left him alone.

Tomorrow we remember King as one called by name. And we remember the name of Rosa Parks, too. Rosa Parks, yes, whose decision not to give up her seat began the bus boycott which contained the seeds of the civil rights movement. Almost everyone knows this story. Fewer people realize that behind the scenes were hundreds of people who made King’s ministry possible.

Do you know about Septima Clark, the black schoolteacher, fired for being a member of the NAACP, who TAUGHT Rosa Parks about non-violent resistance?

And Diane Nash, who virtually ran the Student Nonviolent Coordinating committee?

None of us can name any of the countless people who ran mimeograph machines, sharpened pencils, made phone calls, emptied trashes, cooked meals, gathered clothes, and raised funds for the movement.

We may not know their names, but they, too, were called by name.

Stories of call. Stories of ordinary people, whom God called by name.

Today, we ordain and install some ordinary people: ordinary people called to do extraordinary things. And not a one of them expecting it. Not a one of them planning on it. Not a one of them really prepared for it.

Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, says that our ideas about vocation are “dramatic … [like] casting [a play], you might say… [a]very long and very good play,…with plenty of juicy parts in it. The nuisance is that [God] draws up the cast-list before doing any auditions. We find ourselves called to fulfill a definite role, but we haven't actually seen the script, and as time goes on we may suspect we would do better in another part.”

We’d like to think it was otherwise. We’d like to think that God picks certain people out, and there is something special about those people, that they have unique knowledge and expertise. Not like us. We're just ordinary folks. God won’t be calling us in the night, or even in the middle of the day. So we’re safe. We can go about our business, feeling secure that we’re not qualified to be called by God.

Who are we to stand up for righteousness? Stand up for justice? Stand up for truth? Why would God call any of us?

Sisters and brothers, God calls each of us by name, in different ways, on different days, we are all called to stand up for righteousness. To stand up for justice. To stand up for truth.

We may make the coffee, or teach Sunday school or collate the newsletter, or bring cookies for fellowship. We may feed the hungry or sit with the lonely or comfort the sick, or sweep up after the wedding. But we are called by name, whatever our ministry might be. Therein lies our vocation. Because our vocation, is that place, as Buechner said “where our deep gladness meets the world’s deep hunger”[3]

Moment after moment after moment, we hear God calling us in the night. Time after time, Jesus sees us and recognizes us. Whether we sit alone in terror, wondering what we are going to do, or go about our business in the usual way on a usual day, WE ARE CALLED!

We don’t have to be brilliant or famous. We simply need to say, “Yes.” We are assured – oh, we are promised! - that God will be with us, always. We are assured that no matter how little we are, or how little known we are, or how little our tasks may be, we are still called by name.

We are not promised that the way will be easy. We are assured that if we are suffering, Jesus is present with us in our sorrow. We follow a way that leads to the cross. But in the end, that same path leads beyond the cross, to the empty tomb, and the glory of the risen Christ.

We know that we can say, like the Psalmist, “I come to the end – I am still with you.”

And we know, as Martin Luther King said, that there is a force in the universe that is on the side of justice, on the side of love, on the side of truth. That force is the living God, who recognizes us, who knows all our ways.

When we hear God’s voice, when we see Jesus’ face, when we say “Here I am. Speak for your servant is listening,” we know what it is to be fully known, and loved, and called by our true name.

Thanks be to God that we are all called by name!

[1] The Message, Eugene Peterson

[2] Testament of Hope, Martin Luther King

[3] Frederick Buechner

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