1 Samuel 3:1-20; John 1:43-51
This week and next, we have Gospel readings about the calling of the disciples. This week, we have a story from John; next week the story is from Mark. I talk a lot about inviting your neighbors, your hairdressers and barbers, your cashiers and restaurant servers to events at Hope. So, rather than talk about the more obvious “Come and see” theme today, I want to talk about being called by God.
Hannah is a barren woman. She goes to the temple to pray for a child, and Eli the priest overhears her. He promises she will have a child. Hannah is so happy to have a child that she dedicates him to the Lord, and as soon as Samuel is old enough, he goes to live with Eli.
By now Eli is old and Samuel is used to him calling for help. But this night, it is not Eli who is calling but God. The Lord has a message for Eli, which Samuel is to deliver. Eli’s sons are corrupt, and Eli is at fault for not disciplining them. They are to be punished, and no amount of sacrifice will make any difference.
Samuel is reluctant to pass on this message, since he does not want to hurt Eli’s feelings. But Eli urges him to speak the message. Samuel knew from his first days that he was special, but when God calls to him for the first time, he does not want to do what he has been called to do.
Jesus decides to go to Galilee and decides it’s time to gather disciples. He has already collected Andrew and Simon, who were followers of John, who was baptizing folks in the Jordan River. It seems like Jesus may have already known Philip, but that is not certain. In any case, Jesus calls Philip to follow him, and he does.
Philip hurries to Nathanael, telling him that they have found the Messiah. Nathanael is beyond skeptical, he’s rude. “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” He may as well have said, “Can anything good come out of Dunnellon?”
Jesus comments, “Now, here comes a man who tells the truth.” Nathanael and Jesus have a conversation: “How do you know me?” “I saw you when you were sitting under the fig tree before Philip told you about me.” “Rabbi, you are the Son of God, the Messiah!” “Do you believe because I told you something about yourself? You haven’t seen anything yet!”
And so Andrew and Simon, Philip and Nathanael have been called to follow Jesus. The next day, they accompany him to a wedding, where he turns gallons of water into gallons of very fine wine. They have indeed begun to see things they never imagined were possible. And the things they see all point to God who sent him.
Although Simon and Andrew and Philip were excited to follow Jesus at the first calling, Nathanael was not so easily swayed. He needed some convincing. Once he agreed to follow, he accepted the calling and was rewarded with a miracle – called a sign in John.
In our own lives, we sometimes rush to accept a calling, and sometimes we are reluctant to accept the calling because we make assumptions about where the call will take us. And, sometimes, even after we have accepted the calling, we resist going where the calling will take us. We find excuses to try another direction.
We are all called to follow Jesus, and to follow wherever he will take us. Some are called to serve Jesus as pastors and preachers and deacons and visitors to the sick and homebound. Some are called to serve God by assisting in worship, as ushers, greeters, as readers, as singers, as acolytes, and as pray-ers.
Others are called to serve Jesus by making quilts and cards and hand-crafted items. Still others are called to serve Jesus by caring for the buildings and grounds of a parish. And others are called to serve Jesus by caring for the plants and animals God has given into our care. Others are called to cook and clean and care for children.
Others are called to protect and serve other people by being police officers or military personnel or fire fighters. Some use their gifts to make things: homes or highways or toys or cell phones. Some are called to use their physical gifts by playing sports – and offering the gift of entertainment to their audiences. And some are called to teach – the Bible, reading and writing, science and math and medicine, psychology and human behavior, cooking, driving, history, architecture.
The list goes on. My point is that whatever your gifts are, you can use them to serve and follow Jesus. Most of the time, it’s just part of the job; remembering to be kind, to treat all as God’s children, to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, in other words.
But, sometimes we are called to do more in following Jesus. We are called to sacrifice our comforts, our sense of safety, and even our lives. Since tomorrow we recognize Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr, I’ll use him as an example.
He was quite happy serving as a parish pastor, but he realized he was called to do more. He was called to follow Jesus in ending racism in America; he was also called to work to end US participation in the Viet Nam War. Most of us are aware of his public speeches, his non-violent demonstrations, and his leadership.
Here are some of King’s words, quoted from his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. Just as the prophets of the eighth century B.C. left their villages and carried their "thus saith the Lord" far beyond the boundaries of their home towns, and just as the Apostle Paul left his village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to the far corners of the Greco Roman world, so am I compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my own home town. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid.
Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial "outside agitator" idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.
King was almost captive to his calling. One night he sat in his kitchen in prayer, and heard in response that keeping-on was his only option, even if it was to cost him his life, which it did.
What are you called to do? Chances are, you have several callings. Some are more challenging, some are easy. Most of us have different callings at different times in our lives, or at least different ways of expressing and fulfilling our callings. Have you discovered that your calling has become easier or harder as you grow older?
I invite you to think this week about how God has called you to use your gifts for divine purposes. How do your callings help you follow wherever Jesus leads you?
Please pray with me. Lord God, you called to Samuel and gave him the power to speak your words to Eli. Give us the power to do whatever you ask us to do in your name. Jesus you call us to follow you just as you called Andrew and Simon, Philip and Nathanael. Guide us in expressing our calling in service to you. Spirit, fill us with the courage to face our challenges as we follow you. Amen