Sunday, January 18, 2015 | Epiphany
Second Sunday After the Epiphany
Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
You can listen to this morning's sermon here:
And the music is found here:
Rev. Charissa Clark Howe
Liberty Presbyterian Church
It’s a terrible feeling – that feeling of disorientation when you’ve been awakened out of your sleep by something in the middle of the night. Perhaps the phone rings and you have trouble remembering how to answer it so it’ll stop ringing. And then when you finally figure out how to talk into the right end of it and hear out of the other end, you have to figure out who you’re talking to and what you’re talking about.
The first few moments of any middle of the night awakening are very disorienting. Poor little Samuel. Awakened out of his sleep in the middle of the night by a voice calling his name. He seems to come to pretty quickly, though and he makes the connection that if someone was calling his name, it must be Eli. Who else could it be, after all?
Eli, who had been asleep, must have been confused too. He wakes up to see little Samuel standing beside him asking what he wanted. “What are you talking about Samuel?! Go back to bed!”
Both sleepy and confused, they go back to sleep in their beds, but it happens again! Somebody calls Samuel’s name and Samuel in his disoriented state assumes it’s Eli – he must have not processed the first encounter yet. “Eli? What do you need?” he asks. But again, Eli tells him he’s hearing things and to go back to bed. By the third time this happens, Eli is awake enough to process what’s going on. If he’s not calling Samuel, the only other explanation is that it’s God.
The fourth time God calls Samuel, Samuel is ready. He tells God to speak – he’s listening. The story continues from where we left off and Samuel is given by God a very difficult word to proclaim to Eli, whose sons have gone a bit off the path and have landed themselves on the side of judgment. It’s a difficult word to pass on to his mentor, but Samuel is faithful to God and tells Eli what God has said to him.
It took four calls – audible, actual voice of God speaking in the night calls – for Samuel to realize it was God and respond. But once he did, he was faithful to what God called him to and God blessed his ministry in return.
The call of the disciples is a different story altogether. Jesus says to Phillip, “Come follow me!” And Phillip grabs a few buddies and says, “It’s him! God is calling us! Let’s go!” His friend Nathaniel takes a bit of convincing that it’s the Messiah, even after Philip tells him so. But he’s willing to entertain the idea that it might be the Messiah and all it takes is that one encounter with Jesus for him to drop everything to answer the call to discipleship.
Tomorrow many of us are off from work and school to celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. day. While he didn’t write any books that are classic theology books, he’s one of my favorite theologians. His letters, sermons, and speeches are beautiful and are evidence of God’s work and call in his life. When I think of people who answered God’s call on their lives, he’s at the top of my list. But for as incredible as his life and ministry were, the story of his call to his particular life is astoundingly ordinary.
In a brief statement he wrote when asked about his call, King said:
"My call to the ministry was neither dramatic nor spectacular It came neither by some miraculous vision nor by some blinding light experience on the road of life. Moreover, it did not come as a sudden realization. Rather, it was a response to an inner urge that gradually came upon me. This urge expressed itself in a desire to serve God and humanity, and the feeling that my talent and my commitment could best be expressed through the ministry. At first I planned to be a physician, then I turned my attention in the direction of law. But as I passed through the preparation stages of these two professions, I still felt within that undying urge to serve God and humanity through the ministry. During my senior year in college I finally decided to accept the challenge to enter the ministry I came to see that God had placed a responsibility upon my shoulders and the more I tried to escape it the more frustrated I would become. A few months after preaching my first sermon I entered theological seminary This, in brief, is an account of my call and pilgrimage to the ministry. "
The Bible is full of call stories. The world around us is also full of call stories. There is something important about sharing these stories with one another. When we pass on the story of someone responding to God’s call on their life, we pass on the story that God knows us by name. We pass on the exciting news that each of us were known from before our parents even met. Each of us, no matter who we are, no matter where we are, no matter when we are, no matter what we are, are named by God and are beloved of God.
Each of us have a unique story of how God reached into our life and how we responded - it might have been years ago, it might be happening right now, it might not have happened yet, but listen. God is calling.
Some of us, like Samuel, take some time to realize it’s God calling. Some of us, like the disciples, have at least a vague idea of who it is calling our name. Some of us have dramatic stories, and some, like Martin Luther King Jr., have pretty ordinary stories. Some are called to a new vocation, like the disciples who left their nets behind. Some are called to continue in whatever their current role is, but with a renewed sense of God’s message for the people around them – like Samuel who continued in his role with Eli all the while delivering a word from God.
There are some things all Christians are called to: lives of love and justice, peace, hospitality, lives that proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ to those around us. There are also specific and unique callings on our specific and unique lives. Today during our congregational meeting, we’ll be voting to elect new church officers for the new year. We are affirming a call to leadership that God has given some of those among us who show spiritual maturity and leadership qualities. Some are called to cook soup for the church fundraiser. Some are called to teach Sunday school. Some are called to share musical talents, others to read the scripture. Within our church, there are many things we can be called to.
These specific calls on our lives, both dramatic and ordinary, can take many shapes. Sometimes they come from the mouths of the community in the form of a phone call from a nominating committee or a ministry director. Sometimes they are a deep burning passion for a particular mission or ministry. Sometimes these calls are practical – there’s nobody else but you who can do it and it has to be done. Sometimes they make no sense whatsoever – you feel like the last person who could possibly be called to do the thing you think you might be called to do.
Sometimes, the greatest part of the process is recognizing that it’s God calling in the first place. It’s hard to remain spiritually awake so that we aren’t confused when God calls. Phillip and Dr. King had one thing in common: they were both awake to the calling of the Lord in their lives. “The Word of the Lord” had not yet been revealed to Samuel. He was still spiritually asleep. He was living a faithful life, attending to the temple, but he’d not woken up to the voice of the Lord yet. It took his friend and mentor saying to him, “Samuel! It’s God! Answer!”
In prayer and community, we stay awake. In acknowledgement that we all have a place in the Body of the Church and we all have a call story, we stay awake. In celebrating the calls of one another, of our brothers and sisters before us, we stay awake. In realizing the value of every call that God puts on every life – even the ones that the world misses or doesn’t understand, we stay awake. And in staying awake, we are ready to answer when God calls our name in the night. Even when we’re unsure, even when we have not yet fully woken up, we can call out, “Yes Lord? I’m listening.”