We often hear comments that we live in godless times. We have this image that our country was once considered a Christian country but we are slowly watching the census figures heading to below 50% of the population. But as we look at our Old Testament reading we find that periods of darkness in relation to God’s presence are not new. We read in Samuel: The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread. There are periods where God seems to be absent but when we read further in Samuel we read “the lamp of God had not yet gone out”. We might think at times that our world has become Godless but that is impossible.
As we confess in our creed: I believe in God the Father Almighty – creator of heaven and earth. God is the creator and sustainer of all that exists. And he promises through Jesus – I am with you always till the end of the age. In John’s Gospel we read that it is not an absence of God but a lack of our recognition of God: John says: the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, but the world did not know Him. He came to His own, but His own did not receive Him. In Samuel we see that God is indeed active in communicating with them but they do not understand his communication: God had called to Samuel 3 times but he didn’t understand who it was that was calling him, as the reading says: Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.
In our world today it also seems that God’s Word is rare. But is that because God is silent or because we are not listening to God? What is going on in our world around us causes many to live in fear. Many fear what the future may bring us. Events happening at present makes us feel insecure. One minute everything seems fine. The next minute, it all looks threatening and scary. We long for a safe and secure place in our lives. And much of this is happening because people have turned their backs on God. What’s striking about Samuel’s experience of God’s call is that it is so ordinary. There is no burning bush, as in the call of Moses; There are no angels and burning coals, as in the call of Isaiah. There is just the quiet voice of God to a young boy that God has a special purpose for; but Samuel is unable to sort out his call on his own;
he needs the help of someone else, in this case, Eli. And that’s the connecting point in our 2 readings – The call of Samuel and the call of the first disciples. In both cases there was someone there to help another person hear God’s call to them and understand it. For Nathanael it was Phillip. For Samuel it was Eli.
In both cases God is actively calling but it is a 3rd person that sees the call and encourages – Phillip and Eli. God is always calling people and we need to be observant to see how God is working in people’s lives and point out to them where we believe God is calling them. Many Pastors are serving God today because someone saw something in them that they may not have seen themselves. Many are serving in leadership positions in the church not because they put up their hand and said “I want to do this” but because someone gently tapped them on the shoulder and said – I think you’d be a good at this.
So there is just as much importance not just in the call – and the person being called – but in us seeing how God is calling someone and helping a person to discern that call. But it’s not just in the church where we can help people to discern the call of God; perhaps you’ve seen a friend or a neighbour who does not yet know about God. Maybe the Word of God is rare in their life at present but the flame has not gone out. Maybe they are searching for something but they don’t know what it is that they are searching for. As Matthew says in his Gospel regarding Jesus call: A bruised reed he will not break, and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out.
A really important role that we can play in a person’s life is helping them to see where God may be reaching out to them.
Nathanael would not have thought of himself following Jesus of Nazareth. He was very sceptical – Can anything good come out of Nazareth? But Phillip encouraged him with very simple words: “Come and see.” Such simple words but such powerful outcomes can be achieved. When we have a personal relationship with Jesus in our lives, they should be the only words we need to speak. Come and see. Come and see what a difference Jesus has made in my life. There is also a responsibility on us to show the difference that Jesus has made in our lives; both in our lives and in the church. As Paul said; your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body.
If our lives are filled with anger or jealousy or anything else that might be a negative witness to Jesus. Or if our churches are filled with gossip or bickering or lack of joy or anything that might be a negative witness to Jesus then there’s no point saying “come and see” because they won’t see anything different to what they’re seeing in the world. When we look at how calls work in Scripture there are some identifying features. God calls by name: He did so to Mary, to Peter, to Nathaniel, to Matthew. In the Old Testament he did it to Samuel, to Moses, to Adam. God will probably call when you least expect it, at the least opportune time, in some unlikely situation like Peter in the midst of his fishing vocation – come and follow me and I will make you fisher of men. Peter immediately dropped his nets and followed Jesus’ call. God may have to call you more than once before God gets your attention as he did to Samuel and Jonah. God had to call Samuel three times before he started listening. God had to call Jonah again when he disobeyed the first call and went the opposite direction. There are so many other voices speaking to us, we usually need our name to be called a number of times before it finally sinks in. And no-one is too insignificant, too small, too inexperienced, too unimportant not to be called by God. Jeremiah thought he was too young – But the LORD said to him, “Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Peter and Paul thought they were too sinful: Peter fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” When Paul spoke about the called apostles he said: Jesus appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. And we should never underestimate whom God may call: the disciples couldn’t understand God’s call to Paul – Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he has done to Your saints in Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on Your name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is my chosen servant to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake.”
And that is the most difficult call to understand when God calls us to a life of suffering as a witness to our continued faith in him.
I don’t know what God is calling you personally to do…But as the church, as God’s community of faith, we are all called to encourage one another in our calling. To keep our lines of communication with God open through fellowship , through prayer and worship, through sharing together in the sacraments where God constantly calls us. The question is – are you open to hear that call and are you willing to respond as Samuel did: “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening”