In the lectionary last week and this week we have two stories of call- last week we heard Isaiah’s vision of being called to be a prophet of God by a larger than life being with angels and smoke swirling around him. This week we hear a different call story. This week we hear the story of young Samuel.
Samuel is an apprentice to Eli, an aging priest. He and Eli are sleeping in the temple when Samuel is stirred by a voice calling his name. He mistakes the voice for that of Eli and, three times, goes to see why Eli is waking him up. As they say, the third time is the charm and Eli finally figures out that it is God calling to Samuel and instructs the young boy to listen to all that God has to reveal to him.
Little did Eli know that what Samuel was going to hear from God was the demise of Eli’s household, but be that as it may, Eli knew enough to make sure that Samuel heard God’s call to him and Eli also knew that what God spoke about his own family must come to pass. This story of call rings of immense amounts of faith and trust in God.
It also has incredible similarities to the story of Jesus as a child.
The Magnificat, the song that Mary sang while Jesus was in her womb is based on Hannah’s song, the song Samuel’s mother sang for him, which we just sang a few verses of. Additionally, Samuel was a young boy in the temple and one of the only stories we have of Jesus as a young boy is of him going to the temple without Mary and Joseph knowing where he was. Samuel became known as a prophet, a priest and he was the last judge in the line of judges for the people of Israel. Jesus is known as prophet, priest and king all in one.
Do you remember the scripture passage from Isaiah that says, “A wolf shall lie with the lamb…a calf shall lie with the lion and a little child shall lead them” (Isaiah 11:6)? I love that on this Sunday when we are recognizing our young people who are graduating from high school that this is the scripture we have to wrestle with!
In our scripture passage, a young person takes the time to listen to God and, in turn, finds his vocation, his calling in life. The last two lines of the passage we have this morning are, “God was with Samuel as he grew up, and none of Samuel’s words fell to the ground. All Israel from Dan to Beersheba recognized that Samuel was attested as a prophet of the Lord”.
Now, to be clear, I am not suggesting that our young people, or any of us for that matter, will be able to hear God calling us as clearly as Samuel did, but I am suggesting that we try. An important skill in our ongoing faith development is to practice listening, hearing, seeing where and how God is guiding our journey.
This is so important!
How often do we take the time to listen to God?
Sometimes, we can look back over our life and, in hindsight, see that God was with us on our journey. Sometimes, if we are provided an opportunity to reflect on our journey, we can see God’s hand in it, but more often than not we are so busy and pulled in 9 million different directions that listening to God seems impossible.
It is not easy to hear God’s call. Particularly in this day and age, when we are so finely attuned to what is supposedly real and tangible. Hearing a voice from a being that we cannot see, is a tricky thing. And clearly, if we believe the passage from Samuel, it was not much easier in ancient times. The scripture clearly states, at the start of the story, that “the word of the Lord was rare in those days and visions were not widespread.”
I happen to believe that listening for God’s call is an important activity for every
Christian. Not just ordained pastors, but for everyone. Just as Martin Luther
affirmed, I firmly believe there is a priesthood of all believers. Each and every one
of you have God given talents that you share freely with each other, with us and
with the wider community.
I hope that hearing this morning’s scripture passage; “this ancient story (so unlike our own, perhaps) [might] inspire us to consider how God calls each of us, in our own day. We are, each of us, precious in God’s sight, and we are, each of us, called to play a role in the marvelous drama of God at work in the world” (http://www.ucc.org/worship_samuel_sermon_seeds_june_3_2018).
In his book Let Your Life Speak, Parker Palmer delves quite deeply into the practice of figuring out ones vocation or call in this life. He openly shares of his struggles in figuring out what he was meant to be in this world and he offers several exercises for the reader to engage in so that we may figure out what God is calling us to be.
Remember that quote from the prophet Isaiah, “and a little child shall lead them”? Well, one of the exercises Palmer asks people to do is to write down your memories of being young. How did you see yourself as young person? Did you have things you were passionate or excited about?
Then, talk with people who knew you when you were young. Ask them what they remember about how you were in the world. How do they remember you as a young person before life experiences impacted you? Were you a book worm? Did you hang out with a bunch of friends? Were you a loner? Did you like sports or listening to music? Were you active in the community? When you were younger did you like school or prefer recess? Did you have a connection with your family or not so much?
While it is interesting to hear what others remember about you, it is important to listen to your own memories and compare them with what others say. Palmer asks the reader to really take in what we remember about our true nature as a young person and then, do a check in with ourselves to see if we are honoring these parts of ourselves in adulthood.
Of course, these memories are not a complete picture of who you are as a person, but they do inform what makes up your true self. According to Palmer, we need to “listen for what (our life) intends to do with us…let our life tell us what truths we embody, what values we represent” (Let Your Life Speak, p.3).
Just as Samuel listened to God and to Eli, his mentor, we need to take the time to listen, too. We need to listen for that still small voice shaping and forming us and we need to hold on to the parts of us that were present right from the beginning of our existence.
As we think about our callings, the paths we have gone down and the roads yet unexplored, let us consider Jesus’ statement, “whoever does not receive the kin-dom of God like a child shall not enter it.” In saying this, Jesus was not saying we should be childish or that we can become innocent again. He was, however, saying that young people have a lot to teach us. In saying this, he was encouraging us to be open and receptive to what life has to offer; we are encouraged to hold on to our sense of wonder and awe. In saying this, Jesus is asking us to be honest and vulnerable about our feelings and emotions (paraphrased from With Love and Prayers by F. Washington Jarvis, p.229).
Today’s scripture passage highlights a beautiful call story and echoes the call stories of many prophets as well as the story of Jesus coming into his own and forming his identity as a young person.
As we celebrate and honor our young people and their accomplishments today, let us also celebrate them and who they are at their core. Let us try to remember our true selves and pray that we can hold on to that in some way. Let us all take the time to listen for God’s call and embrace that, indeed, we are all on this journey together.
Let us pray, “Dear God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but that you are guiding us and supporting us with your love. [And help us to listen for your still, small voice.] Amen”.