1 Samuel 3:1-10, John 1:43-51
Follow me. Speak for your servant is listening. Why? Why should we follow God’s calling when it is a whole lot easier not to? Why should we care about others when we have enough problems of our own? It seems like God is asking a lot of us, doesn’t it? How is being a Christian any benefit in today’s world?
At times we need to come to grips with what God is calling each of us to do. The young boy Samuel had to understand that even at his young age God was calling him to be a prophet in Israel. This was not an easy task. Israel had been straying away from God for some time. Many were not interested in following the law, including the priest’s own sons. Yet God was calling this young boy into service, to which he answered, “Here I am, speak Lord, for your servant is listening.”
When we look at Jesus calling his disciples into ministry with him, it seems fairly clear that each one simply left their current occupations and followed Jesus. Why? What would have compelled them to follow Jesus rather than see to the needs of their own families?
Perhaps you’ve heard a version of the story of ‘The Pied Piper of Hamelin’ who is the subject of a legend concerning the departure or death of a great number of children from the town of Hamelin (Hameln), Lower Saxony, Germany, in the Middle Ages. The earliest references describe a piper, dressed in multicolored (“pied“) clothing, leading the children away from the town never to return. In the 16th century the story was expanded into a full narrative, in which the piper is a rat-catcher hired by the town to lure rats away with his magic pipe. When the citizenry refuses to pay for this service, he retaliates by turning his power that he put in his instrument on their children, leading them away as he had the rats (Source: Wikipedia.com.) There must have been something pretty compelling in the Piper’s music to lure all the children away from their homes. What was it about Jesus that would cause responsible men to give up everything to serve as Jesus’ disciples? What brings you here on Sunday mornings instead of the IHOP all-you-can-eat breakfast deal?
John’s gospel lesson is shaped around one simple phrase – “Come and see.” Phillip tells his friend Nathaniel that about Jesus from Nazareth. Even after Nathaniel sends his insult – “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Phillip still invites his friend to “Come and see.” There is a lot of message in that little phrase – “Come and see.” Whatever Phillip understood about Jesus, it was compelling enough for him to not only begin to follow Jesus and do the work of a disciple, but to invite his friend to come along with him. It did not matter to Phillip that Nathaniel had some knowledge about scoundrels from Nazareth, Phillip compelled Nathaniel to “come and see,” and Nathaniel came.
When was the last time you were so excited about what your church family was doing that you invited your friends and family to “come and see?” When was the last time we did something exciting enough to warrant an invite? Hmmm. Maybe it isn’t what we do at all. We could have the greatest ‘program’ in the area for Sunday mornings. We could have all the bells and whistles – heck, we have coffee in the sanctuary now! What’s not to like!! We could be in the entertainment business like a lot of other venues, but would that be answering the call saying, “Here I am Lord, speak, for your servant is listening?”
But what if when you gather with your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, you encounter the presence of God in our midst? What if for even a little while you felt the burdens of your daily life lifted for just a bit? What if you were able to set aside your own priorities and helped a struggling neighbor through your words and actions? What if we knew that by choosing the path of selflessness we in fact find ourselves in the loving arms of God? Maybe that would be something to invite your family and friends to experience – “Come and see.”
You do not have to spend a whole lot of time on the internet before you begin to read something about someone criticizing the church or organized religion in general. The thought process seems to be that what matters is only within me. I can be spiritual without having to deal with the institute of religion messing things up as they continue to do. Have you heard some of these comments? They can be difficult criticisms to listen to, particularly when they come from someone close to you. I had an interesting conversation with my nephew online. He is quite convinced that all organized religion is in essence worthless. All that matters is how I treat myself and how I treat others. Those are pretty difficult criticisms to hear particularly since I have now been approved to be ordained in the United Methodist Church – definitely an organized religion. Perhaps Phillip heard similar criticisms from Nathaniel – “can anything good come out of Nazareth?” “Come and see.”
You will be happy to know that my nephew and I still converse with one another! I find that often the biggest critics of organized religion are those who have been hurt by the church or have never fully experienced what it means to be in and among a community of believers on fire for God. Where is our excitement today, church? Where is our anticipation of seeing God do greater and greater works in our very midst? Do all the encounters with Jesus have to be filled with fanfare and flash? Think about Jesus’ encounters throughout his ministry. Often he was meeting the need of a single person, taking time to change a person’s outlook or circumstance. It wasn’t always the feeding of the 5,000 – at times it was something as small as a conversation with a woman at a well.
Last year we hosted a dinner for the AA group that meets here. Several folks volunteered as wait-staff to serve a wonderful dinner cooked by our very own chef Vince. We had a smaller turn out than expected but that allowed each of us to join the group at the dinner table, sharing a meal together, listening to our stories, looking at plans for the future. How do we change the world? One person at a time.
The disciples had no clue where the path of following Jesus would lead. They did not understand exactly what it meant to be called by the Messiah, but they knew they were being called and they answered the call to minister to the poor, hurting, and downtrodden of their time. What is God calling you to do in this day and age? In the book of Romans 12:6-8, Paul tells us that we are all given spiritual gifts. Each of us has something to offer at every stage of our lives. Perhaps God is calling you to help with our children and youth – our new Christian Education director is already making plans for the spring and summer. Maybe God is calling you to use your musical talents in some way. I’m sure Alex will tell you the same – if you think you can’t carry a tune in a bucket bring the bucket! Perhaps you are being called to the mission field. One goal I have for this year is to look into the Appalachian Service Project for a missional opportunity for us. If you are handy with tools and enjoy basic construction work maybe this is the ministry for you. We plan to continue supporting the Lighthouse Shelter with meals and lunches, as well as the local hospital with knitted projects and angel gowns. There are several community events held here throughout the year from the church dinners to Spring Fling to VBS to outdoor movie nights to events we haven’t even thought of yet – we most definitely run the gamut here! Perhaps God is calling you to use your planning and organizational skills to help with these and many other ministries here at the church.
Make no mistake about it, God is calling each of us into ministry in some way. Yet there are several ways to handle a call. We can ignore it (let it go to voice mail and possibly never act on the call.) We can drown it out so it is as if the call never came. We can answer but refuse to follow through. Or we can answer, respond, feel the presence of God in ways we never imagined possible, and invite our friends and family to “Come and see.” Let us be as willing and eager as young Samuel and say without hesitation, “Here I am, speak Lord, for your servant is listening.” Amen.