Last summer Kathleen and I took the kids on a road trip through the mid-west. Part of our adventures led us to a pig farm in Iowa. Is it safe to assume most of you know what a pig farm looks like? If not, I am sure you can guess what it might smell like. Surprisingly, it does not smell like bacon crisping in the frying pan. What was more surprising was discovering that pigs have a keen sense of their surroundings, in that they instinctively react to strangers in their midst. This made it impossible for us to sneak up on them. If one detected us, he’d warn the other pigs with a frightening squeal, sending the entire pen into a frenzy. However, once the farmer came over they would immediately calm down. They may have been blind, but they knew who was their Master and who was a stranger.
In our readings today both Samuel and Nathanial had trouble distinguishing the Master calling out to them. Is it because these men had not established a relationship with God? Perhaps they didn’t feel worthy of such a divine visit.
A question we might ponder this morning is: “How do we know it is God who is calling us?”
I mean, why would God want to speak to you or me in the first place? We’re not world leaders or famous personalities, we don’t have any sway or influence in pop culture and social media. We are just a bunch of simple church folk, right? How do we know it is not some other voice in our head vying for our attention? Like the one that says, "So what if it’s wrong, it feels good" Or the one that says, "You should be ashamed of yourself." Maybe it says, "Nobody really cares about you," Or "Be sure to become successful, popular, and powerful."
Henri Nouwen offers us this hope. That underneath all these often very noisy voices is a still, small voice that says, "You are my Beloved, my favor rests on you." That's the voice we need to hear most of all. That is the voice of our Master who calls out, “Follow Me,” and says to us “Get up and walk, your sins are forgiven.” To hear that voice requires special effort; not a heightened sense like pigs but solitude, silence, and a strong determination to listen, to recognize his call within us. Only when the voices are separated can we understand our Master is here with us. Once we discover it is God calling, then can we discern why God is calling us today.
In his book “Secrets in the Dark,” Frederick Buechner reminds us, “Jesus made his Church out of human beings, with more or less the same mixture in them of cowardice and guts, intelligence and stupidity, of selfishness and generosity, of openness of heart and sheer cussedness as you would be apt to find in any of us. Jesus made the church out of human beings because human beings were all that was there to make the church out of.”
God is calling you and me. We are the Beloved. For some mysterious reason, God’s favor rests on us. God calls out to us with a purpose…because I believe God wants to be with us.
As I was discerning my call to ministry I remember asking myself what would God want with a washed up copywriter. I knew nothing about religion, and even less about the Bible. But then again, why did God need a corrupt tax collector like Matthew? And yet God called him. If Noah were alive today he probably couldn’t float a construction loan to build his ark. Yet God called him for a purpose. Moses, David, and Paul acting like crime bosses, each were guilty of murder. And still, God called them by name. God searched them, and knew who they were. And each one answered the call. Samuel, Philip and Nathanial, and all the Disciples heard God calling them by name. Calling them with a purpose. If we take a close look at the Bible, nearly every character in it follows this simple formula to help us understand not just why God calls, but also for what purpose.
First, a person discovers God has called them. Second, this person decides to answer the call. And third, the person acts, accepts what God is asking of them. Discover. Decide. Act.
Notice how God called Samuel 3 times, and each time Samuel was convinced it was someone else. But with Eli's help Samuel finally realized who was truly calling him. Samuel made a discovery. Eli also discovered God was utilizing him too. Samuel did not know it was God calling. But Eli did, even though he could see or hear a thing. He sensed the Master’s presence.
Jesus discovered Philip, and called him to follow. Then Philip found Nathanial and told him about Jesus. Philip said, “Come...and see!” When Jesus saw Nathanial he knew him and called out to him too; proclaiming what kind of man Nathanial was. We discover he is like many of us. He is skeptical. After all, “can anything good come out of Nazareth?” But in spite of our skepticism, God discovers us before we discover God. God sees, even if we can’t see God.
Now this reminds me of a story about a drunk who stumbles along a baptismal service down by the river. Not being of sound mind, the drunk walks in the water and stand next to the preacher who says, "Mister, are you ready to find Jesus?"
The drunk looks back and says, "Yes, preacher, I sure am."
The minister dunks the fellow under the water and pulls him right back up. "Well? Have you found Jesus?" the preacher asks. "Nooo, sir I didn't!" said the drunk.
The preacher then dunks him under for quite a bit longer this time. He brings him up, and says, "Now, brother, have you found Jesus?" To which the man exclaims…"Noooo, I have not." So back down under the man goes.
This time the preacher holds him there for at least 30 seconds. Lifting him out of the water he says a bit frustrated, "I’ll ask you one more time, brother, have you found Jesus yet?"
The old drunk wipes his eyes and asks the preacher, "Are you sure this is where he fell in?"
We might be skeptical like Nathanial, or unsure like Samuel, we may even be a bit misguided and not of sober mind. But whoever we are, and wherever we are, when God finds us, and says to us "Come follow me and I will show things you never could imagine," we must decide how to respond. First we discover, then we decide.
When God called Samuel the 4th time, Samuel answered with these words, "Speak, for your servant is listening." Jesus said to Philip, “Follow me.” And Philip made a decision to follow. God is calling each of us to be in relationship. Whether we’re lost, wounded, broken, weak or strong, whether we are poor in spirit and rich in wealth, or the other way around, when God calls we are all equal…we are all the same…scared. And rightfully so.
For some of us are called to physically leave this life behind. For someone, like myself, we are called to shed the comforts and security of one life to put on the robe of a new life. There is always a spiritual wake-up call our “come to Jesus” moment when we decide to act upon the grace that we have been given. Christ says, “Follow me;” but goes on to warns us that whoever does must take up their cross, and sacrifice their old life, for the new and everlasting life. This is our faith put into action.
Discover. Decide. Take Action. We either accept God’s call, or we let it go to voice mail. We either ignore the nagging ring, or we pick up and say, “Here I am, Lord.” How do we know it is God calling? Simple. We answer the call, with faith.
We trust that our decision to accept our call is a decision to grow, to advance our spiritual life and even our personal life. This takes faith; faith in God's promise to us; faith which allows us to develop a deeper, thicker, richer relationship with God and with one another. Yet faith without works is dead. Faith is a verb, an action that requires work. We cannot let our faith sit there and do nothing.
God is calling to us, to do for others what Christ has taught us to do. To love one another; to stop judging and start accepting our differences, to put down the stones of violence and carry the cross of peace; to forgive the debts and trespasses of others; to put caring for the sick and the poor at the top of our priorities; to offer a seat around our dinner table to prostitutes, lawyers, and even the IRS; we are even called to forgive those who sink the nails into our flesh. This is the Good News of Jesus’ sacrifice, made on the cross, for the forgiveness of all. This is faith in action. This is why God is calling.
Tomorrow we celebrate the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, who paid the ultimate price to answer God’s call for justice and reform. While we remember all the work he did to advance civil rights, and to promote peacemaking in a country divided by war, let us not forget the nameless saints and countless sinners who also bravely said, “Here I am, Lord.” These are people like you and me, the broken and redeemed. We are the Body of Christ. Our Congregational forebears lead the way of social justice…will we keep their dream alive? Will we face our human insecurities and fears to take up our cross?
While this sounds scary even to me, I will leave you with this from the Book of Isaiah. “Fear not, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you;I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” These statements “Fear not,” and “Be not afraid” appear in the Bible 365 times. You don’t have to be a tax collector to know that equals one for every day. So “Fear Not.” And "Be not afraid!" The Master is in our midst. Amen.
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”