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  • Writer's pictureRev. Drew Stockstill

Words of Faith: Call

1 Samuel 3:1-11

Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.

2 At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; 3 the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was. 4 Then the Lord called, “Samuel! Samuel!” and he said, “Here I am!” 5 and ran to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call; lie down again.” So he went and lay down. 6 The Lord called again, “Samuel!” Samuel got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call, my son; lie down again.” 7 Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. 8 The Lord called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy. 9 Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place. 10 Now the Lord came and stood there, calling as before, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” 11 Then the Lord said to Samuel, “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make both ears of anyone who hears of it tingle.

At our church, we are exploring some of Christianity’s commonly used words and phrases in a series called, “Words of Faith.” This week our focus is on the word, “Call.” You may have heard people talk about finding their calling, or how God has called them to do something or be something. So, what exactly is a call? Do you feel called? Do you have a calling? The answer to that last question, I’ll go ahead and tell you is, Yes; we all have callings, but let’s talk about what that even means.

In the process of becoming an ordained pastor, one is asked to share one’s “call story,” a lot. A call story is the story of how one determined they wanted to become a pastor. I was asked to tell my home church session (which is the Presbyterian version of a Council) how I felt God was calling me to become a pastor. I was asked for my call story by my Presbytery before they would approve me, the seminary before they would accept me, and in numerous seminary classes we’d share our individual stories of how we came to find ourselves sitting in that room, studying to become church leaders. I love to hear people’s stories of discovering and pursuing their passions. Many of my classmates had touching, sometimes dramatic stories of God giving them clear calls to pursue this path. I went to seminary basically straight out of college, but a lot of my friends were older than me and felt God call them from jobs as teachers, lawyers, military officers, nurses, models even. Many had established careers and families to feed when they moved their families to Atlanta, gave up an income and began the years long process of becoming a pastor.

The call stories were as varied as the students, and for all the sharing, and the impact those stories had on me, I can’t say I remember much about them. If Samuel had been in our class, his is a call story, I think, would have stuck with me. None of us were handed over by our parents as children to be raised in a sanctuary by a priest because of a promise our mothers made before we were born, as was the case for Samuel. Samuel’s call was literal, clear, and repeated. That the voice calling him in the middle of the night was God, was not Samuel’s first or even third guess, is not surprising. If it were to happen to me today – that I heard someone saying my name while I was sleeping – I’d assume one of the girls needed me, or my spouse was talking in her sleep. If I woke her up three times, I’m sure she would send me to sleep on the couch, but hopefully with the suggestion that I should ask God what he wants before I wake her up again.

Once Samuel woke the priest up for the third time Eli figured out what was going on: The Lord was calling the boy. God’s call to Samuel was with a message which makes Samuel a prophet, a term we will talk about later in this series. Samuel’s job, his call, was to speak for God and the message God had for Samuel, the one would make “both ears of anyone who hears of it tingle,” was not an easy job; he had to deliver some bad news to Eli. But this was the young Samuel’s call, to be a prophet and as he grew he came to be one of the most important prophets in Israel’s history. It was Samuel’s job to find the first kings God chose to rule Israel and to help guide them on God’s path. That was a big job, but that was Samuel’s calling.

For Samuel, his calling to be a prophet was like his job, or his vocation. A vocation means the work to which a person is employed; so, my vocation is a pastor, and another person’s vocation is a plumber, a nurse, a bank teller, a restaurant server, a grocery store manager, a President, and a clerk; all vocations, all work to which people are employed. The word vocation comes from the Latin word, vocare, which means, to call. So, strictly speaking, a vocation is the work to which a person is called.

Called by whom? We might say the call to certain work is the call of necessity. My dad works for a company that equips restaurants with the food and supplies needed to run a restaurant. It’s the work he’s done for much of his life, to provide for his family, to keep a roof over our heads, food on our table, raise nine children and help a few of us go to college, and to one day retire with enough for he and my mom to enjoy their vocations as spouses and parents and grandparents. I don’t think my dad felt God call him to this work like Samuel was called to be a prophet, but my dad’s calling as a father and husband did call him to this work to which he has worked hard and made a good, modest life for himself and his family, and helped others. So, while my dad’s vocation is work to which he was called, I’ve never heard him describe it as his calling.

Maybe some of you would not consider the jobs you do or have done to be jobs you were called by God to do. My friend Peter Hobbie once explained to me that sometimes the work we are doing out of necessity is the work to which God calls us. In other words, we must look for how we can serve God in the work we do trusting that God has called us here. Like Samuel in the dark of the night, opening his heart to God: “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.”

Ellen Stockstill felt called to be a college professor and that’s what she does. It is her vocation, the work to which she is employed, but it is also her calling. She does it not only out of practical necessity, but because she felt God’s urging, God’s directing and calling her into this work.

We all have vocations, work that we do, that we must do. Parenting is work that one must do. An adult who cares for her elderly mother is in a vocation, work she is called to do. A husband or wife is a vocation -- the work of loving another person, of living a life together and creating life together. A friend is a vocation -- the work of caring for another person, of checking in, of creating new experiences together. A grandmother is a vocation, an uncle is a vocation, all relationships to which we put in work because we feel some call to do so, is vocation.

A calling isn’t only the job we do, but all the work to which we give ourselves in this life, including the work of relationships.

It is a special pleasure when the job one does for a living is also work to which they feel called by God. Writer Fredrick Buechner has a famous definition of calling for those who are trying to discover theirs. He says,

“The kind of work God usually calls you to is the kind of work (a) that you need most to do and (b) that the world most needs to have done.”[1]

If you’re thinking, “Well, I sure missed my calling,” or, “I just can’t find my calling,” well, let me ask you -- what is it that you most need to do and what does the world most need to have done? I think we can all look around and see what we think needs to be done around here. If you think that might be something you need to do, not just think you should do, but need to do, must do, then that may be your calling.

Greg Daley is a newspaper delivery man in central New Jersey. Back in April, during the pandemic, an elderly woman on his route asked Greg if he could please leave the paper closer to her front door. It made Greg wonder, “If she’s having trouble getting her paper, 20 ft from her front door, how in the world is she getting the things she needs in the pandemic?” So, Greg wrote a note and put it in the newspapers he delivered, introducing himself to his neighbors as the man who delivers their paper each morning and offering to deliver groceries free of charge if they need. The phone has been ringing off the hook ever since. He takes their orders, does their shopping, and delivers their groceries. Ilene is 85, recently widowed, and she called Greg the nicest man in the world. Another woman said he’s the closest thing to God. Fredrick Buechner said,

“The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet.”

If it appears to those he meets that Greg is close to God, Greg has found his calling within his vocation, with deep gladness meeting the deep hunger of the world around him. [2]

We are celebrating Martin Luther King’s birthday this week. Dr. King was called by God to be a pastor, he had a call story that led him to the pulpit, but his call evolved. The deep hunger of the world was the hunger for racial justice. It was hard work, work that took its toll on Dr. King before it took his life, but what made his weary heart glad, was his dream of justice, of racial and economic equality, of peace, and reconciliation. King prophesied in his last sermon before he died, that he may not get there, to the promised land he worked so hard to create, but he said his eyes had seen the glory of the coming of that day, so he was not afraid. His hope propelled him forward in his work, it was his calling. We still aren’t there, but the work of racial and economic justice, of peace and reconciliation, is a call God has given us all, it is the world’s deep hunger.

Christians have all been called to serve God in Jesus Christ, we all have received Christ’s call to follow him just as he called the first disciples who were in the midst of their work: fishermen, tax collectors, mothers, and sisters, all following him because he called. We can pray the Spirit help us see the ways we can serve God in our vocations: whether that is at work or in your relationships, we are all called to join Jesus’ work, to respond to his call to community, to heal the suffering, feed the hungry, love the lonely, open our hearts to those so different from ourselves and form community with them. To be a church is to be a community called out into love. That is what church means, “the called out ones.” We have all received that calling.

Dr. King once said, we have all been called into an “inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” May it be that we respond to the call as Samuel, saying, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” For the work of love to which this community is called, will certainly fill hungry hearts and make both ears tingle at the sound of the good news of justice and grace.

[1] Fredrick Buechner, originally published in Wishful Thinking.

[2] Story seen on CBS News, "On the Road" segment in July 2020.

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