With that word of warning, its time for the moment of truth for us, how many of you read the first chapter of Mark? There is a word that Mark uses over 40 times in his 16 chapters. It was used 4 times in chapter one. Did anyone notice what word that was?
It was “immediately”. Forty two times in Mark's gospel, he explains that something is done immediately. Why do you suppose Mark put such an emphasis on this?
Now after our peak at Mark, the lectionary writers decided to switch to the gospel of John for one Sunday. We get back into Mark again next week. John relates the story of two, well, let's face it, two unremarkable apostles. Other than in listings of the disciples, Philip is named in three other instances in the gospels, Nathanael only once. And it is an odd story, Jesus seeing Nathanael under the fig tree and Nathanael following Jesus with no more story line than that. I'd suggest there is more to it than that, Jesus called and it appears Nathanael followed Jesus immediately... even though John doesn't say it that way.
I am focusing on our reading from first Samuel today. A little background. Samuel was born to Hannah, wife of Elkanah, when she was thought to be barren. In her prayers, she vowed to dedicate her child, if she had one, to the work of the Lord. And so when Samuel was still very young, she brought him to the tabernacle at Shiloh. The high priest, Eli, was given charge of him, training him for his duties in the temple. Samuel lived in the temple, in a small room attached to it. His parents would visit him on his birthday, otherwise Eli was his “parent” and guide.
The story Julie read today told of his first “call” from the Lord. Samuel grew up to become one of God's great Old Testament prophets...this is his start at hearing the word of the Lord.
So we have here two stories of God calling individuals to follow him. And our epistle calls us in a way too. God is calling us to be holy...sanctified as I talked about last week. We are reminded by Paul, “do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body.” A calling to take care of our bodies. How many of you made a resolution to exercise more or eat better; to take better care of your bodies? It is a good goal and it is a calling from the Lord.
What I want to look at today, how are we called by God for service? And how do you recognize when God is calling? Tough questions. And I know the answers won't be the same for everyone. But there are some things we can do to be better prepared for hearing God's call.
One thing I will say, odds are very great that it won't come to you as it did for Samuel. If you are lying in bed and hear your name called, get up and find out who's really calling you. In the New Testament age, God calls us in less direct ways, so be careful you don't get too caught up in signs.
A young farmer, standing in his field, observed a peculiar cloud formation. The clouds formed the letters G, P, and C, and he thought them a call from God: Go Preach Christ!
He rushed to the elders of his church and insisted that he was called to preach. Respectful of his ardor, they invited him to fill the pulpit.
That Sunday, the sermon was long, tedious, and virtually incoherent. When it finally ended, the leaders sat in stunned silence. Finally, a wizened elder muttered to the would-be preacher, "Seems to me letters in the clouds were saying 'Go plant corn.'"
So how do we know we are called? Unfortunately there are no hard and fast rules. If we study the scriptures we see that virtually every call is unique. In the Old Testament, God clearly called. Samuel as we read, audibly called by God, Moses called in the burning bush, Abraham in the desert when God visited his tent.
Jesus, when he called disciples; it was face to face, clearly an invitation to follow him. Today, it is up to the leading of the Holy Spirit. If you visit with people who are called to ministry, you seldom hear it was simple and clear from the start. It took discerning, seeking wise counsel, and lots of prayer.
I submit to you today that one way God's Holy Spirit puts forth a calling today is through the work of the church's nominating committee. Prayer for discernment is always part of their process. If you are contacted by the committee, you may react like Moses when God called him; “Not me God, I'm not a good speaker, the people hate me and I don't want to!” But thankfully, we have those who respond as Samuel, “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.”
Judy and Don are being installed as elders today. In my many years as moderator...almost ten over two terms, I don't think anyone has been more gracious and willing to do whatever they were called to do than these two. I, we appreciate your answer to the call.
I am continually amazed at the skills our church leaders show. We have elders from all walks of life, with different leadership abilities and qualities, different personalities and many varied spiritual backgrounds. We've experienced elders ordained who were nowhere near the spiritual maturity we might expect from an elder...and we witnessed their growth as wonderful leaders in the church...and they grew greatly in their own faith journey as well. We've had elders who were pillars of the faith...who led with grace and joy. Many of you have served...most of you have served! We thank you. And we thank Gary who's “retiring” today, and I want to recognize his willingness to serve. I could call on him any time of day or night and he would come over to church to help out. He was called and he served.
Deacons are called to a different type of service. Service is the word, they are to be the caregivers in the congregation. Hospital visits, home visits, home communions, rides when needed. Neither Amy Viehauser nor Savannah Joldersma are here for us to thank them publicly today. We welcome and will install two deacons have served before, and have served well.
There is another level of being called, and that is when someone is led to pursue the ministry proper. Truman tells of feeling God's call at a church camp around the evening fire. Amy Levinski's call was felt at a very young age. But it took a long time for her and the church to be in the same place in terms of what her ministry might be. And her call to protect children has touched the community of Litchfield and we as a church are called to do what we can in that mission.
I read an article this week while researching that suggested that a call like Truman's or Amy's or mine to pastoral ministry is somehow on a different plane than your call to serve in the church. And there is a sense that it's true, it becomes a 24/7 life style. But for every person who claims Jesus as Lord and Savior, there is a call. A call to be present in the congregation to encourage your leaders and one another. A call to answer the call when it comes from the nominating committee, or the worship committee, or the pulpit. A call to be the hands and feet of Jesus to each other and to the world at large. A call to dedicate ourselves to growing in faith and in faithfulness.
Our next hymn is Here I Am Lord, and it sounds like it could be based on our Old Testament reading, Samuel saying “Here I am.” But if we look closely, he only said that to Eli. The hymn comes from the prophet Isaiah's calling by God. “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, 'Whom shall I send, and who will go for me?” And Isaiah answers, “Here I am; send me!” (Isaiah 6)
God is still looking for faithful servants to step up and serve. Who shall be sent on behalf of the Lord? “Here we are, send us!” That is to be our answer. Here I am, send me our individual answer to God's call. We celebrate today in our installation and ordination those who have answered the call to serve. I give thanks for all of you who have served in the past. May God bless our ministry and may we all hear God's call and answer. Amen.
Hymn: Here I Am, Lord 525 PH
Race Relations Sunday: One of my favorite quotes from Dr. Martin Luther King is "The Christian Gospel is a two-way road. On the one side, it seeks to change the souls of men and thereby unite them with God; on the other side it seeks to change the environmental conditions of men so that the soul will have a chance after it is change" (MLK "Strength Love, pg. 102). Our prayers must be paired with action. SanDawna, Executive Presbyter