18 January 2009
9.00 Morning Worship, Stone & 10.30 Parish Communion, Woodchurch
Readings: 1 Samuel 3:1-20, Revelation 5:1-10, John 1:43-end
May I speak in the name of God + Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Why are we here?
I don’t mean why are we here in life generally (although we can certainly think about that another time) I mean why are we here in Church today? What brings us here? What makes us make the effort to get ourselves out of bed on a Sunday morning and come to this building? Why aren’t we all laying in bed reading the Sunday papers? Not all laying in the same bed you understand, although the way the Sunday Times is going we could all have one section each.
On one level I suspect that there are as many reasons for being here as there are people – and those reasons probably range from the expressly religious such as “I am here to sing my praises to God” to the less expressly religious such as “I like to chat to my friends after the service” or even ‘there is not much else to do on Sunday morning and it passes the time until lunch”. Quite possibly it is a mixture of reasons which vary from week to week. And, just having had Christmas, we know that there are many people who might only come to church once or twice a year because its traditional or because Christmas or Easter or Harvest somehow just wouldn’t feel the same without a trip to church.
But I’m going to put my neck on the line here and say that beneath the surface reasons I suspect that we are all here for the same underlying reason. Whether we really know it or not on a conscious level I believe that everyone who comes here, no matter how rarely, has been called by God at some time and in some way and that we all come here in response to that call with a desire to experience something of the God who calls us.
Now those who give expressly religious reasons for being here may well say that’s obvious of course I am here because of God’s call but I really want to say to those of us who feel more on the fringes of belief that God calls us all in different ways, to different vocations and ways of being and that we hear him in different ways at different times in our life but he does call all of us all of the time – our goal is to try and develop the ears to hear and, ultimately, the willingness to respond.
The old testament, psalm and gospel readings set for this morning between give us examples of four different ways in which God calls his people.
[Although we didn’t have it read] the Old Testament reading for today was from 1 Sameul 3 and it was God’s call to Samuel. Samuel was a young boy working as an apprentice in the temple to Eli the priest and it goes like this:
“2 One night Eli, whose eyes were becoming so weak that he could barely see, was lying down in his usual place. 3 The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple [a] of the LORD, where the ark of God was. 4 Then the LORD called Samuel.
Samuel answered, “Here I am.” 5 And he ran to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”
But Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.” So he went and lay down.
6 Again the LORD called, “Samuel!” And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”
“My son,” Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.”
7 Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD : The word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him.
8 The LORD called Samuel a third time, and Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”
Then Eli realized that the LORD was calling the boy. 9 So Eli told Samuel, “Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, ‘Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.’
So God called Samuel in an audible way but because Samuel had never heard the voice before he mistook it for his master Eli and it took the older man’s wisdom firstly to discern that it was God and secondly to tell Samuel how to respond. So sometimes God is speaking to us loud and clear but we simply fail to recognise it. Samuel’s response to God is actually the ideal response for each of us no matter how we experience God in our lives – he says: “Speak, LORD, for you servant is listening”. This quietening of ourselves and our own thoughts and agenda to hear what God intends is often the only way to hear God over the general hubbub of our lives. Samuel’s words of quiet obedience also reminds me of Mary’s response to the annunciation in Luke 1:38: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word”.
Actually although the word ‘obedience’ has become unfashionable it is interesting to reflect that it comes from the latin word oboedire which means to listen. So by quietening ourselves and by seeking to listen to God we are actually being obedient to God at a deep level.
The calling of Philip by Jesus in John’s gospel could hardly have been any more direct – Jesus simply finds Philip and says to him “Follow me”. There is no response from Philip other than immediate obedience. This instant response to the call of Jesus can be challenging (because it can be so different from the way that we often respond) and many scholars have tried to create a ‘backstory’ for the relationship to explain this lack of questioning – however I was interested to see something by Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his book The Cost of Discipleship:
“This encounter is a testimony to the absolute, direct and unaccountable authority of Jesus. There is no need of any preliminaries, and no other consequence but obedience to the call. Because Jesus is the Christ, he has the authority to call and to demand obedience to his word. Jesus summons us to follow him not as a teacher or a pattern of the good life, but as the Christ, the Son of God…When we are called to follow Christ, we are summoned to an exclusive attachment to his person. The grace of his call bursts all the bonds of legalism. It is a gracious call, a gracious commandment. Christ calls; we are to follow.”
So Samuel heard the call of God the Father in an audible way and that was the call that he needed to begin his prophetic ministry and Philip was called personally by God the Son, Jesus and that was the calling he needed to become a disciple. However, in my experience, very few people are called so directly. However Psalm 139 speaks of a different sort of experience of God and it is one that I suspect more of us can relate to.
7 Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, [a] you are there.
9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
This speaks to me not of hearing God speak audibly or even of meeting Jesus face to face but of an inescapable sense of God’s presence – of simply knowing that he is there whatever we do and wherever we go. And we should not be surprised that a sense of God’s presence, which we may call the Holy Spirit, is the way in which most people will be aware of God in the present age because Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit on the church to be our comforter until he returns in glory. So this is by no means a second rate manner in which to experience the call of God as we worship one God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
So perhaps we are here in church because of a calling by God – whether Father, Son or Holy Spirit. Or perhaps not. Maybe you don’t feel that you have ever encountered or felt the presence of God in any of those ways and you are here because your friends are here. Well, that is within the divine economy too – turning back briefly to the gospel reading I want to look at yet another type of calling: The first thing we see Philip do as a disciple is to call Nathanael to follow Christ saying ‘come and see’. So Nathanael wasn’t called by Jesus personally but he was called by another disciple to come and experience something of the Jesus that they have discovered. I suspect that may be the way many of us first heard the call of God – from another disciple saying ‘come and see’ and, of course, it is a way that we, as disciples, can call others to see the Lord – ‘come and see’.
I should emphasise that the types of calling we have seen in today’s readings are in no way exhaustive of the way in which God calls his people – the bible is absolutely full of different ways and, I suspect, that God speaks to each of us in the way that we need. However, it is very rare for God to force his attention upon us which means that our responsibility is to watch, wait and to listen for the still, small voice of God . As individuals and as a church we could do a lot worse than to follow the example of Samuel and say: “Speak, LORD, for you servant is listening”