Hearing Our Call
I Samuel 3:1-20
Sermon delivered by Minister Shirley Lin on 18 January, 2009 at Taiwanese Presbyterian Church in Hawaii
Good morning. Thank you for inviting me to speak today.
As Christians, we are the followers of Christ. As followers of Christ, we are always looking to do as Christ would want. Not only are we trying to live our lives in a way that would please God, but we want our actions to reflect the glory of God that is within us.
Today’s scripture reading shows us the same kind of devotion by Samuel. If you remember, the reason that Samuel came into the temple as a young boy was because his mom had trouble conceiving. Hannah, his mother, went to the temple to pray. She asked God to look upon her, to give her son. If God would do this for her, then she will give him to the LORD for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head.
We know that this was a time in Israel’s history when the word of the LORD was rare. Visions were not widespread. Yet, God answered Hannah’s prayers. God was still working in the world, even if people have not been receiving instruction from God.
Often when I read passages in the Bible, I wonder about these kinds of revelations. I have not personally received messages from God in such a dramatic and clear way. I understand that there are people who say they have and I was always rather envious of them. At the same time, I wonder if this is a time where the Word of the Lord is rare.
When we do not feel God’s presence in the world, we probably become less vigilant about staying on the right track. After all, if nobody is watching, we are probably more likely to let things slide.
I feel pretty confident in saying this, because I know it is true in my own life. When my parents were here, for example, I was definitely better about putting my clothes away, doing my dishes promptly, and cleaning up after myself. Now that my parents are gone, I can honestly tell you that there are probably dirty dishes from Friday that is still in my sink that I have yet to get to.
Even with the presence of God, it can be very difficult to remain disciplined in our world today. There are many temptations that draw us away from God. It is easy for us to lose our way in this world. Many things in this world have entered into grayness.
Working in the hospital, I often encounter ethical cases that are heart wrenching, but without answers. The most often case that I see is when patients make the decision not to be resuscitated if their heart stops or they stop breathing. While we do value the sanctity of life, what about weighing it with pain and suffering?
Of course, medical dilemmas are only on the tip of the scale. When we look out into the world, we can see how greed has destroyed not only our own economy, but other wealthy nations as well. Iceland has recently gone bankrupt, using and spending money that they did not have. Big banks around the world invested heavily in mortgages given to people who could not afford to repay their loans. These loans were given to people despite knowing their financial situation.
For most Americans, the American Dream includes that home ownership. When they come face to face with that possibility, many do not and cannot resist the temptation to make the dream a reality. I can tell you that the salespeople can be quite convincing when it comes to their product.
I remember when I was looking for an apartment in Connecticut and came across a realtor. This man showed me a few places to rent, but ultimately sat me down to convince me to buy a place instead of renting. He was telling me that I could purchase my very own apartment, paying only 800 a month, which would be lower than what I would be paying in rent! Of course, this sounded too good to be true. I told him that I had just graduated from graduate school and did not have money for a down payment.
No problem, he said. He immediately went to the phone and called his friend, a mortgage broker, so that I could learn all about how to buy a place to live with no money. I have to tell you, even with all the education I had and even with reading the newspaper, listening to NPR, and watching the news about the financial crisis that was going on, I was tempted to buy instead of rent.
I did not end up buying that place. But my point is that it is easy for us to fall prey to the greed of others. And once the interest rates jumped, the temptation for the desperate homeowner to do something drastic like not pay the mortgage even though they continue to live in these homes becomes greater.
Thus, the challenge of continue to live in a way that we believe is consistent with what God would want us to do is not merely a Biblical problem. It is a practical problem for the ages. This is partly what we try to discern every day of our lives.
As a young boy, Samuel grew up in the temple, under the tutelage of Eli. We know that Eli’s children had wandered away from the path and were corrupt. But Samuel was a gift from God. His name literally means “God Heard.” Because God heard, God was responding.
We pick up the story of Samuel today when God calls Samuel into service. Up until this point, Samuel had just been a boy who worked at the temple simply because his mother had told him to. Samuel was young and was just in training. He was not even able to identify that it was God calling him.
It was not until the third time God called that Eli realized what was happening. At that moment, there was a shift. Samuel’s life was changed forever. He would not be just a boy who served the old priest in the temple. He was now the messenger of God, who would be bringing the Word of God to the people of God. He was called to serve God is a real and profound way.
How often do we get called to serve God? How often do we miss God’s calling because we mistake it for something else?
I have to tell you, I think it’s easy to miss God’s call sometimes because the call sure can be that subtle. It took me years before I realized what God’s call for me was to be. Even today, I cannot tell you for sure what God is calling me to. All I can do is to keep my eyes and ears open to listen to the instruction and guidance. In the meanwhile, I have met plenty of people who have shared with me stories of their calling.
I met a patient once, who had told about her faith. Her heart was failing and she was not doing well. Chances are, she will need a heart transplant sooner rather than later. This is a woman in her 40s.
She lied in bed before her surgery and told about how great her God is. How God was calling her to do something great for women. Women, she said, suffer from heart problems much more than men do. And, on average, they receive worse care because all the research about heart problems is geared toward men. People simply do not realize how bad heart issues are for women.
She told me that her cardiologist was working to change this perception. She was offered a position to speak out on behalf of women who suffer from heart problems. She jumped at the opportunity. She told me that God was calling her to make things better for women. She said that she had a background in public speaking and that God had given her a voice to speak on behalf of those who were forgotten.
Her faith was so affirming for me. This is a woman who has to fight for her life on a daily basis, and yet she remains focused on the one thing she knows is most important: God. She may not be a clergy person, she may not be working in the church or in a ministerial capacity, but she is responding to God’s call.
God’s call for us is all different. They are individually tailored to suit the talents God has given us. Samuel was called not to be the high priest in the same way that Eli was called to be. Samuel certainly wasn’t called to be a prophet the same way that Amos or Jeremiah were called to be. Let us return to our daily lives, remembering to listen to God’s call for us. May we not only hear God’s call, but respond to it to the best of our abilities.