January 18, 2015, I Samuel 3:1-20, John 1:43-51

I needed to do something a little different with the second reading this morning, because to understand what’s going on, one has to understand how odd this situation is. Samuel, who is sleeping in the holiest spot in the temple, is about 14 years old and has been living as a sort of apprentice priest since his mother Hannah left him with Eli, the priest. It’s very early in the morning, before dawn, when Samuel hears a voice. He assumes it’s Eli, because Eli’s the only other person in the temple at that hour. “The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.” OK, so we can understand why this boy who has grown up in the temple didn’t recognize that it was the Lord speaking. But did you notice those two images together: word and visions? We read this at Bible Exploration Tuesday, and we found a lot to talk about in this passage, but no one caught that word—something one hears, and a vision—something one sees were treated as synonyms.

We got to talking about what it feels like, and what it sounds like, and what we imagine it’s like when God speaks to us. What is your experience of God communicating to you?

Hold onto those questions. Take a look at the reading from John’s gospel. Jesus reveals himself to the first disciples. He amazes them with what he knows about them and immediately Nathanael says Jesus is “the Son of God and the King of Israel.” It happens instantly. In the other gospels the first people Jesus calls literally drop what they are doing and follow him. Jesus calls; boom! They follow. Most calls from God are not like this.

Now I’m going to make this a local topic. Presbyterians elect our own leaders. Ruling elders and deacons are called by God—through the voice of the congregation. And our pastors, who now take the title Teaching Elder, are now called and elected by the congregation. God speaks…through other people. We talked about this Thursday as the new deacons were oriented and trained. The Book of Order says of Deacons “Persons of spiritual character, honest repute, exemplary lives, brotherly and sisterly love, sincere compassion, and sound judgment should be chosen for this office.” These words made all the new deacons squirm in their seats. “Me? People see those qualities in me?” And the answer is “yes, the other members of this church, your brothers and sisters in Christ see precisely these qualities in you.” I am convinced that it takes other people to help us identify our own gifts. Maybe we’re too hard on ourselves, or maybe we just don’t see ourselves clearly. But one thing that validates a call, in my experience, is that initial “Nuh-uh” Moment.

The Lord was speaking to the priest’s apprentice in the holiest place on earth and he didn’t recognize the voice or vision. Samuel didn’t get it right away.

Right now this congregation is starting the new calendar year and we are three Ruling Elders short of a full Session. We believe that members are called to this position of spiritual leadership by God through the voice of the congregation. Let me ask right now, please raise your hand if you have been called to serve as a Deacon on Ruling Elder. Many, most [?] of you have had the experience of being called, not merely phoned by someone on the Nominating Committee, but called by God through the voice of the congregation. Good.

I’m going to spend the rest of my time this morning sharing thoughts about what makes a call believable. After all, not every voice one hears in the dark is the Lord!

First, I’ve already covered the “Nuh-uh Moment.”

Second, a true call is persistent. God calls back. Believe me, God calls back. One time a friend told me he’d had a great time para-sailing. He showed me pictures and I thought, for about ten seconds, “That looks like fun.” Then it looked utterly terrifying and I haven’t felt a desire to try para-sailing since. A call will not just flash through your thoughts. It will linger in your thoughts, even nag you.

Third, a call is evolutionary. As you accept a call your relationship with God changes and deepens. You gain new insights, maybe you even gain new skills and you’re a different person. God never, ever calls someone and says, “You have exactly the skill set right now to do this mission!” God says, “I will be with you.” Thursday as the new Deacons were attending their first meeting and getting acquainted, the continuing Deacons shared what they loved about being Deacons. I was surprised, and gratified that some of them said, “Being a Deacon pushes me out of my comfort zone.” They liked that. And I love the idea that serving as a church leader causes them to grow in their faith, grow closer to others and grow closer to the Lord.

This means the tasks that one is called to perform will also change.

Fourth, there is a sense of mystery or awe, or at least a surrendering to God’s power and strength when one is called. The called person does not see exactly what God has in mind. In fact, I’ve heard people discerning calls who have openly asked God, “Lord, are you nuts?” This goes back to the Nuh-uh Moment.

Fifth, a call is good news, not bad news. It should bring energy and excitement, even as it also brings some anxiety. After asking that first question: “Me?” Come the next question: “Really?”

Sixth, and finally, for this morning, calls are corporate. If no one else validates your sense of call, if no one says, “Yes, I believe you’ve got what it takes to try,” then it probably was just some other voice you heard in the dark. People may ask questions of you about whether you know what you’re in for, and the answer is almost certainly “no,” but that’s different from saying, “I don’t see this call for you.”

Perhaps you’re like Samuel and the Lord has been speaking to you for a while, and you haven’t recognized that voice. Perhaps you are like Samuel and the Lord is calling you to speak words of judgment and condemnation—words that it will take great courage to speak. Perhaps the Lord is calling you to serve this congregation—to offer your particular skills, passions, intelligence, imagination and love—in ways no one has even imagined yet. About the only thing I can promised about accepting a call is that it will be interesting. So if you’ve been nagged by a persistent sense that God is calling you—test that idea with someone you trust in the church. Then step forward and discover what God has in store for you and this part of the Body of Christ. Amen.

[If you’re feeling called to serve as a Ruling Elder, we will elect up to three at the Annual meeting, February 1, following worship and they will be ordained/installed at worship on Ash Wednesday.]