I got the call last night to fill in down in Harriman, New York. Interesting how things work out. Here are the thoughts that I will use this morning.
I entitled this sermon “Hearing God’s Call” because of the call God made to Solomon and the call Jesus made to each of his disciples.Little did I realize that God’s call to me on a Saturday evening would be from Newburgh asking me to cover a church down in the Harriman area of New York.
Do you remember those days back in elementary school when you would go out for recess and you would pick teams for whatever games you were going to play that day?Remember how it was that the more talented boys and girls got picked first and the lesser talented ones were always the last to be picked?Perhaps you were in the first group; perhaps you were in the latter group.To a certain extent, we still work in that type of “pick me first” type of environment; one in which we hope that our talents are sufficient to do the task at hand and which meet the requirements of whatever we are trying to do.
In writing about his early coaching career, John Wooden tells a story about a high school player he was coaching who was not a good “practice” player.And since, at that time, he believed in a strong practice ethic, he would not start the young man.But the young man keep pestering Coach Wooden to start him, insisting that he could do the job that was required.Finally, Coach Wooden let the young man start a major game.He figured that the young man would do poorly and be embarrassed about his performance and would let Coach Wooden alone after that.But, to his surprise, the young man turned in one of the most stellar performances imaginable.And Coach Wooden admitted that his assessment of the young man was faulty, for what happens in practice does not always happen in the game.The young man went on from there and Coach Wooden went on to UCLA; and we know how that story ended.
We think that we must have certain skills or talents in order to do many tasks.And occasionally that is true; we cannot drive a car without some rudimentary instruction and being able to bowl for a high average cannot be done without some instruction and practice.But God does not call us because of our talents; He calls us because of our faith and commitment.
But I have to be able to do something, you say; I cannot simply say to God “Here I am, send me” for I won’t know what to do.We will bring whatever we have that we allow us to adhere to God’s standards of truth, justice, humility, service, compassion, forgiveness, and love.We will use whatever skills and talents that we have that will allow God’s presence to be known in this world.
The Corinthians thought that the freedom that was gained through Christ gave them license to do just about anything they wanted to do.But sin is still present and when you use your talents, whatever they are, however limited they may be, for your own good then your talents are wasted and abused and you have fallen into sin.You cannot work for Christ in this world if you hold your talents back and do things more for yourself than for Christ.
So it is not about the talents we have or don’t have; it is about faith and commitment.Following God requires faith and commitment.If we have the faith to believe and we make the commitment, we can do anything.Ask Noah or Samuel or any of the earlier disciples what faith meant to them.Ask the early circuit riders of the Methodist Church in America what commitment to the program meant.Could they have survived the weeks traveling from town to town, in all types of weather, were it not for their own faith or their commitment to the Gospel message?Where would this church in Rockland County be today if not for those early circuit riders?
Francis Asbury, the first Bishop of our church, made it a point to emphasize the physical struggles that these early preachers would have to endure.He didn’t want someone whose commitment was weak or whose faith was not the strongest.He wasn’t looking for someone who was in it for personal glory, for there was none to be given back then.Glory and fame would come later, if at all.
Just as then, our own encounters with God today will come through those moments where our service is needed the most. An atheist is said to have proclaimed, in what must have surely been a shock to his or her friends, that they met Christ in Calcutta after observing Mother Teresa move about quietly, taking care of those in need, without fanfare or announcement.For Mother Teresa, service was more than praying about the outcome.Service was helping those in need because it was a completion of Matthew 25: 31 – 46, “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat; I was naked and you clothed me; I was homeless and you took me in.”
Jim Wallis, the noted evangelist, wrote that he struggled with the notion of the church during his college years.Those were the years of turmoil and strife, of fight for justice and peace.Some of those who were in this fight spoke of revolution but gave up because the threats and punishment of the system were too strong.
But Wallis writes that it was with all that was going on, he was pushed to know Jesus even more than he already did.During those times of the late 1960’s, he was called again by Jesus to put into action the words of the Gospel.Growing up as he did, Wallis thought he understood who Jesus was and what the call was, but the strife and the apparent lack of concern for the poor, the downtrodden, the homeless, and the oppressed led him, if you will, back to Calvary.
In his book A Walk Across America, Peter Jenkins described his journey from Alfred University in upstate New York through North Carolina and Alabama to New Orleans.Along the way, he had a chance to attend an old-fashion church revival in Mobile, Alabama.There it became clear that what he would find on his journey was his own salvation and the answers he was looking for in his search for the truth.But he also found that what he was looking for was not found at the revival; rather, it was at the revival that he discovered that he had met the Holy Spirit through the quiet lives of people he had encountered during his time walking down the Appalachians.It was at the revival that he began to understand how the presence of the Holy Spirit provides the strength and support needed when encountering many great difficulties.
The problem is that we are often like Samuel, who heard the voice of God but did not know that it was God. (1) Other times we are like Nathanael, who was skeptical that God would be represented by a man from Nazareth. (2) When Nathanael was told by Philip that the Messiah had called them (Peter, Andrew, James, John, and Philip), all Nathanael could say was “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”
There were going to be others who were skeptical of the claim that Jesus was and is the Messiah.Those that kept the minds closed and their hearts hard will be among the ones who turn against at the end.
In this world of ours today, we hear some proclaim say that the word of God brings death and destruction to lands and people.We hear some proclaim, in the name of God, that it is okay to exclude people from our churches because of their status or lifestyle.We have a right to be skeptical if we think Christ calls us to destroy or exclude or ignore those less fortunate.We have a right to be skeptical if those around us say Christ calls them to hate or speak of disaster because of lifestyles or choices.
But when we hear Christ’s true words, we no longer are skeptical.That is why Nathanael followed Jesus when he was called; he was open to the possibility that Jesus is.Nathanael is described as one in whom there is nothing false.This doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have some wrong beliefs, as the world false might suggest but rather that he is honest and clear-sighted.Nathanael is one who sought God before all else.Jesus told Nathanael that He saw him under the fig tree before Philip called.This was enough for Nathanael to explain that Jesus was the Son of God, the King of Israel.
Only someone with an open mind and a clean heart is going to understand in that brief moment who he was meeting.He accepted Jesus because he understood the truth that Jesus has looked into his heart and knew who he, Nathanael, was.For Nathanael, that is reason enough to heed to call to follow me.It is reason enough for us as well.
The critical thing is that Nathanael’s mind is open, his heart is clean.What skills and abilities he brings to the mission will be there for the mission and nothing else.This is what Paul is alluding to in his letter to the Corinthians. (3)
It is hard to describe how one hears God.Often times, we think and are told that such encounters must be like Paul’s on the road to Damascus or Moses’ with the burning bush.Even today there are those who will tell you that your encounter with God is limited and invalid unless there is thunder and lightning or other similar events taking place, at least in your mind.
We should not try to justify or question someone else’s calling.But we should make sure that we hear the calling that is meant for us.The church in Corinth struggled with division among its members, division created by how each group was identified and how it interpreted the Gospel message.The Corinthians interpreted the message in terms of the person delivering the message rather than through Jesus Christ.Paul’s words for today were meant to show that you could not interpret the Gospel in a way that simply justified what you wanted to do.Rather, in following the Gospel, you choose a different path.
We might be tempted to just write off this problem, saying that it was a young church, still in a growing stage of life.But it is something that we still do today.Society today tends to exalt dynamic leaders, especially those who are engaging Christian speakers or vibrant, charismatic spiritual leaders.Our identification belongs with Jesus Christ and His message, not with the messenger.
We are called to come and see, as Philip invited Nathanael.Christ calls us to build, not destroy.Christ calls us to unify, not separate.Christ calls us to bring the sick, the homeless, and the oppressed into the community of God, not cast them out.
It may be that some will not understand that they are being called.They need those who understand Christ’s call, just as Eli helped Samuel (1), so that they too may join Christ in His mission on earth.That is why we have the church today; we are here, we must be here for that one individual who walks through the door in his search for Christ in his life.
Let us then open our hearts and our minds; let us hear God calling to us this day and this moment.Let us take to God that which he has given us and work so that others will come to know the joy and peace found in Christ.God called Samuel, Jesus called the twelve, and now today we hear Christ calling to us, over the loud noises of the daily world.Should we not heed the call and follow Christ?
Jesus calls us over the tumult
Of our life’s wild, restless, sea;
Day by day His sweet voice soundeth,
Saying, “Christian, follow Me!”
As of old Saint Andrew heard it
By the Galilean lake,
Turned from home and toil and kindred,
Leaving all for Jesus’ sake.
Jesus calls us from the worship
Of the vain world’s golden store,
From each idol that would keep us,
Saying, “Christian, love Me more!”
In our joys and in our sorrows,
Days of toil and hours of ease,
Still He calls, in cares and pleasures,
“Christian, love Me more than these!”
Jesus calls us! By Thy mercies,
Savior may we hear Thy call,
Give our hearts to Thine obedience,
Serve and love Thee best of all.
- 1 Samuel 3: 1- 10 (11 – 20)
- John 1: 43 – 51
- 1 Corinthians 6: 12 – 20