Posted on Mon, Feb 13, 2012
Rev. Dr. Merritt's January 15, 2012 Sermon
Rev. Dr. Jim Merritt
January 15, 2012
Today’s lectionary readings share the theme of “callings”. In my own experience it seems that we use that phrase around churches and religious institutions freely and sometimes a little too freely. Often times when participants want to do something in religious life that is outside the box or outside the structure of the organization, they justify it by saying, “I felt called to do it.” Sometimes people come in to a pastor’s office and profess that they feel called to do some of the most outrageous things. I’m convinced that God can be an outrageous character and I’m also tempted to ask a times, “Are you sure you are listening to the right voices?” You can imagine the sorts of ideas that make me wonder that.
This morning, let us consider three aspects of calling: First, God calls all kinds of people. Second, God’s callings persistent callings. And Third, God is calling me and YOU.
Would you pray with me? “God, we acknowledge your presence with us, living in the hearts of the people you have gathered in this place. We are grateful for the divine plan you have for every one of us. We come to hear your voice this morning as we consider this idea, that God is calling every one of us, right here and right now. Guide us and give us courage to follow. AMEN.
God Calls all Kinds of People
Imagine that you are the parent of a young child that you absolutely know beyond the shadow of a doubt is called to do something amazing for God. In ancient culture is was common to take children, little boys, to the temple and have them be raised up by the priest. Such was the case with Samuel and Eli. Samuel was growing up in the temple under Eli’s guidance. He studied the Torah and other religious documents. He learned about the rites of temple worship, teaching, preaching and handling sacrifices. At first he is too young to understand what being “called” is all about. Then suddenly, in the middle of the night he hears a voice. It startles him as he hears it saying, “Samuel! Samuel,” and he responds something like, “Here Am I.” He understands that Eli is aging quickly and is losing his sight, so he runs to him. Perhaps he needs a drink of water, or maybe he needs help getting to the bathroom. And when Samuel arrives by Eli’s side, Eli says, “I didn’t call you, go back to bed.” Hmmm. So Samuel goes back to bed and just a little while later, he hears that voice again, “Samuel! Samuel.” So he gets up again and runs to Eli who surely must need assistance only to learn once again that Eli had not called him. “What’s up with that,” he must have thought as he returns to bed.
Just as he is drifting off to sleep, lo and behold there’s that voice again, “SAMUEL, SAMUEL!” And off he goes running back to Eli. Remember, Samuel doesn’t really know God yet. Eli, a very wise priest tells Samuel, “Go lie down again, and this time when the voice calls, reply, “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening. Samuel went back to bed and did exactly what Eli had told him, and upon listening, which is very important for us to do as well, he heard the most amazing statement, “See, Samuel, listen I am about to do something that will be amazing to all of Israel.” What God was about to do was frightening and it involved the house of Eli. Some of Eli’s family had done some terrible things and God was about to get their attention, and God let Samuel in on the plan.
Samuel was a little boy growing up in the temple and God had a calling for him. Scripture tells us that Samuel remained in the presence of God, that God blessed him and blessed the ministry to which he was called and that Samuel became one of the most significant prophets of God in all the Hebrew Bible. A little boy, called by God, called for a purpose in his time. A little boy who became one of the most significant prophets of God. God called him and God is calling you. Hear the word of prophesy: God is about to do some things that will get the world’s attention. God is getting ready to move in ways that will once again revolutionize the world. Listen carefully now…God is calling you and you and you and me to be a part of it. As we live into the callings of God, God will remain with us. God will lift us up. God will carry us through these and other times of extreme adversity. God will not let us fall, God is lifting us up on the wings of eagles. God is lifting us up with the very breath of each new day and God will not allow us to be brought down by economics or crazy politicians by religious leaders who say that our very existence is a threat to humanity. How dare they say that about God’s creation and about the very apples of God’s eyes. My sister and brothers, the God we know and serve does not make mistakes. God didn’t yell out, “OOPSIE” on the day that you were born or on the day that you came out. God celebrates who you are and God does have a calling on your life right here and right now and God has never and will never give up on you! You are called by the most high God for a most high purpose and as your pastor I’m encouraging you right here this morning, don’t let anybody ever take your high calling away from you because this God, our God, the one true God has a purpose and a plan for your life. GLORY TO GOD.
We have witnessed many in our lifetimes who have followed Jesus far beyond baptism. The Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, "We must keep God in the forefront. Let us be Christian in all of our action. The protestors must not hate their white opponents, but be guided by Christian love while seeking justice… "Love is one of the pinnacle parts of the Christian faith. There is another side called justice. And justice is really love in calculation". That’s an important reminder for us, even as people continue to stand in our way and deny equality and justice for all people, we are called to love and pray for our opponents rather than hate them and pray for their demise. I also want to suggest on this Sunday that we remember the work of Dr. King, that it is very important for us to pay attention to him. I come from the same places that many of you do and I know how difficult it can be for us to overcome the prejudices that we were taught. Yes, prejudice is learned behavior, it is not in our DNA, it is not natural and I urge all of us, if we truly want equality and justice for ourselves and for our sisters and brothers around the world, we MUST teach love, we must teach against hate in all its forms and we must embrace all of humanity as brothers and sisters created by God who loves every one of us equally. Hear me, this morning, in God’s eyes there is no us and them, we are called to be one in this worldwide communion based on love. And so we give thanks for the life and legacy of Dr. King this morning as one who heard a calling from God with courage enough to lay down his life for his friends.
God’s Callings are Persistent
All through scripture and all through history we see that God’s callings are persistent. The catch phrase for many us in religious life has been, “God’s callings are without repentance.” I have shared with you how, on the day I left New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary in 1989, I thought my life of ministry was over. I breathed on simple prayer on my way out of those gates, “God I’ve spent my whole life preparing for ministry; I have no idea what to do next,” and I headed out for Tampa. I experimented with all kinds of churches, MCC, Catholic, Methodist, Pentecostal, and others. I had a very good high paying job and I should have been contented, but every now and again would call me “Rev.” or I would see a Pastor working and I was immediately drawn back to that day at the age of 16 when the voice of God called out, “Jim, JIM!” Troy Perry wrote me that note that said, Dear Jim, I believe God has a place for you in our church, and my heart was moved. I couldn’t be a Southern Baptist Pastor and still there was a place for God to use me in the way God intended when I was 16. People talk about running from God and having God nag them and about never being happy why? Because, my sisters and brothers, God does indeed have a plan for your life and that plan has never diminished. It has never gone away. God has not given up on you because praise God, we serve a God whose callings a persistent. It may take one or two or three or twenty or a hundred times for God to get our attention and that’s okay, because God’s callings are persistent. God never ever gives up.
God calling you.
In closing, I need to ask you a serious question. How is God calling you? What is God calling you to be? Who is the person God is calling you to be? I know for a fact that God IS calling you. You may have been ignoring God for decades; that’s okay. Today can be your day. You may have been told you weren’t good enough; that’s okay. Today can be the day when you and God prove them wrong. You may be poor, uneducated, you may have lots of skeletons in your closet, you may be from someplace like Nazareth or Auburndale or Apopka or Archer; what good has ever come from places like that? You have, and I have, and Jesus did.
Shhhh…can you hear it? God is calling…YOU. AMEN.
© James Edward Merritt, Jr. 2012
Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread. At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was. Then the Lord called, “Samuel! Samuel!” and he said, “Here I am!” and ran to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call; lie down again.” So he went and lay down. The Lordcalled again, “Samuel!” Samuel got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call, my son; lie down again.” Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lordhad not yet been revealed to him. The Lord called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy.Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place. Now the Lord came and stood there, calling as before, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”
Then the Lord said to Samuel, “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make both ears of anyone who hears of it tingle. On that day I will fulfill against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. For I have told him that I am about to punish his house forever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them. Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be expiated by sacrifice or offering forever.” Samuel lay there until morning; then he opened the doors of the house of the Lord. Samuel was afraid to tell the vision to Eli. But Eli called Samuel and said, “Samuel, my son.” He said, “Here I am.” Eli said, “What was it that he told you? Do not hide it from me. May God do so to you and more also, if you hide anything from me of all that he told you.” So Samuel told him everything and hid nothing from him. Then he said, “It is the Lord; let him do what seems good to him.”
As Samuel grew up, the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was a trustworthy prophet of the Lord.
The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Humanity.”