Who's Calling, Please?

Date: January 22, 2012
Title: Who’s Calling, Please?
Preaching: The Rev. Donna M. L. Pritchard
Scripture: 1 Samuel 3:1-20; John 1:43-51

  • Call waiting
  • Caller ID
  • Last call return (star 69) Continuous redial
  • Voice messaging
  • Call forwarding Selective call forwarding Call Trace
  • Call rejection
  • Speed dialing
  • Priority calling
  • 3-way calling

And the list goes on … these are just a few of the options available through our telephones today. It is quite a list … and may leave you wondering, “Whatever happened to plain old calling?”

Don’t get me wrong … I love my iphone … even when I find myself wondering if it is a good idea to have a phone that is smarter than me! And I love so many of my options …

I like being able to control what my phone sounds like when it rings (a marimba); I like the alter that sounds when I get a text message (it is called “Sherwood Forest” and sounds like a royal alert).

I like knowing who is calling and being able to choose whether to answer or wait for them to leave a message. I even like being able to silence my phone …or on very rare occasions, to turn it off altogether!

I like these options, and the illusion they create for me, as if somehow my phone will protect me from stress or worry, and its options will limit the disruptions or distractions of my life. It is as if being connected – wirelessly – means I will never again miss out on something good or exciting or true; as if being in control of my telephone means I can be in control of my life!

1But alas … all that is just an illusion. And sometimes, in the midst of the busiest day of the week, surrounded by noise and confusion – or perhaps, in the still, smallest hours of the night – God calls. And where are all my options then? Someone else reflected on the First Samuel story in this way:

“Long ago, even before the rotary phone, the boy Samuel faced this dilemma. Calls from God were rare. But as a child pledged to service in the temple of Yahweh at Shiloh, Samuel was called by name at all times of day and night.

On one particular night, the boy hears his name called and responds, “Hello? Yes? Here I am. What do you want?”

Now if you are Eli, you’re not sleeping that well when the boy comes trotting in to disturb you with this nonsense. Now even the pretense of slumber is gone; it’s just you and your premonitions, a vague sense of doom hanging over you, and the Lord is silent as only the Lord can be silent.

‘Prophets wouldn’t know a vision anymore if it bit them in the behind. So what’s eating this kid? Indigestion? Fleas? Those worthless, carousing sons of yours? No, that boy is sharp…’

If you’re Samuel, you think it must be the old man calling you. But the temple lamp hasn’t even burned out yet, too early for him to be calling for the vessel. He says he didn’t call? What?!

You suspect his eyesight isn’t the only thing fading fast. And there it is again… your name is definitely being called. And again he denies calling you…But then tells you what to do if it happens again.”

In our day, the word of the Lord seems widespread and visions of would-be prophets abound. There is no limit to those who call us by name. So how will we distinguish God’s call?

Where do you suppose Samuel would have ended up – how would the story have gone – if there had been no Eli telling him to listen again for God? Likewise, where will you and I end up, and how will our story go, if we do not help each other to go back and listen again for God’s love?

How will our story go – where will we end up – if we do not remind each other, of the truth which Margaret Shepherd puts into these words:

Sometimes, your only available transportation is a leap of faith!

A leap of faith. That is what Eli tells Samuel to take. That is what Philip wants Nathanael to risk. And that is what God is still offering to each and every one of us. It is no coincidence that Jesus was not a solo act. Do you remember how his first course of active ministry is to begin gathering a community of disciples around him? First it is two of John the Baptist’s followers; then Simon Peter, and Philip, and now Nathanael.

And for each of these disciples there is someone else helping them to see the truth, to hear the call, and to take the leap of faith, to climb on board that only available transportation.

Jesus was not a solo performer. And neither are we. Who’s calling please?

We need each other to identify God’s voice in the midst of the myriad voices we will hear today. We need each other to know who is calling us and why and to help us take the leap when we answer

I think of Gilda Radner’s famous Saturday Night Live sketch as the telephone operator … back when the phone company was just that …’THE phone company’. Do you remember how she would answer “Is this the party to whom I am speaking?”

When Nathanael is challenged to let go of his snobbish prejudice against Nazareth and its potential (can anything good come out of Nazareth), and when Jesus engages him in a Christological discourse about Messianic identity and the possibilities of discipleship, none of this is happening in a vacuum. Rather, the story unfolds as Nathanael is learning to follow, learning how to take that “only available transportation”… the leap of faith.

Christology – understanding the nature of Christ – unfolds for all of us in the course of discipleship. It is as we follow, it is as we answer that we figure out “who is calling, please?”

Kathleen Norris in her book Amazing Grace writes about the role of community in Christology in this way:

“All Christians are considered to have a call to what is commonly termed the priesthood of all believers; all Christians are expected to use their lives to reveal the grace of the Holy Spirit working through them.

It’s a tall order, to literally be a sacrament… and it helps to remember Jesus’ statement later on in the Gospel of John … You did not choose me; I chose you.”

Norris goes on to recount this bit of her personal faith story:

“It was January, bitterly cold and windy, on the day I joined the church, and I found that the sub-zero chill perfectly matched my mood. As I walked to church, into the face of that wind, I was thoroughly depressed. I didn’t feel much like a Christian and I wondered if I was making a serious mistake.

Before the service, the new members gathered with some of the elders. One was a man I’d never liked much. I’ll call him Ed. He’d always seemed ill-tempered to me, and also a terrible gossip, epitomizing the small-mindedness that can make small town life such a trial.

Standing awkwardly before our small group, Ed cleared his throat and mumbled, ‘I’d like to welcome you to the body of Christ.’

The minister’s mouth dropped open, as did mine. Neither of us had ever heard words remotely like this come from Ed’s mouth. Like distant thunder, the words made me more alert, attuned to further disruptions in the atmosphere. What had I gotten myself into?

I was astonished to realize, as the service began, that while I may never like Ed very much, I had just been commanded to love him. My own small mind had just been jolted, and the world seemed larger, opened in a new way.”

Ed’s words have power because they are words of Christian community. They are words which say to all of us welcome, here you are joined with us, here we will help you to take the leap of faith, as together we figure out “who’s calling, please?” They are words which remind us that we are in this together – no matter where we come from – and that God is calling from the most unexpected of places, all the time.

When I was a kid, the label Made in Japan signified a cheap trinket that cost little and was worth even less. It was a common term of derision, a way of saying that something was likely not made well and would not last long. But … by the time I graduated from college, when my dad took me shopping for my first car, he insisted I buy Japanese, because that way he knew I’d have something reliable and not likely to cause me a lot of trouble.

Poor Nathanael … I wonder how often the guys reminded him of his first reaction to Philip’s invitation? I wonder how hard it was for him to shift so suddenly, thinking how can anything good or decent or true or exciting or long lasting possibly come from that little backwater town of Nazareth?

He might have missed out altogether, if it hadn’t been for his friends suggesting he “come and see.” We might miss out, too, unless we are willing to “come and see” … because the only available transportation is still that leap of faith. Thanks be to God! Amen.

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