The word of the LORD was rare in those days and visions were not widespread.
Striking, isn’t it? For words that are 3000 years old, they sound quite modern. At least, modern speculation outside the church would say, If God is so real, why doesn’t he say something or act in a way that’s irrefutable?
In fact, people wouldn’t be surprised if the Richmond Times-Dispatch did a story entitled, “2014, the Year in Review: The word of the Lord was rare in those days and visions were not widespread;” except, of course, that newspapers don’t typically cover that kind of story.
Well, these modern-sounding-but-very-old-words set the stage for the call of Samuel, who would be the last Judge and first Prophet of Israel.
You may know the story.
Samuel was just a boy, maybe 12 or 13 years old, he’s at a lock-in at the church, with lots of boys his age, doing something akin to acolyting, but 24-hour-around-the-clock acolying, when he hears a voice calling, “Samuel!”
He thinks its Eli, the high priest, but every time he goes to see what Eli wants, he gets sent back to bed.
Finally the old priest realizes it’s the LORD calling and instructs the boy that the next time he hears the voice he should say, “Speak! I’m your servant and I’m ready to listen!”
So the Lord does come again, and stands, and calls, “Samuel! Samuel!”
As instructed, the boy replies, “Speak for your servant is listening.” And God begins instruction to the boy that will last the rest of his life, culminating in one of the most consequential actions in his people’s history, when God has him anoint, first Saul and then David, as King of Israel.
While not many of us have heard the audible voice of God, and not many of us have been called to do things like anoint kings, many of us have experienced a call from God. We have sensed a deep pull in our lives, or experienced a deep passion and a deep joy that comes from serving in a particular capacity, or we have found that we have certain gifts that fit with a real need in the world.
This is what we refer to as our “call,” and it’s very real, even if they don’t write stories about it in the local newspaper.
Jesus, in our gospel today is busy calling his first disciples.
In fact, this is the very first thing he does after being baptized by John. He calls people to follow him. Jesus invites Phillip and Phillip invites Nathaniel.
Nathaniel is skeptical when he hears Jesus is from Nazareth, a town of about 300-400 people, that’s so insignificant that its never even mentioned in the Hebrew Scriptures, or what we might call the Old Testament.
So what does Phillip do to reassure him?
It’s probably significant that he doesn’t preach a sermon, talk theology, or pontificate philosophy: He just says, “Come and see.”
And, lo and behold, Nathaniel does come and see, and when he experiences Jesus, he exclaims: “Rabbi, You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”
And Jesus says, essentially, “You haven’t seen anything yet.” And its true because its all still to come: Jesus protecting the poor, healing those in need, speaking out against injustice, the cross, the empty tomb, heaven opened for God’s people.
Nathaniel hasn’t seen anything yet, but he will witness all of this, and it all starts with Phillip’s simple invitation: Come and see.
Of course, we too are called to invite people to “come and see.”
“Join me for worship – Come and see.” “If you don’t have a home church you’d be welcome at Epiphany – come and see. ” “I can give you a lift to service – come and see.”
We believe that God is busy and active in the world and that God encounters us through Word and Sacrament to give the gift of faith. God does the big stuff, we just invite people to come and see.
But here’s what I came to realize yesterday: it’s not just an evangelism strategy. We also invite friends and people in our community to “Come and see,” how they can dig deeper in their faith, and continue and deepen their discipleship.
Yesterday we had a New Leader Orientation in Sala Chapel for Council Members and various other Leaders in the congregation, and Christy Huffman asked each one of us to share how we had decided to say “yes” to the position in which we’re serving. Nearly everyone’s answer had to do with invitation.
Matt who serves on Council said, “Joel McKean asked me, and how do you say no to Joel?”
Lyle who’s a Stevens Minister said, “Mike Horacek shook my hand after worship, asked me to serve, and wouldn’t let go of my hand until I said ‘yes.’”
Walt who is on the community service team said he was at a meeting and the leader asked who would serve and there was a terribly long silence and finally he felt guilty, so he said okay. But the point is the leader asked!
Bruce who will be serving on the financial team said, Ray asked him, and Ray said, “Well, don’t look at me. Beth asked me.”
Amy who leads the Mom’s Bible Study said Sarah Robbins asked her.
Ramona who is on Council said that Alice Peyton asked her.
All the leaders of our congregation are leaders of our congregation because they were invited to be leaders of this congregation.
So invitation continues to be an important part of our life together.
You invitation to someone might sound like this:
Come and see what God is doing through Hope Pantry and Lamb’s Basket, Come and see what God is doing in the youth group, come and see what God is doing in our Bible study. Come and see how God can deepen your faith and discipleship through the ministries of this community. Invitation. Come and see.
We may each have a different call to serve God is a unique way. But for each of us, one and all, our call begins in Baptism.
In our baptism God claims each one of us and calls us into the mission we share: to give thanks and praise to God and to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with the world.
Some of us are called to be pastors, diaconal ministers, church musicians, church staff, or have a call to serve as council members and leaders in the congregation, and so we prayerfully seek to discern how the Holy Spirit would guide our communal life.
And some others of us have a call to serve outside the congregation – in the community. And this is the way that most of us will serve. What may well be the more exciting way to serve.
One of my best friends, Jonathan, after studying physics, and managing a bookstore, was at a loss for what to do next, and went back to school to study early Christian writers, what we call Patristics. I think as he was trying to figure out what he was called to do, and he had an epiphany. He wasn’t really going to help people in the way he felt called to help people by teaching or writing about religion. So he enrolled in law school and now is an elder care lawyer, and every day he has the chance to fight for the rights of older members of his community and see that they are treated fairly.
I share this story to emphasize that ministry happens inside the church and ministry happens outside of the church, and you don’t have to be a church professional to have a calling!
Some are called to be teachers, to the healing arts of medicine, to scientific endeavors, to things we may or may not have envisioned for ourselves. But it seems to me, none of us work out an understanding of our call alone, and not one of us comes to discern what God would have us do alone.
Samuel and Eli figured out Samuel’s call together.
Nathaniel and Phillip figured out following Jesus together with one another, and the rest of the twelve disciples.
In the same way, God invites us to discern our own call together as a family of faith, and to look around, to watch, to listen, and to ask, “How is God calling me, and how is God calling my sister and my brother, and how might I invite them to come and see what God is doing?”
What a blessing to have a community, here, called into being by God, in which we can discern our gifts and find our joy together.
It might not be in the Richmond News, and some may be skeptical, but God is real and the word of God can be heard today.
The Word comes to us each time we gather to hear Jesus Christ encounter us in the Holy Scriptures.
God comes to us in the bread and wine of Holy Communion, which is Christ’s body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins.
God promises we will meet him in our service to the poor.
God can be seen and heard. God invites us again today into a life that God has prepared for us.
God says to each of us, Come and see. By God’s grace, we go together.