‘Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.’
Revd Caroline Risdon, 14 January 2018
Heavenly Father, may your Word be our rule,
your Spirit our teacher
and your glory our chief concern. AMEN.
Have you ever considered being up front? He asked.
As my throat went dry and my field of vision seemed to narrow and my heart rate increased so that I could feel its’ pounding at my temple, I managed to answer yes. Yes, I had thought about being a Priest before. Yes, I did think that I was called to Ordained Ministry.
I remember that moment as if it were yesterday. It wasn’t the actual moment that I realised I had a calling to Ordained Ministry, that had been about 10 years earlier. But this particular conversation moved me past the point of no return. Others had seen it too. What had been held close to my heart in secret was out in the open; public. There was no turning back.
Today I’d like us all to think about what it means to be called by God. I don’t think ‘calling’ is something that happens to a few people only. I believe it is part of our lives as Christians. And both our Old Testament and Gospel readings this week focus on the call of God, perhaps most obviously in the story about Samuel. The boy, Samuel, is bedded down in the temple while Eli sleeps in another room. He hears a voice calling and gets up three times to ask Eli what he wants. Eventually, Eli perceives that it is God and instructs Samuel on what to do. He is to wait once more and when God calls again to answer in those moving words, ‘Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.’
From this first story and interaction, we understand the ease with which we may miss God's call, or attribute it to a human instead. Most people I’ve spoken to about their callings describe more of a slow, quiet awakening, rather than one dramatic moment. As with Samuel, there may be a period of uncertainty - who is calling? and what am I really being called to do or be? Certainly the role of other people is important. Samuel needed Eli to explain to him what was taking place and what it might mean. Likewise, the people around us can assist us in understanding the call God places before us.
So sometimes we can be like Samuel - hearing a voice or an inner prompting but unsure where or who it is coming from. At other times, we may ourselves be the wise and discerning voice, explaining to those around us what God intends. The story of Samuel, however, does not begin with God’s voice in the Temple, nor does it begin with Eli’s training. It begins with his mother, Hannah.
Samuel was the child Hannah longed for in order to be blessed. A wife among wives, she was barren. And in the ancient world as we know, a closed womb was cause for grief. Hannah is steadfast in her prayer and plea to God.
And though Hannah asked God for Samuel, she listened to an internal prompting that said he belonged to God. Samuel knew the love and tenderness of his mother in his early years. Yet, she weaned him from her breast so that he would be free to learn how to minister to God.
This prequel to Samuel’s call ought to be considered as we ponder our own call. God knows and loves each of us before our births. God has in fact created each of us. We have, all of us, been known beforehand. And we have also been brought before God through a series of relationships. If not our parents or families, then friends, teachers, strangers have guided, challenged and nurtured us along the way. Who are those people? Who have our Hannah’s been? And, dare we think who have we been Hannah’s for?
It can be easy to think that having a calling is the possession of Licensed or Ordained people. This is not true. When we are baptized, we receive our basic vocation, the calling to be a Christian. We are adopted as God’s children. We are members of Christ’s Body here on earth. We are sustained by the Holy Spirit. This same calling exists for all of us, whether or not we have a role or title. Throughout our lives, what we are called to do and be may change according to our circumstances and situations.
At various stages we may be:
Samue l- hearing but not understanding; being prepared to listen;
Or we may be:
Eli - perceptive of God’s call and guiding others;
Or we may be:
Hannah - persistent in prayer and nurturing of others
There are of course others. But the fundamental call to be God’s people can be relied upon; it will never change.
Every week in Church, when your offerings and the bread and wine is brought to the altar, we say together “All things come from you, and of your own do we give you.” I love this aspect of Hannah’s story. The child she longs for, the child she begs for, is brought to the Temple to be raised in service to the Lord. But the words used in the text are, she ‘lends’ him to the Lord. This precious child is not abandoned to the Temple, but nurtured from afar by a mother who brings him handmade clothes each year. Whatever calling we have requires entrusting it back to the Lord as well as nurturing on our part.
All things come from you, and of your own do we give you.