Sermon: Being Called by Heidi Ward, January 15, 2012

Heidi Ward

“Being Called”

Second Epiphany 2012-1 Samuel 3:1-10, John 1:43-51

I was in the sixth grade the first time I really understood the idea of what it meant to be “called”. It was my first year of middle school full of all of the things a first year in middle school is often ripe with: anxiety, a new wing of the building, my first locker, a particularly unfortunate haircut…you get the drift.

After months of struggling through my adolescent angst, I read a flier about auditions for the upcoming school musical. I had always loved to sing, and had been in the school chorus for as long as I could remember. But I had never auditioned for a musical. I couldn’t get up in front of all of those people and perform by myself!

Well, as mothers often do, mine begged to differ. Insisting it was an excellent idea, she cheered me along the road to try outs. After a couple of brush-ups with a voice coach, and as much confidence as I could muster, I went to the auditions.

I have to say that it wasn’t the awful experience I feared it would be. I sang my solo, I sat down in my chair, no one laughed, and I am here today to tell you that I landed a part in the chorus. But landing the part wasn’t the pinnacle of that experience for me.

It was watching with rapt attention over the coming months as the woman who became my drama director turned our band of middle and high school misfits into a cast fit for the professional stage. She cheered, coached, and drove us to bring our absolute best to the stage every time. She polished and molded each of us into individual performers richer than we knew we could be.

I remember asking her about halfway through rehearsals, how do you do it? How do you make everything work so well? She responded simply, it is what I was called to do. While it would be a few years before I could truly appreciate what that meant, I was struck by the idea of being “called” to a profession.

Scripture is rich with examples of people answering God’s call. In this week’s text, we hear the story of God’s call to Samuel. This story is written in a time when the people of Israel were longing for leadership, for a king. While it later chronicles Israel’s monarchy, we begin this text with the story of a prophet, Samuel. He is a most unlikely messenger, a young, adolescent boy.

The story of Samuel’s call by God is one of words and hearing. Unlike Kings that came after him, Samuel did not have an ornate palace to try and prove his call from God. Moreover, he did not even want to be a King! He had only ears to listen and a mouth to share God’s message. And although he did not want to be a King, this prophet did become a king-maker. He set moral authority in Israel that lay the groundwork for rulers to come. Surely Israel would not have been the same without him.

Tomorrow is Martin Luther King, Jr. day. The day we have set aside to honor his legacy of justice, peace, service, and faithfulness. I am sure that many of you know pieces of his story. Frank shared some with us during children’s time this morning. Dr. King’s March on Washington and “I Have a Dream” speech are defining pieces of our lives and culture today.

There is however a piece of his story that hits close to home which some of you may not know. In 1951, Dr. King came to Boston University to pursue a Doctorate in Systematic Theology. It was at Boston University that he first met Coretta Scott King who later became his wife and partner in life, ministry, and the pursuit of justice.

As Boston’s Baptist community grew riveted with King’s preaching and dynamic style, his reputation grew. A former roommate recalls that friends and visitors came to their Dorchester apartment from far and wide. They would join in the conversations about civil rights. Memoirs on King’s life talk about how he reveled in this time. Never before had he been in a place where he had felt so free and equal. The possibilities seemed endless. It was during this time at Boston University that Dr. King’s first reflections on how to end segregation and ease racial tensions in the South began in earnest.

And it was in these reflections that he came to realize that he could not stay in this northern “safe haven” he had developed. His passion for justice and equality for all was calling him back to his home in the deep South. There was much work to be done, and they needed a person of his gifts, skill and talent. He said, here I am, Lord, send me. And God did.

And so in 1953, he went home. He married Coretta, and in the coming years came the Montgomery Bus Boycotts, the foundation of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the passage of the Civil Rights Act.

Now, I am certain that staying in Boston was probably pretty appealing to Dr. King. There was a safety and security, a level of comfort in his life here. He could have easily pastored a church, preached a good word on Sunday mornings, and left the hard fought battles of the civil rights movement to someone else. But instead, he took a risk. He said no to the comfortable and familiar, and yes to God.

And so did the people who became part of his movement. Like Samuel, this preacher’s kid from Atlanta, Georgia was an unlikely messenger who bravely listened and answered God’s call. And like Samuel, he was a leader in his own right, setting the tone for our nation through his rich oratory and community organizing. Surely we would not be the same without him.

I am reminded of Dr. King as I reflect on this week’s text from the Gospel of John as well. Jesus travels to Galilee where he finds Philip. He asks Philip to become a disciple. Now, I don’t know about you, but I can only imagine Philip’s emotions were running high. He has been asked by the messiah to follow him! And of course, he runs to find his friend Nathaniel to share in this news.

Upon finding Nathaniel, he tells him that he has found the one about whom Moses and the Prophets have written. He has found Jesus of Nazareth! Nathaniel replies: Can anything good come from Nazareth? You see, Nathaniel has heard of Nazareth’s reputation. A reputation that it was a place of depravity, and well, certainly not somewhere a MESSIAH should come from. How on earth could God be sending a messenger from a place like that?

Yet, I found myself exclaiming out loud as I read the text: OF COURSE something good can come from Nazareth. Because God has a long history of choosing messengers from the most unlikely places to bring us the things we need to hear most.

I wonder how many of you have experienced something like Samuel, or Dr. King? You have felt the unmistakable tug of God’s call, pulling your life in a new and perhaps unseen direction. Maybe at first you resisted, pushing aside the tug on your heart or encouraging words of others to pursue a new vocation, or project? Maybe you stood alone in a room having a strongly worded conversation with God about how God MUST mean someone other than you. Because you are just not equipped to do this thing that you are being called to do.

This week’s scriptures challenge us to listen to God’s call in our lives. To hear the places where we are being called out of our comfort zones, to speak truth to power, to work for justice for the oppressed, to make a change in our own lives even if we are not sure where the road is leading. For God’s call did not stop with Samuel, or Dr. King. God is still speaking to us today, calling us to share God’s very heart with bold audacity into a world that so desperately needs it.

I’m sure that Dr. King did not always see the road ahead of him with clarity. But he moved forward knowing that this is who he was called to be. I’m sure there were nights that my drama director sat in our auditorium at 8 PM, watching us run the same scene for the 10th time, wondering if she could keep going. But she did, secure in the knowledge that this was where God called her to be. I’m sure that there were moments that Samuel was sure that God must have meant someone else, but could not escape the tug on his heart that this was God’s call.

Be bold brothers and sisters. Do not be afraid. What is it that is tugging on your hearts this morning? However unlikely a messenger, or ill-equipped you may think that you are, know this: God does not call the equipped. God equips the called. Stand strong in the arms of this community, for we will be here to cheer you on. Beloved ones, we cannot always see the road ahead, but if we step out in faith, God will not leave us alone.

In a few moments, I will invite you to stand for our responsive hymn: Here I Am Lord. And as we sing, I encourage you to throw open the doors of your hearts. Listen for God’s voice calling to you this morning. And then sing with all of your conviction: I will go, Lord, if you lead me, I will hold your people in my heart. For in the words of Dr. King: Faith is taking the first step, even when we cannot see the whole staircase. May we have the courage to take the first step. Amen.