Sermon 2nd Sunday after Epiphany

SERMON: "GOD'S CALL"
Epiphany II 
               The stories about how Jesus called his disciples are all well known, and well worked over, and so is the story of how God called Samuel to be his prophet in Israel. But I am very conscious as I stand here of how so many people fail to hear the call of God despite all the talk that the church does about how we are called to be followers of Jesus and despite all the sermons that state that we are called to be like the prophets and to hear and speak God's word to one another. Why?  Why do so many people, many of them fine people, many of them people who already believe in God and accept Jesus as their savior, believe that God is not speaking to them personally?  That God is not trying to guide them in a particular way? And that God is not reaching out to them? I think that the answer is that people fail to hear the call of God, that they fail to notice how God is summoning them, not because that call is not issued but because they are either ignorant about how God calls us, or because they allow themselves to pass over that call to set it aside as it were, and so grow used to ignoring the Word when it comes.
               Think about the boy Samuel for a minute., He was a special lad a special gift from God to his mother Hannah.  He was dedicated to the Lord by her upon his birth and sent, when still incredibly young to live with the Priest Eli at Shiloh. The scripture says that he lived in a time in which the word of the Lord was rare, a time in which visions were not widespread. Nevertheless, Samuel lived in a holy place and in the holy presence.  He witnessed the sacrifices made at the alter in Shiloh, and even as a lad he wore the linen ephod and ministered in the house of God. Like his teacher Eli, he prayed to God, like his master he served faithfully. Like others, he had heard the teachings proclaimed, the story of God's love. Samuel lived in a special place indeed the scripture says that Samuel grew up in the presence of God. Samuel then, of all people, should have been able to recognize the call of God.  But, as the story in the 3rd chapter of the book of Samuel shows us, he did not that is he didn't until Eli recognized that call for him.
               We are told that three times the Lord called to Samuel where he lay in bed, and three times he answered by saying "Here I am" and running out to see Eli in the next room. On the third occasion that this occurs Eli perceives that Samuel is answering God's voice and instructs him to "go, lie down, and if the Lord calls you, you shall say speak, Lord, for your servant is listening." And so it was that Samuel finally heard what it was that God wanted to say to him, so it was that Samuel learned the fate that was to befall Eli. So it was that Samuel learned that he was to speak the word of God to others. 
How much are we like Samuel living in a special place, listening to the stories of his love, and serving him in his house and in his world. How are we like Samuel dedicated to the Lord. How much are we like him- thinking that the voices we hear in the night come from another room, thinking that are dreams are simply the result of eating before bedtime that inner nudges we feel come only from our intuition, or from the fact that our unconscious mind can play tricks on us?
               God calls us in many ways.  God speaks to us in many forms. And almost all of them are gentle, almost all the subtle, almost all of them can be mistaken for something else that is until we heed those calls then we discover the power of God is in them and behind them. That is what happens in today's gospel lesson.  The power behind the call of God is discovered by one who decides to listen to it. The gospel lesson tells us that shortly after his baptism Jesus decided to go up to Galilee.  He had already received Andrew and Simon Peter as his disciples. As he prepares to leave Bethany to go to Galilee Jesus goes out and finds Philip, he seeks him out as he sought out Samuel, and as he seeks us out and he says to him, "follow me". Philip responds to this call and as he prepares to join Jesus he goes and locates a man called Nathaniel, telling him "We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus, son of Joseph from Nazareth." It is obvious from the text that both Philip and Nathaniel were men who were seekers. Men who were looking for the promised one of God, but Nathaniel is not prepared to accept that the call of God he has heard through Philip is in fact from God and replies to him: "Can anything good come out of Nazareth" Still, Nathaniel goes along with Philip, he goes to check out what he has been told, and in doing so discovers that Jesus is a prophet, that he has special powers for Jesus knows without being told where he was the moment before Philip called him. Jesus says to him: "Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree?  You will see greater things than these.  Very truly I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man." A word I heard one day from a stranger before I was ordained was “You shall be a Father of many children”, which I first thought a strange word. 
               Do we listen to our fellow seekers -Do we check out the calls they issue us the call to meet the Lord in a particular place and time? the call to discover what we have been looking for? If I praise you all too much now let me know, because when I look out here on Sunday morning, I see faithful people.  I see people who have decided to follow Jesus, people who are struggling to do what is right, people who worship and who pray, people who listen to the holy stories and seek to obey the will of the Lord. I see people like Samuel, and Philip and Nathaniel, people who work for God.
But still, I wonder - when I see you - how many of you believe that God has spoken to you?  How many of you believe that God has personally called you to do what you are doing? And of those who do believe this how many believe that God is still with you guiding you, or trying to guide you, each day?
               God is calling all of us, he is calling TO all of us. He is calling us not just to follow him, He is also calling us to do and say things at particular times. He is calling us to walk a particular path with him, a path that is like, but not identical to the path of all the disciples, apostles, and saints before us. God has a plan for you, God seeks to guide you. And that call is personal. God seeks you out as Jesus sought out Philip. God is calling you by name just as he called Samuel by name. God calls in our dreams. He calls in the voice of those people who are trying to help us find our way. He calls through our spouses and our co-workers. He calls when we pause to read his word, or to meditate. He calls when we are trying to decide what to do next. He calls when we gaze upon the heavens. He even calls out to us when we pray. You know a lot of people speak to God, they pray to him, without ever really considering how it is that God might answer them without seriously considering how they are meant to listen to him. It is like they pick up a telephone to speak into it, and instead of the earpiece at the ear, they are listening through the mouthpiece.  Have you seen the cartoon "Family Circus" there was one with, the yard filled with children playing as only children do. They are yelling and screaming, blowing horns, and crying. The dog is barking, a jet flies overhead, and two boys are beating on a drum.  Inside the house, the mother of one of the children says to her husband, "Listen.  That's PJ crying!" Mother's ears were conditioned to hear her children’s voice, even above all of noises of life. 
                God calls us for a purpose a good purpose He calls us to come to him so that he may transform our lives.  He calls to us to listen to him, and do what he tells us, so that he might change us, and our world, making it holy and good, full of love and joy, whole and at peace. If we want to hear God, it sure helps to hold the telephone right. It sure helps if we have learned how and where he speaks, It sure helps if we, by continual practice, have conditioned ourselves to hear him. Listen for God's call where-ever you are in whatever you see and hear, be it in a dream you have just had, in the message of a preacher you have just heard, in the quiet voice you have heard inside you at the side of a lake at sunset .or in the words of a friend who is telling you how God has dealt with them, and what it is they think God is trying to say to you. 
That happens when you belong to a church you know, that happens when you gather with fellow believers Sometimes, they speak to you about God, sometimes they have a message from God that is meant especially for you.
                Listen to the "Word of God” and judge the things you hear by the Word and by the Spirit that is within you. Examine the events around you and pray about them. Look and listen and I promise you that you will hear the voice of God, you will hear his call. Listen and then do as you feel or believe you have been so called to do, and if it is a true word, and it very often is, you will experience the power that is behind that word, behind that call. You will see things happen as promised, you will see changes that are good. You will see God glorified and people who seek after only their own desires humbled. You will see mercy and grace, judgment, and vindication you will see new life arise out of ashes and new hope come out of despair. Listen and as Jesus promised to Nathaniel, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man, Listen and you will find that which you have been looking for. AMEN