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Epiphany II 2012 Sermon
Corby Varness

A short play to begin.   The players are--Corby Varness: God; Jeff Varness: Samuel; Kevin Varness: Eli
NARRATOR: “Let us go back in time, over 3000 years to when this story takes place.  We see the prophet Eli here, sleeping in his room, near dawn.  Nearby, in the temple of the Lord, young Samuel also sleeps, awaiting his master’s call.  I am God.”
GOD (standing off to side, whispers): “Samuel, Samuel.”
(Samuel jumps up and rushes to Eli.)  “Here I am, did you call?”
(Sleepy Eli shakes his head and grumbles:) “I didn’t call you!  Go lie down again.”
(Samuel goes back to bed.)
GOD (a little louder): “Samuel, Samuel.”
(Samuel looks about then hurries over to Eli.) “Here I am.  You called me.”
Eli: “Huh?  I didn’t call you silly boy!  Go back to bed.”
(Samuel shakes his head and goes back to bed.)
GOD (singsong): “Oh, Samuel, Samuel.”
(Samuel gets up woodenly and stalks over to Eli) “Here I am!  You called me.”
(Eli gets an “AHA” look on his face.  He patiently says to Samuel): “Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”
(Samuel looks a little scared but goes and lies down again.)
(GOD comes over and stands by Samuel’s bed and says): “Samuel! Samuel!”
(Samuel stands up bravely and says): “Here I am, Lord.  Speak.  I am your servant and I am listening.”        
(Actors return to pews to much applause.)
God is calling Samuel to be a prophet.  I love this passage because I think it is very likely that this is how most of us respond to a call from God: “Huh?  Who?  What?  Are you talking to ME?”  The lovely thing about this passage is seeing young Samuel, probably only 12 years old, so bravely standing there before God, probably quaking on his bare feet and saying; “Here I am, Lord.  Speak.  I am your servant and I am listening.”  How would you respond in this situation?
I can tell you this: If God were calling Jeff, there is no way his voice could be heard through Jeff’s fancy new, noise canceling headphones.  I know this as his mom, because I can only be heard if I poke him in the arm to get his attention.  I’ll remind God to poke Jeff in the arm when he calls.
What does it take for God to get your attention?  Let’s see: (whisper: Mary, Mary... Jim, Jim... Greg, Alexa...etc.)  If God is calling you, do you hear?  And if you do, how do you know that the call you are hearing is really from God?  Sometimes I hear some people say things like; “God told me what to eat for breakfast this morning”, or “God told me to turn left at the light” and I have to wonder what it is like to be so sure that it is God speaking.
God calls us to be our best selves.  Remember the U.S. Army slogan: “Be all you can be”?  God wrote that.  God calls us into action, to worry less about our selves and more about others.  God calls on us to pick up the phone and call that lonely friend.  God calls on us to sit down next to that newcomer in school and make him welcome.  God calls us to take action against injustice.  God calls us to be our best selves.
Tomorrow we will remember Dr. Martin Luther King.  He felt called by God to address the great injustice facing his people. Last year, while in Alabama, Kevin, Jeff and I visited the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.  We looked out a window at the park where people were violently knocked down with jets of water from fire hoses.  We looked out another window across the street at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church where 4 innocent little girls were killed when the church was bombed.  The violent struggle for civil rights became very real for us in that museum.
It must have been terrifying for Dr. King to face virulent hatred and violence but he knew what he had to do.  He didn’t run from his call despite what it would mean for his family, despite the probability that he could be killed.   Following his call, he brought great change in our society as a result of his brave leadership.  I think his actions were those of a modern day prophet.
God called Samuel.  God called Martin Luther King.  Jesus is calling his followers too.  Today we remember how he called Nathanael.  Usually, he just says; “Follow me” and people do, just like that.  Nathanael isn’t so easy.  His friend Philip tells him that this Jesus is a big deal.  He is the one Moses wrote about, he is the one the prophets wrote about.  He is Jesus, son of Joseph from Nazareth.  Wow - pretty impressive, huh?  Well, all Nathanael has to say is; “He’s from Nazareth, huh?  Can ANYTHING good come out of Nazareth?”  Philip isn’t dissuaded.  He says, “Nathanael, come and see for yourself.” 
Here is the funny part:  Nathanael has dissed the home town of Jesus but Jesus gives it right back to him.  When he sees Nathanael coming down the road he seems pretty sarcastic when he says; “Ah, at last!  Finally, someone from Israel who is NOT a liar!”  Phew!  When Nathanael asks; “How did you know me?” Jesus says; “You were sitting under a fig tree the other day.”  This just wows Nathanael and he believes fully in Jesus.  But Jesus isn’t too happy still; “Ha - you’re impressed because I knew about the fig tree?  You ain’t seen nothing yet!  You’re going to see heaven open up and angels ascending and descending from God upon the Son of Man!”

Like Samuel, Nathanael doesn’t understand at first that he is being called by God.  These two stories comfort me.  It is good to know that confusion and denial are normal responses when God is calling.  To hear God’s call we must first start with listening, with prayer.  So please listen to this quote from Soren Kierkegaard: “To pray does not mean to listen to oneself speaking. Prayer involves becoming silent, and being silent, and waiting until God is heard.”
God IS calling us, each of us.  Our task is simply to be still and listen.  In the words of the hymn, we are encouraged to “open our ears, that we may hear....”  We have vast amounts of information coming at us today, from the computer, the TV, radio, IPod, newspapers... vast amounts of stuff flying into our minds all day long.  I say: Turn all of that off.  Sit down.  Be quiet.  Listen for God. What might happen if we allowed God to get a word in edgewise?  From now on my prayers will start by saying, like Samuel; “Here I am, Lord.  Speak.  I am your servant and I am listening.”