In our first reading today God is calling Samuel to be a prophet. He calls again and again but Samuel thinks it must be old Eli calling him, not God. I think it is 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.”
God does call us. He calls us all the time. Remember the U.S. Army slogan: “Be all you can be”? God wrote that. God calls us into selflessness, to think less about ourselves and more about others. God calls us to pick up the phone and reach out to that lonely friend. God calls us to find ways to help people around us. God calls us to act against injustice. God calls us to be our best selves. Are we listening to God’s calls?
On Monday, we will remember Dr. Martin Luther King who was called to address the great injustices facing his people. Think of how terrifying it must have been 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 would be killed. Following his call, he brought great change in our society because of his brave leadership.
Martin Luther King was a modern-day prophet.
God called Samuel. God called Martin Luther King. Jesus is calling his followers too. Today we remember how he calls Nathanael. Usually, he just says; “Follow me” and people do, just like that. Nathanael is not so easy. His friend Philip tells him that this Jesus is a big deal. He is the one Moses wrote about; Jesus is the one the prophets wrote about. He is Jesus, son of Joseph from Nazareth. Well, all Nathanael has to say is “He’s from Nazareth? Can ANYTHING good come out of Nazareth?” Philip isn’t dissuaded. He says, “Nathanael, just come and see for yourself.”
Here is the funny part: Nathanael has dissed the hometown of Jesus, but Jesus gives it right back to him. When he sees Nathanael coming down the road, listen to this sarcasm 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 of God ascending and descending 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. Soren Kierkegaard writes: “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, voices of truth thou sendest clear…” We have so much information coming at us today, from the computer, the TV, radio, newspapers... vast amounts of stuff overwhelming our minds all day long. I say: Turn all of that off for a moment. Many of us have too much time on our hands these days so use it: Sit down. Be quiet. Close your eyes. Listen for God, then say, like Samuel; “Here I am, Lord. Speak. I am your servant, and I am listening.”