Sermon January 14 St Ambrose Aranui
Here I am, Lord
Today’s readings are about the theme of being called. Have you ever been in a busy place, and heard someone call your name? We’re hard-wired to recognise our own name, so we stop, and turn around, trying to see who is calling us, and if it is really us they want. It doesn’t often happen to me because my name is not very common. But when I hear a voice of a certain pitch saying, Mum! I react, along with quite a few other mums in the area. Our ears prick up, to see what is needed.
It’s a hard habit to break, and I find myself jumping when my kinds who are old enough to sort things out for themselves call me, and I have to say to myself, they might think they need me, but until I have more information I shall let them work it out.
Joining the church also has a sense of call about it. We might experience it as a nudge to look inside a building that we have driven past lots of times, or to ask a person who we know is a Christian something about God. These nudges are a call too, and it’s often very subtle. It’s not like a sheepdog barking and guiding us into the pen. We need to want to hear the call. Sometimes we ignore those little nudges, those feelings that there is something more, until well on in our lives, often when there is some crisis.
If we do decide to join the church through baptism, the baptism service also has that word. “We hear God’s call and ask for baptism” is the response in the Prayer Book.
When little Samuel heard God calling, at first he thought it was Eli, his boss.
Maybe God used a mature male voice to call Samuel, which led Samuel to Eli for guidance. It doesn’t mean that God can only use an old man voice, because God has many forms. We know that, because we are all made in God’s image, male, female, in betweens, whatever race or colour or level in society.
Samuel ran to Eli, and the first two times Eli said, no, wasn’t me, go back to sleep. He was probably not awake enough at the time to think about why Samuel had thought he called him. Maybe it was a dream. But by the third time, Eli was awake, and thinking about what was happening. Eli knew then that God was calling Samuel. He told him what to say: Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”
I think this is very important. We can say that we have heard the call from God, but to then listen to what God actually wants of us is not always easy. Maybe when we feel called we start to devise all sort of schemes and plans, and try and do them in our own strength.
“God’s calling me, so it must mean that he wants me to be a missionary, which I have wanted to do since I was young” you might say. But until God smooths the path, closes the wrong doors and opens the right ones, it’s best to keep listening, awaiting further instructions, further nudges. If something is in God’s will for us, it all falls into place. If it’s too hard, if it’s an uphill battle all the way, maybe that particular project is not what God had in store for us.
‘Speak Lord, for your servant is listening’. We need to listen to God, to be prepared to trust God’s wisdom, and whenever we think we are hearing from God, we need to test it. How do we do that?
We can test it by the words of scripture. If we feel a calling to do something that is not in line with God’s way for us to live, – the ten Commandments are a good guide here – when that’s probably not a call from God. It may be our own flesh – the bright ideas department – or even the opposition, the devil, trying to divert us from doing God’s work. Trying to get us so busy and exhausted that we can’t really do what we were called to do.
Our sense of call can take time too. It may be years before the call eventuates. A friend of my family felt the call to ordained ministry, but at the time the church here was not ordaining women. She had to wait many years before her call eventuated. Another friend also heard that call, but because of her disability the group selecting candidates for ordination felt that she couldn’t preach in a way that everyone could understand, so they rejected her. She persisted, and was eventually ordained and is now a chaplain to people with disabilities. My own sense of call to ordained ministry has had a hiccup too – I have felt called to the priesthood for last ten years, but after one bishop said yes, then retired, two bishops have said no. I know that God’s timing is not my timing, so I wait, and carry on in ministry as a deacon.
When Jesus called Philip and Nathaniel, our gospel reading doesn’t give us many details. Maybe he just caught their eye, beckoned them over, and that was it. He didn’t need to read their cv’s or ask about their family background. He could see into their hearts, and knew that who they were would be good for his purposes. They weren’t from the palace or the university, just everyday guys. Nathaniel was even a bit cheeky.
When he heard that Jesus was from Nazareth, he said, ‘can anything good come from Nazareth’?
I wonder if this was the common reaction to Nazareth. I wonder if it was the town that everyone mocked. When we lived in Wellington, the nearby town of Levin came in for a bit of a ribbing, for no apparent reason. Some of the poorer suburbs of the city did too – can anything good come from Wainuiomata? Can anything good come from Aranui? Now I can see you bristling! Maybe that’s the sort of thing Nathaniel meant.
We know, don’t we, that lots of good things can come from Aranui. I don’t know if you all live within the boundaries of Aranui, but I know I do, just around the corner, and I don’t like it when the rest of Christchurch looks down their noses at the eastern suburbs.
God can use us Aranuians in the kingdom of heaven! God calls us, just like he called a little boy, Samuel, or a cheeky guy, Nathaniel. God can use all of us, whether we are old or young, healthy or sick, well-educated or not, if we have all our teeth or just a selection of them! The world looks at people on the outside, and compares us to an ideal, one that only exists in the media. The slim, healthy, young, prosperous-looking person that we see on the adds. It’s probably all fake anyway. We don’t need to feel any less valued if we don’t fit into that norm.
But hang on, you may say. God won’t want to use me. I’m not spiritual enough. Well our first reading tells us that Samuel did not yet know the Lord. So that objection can be struck off. Maybe we might say that we’re not good enough! Well, Moses was a murderer, and Rahab sold her body for money. That objection can be struck off. Maybe you might say, my health is poor, I’m not well enough to serve the Lord. Well Lazarus was actually dead, so that’s no excuse!
Serving the Lord can come in many forms. It starts with listening, and with loving. If we all let the love of God flow into us, if we really accept that God loves us for who we are, regardless of all the reasons we have for feeling unlovable, then we can let that same love from God flow though us to other people, loving them for who they are too. Maybe that love can be shown in practical ways, or maybe our circumstances prevent us from doing that. We’re not all able to chop firewood in our eighties like some blokes here!
What we can always do is to pray. This is the sort of work that will further God’s kingdom on earth, and we can do it wherever we are, no matter what state we are in. And it will help us too, knowing that we are following the calling of God to work for the Kingdom of heaven on earth.
God of call and vocation,
you call the greatest and the least to follow you;
open our ears to hear your call,
empower us by the Holy Spirit to respond
and willingly embrace the new and living way of discipleship.
Through Jesus Christ our redeemer,
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever,