Sermon: “Tuning in to God” (January 25, 2015)

So….have you turned in your Time and Talent Survey?   Have you prayerfully considered your spiritual gifts and how using those gifts might contribute to the common good of the community in 2015?  Have you signed on the dotted line and made your commitment?

Or … are you stuck?  Have you had trouble deciding what to do…or whether to do anything at all?  Or maybe you’ve been stumped by all that “spiritual gifts” language.  What does it mean to be “called by God?”  Isn’t that something that just happens to minister-types?

Today, as we contemplate to what work we are called, it might help to hear some call stories from Scripture.  We heard a great one last week.  The boy Samuel hears someone call, he goes to his mentor, the priest Eli, thinking he’s the one who called him…. Oh.  It’s a good story.  Let’s hear it again.  🙂

3 Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.

2 At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; 3the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was. 4Then the Lord called, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’* and he said, ‘Here I am!’ 5and ran to Eli, and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’ But he said, ‘I did not call; lie down again.’ So he went and lay down. 6The Lord called again, ‘Samuel!’ Samuel got up and went to Eli, and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’ But he said, ‘I did not call, my son; lie down again.’ 7Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. 8The Lord called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’ Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy. 9Therefore Eli said to Samuel, ‘Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” ’ So Samuel went and lay down in his place.

10 Now the Lord came and stood there, calling as before, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’ And Samuel said, ‘Speak, for your servant is listening.’ (I Samuel 3:1-10)

In Samuel’s case, he just needed a little help tuning in to God.  Once Eli gave him some direction, Samuel listened and heard God’s voice clearly.

Are you having trouble tuning in to God?  Still experiencing static when you think about your spiritual gifts?  It’s okay to ask for help.  Sometimes others can see things more clearly than we can.  Their guidance can help us identify our gifts and respond to God’s call.

Of course, sometimes we hear God clear as a bell…we know exactly what God is saying and to what work we’re being called…we’d just rather not do it.  In fact, we’d rather do anything but what God is asking us to do.  Hear the story of Jonah.

Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai, saying, 2‘Go at once to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before me.’ 3But Jonah set out to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid his fare and went on board, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the Lord.  (Jonah 1:1-3)

Perhaps you’ve heard what happened next.  A great storm blew in.  When the frightened crew asked whose sin had caused the storm, Jonah raised his hand.  They didn’t want to do it, but they had to–the crew tossed Jonah overboard.  “But God provided a large fish to swallow Jonah; and Jonah was in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights.”

Jonah prayed–Oddly enough, it’s a prayer of thanksgiving–then “God spoke to the fish, and it spewed Jonah out upon the dry land.”  When the word of God comes to Jonah a second time, telling him to go to Nineveh — no surprise here — he does.

You, too, might have a clear sense of your gifts and to what work God is calling you, but, like Jonah, you just don’t want to use them.  Maybe you, too, would rather do anything else.  Sometimes we might need a little time out, a little seaside retreat (or maybe sea-underside retreat) like Jonah had, to get clear about our gifts and how to use them.  It worked for Jonah.  It just might work for us, too.

One last call story.  This one comes from the New Testament.

16 As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake—for they were fishermen. 17And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you fish for people.’ 18And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.     (Mark 1:16-20)

I’m guessing this is the story that comes to mind most often when we think about being called.  Jesus is walking down the beach, sees these two sets of brothers, and calls them.  Immediately, the men drop their nets and follow Jesus.  Simple as that.

I get where the Gospel writer is coming from.  He or she is making the point that Jesus was charismatic, full of God’s Spirit, and the disciples almost couldn’t help themselves.  They turned and followed him like he was the pied piper.

I wonder sometimes if we think God doesn’t call us because we’ve idealized the disciples’ response to Jesus.  “I can’t respond like that,” we might think.  “I can’t imagine Jesus calling me…and even if he did, I can’t imagine dropping everything to go follow him.”  I wonder if, because we can’t meet the ideal of the disciples’ response to Jesus, we assume we just aren’t good “call” material.

Maybe…but I wonder if the disciples’ call experience is as ideal as it first appears. Jesus calls brothers Simon and Andrew; immediately they follow him.  Then right after that, he calls brothers James and John, who “leave their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and follow him.”  Yeah.  The call process didn’t turn out too well for old Zeb, did it?

Here’s what I’m getting at.  I think all these call stories are included in Scripture to encourage us.  They’re there to help us see that there are all sorts of ways to discern our spiritual gifts.  There are many ways to figure out to what work God is calling us.

Like Samuel, this whole being-called-by-God thing might be brand new for us.  We, too, might need help in understanding what God might be saying to us.

Like Jonah, we too might know exactly to what work God is calling us, but we just need some time to adjust our imaginations to God’s vision.  And, okay.  This adjustment time might involve a little rebellion.  Hopefully, it won’t involve a giant fish, but you never know. J

Like the disciples, you might hear God call and immediately drop everything to follow it.  That’s great if it happens…but–I don’t usually do this–but I’m going to give you my opinion about quick responses to God’s call…sometimes those calls “stick.”  But more often than not, in my experience, the “immediate” responders lose interest pretty quickly.  They get caught up by something shiny and new and go for it whole hog…and leave others in the boat to finish the work they’d started.

On the whole, I’m an advocate for taking time to discern your call.  Life runs so fast these days…it’s counter-cultural to take our time with anything.  But taking time with this?  That’s a good gift we can give ourselves…and to the communities of which we are a part.

In a minute, after we sing a really great hymn by Scottish musician and spiritual writer John Bell, we’ll participate in a commissioning liturgy.  The purpose of the liturgy is to ask God’s blessing on your service to Pilgrimage in the coming year.

Knowing that each of us discerns God’s call differently and that each of us is at a different stage in our discernment process, I invite you to participate in the liturgy in whatever way feels more authentic for you right now.  **If you’re gung-ho, all in, fired up and ready to go, great!  Enter the liturgy in that light.  **If you’re ready to commit to serving but are still trying to figure out precisely what you want to do, enter it in that light.  **If you’re still trying to decide whether or not to serve as a volunteer, I invite you to listen to the liturgy and see how it feels.  Hearing the words, do you feel drawn to serve?  **If you have decided that what you most need right now is a break–a Sabbath– I invite you to listen to the words of the liturgy and hear in them confirmation of your decision.  As one recently returned from Sabbath rest, I wholeheartedly affirm its benefits!

As you might imagine, it’s going to take a little time to tabulate your responses to the Time and Talent Survey…. which means it might take a couple weeks before you hear from someone about the gifts of service you’re offering. Not to worry, though. You will hear something. (If you don’t hear something in two weeks, let me know!)

But today isn’t about the specifics, about where and how you will serve. Today is about honoring the fact that you have decided to serve (or are thinking about it).

And so….We’ll sing this great hymn together. As we sing, if you haven’t already, I invite you to come forward and place your Time and Talent Survey in the basket on the table. For all of us, I invite us to reflect on what it means to offer our gifts to God’s work in this community and in the world. How might you build up the body of Christ? How might you act others into well-being? How might you through your service help fulfill God’s hopes for the world?

Sing The Summons.

Commissioning Liturgy.

In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness.  Amen.

Kimberleigh Buchanan  © 2015

About reallifepastor

I'm a pastor who's working out her faith...just like everyone else.
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